Enslaved: Odyssey to the West First Look
From the makers of Heavenly Sword comes this story-driven action game.
It’s 150 years in the future and mankind has just emerged from a devastating series of conflicts that pushed humanity to the brink of extinction. Viral warfare and drones made soldiers obsolete as the war machine marched on long after society crumbled. This is the post-apocalyptic setting for Enslaved, but you shouldn’t expect to see a drab grey and brown desert world. In fact, it all looks quite lovely, filled with life and bright pastel colors. Without human interference and exploitation, the world has begun to revert back to an idyllic Eden…almost. Small pockets of tribal communities remain while other loners have taken to the woods. All told, there are only about 50,000 people left in the United States. That number of accounted for humans is probably dwindling fast. Slavers regularly drop into the small pockets of populated space to snatch up helpless people, slap headgear on that gives control through pain, and ship them west to death camps.
This is how the two heroes of Enslaved came together. Trip is the delicate girl who probably couldn’t survive on her own. Monkey is the brutish oaf who probably couldn’t survive on his own. Though the two came from two different walks of life — Trip was a member of a community that hacked together an existence by using old technology and scrap while Monkey was a loner – the slavers brought them together. And as the clever girl she is, Trip managed to rewire Monkey’s headgear to respond to her commands. The character you play has been enslaved. My demo of Enslaved picked up just after those turbulent opening moments. The slave ship has been brought down inside of New York City, or what was left of it. The land looks to have gone through a bittersweet destruction, with trees growing out of the tops of buildings. Time has turned the concrete jungle into a real one. It isn’t without dangers, however. Drones from wars gone by lay in waiting, like landmines across a war torn landscape, forever creating a hostile environment. This is why Trip and Monkey need each other. Trip has a little dragonfly-esque drone that rests in her hair like a clip that is capable of scoping out the area ahead for dangers and spotting weak points in activated monstrosities. Monkey, well he’s good with his hands.
Monkey may seem like a goofy name for a main character, but with a little context it begins to make sense. Enslaved is loosely based on Journey to the West, a Chinese folktale that is commonly referred to in western countries as Monkey. In the world of videogames, the term “loosely based” generally means a few select elements were chosen to be slapped on top of a forgettable and poorly constructed story. During my demo, Ninja Theory continually impressed upon me how seriously the development team was taking storytelling. The group tapped Alex Garland, the writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine to pen the tale. Andy Serkis, known for his work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films, will do the motion capture for Monkey. The team is hoping to meld these talents and the story directly into the game, ensuring that it flows more smoothly than most videogames that alternate between story and gameplay in distinct chunks. The game itself is not like Ninja Theory’s previous work, Heavenly Sword. In fact, it loosely reminded me more of Prince of Persia with a bit more emphasis on action and less on platforming. You control Monkey, but Trip is always at your side. If she dies, you die, so it’s best to keep her out of trouble. There’s a lot of trouble to be found, so you’ll have to work closely with Trip to keep her in one piece.
Trip will generally follow by your side, but it is entirely possible to leave her in one spot while you clear out an area. She can also lend you a hand by projecting a little decoy to draw enemies away from you. Most importantly, as I mentioned before, she can offer intel and advice. Some of these mechanical beasts and auto-turrets scattered about simply won’t go down easily. “The combat is supposed to be quite hard,” I was told by Ninja Theory. The level of difficulty is there to make you think. Is there a better way through this mine field? Can I avoid this trench lined with turrets? Is it possible to sneak up behind that robot, rip off its machine gun arm and use it against the rest of these enemies? The answer looks in general to be ‘yes.’ Walk into an area, call in Trip to scope out the scene, and then get to some quick platforming to find a better way through to the fight.
The combat at first glance looks like your standard third-person action game. Monkey carries a staff, which he can use as a close-quarters combat weapon or, if he finds some ammo, as a projectile weapon. Light and heavy attacks can be performed, special moves like activating the self-destruct sequence on a mech are offered, and there is naturally some God of War inspired button prompts for grappling moves. Little red orbs can be found and collected, then later spent on upgrades. What Enslaved doesn’t offer is a myriad of combos or enemies that go down in just a single hit. The part of the combat that most impressed me was how impactful each swing of Monkey’s staff felt. A heavy swing will knock a mech back. Follow up with an overhead smash and it will be pounded down to the ground. Too many action games have a simple hit animation — or no animation at all — for every type of contact. Enslaved has an element of realism to the blows that is too often absent.
As there aren’t many people left on earth, the majority of the foes you face will be of the mechanical variety. At first, these will be fairly primitive. That’s the type I saw in my demo. General attack bots were called in upon the trigger of alarms. A huge end boss looked like it was made out of a clump of demolition balls, which is what it was originally intended to be used as during more peaceful times. Later on in the game, you’ll meet a few surviving humans and nastier, new-gen organic-looking robots will be introduced. Enslaved is still pretty early on in development, so don’t expect to see it on store shelves until closer to the end of 2010. That was reflected in my demo, which still had placeholder animations and voicework. That didn’t give me a very good sense of how well the storytelling being so highly touted will come together, but what I saw in terms of combat and platforming looked promising. Namco Bandai promised more on Enslaved as we approach E3 so we won’t have to wait long to learn more.