More Info From PlayStation Magazine UK
The Talent…Meet the stars bringing Enslaved to life.
Andy Serkis As Monkey
Lindsey Shaw As Trip
The future’s a dangerous place 150 years from now, a long-dead conflict has decimated the planet. Humans are nearly extinct and dormant military robots litter ruined cities, waiting to attack anyone stupid enough to trigger them. The remains of mankind have little to look forward to beyond a brief crunchy end at the claws of an army surplus killbot that doesn’t know the war is over.
These people are split into two different factions. There are small, cultured communities using reclaimed technlogy to survive, who believe in group effort and teamwork. Then there are the wild men. Tribal loners roamng the wastelands, living off their strength and skill while shunning settlements to avoid the slave ships that periodically harvest humans. This is the world according to Enslaved, the new hybrid of puzzles, platforming and action from Heavenly Sword masterminds Ninja Theory
Prisoner Of War
Generally, the two sides don’t mix, but the games forces them together when a slave ship steals a girl called Trip from the protection of her settlement and the brutish Monkey from the wastelands, forcing them to work together to get home. What makes it interesting is that it’s not a willing partnership. Monkey is a prisoner, trapped by Trip using a pain-inducing headband that makes him her slave. It’ll kill him too if Trip dies, so forces him to obey her every command. Monkey doesn’t want to help, he simply has no choice. Co-founder of Ninja Theory and chief creative ninja Tameem Antoniades explains, “Trip’s not a bad person, She’s scared. She’s taken the headband and put it on Monkey, not beacause she’s evil but because she knows she won’t survive on her own. Monkey’s motivation is just to get her home and kill her if necessary for what she’s done.”
Which is where you come in, playing as Monkey and trying to keep the AI-controlled Trip alive as you escort her through the game. If talk of Monkey, Trip and headbands sounds familiar, it’s because it’s all based on an ancient chinese story. Antoniades admits, “What we’re doing is just a mash-up of ideas.” But the basic concept is intact – a long, dangerous journey with a violent anti-hero forced into helping someone against his will.
In Practice that means clearing a path through hazards like sentry turrets and spiky robots, using a mix of climbing skills and the ability to hit things really hard with a big stick. We saw Monkey and Trip trying to reach a door surrounded by inactive but potentially lethal robots. Antoniades explains, “You’ve got hunter killer robots left behind from previous wars. They’re like landmines. If you trip them, they’re designed to kill.”
How to deal with these threats is up to you. There are elements of free-running as Monkey bounds across walls. Then there’s the combat, which is built around tactical moves – sweeping staff blows to knock enemies back, or stunning thrusts to disable them. “The idea with the combat is that it’s really quite tough”, says Antonaides. “If you come across three or four enemies you’re pretty much going to die. We want to make you find ways to deal with combat more intelligently.” That could mean navigating a path to avoid activating machines say, or targeting robots to prevent them calling reinforcements.
You can also issue commands to Trip. She can cause distractions, enabling you to sneak up on enemies. Far more useful is her ability to scan the area ahead with a spy drone. The information she uncovers is fed to Monkey’s headband, highlighting robots, how close you can get without activating them, useful routes and other handy facts. So while it looks like an action game, there’s a puzzle element too. “Before you run ahead and start hitting things, you want to think about what items you can use.” says Antoniades. “There’s a more tactical element to the game than pure action. You’re not just a brutish superhero who can destroy everything, your main objective is to get Trip home safely because if you don’t, you’ll die.”
Antoniades shows us what he calls the “perfect” way to deal with the robot-infested area. Monkey scales a tower and leaps between walls and handholds to land near a gun drone. A brief battle ends with Monkey smashing it to pieces: “The idea is to really play up the robot gore, with all the fluid and bits and pipes,” says Antoniades, as Monkey rips off a machine gun arm and uses it to blast the other robots, clearing the way ahead. Sometimes you’ll just have to smash the crap out of something, like during a battle with a huge mech weilding two wrecking balls on chains. It’s a tough fight that ends when Monkey mounts it’s back, bashes off some panels and pulls handfuls of it’s insides out. Antoniades hints at larger enemies found in Titan’s Graveyard, a huge battlefield filled with the remains of building-sized machines some of which still have ‘residual power’. While attempting to hammer big robots into scrap will always be fun, one thing that’s crucial to Enslaved’s success is Trip. This is a single player game, so her AI needs to be flawless if she’s to become someone you care about and want to protect. “We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the AI systems that drive her. clarifies co-founder and chief technical ninja Mike Ball. “We wanted to avoid the feeling that she’s just tagging along. Start running and Trip will run alongside you. We will use Trip to support you. so often she’ll be ahead telling you where to go and what your objectives are. She’s incredibly intelligent.”
One thing Ball is keen to add is that, “Trip’s a really important part of the story telling experience.” And, being the team behind Heavenly Sword, telling a story is something they know a lot about, having previously pioneered state-of-the-art motion capture techniques, used to utilise the performances of actors such as Andy Serkis and Steven Berkoff.
Serkis returns for Enslaved, playing Monkey alongside American actress Lindsey Shaw as Trip. Seeing as the entire game is built around these two characters, their relationship is absolutely vital to it’s success. An early mo-cap scene we saw – where Trip explains to Monkey that he’s her prisoner – showed promise. Shaw is timid and vulnerable, Serkis raw and bestial. Ball is full of praise for Serkis: “One of his strengths is focusing on the performance of the motion capture shoot and engaging the actors – before any filming occurs he spends a lot of time running a workshop with the other characters.”
Enslaved is due for a winter 2010 release.