ENSLAVED – An Odyssey and a half
Ever woken up with a bad headache and a vague memory of the night before, while plummeting towards the earth onboard a galactic slave-ship with only moments to escape before you meet a fiery doom? This is how our protagonist Monkey’s odyssey begins, and things don’t get much easier for our limber hero (voiced and motion-captured by Andy Serkis) as we follow him and his companion Trip through a post-apocalyptic landscape littered with murderous robots, and into their world’s heart of darkness.
Written by Alex Garland and based on a five-hundred-year-old Chinese novel by Wu Cheng’en, Enslaved is at its core a tactical platform game, but with all the benefits of sweeping panoramic views that make the linear stages appear expansive. Though you are not in an open world, there is enough climbing, swinging, shimmying, jumping and exploration of space to make you think that you are.
Action and cutscenes are of an equal, excellent visual quality, giving the impression that player is watching and participating in an extended feature film. The characters of Monkey, Trip, and later Pigsy, are rounded and witty, and their interactions bleed into the gameplay, adding to the cinematic effect.
While exploration is generally on-rails, however, the satisfyingly smash-and-grab combat requires a degree of strategy, giving the player the opportunity to alternate between avoidance tactics or full-on frontal assaults. You can either be sneaky and agile, or leap into the fray to wreak havoc upon enemies that grow ever more menacing both in technique and in scale. (The moment when you are confronted with a giant mechanised dog-bot is particularly terrifying.)
If only the game escalated to a more satisfying conclusion. After all the time and effort spent building story, characters and world, to be met with such a clichéd and tacked-on denouement will feel like a real kick in the teeth to players that have invested so much and expected so much more. Endings are a perennial problem in this industry, however, if the old saying is true and it’s the journey that matters, not the destination, you could hardly hope for a better travel companion.