Imagine being as unlucky as our protagonist, Monkey, having being captured & now en route to an unknown destination aboard a slave ship only to have said ship turn into a hellish inferno because some girl named Trip just wanted to escape (which is fair true, but not when you endanger people just as unlucky as you). Then, after all is said & done being yet again enslaved *roll credits* with some headband that forces you to follow all commands & ties your life to the person, this person being no other than the one that started the whole mess in the first place. That is the premise of ENSLAVED: Journey to the West, an action platformer set in a post-apocalyptic world full of robots, platforms & gruff anger.
As to the why & how of the post-apocalyptic state, don’t expect much as there isn’t enough, just bits & pieces of dialogue and glimpses to the past, but nothing in depth. The focus of the story is on Monkey & Trip’s eventual goal of having Trip reach her home & the promise of Monkey’s freedom. Sadly, I didn’t feel at all connected to the characters & the story itself I found just serviceable with some places in the narrative feeling like I missed out on something. Character growth was just there, only featuring some interesting moments that were over as soon as they appeared. There is also some comedy though its nothing fantastic & there is a certain character’s brand of comedy that might be “too much” for today’s “OMG offensive” culture.
How you will go about fulfilling your promise & in turn gaining your freedom is mostly through Monkey’s amazing acrobatic & combat skills. Sadly, the platforming was not at all engaging, one must only find the glowing spots on the terrain & press the action button to follow them, with hazards being few & far in between. Some fire, gears or crumbling pieces of platforms made up the entirety of them. Combat is much the same as it was not at all that deep either. One has a regular light & heavy attack, a block, evasive roll & a long-range weapon that deals damage & can stun is the gist of it.
At some point into the early chapters you will be allowed to unlock & upgrade things (the currency being the myriad of red orbs scattered through the levels) ranging from more health or some new gimmicks for combat, but all throughout combat remains the same. To top of the fighting, you have both a regenerating shield & a standard health bar (though you can upgrade this one to regenerate as well). The whole “gimmick’ of having to protect Trip is not particularly as important as it sounds, rarely was it an issue as enemies are not numerous & Trip being 10/10 in the art of stealth helps a ton. Oftentimes these events are triggered by plot. Trip is not without defense though, as she has an EMP device up her sleeve that will leave an enemies stunned for long enough for you to rescue her. Of course, this takes a while to recharge after usage so don’t let her get captured again, or she will die a rather brutal death… robots take no prisoners.
Besides the hazards of platforming, your only other enemy will be robots who are remnants of the past. They are your average enemy types. Most of them being melee based, with a few long-ranged variants. At Normal difficulty, there won’t be much in the way of any real threats, though needless to say, do not let them corner you or they will beat you to a pulp. In such cases, Monkey has an AoE no-damage attack that provides some breathing room. Your biggest enemy all throughout might just be the camera, which I found to be too close to Monkey & allowed for sneak attacks by the robots. The second flaw would be the innate ‘lock-on’ that happens with attacks. Sometimes they don’t trigger as fast as one would like, leaving you attacking nothing but empty air for a few seconds before it kicks in. There is no toggled lock-on.
Locales is a saving grace for this game, ranging from the ruined yet extremely verdant city to a rusty junkyard to a fair few more areas. They were all pretty amazing looking areas & the choice of the rather vibrant colors really make them pop. One thing I for sure would have wanted was an option to turn off the HUD since you visit some impressive looking area that would have made for decent PC wallpapers. Music was also rather enjoyable, though not prevalent & when it did play, it was often abruptly cut off leaving you high & dry. There were a few moments where the music playing was perhaps too cheery for what was happening on screen, but as mentioned, would be gone with the wind before long so this wasn’t much of an “issue”.
In the ways of flaws, there were a few more sadly. Some visual bugs with the shadows on characters & low textures that can be ignored in a sense. There were some issues with low framerate upon loading a new area. The biggest most annoying one was during two sections involving giving commands to Trip, the game wouldn’t register you picking the choice unless you go buck wild & repeatedly spammed the choice like it was expecting you to confirm that you do in fact want to perform that action. There is another one mentioned in the Steam forums involving an early section where an enemy is supposed to break a wall, but the scene would not happen if your graphics option was set to ‘Low’. I did not experience this issue, so I cannot confirm it, though the fix mentioned is as simple as setting the option to ‘High’ for that few seconds long event.
All in all, Enslaved is certainly not a ‘Game of all Time’ contender, but it is not one to be dismissed outright. The level design, infrequent music & serviceable story more than makes up for the rather average combat & some questionable dialogue. If you’ve got a hankering for a decent 7 or so hour buddy animals type of platformer, Enslaved will do just fine if found cheap or free.