What's British and Not Making Money? Ninja Theory! For a long time, the Cambride studio was able to rely on two constants: The game press and the players showered their works with praise, while at the same time they remained like lead on the shelves. Only with Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice could this curse be broken.
One of those games from the older days that never got the attention they deserved is Enslaved: Odyssey to the West; According to many fans, this is the highlight in the portfolio of the team now working under Microsoft. In a pleasantly different, because very colorful post-apocalypse, we accompany the protagonist duo Monkey and Trip on their way to free the enslaved citizens of the destroyed world.
The story is not entirely new: As is so often the case, the classic Chinese work "The Journey to the West" serves as inspiration – most recently the promising Black Myth: Wukong was based on it. Sure, the setting is completely different, instead of magic there is technology and instead of demons, the heroes compete against sometimes huge mechs.
Also with the plot one has taken a lot of freedom. In essence, however, you are surprisingly true to the template. The main hero Monkey is the counterpart of the literal monkey in the story, complete with a suitable posture and a kind of cloth to replace the tail; Trip takes on the role of the monk from the novel and even the pig companion from the original receives a counterpart later in the game. The skills of the playable protagonist are also similar to those in the book. He has a changeable staff with which he fights, and even a kind of cloud on which he can move rapidly.
Source: PC Games
But "Journey to the West" wasn't the developers' only inspiration. With a view to the enemies, it is obvious that the works of Studio Ghibli were the inspiration here. Just think of the robotic journeymen from The Castle in the Sky or the gigantic insect creatures from Nausicaä from the Valley of the Winds, very similar to the Mechs.
From the canvas to the screen
This inspiration almost went even further, because at the beginning Enslaved was actually not planned as a game, but as a CGI film. The rights to Ninja Theory's last work, Heavenly Sword (of which there is actually a CGI film version), were owned by Sony, which is why, instead of developing a second part, based on the dynamics of the characters from this title, the world and characters from Odyssey to the West devised. This approached various film studios, but there was a hail of rejection after rejection. So the team decided to go for a playable adventure instead and finally found a publishing partner in Bandai Namco.
Source: PC Games
The film weakness Ninja Theory was still obvious, because as with Heavenly Sword, motion capture expert Andy Serkis, best known for his role as Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, was back on board. He lends hero Monkey his voice, his facial expressions and his movements and even his face to the final adversary of the story.
So much effort for a project that, when it was released in September 2010, fell well short of the expected sales figures. One can speculate about why. A sequel that was actually planned therefore never saw the light of day.
The end of the world as it should be
Even nowadays, one can hardly praise the story, the atmosphere and the characters of the game enough. Even ten years after its release, the believable, beautiful game world has lost none of its charm. You probably don't lean too far out the window if you suspect that a Horion: Zero Dawn cut a disc here for its also very colorful post-apocalypse and that it's up to Enslaved that games with an end-of-time setting are now generally less popular Gray and brown are kept.
Source: PC Games
It is also impressive how the game manages to convey so much of its narrative not through excessive dialogues and explanations, but also simply to let looks, movements or silence do this job. This is of course due to the brilliant motion capture, but also to the fantastic script, which focuses on its understandable, cliché-free characters.
Monkey, who is not the blunt muscled man he initially appears, but a thoughtful, empathic soul; and Trip, who is neither Damsel in Distress nor a tough fighter, but a tough, highly intelligent survival artist full of contradictions. Every moment the two interact strengthens their bond and brings them closer to you as a player.
Source: PC Games
Only Pigsy, the third in the heroes' group, is a little less well drawn. It is written a bit clumsily and its spontaneous transformation into a selfless hero in the finale of the adventure is only taken from him to a limited extent. It definitely helps to play the stealth-heavy, only DLC for the title, "Pigsy's Perfect 10". In this prehistory we get more insight into his character, which makes him a little more understandable and personable.
Strange: Unlike the fully Germanized main game, the DLC is only available in English. Either way, we advise you to experience the whole adventure in the original language. Not only do you hear Andy Serkis' pleasant organ and the no less talented Lindsey Shaw in the role of Trips, you also miss the German synchro, which was really unsuccessful at the launch.
Give the monkey in command
Source: PC Games
relatively simple and very linear action adventure. Monkey fights with his staff, has strong, weak and rechargeable attacks and can of course also block and dodge. In addition, there is an hour and an attack shot and various life and attack improvements that can be unlocked in a very simply structured skill tree with collected tech orbs. In addition, a circle menu gives us access to various commands that we can give Trip, some of them context-sensitive. Then she follows us, distracts enemies or activates switches. Sounds like a strategic element, but is hardly worth mentioning in practice.
The second big play element awaits us with skill passages, in which we have to climb up walls, along steep cliffs or in the midst of dilapidated ruins. If these scrambles are already very simple and easy in comparable adventures like those of the Uncharted series, even less can happen to you here. It is not possible to jump into the abyss by mistake, only if a seemingly secure grip proves to be brittle and you do not jump to the next stop fast enough, you can theoretically see the game over screen here.
And last but not least, environmental puzzles await us, in which we have to activate a windmill or realign scaffolding in an old theater in order to get over it. These puzzles are mostly completely self-explanatory and offer a little variety, but no challenge.
Not all great in the post-apocalypse
Source: PC Games
All of this works well, but it's not particularly innovative or creatively designed. Even the rare boss fights usually run according to scheme F, apart from the really splendid final battle. So it's nice that sequences like the one in which we are on Monkey's replacement cloud, including rapid car chases, pleasantly loosen up the action. Enslaved is as playable today as it was back then, but its rudimentary structure is even more noticeable.
And some design decisions shouldn't have been made. It quickly becomes annoying that the tech orbs are apparently always lying around widely spread out on principle, which requires unnecessary walking; that often through forced passages in which we have to walk slowly, the pace is slowed down and too many mini-cutscenes interrupt the action; and that checkpoints are set on purpose so that after a game over you have to watch these cutscenes again, which incidentally cannot be interrupted. Add the very stubborn camera and the fact that Monkey likes to hang on to objects and does not stay in a rage, but in some moments it is a bit annoyed.
In addition, the technical work was sometimes sloppy. There are reloading textures everywhere, and there are always real bugs. Once, for example, Trip got caught in a ladder during our replay session, which required a restart of the game, once a boss decided that he just didn't want to move anymore, and we had to reload that too. And once we were happily catapulted out of the actual level area, but that was above all entertaining.
A new trip for Monkey and Trip?
This not irrelevant but forgivable flaw should not prevent anyone from giving Enslaved a chance today. There is more heart and talent in his story than in five other, worse games combined. In the meantime, Monkeys und Trip's post-apocalyptic excursion has earned a certain reputation as a cult classic, and rightly so. Will we ever see a sequel? With Microsoft as the financially strong new owner Ninja Theorys in the background, it is at least ensured that the team no longer has to turn every dollar twice for every decision. Hope dies last and the protagonist duo deserves a second appearance without any question.
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The ravages of time have gnawed at the gameplay, but not at the plot and the characters.
Since I last played Enslaved about ten years ago, I was a little nervous before starting it again. Would my very positive memories of the title correspond to reality? I can say with relief: yes! A “but” has to be added anyway. I fell in love again immediately with the wonderful, post-apocalyptic, but not designed according to scheme F world, with the emotional, clever story and above all with the protagonist duo Monkey and Trip. The ten years are already noticeable in a playful way, you can tell by the stubborn camera, the stupidly set checkpoints, the not always too great designed levels and the basically very simple structure of the adventure. Don't get it wrong, Enslaved doesn't play badly because of that and it's a real blessing to just experience a single player adventure without any kind of tackled live service chatter. There can never be enough of them! You shouldn't expect the famous feel of an Uncharted 4, for example.
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