Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a loose adaptation of the sixteenth-century Chinese novel, Journey to the West by Wu Ch’êng-ên. However, the humour and action of the game shares more in common with the excellent Japanese TV series from the 1970s, Monkey. There’s even a bonus ‘Classic Monkey’ unlockable outfit which strongly resembles Monkey’s red-velvet and gold costume.
Even so, the similarities between these two are mostly only in name and in the fact that the journey which provides the narrative of the game is literally a journey from east to west across a post-apocalyptic North America. Missing are the religious/philosophic/spiritual overtones, the colourful villains and, most disappointingly, the friendly fish-demon, Sandy.
There is serious talent involved with this game. Writing comes from Alex Garland, who has penned some great films such 28 Days Later, Dredd and Ex Machina. Beyond the futuristic setting, Enslaved bears little resemblance to his films. If I was to compare this game to any film, it would have to be Romancing the Stone (1984), as in each an unlikely, yet inevitable love story unfolds.
Andy Serkis lends his acting talent and voice to the main character of the game, Monkey. His gruff, brooding delivery completes the hulking character (whose physique is very Jonny Bravo-esque), but also brings a range of emotion and humour through his exchanges with the two other characters, Trip and Pigsy. Andy Serkis is an actor that manages to appear in almost every one of my favourite film franchises (Star Wars, LOTR, Marvel), and yet you never get sick of his face – usually because his face is covered by CGI. In this game you actually get to see his real face however, in the form of strange still-image flashbacks.
Gameplay is equal parts platforming, brawling and puzzle solving. For the most part, the platforming is smooth and visceral. However, the rails and ledges you must launch yourself from are often buggy, meaning that if you are not in exactly the right position to proceed forward, you will get stuck and, if it is during one the frequent, against-the-clock segments – you will die. The brawling aspect is straight-forward with the ability to switch between melee and ranged. The bô-staff is a weapon rarely seen in video games, but I would have expected more in the way of combos. In terms of puzzles, there are some head-scratchers in there, but nothing too challenging. Most of them involve some form of co-op with the AI-controlled Trip who is not shy about telling Monkey what it is he needs to do.
The aesthetics of each level and the background art are consistently attractive. The game is split into several chapters, with each having its own distinct look and feel. From a long-deserted urban landscape (similar to the Last of Us), to remote mountain villages (think Final Fantasy X) and the outsides of giant mechanical beasts (at a stretch, Shadow of the Colossus). In terms of visuals, no two levels are the same, although the platforming and range of enemies is largely unchanged throughout the game.
The magic elements that made the TV series so enjoyable, have all been replaced – like much else in the world in which the game is set – by technology. Monkey’s magic staff, is now a telescopic weapon that shoots plasma, his flying cloud is some kind of electro-magnetic hoverboard – with selective functionality – and the demons that usually comprise his enemies are now all killer-mechs. Instead of colourful characters travelling through a kaleidoscopic world, we have colourful characters travelling through a lifeless one. This may be a central theme of the game, but some of the charm is lost.
The visuals, the talent involved in the making of the game, and its source material all present a highly attractive mask. But strip it away and you are left with quite a hollow experience. A small range of enemies and an even smaller cast leave the game feeling much shorter than it actually is and restricts the re-playability. This game joins a long list of Monkey adaptations, and, unfortunately, it features low down on that list.