Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

A Girl and Her Monkey

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West proves storytelling in games is alive and well. Oh, and it's rather gorgeous to boot.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 13, 2010
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I have a problem. For whatever reason, and for as long as I can remember, I've had a very easy time getting sucked into worlds regardless of medium. Books, movies, TV shows and, yes, video games are all portals to something far more creative and lush than my tiny little head can conceive. I've also got quite possibly the most easily-suspended disbelief centers of any human currently living on this planet.

Those two things mean one very important one: I love experiencing a well-crafted world. It also means I'm far more lenient about niggling little things that may dissuade others from getting fully invested and those two main things are at the absolute crux of my oft-insta-infatuation. If a game looks good -- really good -- establishes an early aesthetic, builds upon it consistently and without slipping too much, and it offers characters that don't break from their role too often, I'm a complete emotional pushover.

Sure, I have to like them, but that can be something as little as a cute smirk or a deadpan delivery of a line. In books, this is something your mind can readily fill in, and with movies or TV, it just comes down to a good actor. In games, though, it's a much, much harder sell. Maybe it's because I've been playing games for so long that finally seeing something approaching what I'd conjured up in my noggin or viewed with my peepers in other mediums is that much more impressive.

The actual explanation is irrelevant, though, the effect is that Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is nothing short of breathtaking in how it delivers a cinematic storyline with stage play-like attention to detail. That probably won't come as much of a surprise to those that played developer Ninja Theory's last game. After all, it too was overseen and starred in by one Andy Serkis, a guy who knows more than a little about turning motion-captured performances into something utterly believable.

Unlike Heavenly Sword, though, Enslaved is a far more concise, measured series of performances. Despite a wildly different range of environments (and for once, I don't mean that in the sense of ice world/fire world/garden world/etc), the actual cast is really only four characters -- five if you count a faceless enemy that has a handful of lines. The rest is pure interaction between actual, honest-to-goodness characters. They emote, they restrain, they offer something behind the eyes and little facial ticks that aren't entirely real just yet, but are far closer than 99% of the games thus far have ever gotten.

Again, this is something Ninja Theory demonstrated well with Heavenly Sword, but the leap here is noticeable. You could see broader emotions like fear or rage or sorrow, but Enslaved regularly tiptoes between these more noticeable expressions and revels in its ability to deliver something far more subtle. I know I keep gushing over this stuff, but until you've actually seen the cutscenes in action, there's really no way to fully sell just how accomplished Ninja Theory has become at creating believable characters. Suffice it to say, they've absolutely nailed the art of creating virtual characters that seem anything but imaginary.
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