Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Premium Edition – PC
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Ninja Theory
Release Date: Oct 24, 2013
Genre: Action, Adventure
Reviewed by Mark Smith

Review Score: 5 of 5

It’s been just over three years since Enslaved: Odyssey to the West appeared on the Xbox 360 and secured its spot as one of the best games nobody ever played. Released at a time of stifling Christmas competition, Ninja Theory’s action-brawler-adventure never achieved the commercial success it deserved despite still being heralded by critics and those who did play it as a phenomenal piece of work.

I’m not sure why it has taken so long for Namco to port this game to the PC, but I’m secretly glad they did, because I know whatever PC I was running back in 2010 was nowhere near capable of running the game as it appears today. With a respectable gaming rig Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Premium Edition is going to look and play just as good as any other game releasing in 2013 – it may even approach Gen 4 quality if you take the time to tweak some hidden settings.

And therein lies my one and only complaint with the game. Despite having three years to tweak the in-game menus nobody bother to create any type of video settings aside from picking your resolution. If you download this game from Steam and play it as released the game will look like crap; and I hate to use that word. There are so many aliasing issues and horrible screen tearing the game is virtually unplayable. Shimmering textures and poor framerate was giving me a headache and I was ready to wrap up my review for the PC version after the first horrible level. But after a quick trip to the Steam Forums I found a remarkable post that told of a configuration file you could open in Notepad and edit about a dozen variables. After making the necessary changes specific to my PC I restarted the game and was witness to something entirely new – something that could easily pass for an Xbox One or PS4 game. It’s a shame that gamers will have to take the initiative to do a little tweaking, but then again, PC gamers are no strangers to tweaking .ini files.

Enslaved is a post-apocalyptic action-brawler with subtle elements of cooperative gameplay and even some RPG character building when it comes to leveling up your weapons and even the main character’s abilities. This was the second game to come from Ninja Theory (Heavenly Sword on PS3 being their first) Enslaved boasts an incredible story, a totally immersive world, compelling characters, energetic combat, and some of the best environmental action puzzles since Prince of Persia or Tomb Raider.

The story starts off with a literal bang as Trip, a doe-eyed redhead escapes from her slave compartment and sabotages the transport. As the airship starts to explode another potential slave, Monkey (that’s you) escapes from his pod and follows the redhead in an attempt to escape the doomed ship. They manage to make their way to an escape pod just as the ship crashes into New York City…or what’s left of it.

While unconscious, Trip wires Monkey up with a slaver headband forcing him to escort her back home to her village. It’s a long and perilous journey fraught with hundreds of deadly robots, gun turrets, hazardous environments and some of the best melee and weapons combat I’ve played since DMC or God of War. Spanning more than a dozen chapters, Enslaved will occupy at least 10-14 hours of your time as you head west from the ruins of New York City to the mountains, the desert, the swamp, and even an underwater base.

Trip is the brains of the duo, able to hack computers and taunt enemies with a holographic decoy. She scans the levels for danger zones with a robotic dragonfly and can also upgrade Monkey’s weapons and abilities provided he finds enough of the floating orange tech orbs that are generously distributed about the levels like Pac-Man dots. You’ll get even more orbs from enemy mechs once you’ve crushed them into scrap metal. Monkey fights using a simple set of moves for staff melee as well as being able to aim and shoot his staff firing pulse and stun rounds, the latter being used to get past shielded enemies.

While you could go into this game madly mashing buttons, the combat is extremely rewarding when you take the time to analyze the enemies and perform slick combos and counters. You can even listen for audible cues for counters on certain mechs. Some bots have icons noting you can perform a takedown move on them, usually with explosive results that can aid you even further against any remaining targets.

There is a bit of stealth where you have Trip decoy enemies so you can sneak around them or get to the next cover and then you can return the favor by drawing fire on your position so Trip can join you. Additional cooperation comes into play when you have to give Trip the occasional piggyback ride or throw her across some distance she can’t jump herself. It’s an interesting dynamic that is used just enough so it doesn’t get stale. Monkey also has a Cloud – a hover disc that glides on a cushion of air. This leads to some fast chase sequences as well as some more leisurely exploration. The physics and handling of this disc were surprisingly good once you get the hang of it.

Other action game staples are in place like the regenerating shield that protects the primary health bar, all of which can be upgraded. It’s a fairly elaborate upgrade system that is hard to max out unless you are extremely diligent in locating every last tech orb. Also hidden around the levels are dozens of masks that will glitch Monkey’s headband and give him some wild visions of life before the apocalypse. These make more sense when you eventually reach the mind-blowing epilogue.

I was continually stunned by the updated visuals that were coming from my HDTV. The term “post-apocalyptic” usually stirs up images of dark and dirty levels, but Enslaved is like a trip through Jurassic Park. We’re given hints that the “war” was 200 years ago, so we still have just enough of the NYC skyline remaining to identify the location, but then the designers have gone in and seamlessly overlaid civilization with a suitable amount of lush green vegetation, rust, and decay while keeping everything sunny bright and oddly cheerful – if it weren’t for those human-hating robot slave masters.

The animation is super smooth, both in combat and in acrobatic navigation where Monkey has a decisive weight and physicality about him. The camera can be a bit twitchy until you get used to the sensitivity of the stick. Character designs are breathtaking, especially in the close-ups where facial mo-cap work is used to convey even the slightest hint of emotion. Trip is easily one of the most innocent beauties to grace a video game in quite some time – a great contrast to the revolting Pigsy. The audio portion of the game is just as amazing as everything else with epic music worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, incredible voice acting and one of the best scripts in recent years. This is the kind of writing I expect from adventure games and Pigsy has some of the best lines in the game. The sound effects are just as impressive with great environmental sounds, creepy mech noises, and blazing combat and weapon’s fire effects that will blow you away in a stunning surround mix.

Enslaved is a long and challenging action game with a steady progression of difficulty. It’s not long before the designers start throwing excessive numbers of enemy mechs at you and mix their types, which forces you to do some impromptu strategic planning in mid-combat, especially when they throw in a mech that is signaling for backup and you have 10 seconds to destroy him. It pays to find those tech orbs and upgrade wisely; still, nothing can prepare you for the final level.

The story is totally captivating and I really enjoyed the relationship that develops between Monkey and Trip. It’s not your typical Stockholm syndrome, especially when Pigsy, an old friend of Trip joins the party and complicates things. In fact, from the moment Pigsy joins the story, the entire game gets exponentially better going into the final act. You really start to develop relationships with these characters.

There are some challenging Achievements waiting for you, some of which are easily earned while playing normally and others that will take some dedicated exploration and at least one additional replay. You can revisit individual chapters to find missing items or replay on a harder skill level. While there is no multiple the Premium Edition on Steam does offer “Pigsy’s Perfect 10”, the original DLC from the Xbox 360, as well as character enhancement skins Ninja Monkey, Classic Monkey and Sexy Trip. Besides, Enslaved is one of those games that is so cinematically fantastic, you’ll want to revisit the experience in a few months just like a good movie.

I can’t believe how much better this game is on the PC – once you manually tweak the settings that is. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was one of my picks for Best Action Game of 2010 and with this stunning upgrade on the PC I might just have to make a similar nomination in 2013. It’s definitely a console game by design so plan on playing with a gamepad and prepare yourself for an amazing emotional ride that no action gamer should miss. Even if you played this on the Xbox 360 you really owe it to yourself to experience it all again on the PC Premium Edition.