Wot I Think: Enslaved – Odyssey To The West

It’s been three years since Enslaved debuted on consoles, and it seems almost criminal that it didn’t get a full-price PC release at that time. Now though, someone has flicked the porting switch somewhere in the depths of Namco Bandai, and a PC version of the game has materialised on Steam. I had a play through Ninja Theory’s beautiful and ambitious action game, and the scribbled Wot I Think on the back of the internet.

It seems easy to dismiss Enslaved. Another big budget outing that didn’t sell all that well. A shiny thing with a bunch of major names attached – Alex Garland wrote the script, Andy Serkis acted the lead – and not really all that much going for it in the game department. And it is a simplistic, linear light show. Leap your way down prescribed routes, to execute the single solution to the puzzle. Button mash to bash stuff into a rainbow of particle effects. There’s not much more to it than that.

But I like it anyway.

What little Enslaved does in game terms is suitably underwritten by an exquisitely beautiful world, clean and smart dialogue, a superb high-speed hoverboard mini-game sequence, and combat that is meaty and responsive. Sometimes you just want a meathead to bash robots with an energy stick, and hear the metal crunch. It doesn’t drool stupid in its story, either, despite the many cliché waypoints it visits along the way, Enslaved is great at what little it does, and it’s almost enough.

In the realm of third-person action it doesn’t offer any kind of challenge to Rocksteady’s Batman games, and in consoleland it has been ground into post-apocalyptic dust by Naughty Dog’s buddy movie wannamasterpiece, The Last Of Us. Nevertheless, Enslaved shouldn’t be forgotten, and it has a few things really going for it, chief among those that it never frustrates, and that it is smart and lithe enough to dodge the boredom that its repetitious mechanics are in danger of stumbling into. Also, it’s a colourful broad science-fiction epic that doesn’t spend too long noodling over any of its particular story issues. It rollicks, and it does it with fireworks.

The story, then, because it sort of matters to this sort of game, is that a pair of escaped slaves crash to Earth in New York, one hundred and fifty years in the future. The city has been overrun by jungle and killer robots, and the odd couple must co-operate to escape and get home. The title comes from the conceit that brings sexy redhead lady and muscle-ape future-biker (literally called ‘Monkey’) together, which is that she enslaves him with a hacked headband, forcing him to get her back across the US to her post-apocalypse survivor town, far off in the mountains.

This means a journey through some completely fantastic environments. It’s one of those games where the powerful influence of a super concept art tingles through every section of the game. Jungle New York is impressive enough, but the vertiginous wind farm is one of my favourite locations in any game. The palette for the entire world is bright and rich, underlining just how far this game’s post-apocalyptic motif falls from the usual washed-out zone of the dead.

The “odyssey” through each of these bright environments is told with a bunch of arena type areas, which link puzzles with combat locations where you get to use meat-man’s laser stick (and some other toys) to knock sparking crap out of the robots which stalk the landscape. Mostly it requires leaping, a bit of combat timing, and some observation of the glinting clue signposts. A few of these arenas actually stand out, particularly where the giant cat robot comes in, which is a minor highlight in quite a playful set of ideas. Very little skill is involved in overcoming any of this, but it’s still an indulgent sort of pleasure to wade through.

The best single idea is probably the hoverboard section, which sees you zooming about through huge areas of the game, and could well have been developed further, rather than being a sort of mid-game treat that last just a few moments. As it is, these sequences are just a delightful contrast to your general leaping, lift, press, and whacking.

As for the PC port, well, it’s okay. I ended up playing it on 360 pad, because that’s how the game was designed, and it made the most sense. I can’t really imagine tackling a game like this with mouse and keyboard, although it seems to work. As for the conversion to PC, it offers nothing of the Unreal engine’s vast array of possible options, with the display offering just resolution and gamma correction. It must have been trivial to convert this game to PC, but it’s a bit of a shame that a little bit more effort wasn’t made. Hell, why on Earth Namco though not to bring this game out on PC in the first place is beyond me. Did some suit really not want to pay for a bunch of menus and some QA?

Anyway. Should you buy Enslaved? Sure, why not. It’s an entertaining few hours, light and pretty with some ideas that aren’t particularly original, but are well executed. I suspect when it’s in a Steam sale you’ll pick it up and not regret that fistful of dollars for even a moment. Just don’t go in expecting anything other than a glittering 3D action game, and we’re golden.


  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I just have the last chapter to play and I’ve loved it. Such excellent characters, utterly believable and superbly voiced.

    It’s a shame about the lack of graphical options, especially v-sync as the game suffers from horrible tearing. Nothing that can’t be fixed with your video card’s control panel though.

    • jonahcutter says:

      It’s the Unreal 3 engine and many graphic options are easily modded in by turning them on in the .ini files. Including ditching the atrocious motion blur. It’s well worth the few minutes to mod the files, as the environments are a highlight of the game.

      Theres a couple of easy how-to’s on the game’s Steam forums.

      • FurryLippedSquid says:

        The options in my GPU software were enough tbh, filtering, AA, and v-sync.

        Another problem is the transition between cut scenes and game play, there’s always a 1 or 2 second pause which can be disorienting. Especially when the cut back to the game play often involves combat. That might just be because I only have 4GB of RAM, though.

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  2. whexican says:

    It had its own issues, but I was surprised by how solid it was in terms of gameplay and story.

    A severely underrated game that deserves your attention and a sequel.

  3. Felix_Bisto says:

    Serkis really can’t get a break!!

    Even the lead character’s face looks a little like Smeagol.

  4. rusty5pork says:

    I was expecting something involving the black metal band, but this game sounds just as awesome!

  5. Imbecile says:

    It was a bit too lightweight and mediocre for me when I played it on the console, though I played it immediately after playing Uncharted 2 and one of the eight billion Assassins creed games which probably didnt help sell the DIY platforming to me.


    • I Got Pineapples says:

      I think that was the issue with it when it came out.

      It wasn’t a bad game, in fact it was a pretty good one, but a lot of similar games came out on consoles when it did and some of them, like the Uncharted series, did what Enslaved was doing markedly better. Whereas on the PC, it’s going to look a lot better because those games mostly didn’t show up there. Like DmC getting a warmer reception on the PC because it didn’t look old and tired next to Bayonetta there.

  6. Dowson says:

    I picked it up on my PS3 a few months ago, and its a very enjoyable game and I’d say its worth the £15 on Steam.

    It sort of reminds me of the action games you used to get a lot back on the PS2, the ones that now seem to all be Action RPGs. Sometimes I don’t want the RPG.

  7. DaftPunk says:

    If you are interested to see how game looks on pc i posted quite some shots in screenshot thread. Otherwise loving the game,its nothing special but the characters are so lifelike,its worth playing just because of them. Gameplay is also not bad at all,simple but fun.

  8. Jorum says:

    ah why no Pig and Sandy :(

    • Severn2j says:

      Its been awhile since I played it, but Pigsy is in there, possibly Sandy too, but I’m not 100% on that..

  9. suibhne says:

    I played it on PS3 a few years back, and I’m glad to see this getting a nice mention. Underrated. I’m surprised to see it described as “ambitious”, because I thought it actually felt under-ambitious; that said, the characters were consistently affecting and the gameplay never got too much in the way of the overall experience.

    For what it’s worth, I also thought Trip was a great female character – vulnerable (because she’s supposed to be) but also strong in different ways. She’s not a damsel in distress, except in all the ways that it makes sense for her to be. She’s not a caricature, and (despite the outfit) she’s not objectified. (That said…the less said about the official add-on “Sexy Trip” costume, the better.)

    • lokhe says:

      (The fact that it wasn’t even sexy at all didn’t help it either… )

  10. Lemming says:

    Am I misinterpreting something here or does Jim genuinely not know this is based on the Journey to the West Chinese fable? The way he writes about the plot and characters indicates as such.

    • dogsolitude_uk says:

      Yeah, admittedly I first encountered ‘Journey to the West’ at 5.30pm on BBC2, back in the 1970s (link to youtube.com).

      Years later I found a copy of the Penguin Classic version of Wu Cheng En’s tale, and it’s been a regular re-read ever since.

      As such I’m going to check this out, if only to see if Pigsy and Sandy make any kind of appearance…

      • FurryLippedSquid says:

        Wait. So I’m playing as Monkey? As in the crazy guy who could summon a cloud and fight with a staff?


        Childhood dream achieved! It seems so obvious now.

        (and yes, Pigsy makes an appearance!)

        • Lemming says:

          Monkey/Journey to the West parallels I noticed:

          1. You ‘hatch’ from an egg shaped pod at the start of the game where you were in stasis
          2. Monkey has a ‘magic’ extendible staff and a hover disc he calls his ‘cloud’.
          3. His belt/ribbon flows off him like a monkey tail.
          4. His head band causes him pain to keep him under control.
          5. Trip =Tripitaka
          6. Pigsy = Pigsy/Zhu Bajie

    • DrGonzo says:

      I only know it because of Monkey! Enlsaved was good, but it wasn’t Monkey!

      • hypercrisis says:

        It’s 2013 and we still have no game of Monkey. Whats wrong with us as a species?

        • dogsolitude_uk says:

          I dunno. I mean, a team-based RPG with Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka in it would be great fun. The book itself makes for a delightful read, and is split into well-defined chapters (each one’s like a little quest in it’s own right) so I reckon it would work :)

        • thekelvingreen says:

          Well they weren’t based on the TV series but there was Monkey Magic and Monkey Hero, both on the original PlayStation.

        • Yglorba says:

          Wait, do you really not know? Do all the people in this thread really not know?

          There was a PS1 strategy-RPG of Monkey / Journey to the West based heavily on Final Fantasy Tactics. And it was awesome, not that I should have to tell you that. I don’t know why it didn’t get more press. It’s called Saiyuki: Journey West.

          Go play it now, you can run it in an emulator or something if you have to. It was amazing and criminally overlooked.

        • Slazer says:

          So, whats the best version to pick up the book in English?

      • Taidan says:

        The nature of monkey was irrepressible!

    • LionsPhil says:

      As I understand it from Yahtzee’s review, despite the title, the influence is, uh, “loose”.

      • Baines says:

        It is no looser than Dragonball, which also drew from Journey to the West. (Early Dragonball, when Son Goku was a kid.)

    • sd4f says:

      The author probably should have read the wikipedia article on this game. But on a serious note, that’s why the story in enslaved is not too bad, because it is based on a fairly decent fable.

  11. GamesInquirer says:

    I found it to be extremely half baked and unambitious. For all its big budget the art leaves a lot to be desired (I think the girl is the only half decent design in there) and the gameplay is as basic as you can get, as if they missed the last 20 years of platform and adventure game evolution and try to do it all for the first time, yet fail to provide anything compelling be it combat, platforming (fully automatic mind, it’s an almost mindless bashing of the A button when you climb up stuff) or exploration.

    But that’s my opinion. Perhaps someone who has somehow avoided all the great games of this style will find something that seems fresh, if still very much half baked, in this one.

  12. Laurentius says:

    I would love PoP (2008) retrospective i feel people will look now with far bigger affection on this title then it has received back then.

  13. int says:

    That second picture. It’s like someone took bloom and put bloom on it.

    • Megakoresh says:

      Haha! So true! Should be top comment!
      Game looks ok tho, maybe I’ll pick it up once its 30% off or something.

  14. Tei says:

    I think is the tipical console game. Arenas separated by cutscenes.

  15. Ayam says:

    I haven’t read a JimWIT in ages, they are so clear, so very clear. Best of luck with Sir.

  16. Moni says:

    I bloody love Enslaved. It’s one of the very few games, or any piece of media, where I’d fallen in love with the characters.

    Spoiler alert.

    The ending is not so great for me, because it just plain ends things for Monkey and Trip, there’s no sense of things carrying on for them afterwards, which is heartbreaking to me.

    • Yosharian says:

      Yeah the ending is a bit lackluster, I agree

    • welverin says:

      I don’t believe Moni was saying it was lackluster, but disappointing because of the finality for the two characters and that their story was over..

  17. DanMan says:

    I’ll buy it on a sale. Like, when it’s around 10€.

  18. Fizzbang says:

    It really ought to be mentioned that this game is based on the ancient Chinese tale “Journey to the West.” While that doesn’t by itself make the game good or bad, in light of our complaints about how every game seems to be so similar, I think it’s worth giving some praise to games that draw on sources that don’t immediately trace back to either Tolkien or Star Wars.

  19. MrNash says:

    I can see this being a bit of dumb fun, but I’ll wait till it hits five dollars on a Steam sale. =)

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  21. Geebs says:

    I bought it because it was cheap and because I’d had it down as interesting-setting-but-terrible framerate since playing the demo on 360 when if first came out. It’s still a nice looking game with a bit of tweaking, the central relationship is well done even if predictable, and the gameplay is much better than you might think from the demo – you start to enjoy it later when you realize that the reason the platforming is on rails is that you’re controlling the interaction between Monkey and Trip more than each character per se.

    On the adjusted prince of Persia scale:

    Gameplay: PoP2008 << enslaved << SoT << forgotten sands <<<<<<<<<<<< warrior within
    Story: PoP2008 <forgotten sands < warrior within <<< enslaved <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<SoT

  22. comnting says:

    This is one of my favorite games of recent years. Now, to be up front, I am a big fan of Journey to the West, the Chinese epic the game was (very loosely) based on, so maybe I was primed to look on this game favorably. But even so, I think it’s great.

    It’s true that the gameplay, a platforming / beat-em-up combination, doesn’t really offer anything new. But it does what it does really solidly. It never feels clunky or annoying to control Monkey, and combat never felt like grinding.

    The comment in the article about the color palette is SO TRUE. It’s so refreshing to have a post- apocalyptic setting with bright colors; green plants, blue skies, red-painted bridges, etc. It really lets you enjoy the sad beauty of a fallen civilization, in a way most brown/grey games don’t.

    And the story and characters are great. The evolving dynamic between Monkey and Trip is very well written, and I think Trip is one of the most deeply written characters in gaming (not that that bar is so high, but still). TLDR if you’re on the fence, this is definitely something worth playing.

  23. oioahat says:

    Man are u serious? PC port sucks hard. Awful game award. Freezes, no graphic options, nothing for pc users. This game sucks hard. And after all u sugest to buy it… Its a waste of money.