Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

In Video Games on February 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm

I recently made an attempt at playing Fear Effect, a game I purchased not too long ago out of nostalgia and the general shock of seeing such a gem of a PS1 title going so cheaply at a used game boutique.  Enthusiasm at the acquisition not withstanding, it sat on my shelf for some time before I popped it into my equally antiquated PS2 for a romp down memory lane; and what I have learned is as thus:

Games today coddle us.  They are soft, cushy affairs marked by player-soothing features, being minimally irritating by design and often above all other considerations.

We have radial menus that freeze or slow time while perusing them, regenerating health, waypoint markers, enemies on radar, actually helpful NPC allies and a glut of supplies such that you’ll never want for ammunition, health, bits, bobs or anything.  Games offer autosaves, checkpoints, infinite lives and continues.

So getting lost, scarcity-based difficulty and forced restarts are a thing of the past.  Such was the nature of my failure in my replay of Fear Effect, a game that did not tell me what to do, nor which objects were interactable, all while my supplies were immediately drained by my spurious, uncautious use.  Indeed, my reward for so immediate a failure was to be kicked back out to the title screen, where I then had to re-watch the opening cinematic if I wished to try again.

Enslaved is, to put it charitably, unencumbered by the realities of the challenges of yore, and fully embraces every tactic and tool in such a way as to render itself solely as a vehicle for its engaging, unique characters.  Combat is a fairly painless hack and slash affair with the occasional turkey shoot, and exploration through its pseudo-freerunning mechanic is thoroughly on-rails; you can’t get lost and are never wont for where to go.  Your health regenerates.  Your shields regenerate.  You trip over more ammo than you’ll ever be able to carry, even more so when it’s necessary to advance.  Yet, I felt compelled to buy it.

The premise behind this game is very simple and begins in media res as Monkey frees himself from his captivity aboard a slave ship, seizing upon the havoc wrought by a mysterious female figure.  Out of some misguided sense of purpose, Monkey follows this figure while the ship breaks apart around them, and through this the gorgeous vistas of this game are introduced.

Enslaved is set in a world that embraces the “post” in “post-apocalyptic.”  Rather than a decayed setting amidst a myriad of mauve, brown and gray Enslaved is set in cities and environs so long ruined that life has bloomed once more.

I don’t believe New York has ever looked quite so lush.

This aesthetic shift serves the game well as you largely spend most of the game traveling and exploring, broken up by set pieces that may be boss battles or large-scale puzzles.

What truly intrigued me about this game was its premise and how it might affect the protagonist’s characterization.  Shortly after escaping the ship, the woman, named Trip, uses some slaver technology to enthrall Monkey, who now is faced between obeying Trip’s commands while keeping her alive, and death.

However, Trip is not a villain, and it’s easy to sympathize with her; even Monkey seems to understand her reasons, however begrudgingly.  Yet Trip and Monkey must both live with the consequences of her unreconcilable act of forcibly removing another sentient person’s own agency in his life.

Which touches upon the game’s biggest disappointment, which is that this never is quite fully addressed; it comes up, it’s dealt with, but I don’t believe the characters treated it with the weight that it deserved, and the writer more or less let them get away with it.

This does stand out as a major fault because the interaction and growth between Monkey and Trip is among the greatest I’ve seen in a game.  It’s far from a game built around the much-benighted “escort quest,” and Trip and Monkey’s chatter ranges from topical to irreverent, yet never didactic or infantile.  Each line that even had a chance of being spoken more than once was recorded dozens of times with different inflections, so they always seem to speak like they’re actually acting out what you’re playing.

More importantly, moments are treated with the gravity that they truly possess, and while it plots a lighthearted course, these moments tug on your heartstrings.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried during a game before.

All of this coupled with the excellent animation — Monkey carrying Trip somehow looks so right — made Trip endear herself to me just as she did to Monkey.  And through their combined talents, they were able to accomplish so much where one would have failed.  Maybe that’s justification enough.

The game winds down to an ending that’s more exhaustive than fulfilling, and closure is something you’ll have to be content that the characters received and you didn’t, as a previously unfocused subplot comes to the forefront.

But I do feel like efforts like these need to be encouraged, and it’s still a good game with characters that compel throughout.

  1. I have to admit, other than liking the concept of a green apocalypse, this game never really interested me. Partially due to its connection to the DBZ myth…and yess i’m aware of the stupidity of hate based on that.
    But you have talked it up to me a bit, and I must say at some point I would like to give it a go.

    Also, if you want total no coddling, go real old school and play Ninja Gaiden. It hates you, and you will like it.

  2. To my (limited) knowledge of Journey to the West, it’s my understanding that this game has in common only that 1)a character named Trip pressed a character named Monkey into guard duty, as they 2) travel in a westerly direction.

    Monkey’s character design is a gentle nod to the DBZ adaptation in some ways, but he’s actually pretty neat to look at with all of his tribal scarring, the softening of his gruff demeanor, and his deft animations.

    I’m not sure I’m in the market for a game that doesn’t hold my hand, actually. If it’s not an FPS, I don’t even bother with the difficulty; if the game annoys me, I’ll even set it to easy. Not that Ninja Gaiden hasn’t intrigued me for other reasons, but at this point I’d be playing it just to see how laughably ridiculous the difficulty is.

    But I digress; I can totally lend you my copy of Enslaved, which is good for around eight hours of play, if you do not rent it first. It doesn’t have any replayability outside of cheevo hunting, and only has one DLC which I’ve heard good things about, but am unwilling to fork over 800MSP for as yet.

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