Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - 360/PS3

Set 150 years in the future, Enslaved takes place in rubble-strewn post-apocalyptic America. So far, so cliched, but dismiss this Ninja Theory game at your peril as Odyssey to the West is far from your run-of-the-mill post-war adventure.

Based on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, by Wu Chen-en, Enslaved features protagonist Monkey as he's roped into helping tech wizard Tripitaka escape slavers and get back safely to her village.

If the story of Monkey and Trip's quest rings a bell, then you'll no doubt remember classic Japanese TV series Monkey, which was screened in the UK in the early Eighties. The character names may be the same, but the setting here couldn't be more different from the cult classic TV show.

While the opening segment of the adventure loses its way due to some dodgy camera angles and a laborious and long-winded intro level, Enslaved soon blossoms into one of the finest action adventures you'll play all year.

Lord of the Rings actor Andy Serkis brings his abundant talents to the project, breathing life into the acrobatic lead character, while the writing skills of Alex Garland (28 Days Later and The Beach) have been called upon to weave this re-imagining of the classic tale.

The destroyed ruins of New York set the scene for the opening portion of the game and while post apocalyptic worlds are nothing new in gaming, they have never looked quite as good as this.

It's a riot of saturated beauty, with bright greens, vivid reds and eye-watering blues mixed together to create a visual feast. The colour seems to spill out from the screen creating an interesting and inviting gameworld to spend time in.

It's a relief, then, to find that the core gameplay more than matches the game's stunning visuals. Not only is Monkey a dab hand at beating down enemies with his staff, he is also proficient at clambering up vertigo-inducing structures such as skyscrapers and windmills with ease.

Combat is a simple combination of heavy and light attacks, with Monkey also able to stun enemies and fry them using plasma blasts. While the close quarter battles can occasionally turn into button mashing competitions, they are generally fluid and a visual treat. Later adversaries also require a bit more thought to take down and pose a much greater threat to the fleeing duo.

Brightly coloured orbs are peppered throughout the lavish gameworld, and collecting these enables Trip to upgrade Monkey's abilities. From health boosts to attacking prowess, every element of Monkey's skill set can be enhanced by seeking out these glittering neon treasures.

While Monkey is built to withstand the constant attacks from the mechs and slavers who have invaded America, Trip is a bit more delicate. Monkey has to protect her but can also call upon her to distract enemies while he nimbly flanks them before reducing them to chunks of scrap metal. She can also use her skills to highlight deadly traps on the road ahead and turn her hand to a variety of other useful endeavours.

Puzzles present themselves at regular intervals, each one requiring at least a modicum of teamwork to solve the conundrum - although they lack variety and often feel tacked on just for the sake of it.

The quality of the voice acting and the on-screen mannerisms of the characters is impossible to ignore. There are no wooden performances here, instead the relationship between the two characters unfolds beautifully and every in-game cut scene is a treat to watch.

The delicious blend of stunning visuals, great story and satisfying gameplay is tied together by the spellbinding soundtrack. Written by composer Nitin Sawhney, the musical score is simply breathtaking and is one of the finest collections of tracks I've heard all year.

The game might be linear in its structure, and tread old ground in many places but that doesn't stop Enslaved from being a thoroughly entertaining journey across war ravaged America.

Ninja Theory have learned from the mistakes of Heavenly Sword and have delivered one of my favourite games of the year. The Christmas games rush has already started, but whatever you do, don't let Enslaved pass you by.

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