Long before Enslaved there was a TV series shown in the 70s called Monkey that was also based on the 16th century Chinese novel Saiyūki. According to the TV show theme tune 70s Monkey was “the funkiest monkey that ever popped”. If you called this new Monkey a funky monkey he’d probably pop you round the chops, being the tough videogame character that he is. 70s Monkey could change forms though – in one episode he turned into a hornet – so it’s swings and roundabouts regarding which Monkey is the best, really.
That’s quite enough monkey business for now. After an enthralling first level that will stick in your mind for years to come, hero Monkey finds himself in a war-torn and abandoned iteration of New York along with tech-savy female Trip. Trip can be given simple commands via a menu system and because she has control over Monkey, if she dies then Monkey will also snuff it. After a few hours of play the story progresses to outside the city and introduces a third character – Pigsy. Pigsy is a fat slob of a man who brings some humour into the mix, even making fun out of the lead character’s Jedward-alike hair. (Apologies if you read this review in 2011 and don’t have a clue who Jedward are).
Ninja Theory’s last game – the PlayStation 3 exclusive Heavenly Sword – was, and still is, a very beautiful game. Obviously if Enslaved looked any worse then it would be considered a step backwards for the studio, but fortunately this isn’t the case. The developer’s interpretation of a fauna and flora covered New York is superb, as is the facial animation and lip-synching of the three characters. Another treat for your eyes involves getting an old windmill to spin; the view of grass covered mountains in the background as you climb up the sails is astonishing. Even the swamp you have to visit looks colourful due to having brightly coloured mech fuel haphazardly poured into it.
Although combat doesn’t feature as heavily as you may expect, there are still plenty of instances to give the mechs a good whacking with Monkey’s whacking stick. Some enemies have guns that can be torn from their robotic limbs and used against them, while others will summon more mechs if you don’t take them out in good time. This means that you often have to prioritise which enemies to attack first, and as some have shields that have to be deactivated first it’s far from being a mindless button basher. It speaks volumes that I sometimes let them summon more troops just so I could give them a pasting. The boss battles are satisfying and creative as well, although it is a little lazy how one of the bosses shows up twice and can be beaten the same way as during the first encounter.
Even so, Enslaved is very hard game to criticise without sounding nitpicky. It is however not a very hard game. There’s one achievement for finishing a level without dying and another for finishing a level without taking a hit. Unless you forget that there’s a block button then I don’t see anybody struggling to get either. Trip’s animation is a little bit robotic in places when compared to Monkey’s extravagant jumping animations but like I said – it’s nitpicking. I’d happily say that this is one of the best adventure games of the year and quite possibly the best female escorting expedition since Ico. And no, I don’t mean female escorts in that sense. Trip is a classy lady.