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Enslaved fails to meet expectations

Pretentious platformer focuses on graphics over gameplay

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Namco Bandai
XBox 360/PS3

Matthew Blackwell
Technical Coordinator

Everything old is new again. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is the 2008 version of Prince of Persia with a different coat of paint. They’re almost the exact same game.

Stop me if you’ve played this game before. You’re muscle-bound, taciturn Parkour enthusiast on the run from an evil empire. You have a female partner that follows you for the entire adventure. She doesn’t participate directly in combat, lacks the same freerunning skills as yourself, and clearly you won’t be able to progress without her help. Gameplay is a combination of context-sensitive button presses that allow you to traverse the environment, using a variety of impressive jumps and scuttles, and hand-to-hand combat against a variety of foes. All of this is shown in gloriously realized, high-definition graphics that have a definite artistic style that is done better than the gameplay portions ever was.

In the face of endless first- and third-person shooters, Enslaved could be seen as something unique. Where the game succeeds is at presenting an interesting premise and world. In a retelling of the Chinese tale Journey to the West, you play as Monkey: a man who was enslaved by Pyramid, a giant robot corporation that has capitalized on the post-apocalypse by enslaving humans.

The game’s awe-inspiring set pieces rarely fail to excite. Enslaved begins with a harrowing escape from a crashing airship. It’s here that Monkey meets Trip, another slave on the ship, who has decided that she wants to try to find her family on planet Earth. This is where Enslaved absolutely shines: instead of presenting a Mad Max-inspired post-apocalyptic wasteland, Enslaved takes inspiration from the BBC documentary Life After Humans. The New York of the far future is lush, green, and overgrown with foliage and animals.

The problem is that Enslaved barely qualifies as a “game.” Enslaved feels like it plays itself. It’s literally impossible to die from a mistimed jump in the game. The game will not let you jump if there’s not a platform there for you to jump on. The physical design funnels you towards your goal. While getting to your goal can be an interesting spectacle, it eliminates the player’s agency to make his own way through the world.

It’s as if the developers were thinking, “Why does the gameplay have to keep getting in the way of the story?”

For all of its pretensions of telling a good story, the game fails on so many levels. It’s hard to take this story of survival and the bonds between unlikely partners seriously when the main characters are so poorly designed. Monkey is horrifically proportioned, looking like a refrigerator on steroids, and Trip has an impossibly thin waist and big breasts, which the developers felt keen to show off in a skimpy outfit and lecherous camera angles.

Enslaved looked like it offered something drastically different than every other game coming out this year. It does succeed in offering up a unique premise for an action game, but the gameplay is so clumsy, flashy, and unnecessary that it’s an incredible disappointment. At least Prince of Persia had some whimsy and charm. Enslaved is much more content to ape that game’s mechanics to diminished results.

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