A dip into Ninja Theory’s growing talent pool…

Ninja Theory’s next great adventure, which draws on the classic Chinese Journey To The West myth and fuses it with a post-apocalyptic survival adventure, is growing in strength and vision.

As the developer’s ‘Chief Creative Ninja’ Tameem Antoniades shows us through a little more of Enslaved’s epic, technicolour world, the true nature of the partnership mechanic between player character Monkey and his female sidekick Trip begins to rear its head. As strong a female protagonist as Heavenly Sword’s Nariko, Trip’s certainly no slouch. “From the beginning we didn’t want Trip to be a dead weight,” explains Antoniades. “She comes into her own. She starts off vulnerable, but she applies her knowledge to provide surveillance for you, and then she provides health upgrades or hacks terminals and robots, so eventually you become a partnership and you can’t survive without each other.”

Indeed not. At one point in the demo, Monkey and Trip enter a room filled to the brim with robotic enemies. It looks an impossible fight; Monkey, armed only with his trusty staff and basic fighting moves, would be demolished by their lasers. What’s the solution?

It’s down to Trip to scan the area with her special ‘butterfly’ headset, and it’s not long before she discovers that one of the robots has a fault – if Monkey attacks it, it’ll explode, taking out a good deal of its neighbours.

Trip is so capable, in fact, it makes us wonder if Ninja Theory ever considered a co-operative multiplayer element to the game. Antoniades, however, is firm on the negative. “Trip’s abilities are non-physical – she can’t clamber like Monkey; she can’t fight,” he tells us. “In co-op, she would have to be an action hero herself, and we didn’t really want that; that wasn’t the point. But the other reason was, when you do co-op games, you’re effectively making two games – you’re making a single-player game and you’re making a co-op game, and it’s just a lot harder. You’ve got to accept that if you add things like co-op, you have to compromise somewhere else.”

And compromise is something there’s little room for in Enslaved’s snowballing artistic vision. With two key creative talents now on board, the game’s clearly being shaped into a pacey, structured, dramatic tour de force that leaves absolutely no space or time wasted.

Already on board from Ninja Theory’s last game, the lukewarmly received Heavenly Sword, Andy Serkis’s role in the developer’s game-making has steadily increased over a five-year relationship that began as Antoniades’ brother – a mortgage advisor – cunningly slipped Serkis a Heavenly Sword trailer during a consultation. The celebrated mocap actor went for it, as Antoniades explains. “What I offered Andy was a collaboration, that we would work on [Heavenly Sword] together, and that he’s got full access to us as a studio and a team. And it was really fun working with him on Heavenly Sword, and he directed the motion capture shoot, and the other actors, and then on [Enslaved] we co-directed it, as I learned more.”

It’s this sense of creativity from different areas fuelling each other’s skills and ideas that seems to lie at the heart of Ninja Theory, and possibly what attracted the team’s newest star asset. Enslaved’s story is now in the hands of The Beach author and 28 Days Later script writer, Alex Garland.

“He’s a gamer,” enthuses Antoniades, “He wanted to find a way into games, and I offered him the opportunity to collaborate freely with us. He met me for coffee in London one day, and we just talked through it. This is the only thing he’s done that’s not his own work. When he came in it was with the utmost respect for games.”

Antoniades goes on to explain how Garland’s input has affected not only the game’s underlying story, but also the plot’s presence in gameplay itself, drawing on an example in which Garland commented that, rather than Monkey and Trip simply discovering yet another troop of robots guarding an exit, the battle could take the form of a surprise assault, gradually led in by elements such as unsettling background noises as the foes approach from a distance. Weaved in via dialogue as the moment is approached, it’s a stylistic flourish that changes little of the nuts and bolts of the section, but adds another, more complex, layer of drama.

We have every confidence that Enslaved is reaching a level of artistic endeavour that, however the fineries of its gameplay turn out, will certainly set a new benchmark in creative production values.

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