There is a man named Monkey and a woman named Trip. New York City is in shambles, its landmarks collapsed or covered in ivy. What looks like a new co-op game is a singleplayer epic, gaming's new sci-fi original.
Enslaved: Odyssey To The West comes from Ninja Theory, development studio behind Heavenly Sword which claims as its best attributes games with fun combat, terrific visual styles and voice-and-body acting by Gollum himself, Andy Serkis. This is an original sci-fi road movie of sorts with likable characters: the player's prisoner man Monkey and the computer-controlled Trip, a young woman who has affixed a crown to Monkey's head that will murder him if he strays or if she dies.
People who like Uncharted and other games full of jaw-dropping scenery through which you can acrobatically jump your hero; also people who love the sometimes-flirtatious dynamic seen as far back as Prince of Persia: Sands of Time that has the controllable lead guy bantering with the lead female throughout the adventure.
Why Should I Care?
Do you want to play a new game that has new characters? This is no sequel, and that's not something you can say for most of the other games coming out later this year. It's also the latest release from an ambitious studio that next gets to work on a new Devil May Cry, so gamers might want to see how these upstarts are doing.
Hold up. They are putting out games in the late 2010 that aren't sequels? They sure are, and Enslaved is all the more fun because of it. This is the post-apocalypse (story by Alex Garland of 28 Days Later fame). We're on the run. We're climbing the rubble of the Brooklyn Bridge. These are things fiction has shown you before, but you still won't be able to predict every piece of Monkey and Trip's adventure.
Gameplay is king, right? Sometimes. Enslaved's best qualities aren't playable. They are the things you look at, like the scenery I captured here from an early level in the game. Graphics so good I called my wife into the room to check them out:
Is that your roundabout way of saying the gameplay isn't any good? Much of the gameplay is what we can call Modern-Simple, the 21st century style of being able to trust that button-mashing and pushing the stick while frequently tapping "A" will get you through the game's combat and platforming without worrying about death. This is a game with content you chew through, as the gameplay isn't there to make you panic, just slow you a tad. You'll never fall and die, I promise.
"Easy" isn't a dirty word to me. Can you describe the gameplay more? Monkey uses a staff he holds with two hands, Star Fox-style, to batter enemies or to shoot stun and blast projectiles from afar. But enemies - read: mechs - often have shields or guns, compelling the player to call Trip to cause a distraction. Less complex but more impressive is the game's platforming, a series of amazing set-pieces across extraordinary, ruined landscapes. These are the wow, the things you'll cherish.
Andy Serkis, the lead voice and body-acting talent behind Ninja Theory's Heavenly Sword and Enslaved acting as the digital Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.
Heavenly Sword, Enslaved studio Ninja Theory's 2007 debut PlayStation 3 game.
If you want a non-sequel, something fresh and sci-fi, and if you're not going to bellyache about it being done in 10 or 12 hours.
Don't Buy It
If you want more depth in your melee combat than some basic light and hard strikes, a block, a roll and a few upgradable powers; or if you're against seeing the most beautiful Unreal Engine 3 game with bright blue skies on the market.
The Bottom Line
Enslaved boasts the winning Prince of Persia dynamic of hero and heroine learning to get along as you trapeze to the next rooftop. But while the game's storytelling is solid, that Andy Serkis influence is just polish improving the main star, the game's scenery. Beautiful, led by enjoyable characters and not very tough, Enslaved is the Uncharted of the season, a pleasing vacation in a great-looking version of our world.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was developed by Ninja Theory and published by Namco Bandai Games, released on October 5 in North America for the Xbox 360 and PS3 for $US60. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the campaign and thoughts about the ending I can't spoil here.