Preview – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
At Namco Bandai’s Pre-E3 event last week, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West took my by surprise. I knew of the upcoming title from the makers of Heavenly Sword, but I had no idea it was so pretty until I set eyes on it in action! Ninja Theory’s unconventional and original adventure title is a stunner in both the looks, gameplay and story departments, though. Seriously, the whole title shines so much, and from all angles, that I feel silly for not paying better attention. I know better now.
Read on for our preview of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
While the name of the game may not speak to you, those that know their traditional Chinese folklore will surely note that the subtitle looks similar to a name of an ancient tale, “Journey to the West.” The old story, which features a monkey as a main character, has been adapted quite a bit in this videogame. Now it follows a guy named Monkey, who, like the original story’s monkey, is well-versed in combat. Monkey ends up being accompanied by Trip, a woman who has a solid grip on technology, and a knack for helping Monkey out of trouble The story has Trip’s techno skill breaking Monkey free from a mind-control headband that was placed on him in this post-apocalyptic North American world by slave bots. They both were contained in a slave ship, but they manage to break free in a ruined, overgrown New York City.
Enslaved is a third-person adventure that has you controlling the very acrobatic Monkey. You’ll run around the ruins of America’s biggest city, working to evade some advanced robots that seem to be connected to the ones that originally enslaved you. These robots are left over from a war that killed nearly every human on earth. You could fight the robots, but you’re only armed with a staff, it it takes a bit of work to take down a single bot, let alone a group of them. Most of the time Monkey uses his acrobatic skill to scale walls, climb to ledges, swing and jump to higher ground, enabling him to bypass bots and navigate ruins.
And Monkey is not afraid of heights, either. The game will having you scaling dizzying heights in mostly vertical progressions. I noticed a lot of almost falls, complete with a teetering animation. I asked about the danger of falling, and apparently there isn’t much of one. It’s an illusion as Monkey will automatically latch onto all the many contact-sensitive points the game provides.
Where does Trip come in? Well, she sort of uses Monkey as her own personal muscle through the power of the hacked slave headband. But they’re more of a partnership than a slave/master team, and it isn’t too long before Monkey has to save this less capable character. If one dies, they both do, so they have to work together to survive. I saw instances of how Trip’s scanning tech allowed Monkey to know about enemy placement ahead of time. She can also heal Monkey when in range.
One of the first playable areas that featured both Monkey and Trip introduced a huge, robotic dog-like bot monster began to circle the area where Trip hid. She called for Monkey to save her, and he had to quickly grab her and escape. The escape was one of a vertical nature, of course, with the duo scaling obstacles and scrambling for higher ground as quickly as possible (as seen in the image above). This led the duo to a ruined, overgrown New York theater, where you could still see signage and theater seating. Inside, Trip noticed that a power cell dangled from the roof. Monkey wanted to pass and get further away from the dog bot, but Trip won out, saying that the cell would be of great use later. This led into a new section where both Monkey and Trip had to evade several bots that were equipped with motion sensors. This introduced some team puzzle elements that involved issuing commands to a remotely placed Trip all while carefully navigating the floors with the placed bots. The demo was cut off right before what was sure to be a boss battle with the huge dog bot.
One of the most notable aspects of Enslaved is how real the main characters seemed. I saw several examples of very strong, believable and original characters in the cutscenes, and the exemplary voice acting went a long way towards adding to that realism. Monkey himself is a very original looking character, as are his very monkey-like combat and movement animations. While Trip bears some resemblance to Heavenly Sword’s Nariko, she too seems to be a strong character with believable motivations and back story. While we didn’t get to see much of the character back story, it definitely felt like the game had a lot more in store.
Of course, the biggest thing I took away from the demo was how fantastic Enslaved looked. Normally you’d expect a war-torn New York to be dark and gray. Enslaved’s world features the brightest, bluest sky I’ve seen outside of a Mario game. And while New York is totally ruined, the buildings are overgrown with plants and vines and trees, making the scenery incredibly lush and green. From the very high vantage points you can see the entire height you’ve climbed through the level. One look back showed a beautiful waterfall, swaying flowers, and green treetops as far as the eye could see.
It feels like Enslaved: Odyssey to the West takes concepts from other recently successful games. It seems to borrow the building scaling of Assassin’s Creed and it also works in more modern concepts like teamwork and optional enemy dodging. What’s nice is that they’ve pinned these concepts to an original world and fresh characters. We didn’t get to see a lot of Enslaved, but from what we’ve seen so far you’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for our E3 coverage, where we’ll get to see even more of the game. This is definitely one to keep watch of.