The story starts with Monkey on a slave ship that is about to crash. Monkey’s pod breaks, allowing him to escape. Seeing Trip run away, he runs after her until he takes a free ride on her escape pod. After landing on the ground (gotta assume unsafely), Trip puts a slave headband on Monkey, basically forcing him to help her get home. Your goal is to escort Trip back to her home, fighting mechs and climbing walls and such along the way.
Controlling Monkey jumping from platform to platform is seamless; I never grew tired of doing the many platform sequences Enslaved has since Monkey moves quickly. The game has a sort of built-in protection system, preventing you from making jumps that can lead to death or heavy damage, so that’s either a love or hate thing depending on your thoughts about a game “holding your hand”, so to speak. The camera is generally OK throughout the game. Most of the game, you have full control over the camera, but as you traverse the levels, you’ll sometimes be limited to where you can move the camera. It does have one issue in combat, as sometimes you’ll just have to remember that an enemy is off the screen and behind you to charge up your stun attack. Throughout the game, I always wondered if the camera was just a bit too close to Monkey. Being closer allows you to see the action more intensely, but it makes it a bit difficult to take in the levels Ninja Theory has created. Also, Monkey uses a cloud to surf around, which is fun in the couple of stages where the game is designed to use it. It’s handling isn’t perfect and the sense of speed isn’t quite there, but it’s still fun and I’m glad that I didn’t have to die 10 times just to understand how to ride it.
The action element of Enslaved is intense but lacks evolution in execution as I had mentioned in my impressions of the game. This is interesting given the high amount of upgrades you can give Monkey in the game. You have the Combat statistic with moves like Focus Attack (Monkey’s best combo) and Staff statistics like Increased Plasma Damage and Rate of Fire. The thing is, I bet it’s possible to beat the game without really upgrading. Enemies are respectful in battle, meaning when you’re engaged with 1 of 5 mechs, the others won’t join in. The upgrades are great and noticable certainly, and the action is fun, but it can become repetitive since your enemy never really changes throughout the trip. (pun intended) The few boss battles are a good change of pace, and though I criticize of repetition, I think the number of bosses here is great. Having Trip help is interesting with her decoy ability, but later on in the game, her usefulness becomes more situational (pressing buttons, etc.) instead of relying on her ability to distract mechs. The game does kind of promote stealth early on, but midway through, any hopes of being Solid Monkey or Sam Monkey go out the window once you’re ambushed by mechs.
Graphically, Enslaved looks great, but does lack a bit of polish. As you start the game, you’re somewhere in America and the landscape looks really great, and later on in the game, you move into a more factory setting. Enslaved’s world is filed under “Post-Apocalyptic”, and if that’s the case, this is the pretty attractive instance of post-apocalyptic. It’s not one you’d want to live in, but the vegetation that has overtaken the skyscrapers and just the amount of green you’ll see is great to take in. I’ve read of framerate concerns (and I played the PS3 version), but I actually had no such issues throughout. Texture pop-in can be spotted in every single cutscene, but doesn’t come up in gameplay, thankfully. In some cases, the closer you get, the less appreciative you can be of the visuals.
The story, based off the old Chinese novel Journey to the West, is definitely a strong point to the game. The pacing of the story is really good; it didn’t have a particularly dull moment, and that is as much a testament to good level design as it is to the journey of Trip & Monkey. Even a scene early on when Trip asks Monkey to catch one of the mechanical dragonflies, it has a charm to it with nice background music, humorous dialogue between the two, and good platforming. A little later on in the game, a 3rd person named Pigsy jumps in to help T&M, and much like Monkey, his name is a proper description of him. (How come Trip doesn’t Trip a lot?) One thing that actually never gets covered is: Why were Trip and Monkey on that slave ship? The game lives in the moment and never really backtracks all that much, so it’s the only real plot hole in the game. At a couple points throughout the game, the possibility of a budding relationship between Monkey & Trip comes up. She gains a bit of fascination for him after one chapter when he does something awesome, but that moment kind of fades away after a while. The relationship between Monkey & Trip is comparable to that of The Prince & Elika from Prince of Persia, except that Prince and Elika spoke a lot more in their game and thus were more engaging than Monkey & Trip. There are also Glitch Masks that you’ll come across in the game, which play a role toward the end of Enslaved. Speaking of which…
Spoiler-Free Opinions of the Ending
The ending for Enslaved is something that is hinted throughout the duration of the game, and after Chapter 14 is completed, you are treated to an epilogue. The ending is pretty good because it was being hinted at without bashing you in the skull during your journey through the West. It doesn’t really overreach in an attempt to shock the player, and in a weird way, it makes you wonder if the choice made at the end is actually a good call or a bad call. A bad ending plays games with your mind in its misdirect; but a good ending makes you think about what you just saw.
If you played Heavenly Sword and there was anything you liked about it, you’ll see Ninja Theory’s evolution in game design. The story is a great sci-fi tale that doesn’t go too quickly or too slowly, traversing each level is enjoyable, jumping as Monkey is pretty cool, and the actual development between Trip & Monkey is nice to see. I say Rent because you can beat it within a 9-12 timeframe, and unless you love trophies, you might not be overly eager to replay missions to find every tech orb or every Glitch Mask. What Enslaved has that the previously mentioned Prince of Persia game doesn’t have is a lot more action/fighting moments. Enslaved is a solid sophomore effort from Ninja Theory, so check it out.