Enslaved Info From Edge Magazine
It’s a uniquely beautiful apocalypse: 150 years into the future and two world wars have ensured mankind’s choke-hold on the planet is over. Nukes have long since cast their deadly ash into the sky, there are roughly 50,000 people left in the united states, and the towering megastructures of new york lay gap-toothed and chewed away by rust.
And yet, despite such a perfect invitation to paint the world grey, Ninja Theory refuses. Instead, decades of dereliction have led to an explosion of colour and form as nature reasserts itself. Fields of poppies sway beneath the footfalls of ancient hunter-killer robots, tearing into any human survivors as they grind through obsolete war programs, sunsets bloom with oranges and purples and, outside the city, in an elephant graveyard for dormant killing machines, green-tinged ponds shimmer inside church-like congregations of broken cogwork and metallic limbs.
The team behind Heavenly Sword hasn’t lost it’s taste for spectacle, then, flinging players headfirst into a retelling of Journey to the West by thrusting it’s protagonists – the gruff and sinewy Monkey and the mysterious eco-warrior Trip, both his captor and accomplice – down through the stratosphere in a malfunctioning slave ship, before barrelling them straight into the abandoned gloom of Grand Central Terminal. It hasn’t lost it’s taste for star power, either: while the company’s last game called in the services of Andy Serkis and Weta to deliver on its ambitious performance capture agenda, this time they’re joined by novelist Alex Garland, on board to help break down walls between narrative and gameplay as the studio reaches for a truly satisfying synthesis of the two.
Presenting an early cut of the game’s opening chapters in a conference room encircled by the spindly tethers of mo-cap rigs, it’s clear that the pioneering work put in on Heavenly Sword is still being refined and with a shift from villain to hero, there’s a good chance that the more excessive edge of Serkis’ performance style might be planed away somewhat. It’ll need to be, since relationships – particularly the brittle, shifting bond that unites the game’s two leads – are placed front and centre in both the plotting and mechanics of Enslaved, as Trip, technically brilliant but in need of protection forces Monkey to do her bidding by crowning him with a deadly headband that will incapacitate him if he tries to rebel.
From this ambiguous footing, Ninja Theory’s building a fascinating pairing, balancing empathy and antipathy, trust and lingering threat. With such a tightly bound duo at its core and given the massive forms of the games robotic villains, many of which have to be clambered upon and forcibly dismantled, it’s easy to assume that the team’s put aside the epic violence of Dynasty Warriors to channel the quieter virtues if Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus this time. Such conjecture survives only until the first chain-gun fires, however, when Nitin Sawhney’s edgy whirling music kicks in and emphasis on interpersonal politics is replaced with the simpler rewards of raging against the machines. But even here Ninja Theory is adapting its methods, as Enslaved’s action blends speedy traversal and frantic violence with something that approaches puzzle mechanics.
Trip’s Dragonfly gadget sets the tempo in the section we’re shown: a buzzing CCTV camera, it allows players to scout the territory ahead, highlighting entrances and exits as well as identifying robotic threats. Once the playing fields been scoured, success lies with isolating the most efficient means of taking out the enemy.
Easier said than done, Although Monkey’s brutal and fast, a heavier, messier kind of brawler than Nariko, three or four attackers are almost always enough to finish him off, so Heavenly Sword’s button mashing is tempered into something that seems both more violent and more thoughtful. Foes must be herded and killed strategically (with the help of some astonishingly bloody takedowns), while cannons are ripped from robotic arm sockets and used as temporary turrets to break up the melee combat, and Trip can be called to confuse enemies with diversions.
Threaded in among some light-footed parkour, it could be a winning combination and there are signs that Heavenly Sword’s quirky limitations are being refined into a disciplined framework of more entertaining restrictions as the game moves from one set-piece to the next, varying encounters from terrifying battles against the menacingly squat Berserkers to swift chained attacks against weaker Scouts. A handful of lovely design touches are visible already – Monkey’s sash sways behind him like a tail and you can see individual gears turning in the shoulders of his attackers – and yet most promising of all is the sense that Ninja Theory is bringing its fearsome mastery of art and technology together with a burning desire to prove something. The work of a potentially brilliant studio that has yet to make a truly brilliant game, Enslaved may well have the foresight, idiosyncrasy and bone crushing delivery that could allow it to match its designers’ obviously enormous ambitions.