Boasting talents such as Andy Serkis, Nitin Sawhney and Alex Garland, and coming from an up and coming studio in the form of Ninja Theory, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West should have spawned a franchise. It was however not to be. Though extremely well-received, sales figures did not meet expectations. As such, Enslaved is remembered fondly by those that played it, but that is the only legacy it has. With time coming around to its tenth anniversary, we take a look back at another forgotten classic.
Released in Europe on 8th October 2010, a few days after the North American release, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – hereinafter referred to as Enslaved to save my fingers – is loosely based on the novel Journey to the West. This might not be the most popular version, but this novel became the basis for Monkey: A Folk-Tale of China, which is how many people in the West will know the story as. Indeed, the main character you play as is also called Monkey.
However, Enslaved is set 150 years after a post-apocalyptic event that destroyed most of the human race. It presents an unusual post-apocalypse though; being set so far after a catastrophe has allowed nature to take back the Earth. Ruined buildings remain, but the world is lush with greenery and wildlife is starting to return.
It is far from a safe haven though; mechs still stalk the ground looking for any remaining humans to kill. Many of these mechs bear a resemblance to the enemies found in Horizon Zero Dawn – another game set way after a post-apocalypse that managed to fare much better on the PlayStation 4.
Monkey – voiced and mo-capped by the father of motion capture Andy Serkis – is on board a containment ship being transported to an undisclosed location with another woman called Trip. After they both manage to escape their cells, Trip finds an escape pod, but denies Monkey entry alongside her. The containment ship then crashes, leaving Monkey unconscious.
When he comes around though, he notices that Trip – voiced and mo-capped by Lindsey Shaw – has slipped a slave headband on him, meaning that if she dies, then a dead man’s switch will trigger, killing him too. He is forced to then escort her to her village on the other side of New York City.
The word ‘escort’ will strike fear into many gamers, but Enslaved was far from an elongated escort mission. Monkey had a staff that could be used as both a melee weapon and for firing projectiles that he would use to take down mechs. Trip had no combat abilities but was able to offer assistance by scanning areas or using an EMP blast to stun the mechs.
Combat was perhaps a bit basic at times in comparison to other action games, but that made sure that players understood the focus was not on it so much. It allowed players to concentrate more on the story rather than get bogged down with so many button combinations and variety of attacks.
And yes, of course, there were the occasional stealth sections included.
After realising Trips’ village is no more, they visit an old friend of hers called Pigsy who warns them of a huge mech being built nearby called a Leviathan. Rather than straight up destroy the base where it is being built, the three of them steal the Leviathan.
Pigsy was a human but wore armour and mods that made him look almost pig-like. He was voiced by Richard Ridings, who interestingly is also the voice of Daddy Pig in Peppa Pig. I don’t think many people can boast on their CVs to have voiced more than one pig person.
Enslaved also featured heavy platforming sections. Monkey was very agile and could climb up and around the ruins. After the release of Assassin’s Creed this type of traversal was all the rage for a few years, and Enslaved was no different; it was fast and fluid. Trip would sometimes hop onto Monkey’s back as the areas he was scaling would mean there was no going back, but she could also more than earn her keep by helping out in certain puzzle sections involving traditional buttons or levers.
After securing the Leviathan, the trio hear about a place called Pyramid, believed to be where human prisoners are kept, and likely where the containment ship Trip and Monkey met was heading towards. A huge fight breaks out in front of Pyramid as the mechs try to hold the three heroes from entering and finding out the truth, during which the Leviathan is destroyed.
That truth inside Pyramid is where writer Alex Garland excels. Having written the novel The Beach, and such films as 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Ex Machina and Annihilation, it should come as no surprise to his fans that the ending takes a bit of a diversion.
According to Ninja Theory co-founder Tameem Antoniades, Garland’s involvement was so major that he ended up being credited as co-designer. He advised on camera angles during battles, and even the way Trip stood when not performing an action: “If she was an actress and this was a movie, I’d tell her to stand differently, to look more intimidated, less confident“.
Then, at a time when the studio argued that Enslaved was “roughly complete”, Garland would play through the entire game and question a lot of it. He was looking for justification in the tiniest of details, something that the team found tough at the time, but one that players surely appreciated. Garland wasn’t picking fault; merely trying to make Enslaved as perfect as possible. For fans of his films, this attention to detail is nothing new.
Once Trip and Monkey get into Pyramid, they meet a man that also goes by the name of Pyramid, once again played by Andy Serkis. He claims to have lived from before the war that wiped out civilisation 150 years ago and that the ‘prisoners’ in Pyramid are actually having a better time of it than outside. By sharing his own pre-war memories through a mask fitted to the prisoners, Pyramid believes he is giving them some sort of solace. Pyramid gives Monkey the option to see for himself, and Monkey starts to see the appeal. That is before Trip disconnects him: perhaps part jealousy and part fear for his safety. But Trip goes further, and then kills Pyramid. Whilst freeing the prisoners, has she condemned them to a bleaker future? She asks herself and Monkey that very question as the game ends.
Back in 2010, Ninja Theory were still a fledgling studio, and Enslaved was just their third game produced, following on from the PlayStation 3 exclusive, Heavenly Sword. After these games though, they had more than proven themselves as capable at putting compelling stories together with solid gameplay. This has only been further proven with DmC: Devil May Cry and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, quickly putting them on Microsoft’s radar as a team to have under their Xbox Game Studios banner.
Enslaved was a bit of an unknown purchase for me personally. It was around Christmas time 2010 when I purchased it; it was already going cheap and it was my birthday weekend, so I took the plunge. And I have no regrets, as it was easily one of my favourite games on the Xbox 360. I even bothered to collect all the collectibles in the game and start a second playthrough on Hard difficulty, which is a high compliment for anyone that knows my viewpoint on collectibles. But finding the masks gave me the opportunity to take in as much of the world as I possible could, by checking every nook and cranny and absorbing it all.
There was also DLC released in the form of Pigsy’s Perfect 10. Set before the events of the main game, it centred around Pigsy’s loneliness, as he – with the help of a flying robot named Truffles – sets off to find scrap to build himself a companion. Pigsy played very differently to Trip or Monkey, and being able to have a DLC focused around him was a pleasant breath of fresh air. Much like the main game, there is a very human story told beneath the post-apocalyptic setting, and an ending that packs another emotional punch.
Sadly, as Enslaved failed to convert good reviews into sales figures, a planned sequel was dropped. Honestly, in the age of remasters, I thought this would have been a game nailed on to receive one to see if second time around would have made it fare any better. I know that Ninja Theory have their hands full with Hellblade 2, but if they could just do a quick touch-up of Enslaved in the meantime, that would be great.
For now though, Enslaved is available via Backwards Compatibility. Yet, despite Ninja Theory being under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella, it is not available on Game Pass. But you can pick it up for just over a tenner on the Xbox Store.
Does anyone else remember Enslaved: Odyssey to the West? It has always felt like one of those games that many have heard of, but few have tried it. If you have though, shout out in the comments below!