Video games don't handle relationships very well. The longest-running romance in the field is between Mario and Princess Peach, but we hardly ever see them together. What do they talk about after he's rescued her from Bowser for the 100th time?
When two video-game characters connect, it usually translates into the kind of grunting camaraderie seen between men's men such as Marcus and Dom in "Gears of War" or the leads in "Kane & Lynch." But every now and then you get something that resembles an actual adult relationship: Take, say, the Prince and Farah from "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," or Ico and Yorda from "Ico."
"Enslaved: Odyssey to the West" introduces the most engaging game couple in years. He is Monkey, a taciturn bruiser who's smarter than he lets on. She is Trip, a limber gamin who's a wizard with high tech. As escapees from an interstellar slave ship, their quest for freedom evolves into a tale of vengeance.
But there's a twist that so far hasn't been tried in a Sandra Bullock romantic comedy: Monkey is outfitted with a headband that forces him to obey Trip's every command, and if she dies, he dies. Can this unlikely couple survive a harrowing journey across a post-apocalyptic America?
"Enslaved" is set 150 years in the future, and most of humanity appears to have been wiped off the face of the Earth. Monkey and Trip crash-land in an eerily quiet Manhattan, where Grand Central Station and the Empire State Building are crumbling and overgrown with vegetation. The vivid setting - with brilliant greens replacing the drab grays of your typical video-game wasteland - brings to mind Alan Weisman's "The World Without Us." Except now there are killer robots on patrol.
You control Monkey, and the gameplay mostly alternates between hand-to-hand combat and "Prince of Persia"-style acrobatics. This is where "Enslaved" stumbles: Instead of letting you figure out how to navigate its gorgeous, elaborate landscapes, it holds your hand every step of the way. Initially, I appreciated the glaring signposts telling me what to do next. But eventually, I came to resent being dragged along the game's strictly linear path and longed to explore this strange world on my own.
There's the occasional gunfight - your fighting stick doubles as a kind of low-power bazooka - and a few sequences where you can zip around on Monkey's hoverboard-like "cloud." And, there are several epic battles against particularly monstrous mechs, including an exhausting, multipart endgame that's spectacular and satisfying.
But the real appeal of "Enslaved" is in its characters and the way their relationship evolves, from combative and resentful to affectionate and respectful. Monkey is voiced by Andy Serkis (Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings"), who also served as the character's motion-capture model; Trip is played by Lindsey Shaw (from ABC Family's "10 Things I Hate About You"). Their performances, along with a solid script co-authored by Alex Garland, make "Enslaved" one of the most emotionally resonant video games in a long time.
'Enslaved: Odyssey to the West'
Rated T, $59.99 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3