Enslaved: Odyssey to the West First Hands-On

Ninja Theory’s latest has plenty of adventure and a good deal of heart, and we’ve got the first hands-on look at the E3 demo.

The powerful Monkey and the resourceful Trip are a team, thrown together by fate, not choice. Their adventures and evolving relationship make up the core of Ninja Theory’s upcoming Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, an action adventure game set on the remains of an Earth torn apart by a long-forgotten war. Yesterday we spent some time with the E3 demo of Enslaved, and while there was a great deal of fun to be had playing as the physically imposing Monkey, the game’s more subtle enjoyment comes when you aren’t climbing walls and smashing enemy mechs. It’s found in the relationship between the two main characters, who are doing their best to survive in a world set against them.

Early on in the game, Trip–a resourceful hacker–and Monkey find themselves on a slave ship heading for an unknown destination in the West. Both manage to escape, and Trip, recognizing Monkey as her only means of survival in the great unknown wilderness, traps him by placing a device on his head. Their connection is immediate and simple: If Monkey tries to escape from Trip, she can cause him physical pain through this device, and if Trip dies by accident or otherwise, Monkey will also perish. It’s the makings of an uncomfortable friendship in the game’s early goings, but as we saw in the E3 demo, that relationship seems to deepen as the plot continues.

In the demo level being shown at E3–which takes place early on in the game’s second level–the pair is searching for the crashed slave ship upon which they met. The ship has crashed in the remains of an abandoned city. As the pair head out, it isn’t long before they’re met by mech enemies who have remained dormant for years, only to be awakened by Trip and Monkey’s presence. A frightened Trip is reluctant to follow Monkey’s orders to move out of harm’s way, so, as Monkey, you must take out the mechs using your formidable staff.

Combat controls are simple: On the Xbox 360 controller, X is normal attack and Y is strong attack. You can perform a charged attack by holding down the X button. Holding down the X and A buttons will perform a sweeping clearing attack that will knock enemies back, and holding down Y and B together will perform powerful focused attacks. Monkey is often outnumbered by mechs, and a color-coded feature called “combat awareness” will help you identify which enemy is primed for attack. When an enemy glows red, it’s attacking; blue means it’s defending; and yellow indicates when the enemy is open for an attack. Paying close attention to this system will let you better navigate your way through multiple enemies–in addition, you can use certain attacks (such as the charged attack) to temporarily stun your opponent before finishing things.

With the first wave of enemies defeated, Monkey and Trip come to an understanding via a brief cutscene. Trip might have a headset that controls Monkey, but when it comes to dealing with the mechs and keeping each of them alive, when Monkey gives an order, he expects Trip to follow it. Trip dependence on Monkey is clear but, as the demo continues, it becomes quickly apparent that while she might not be Monkey’s equivalent in combat, Trip isn’t completely helpless. For example, after being grabbed by a mech, Trip sets off an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that stuns nearby enemies.

More importantly, Trip is resourceful–a technology expert who can hack long-locked doors and improvise with the remnants of the tech that surrounds them. During one sequence in the demo, you create a commotion to distract nearby gun-wielding mechs so Trip can make her way across an open building segment. Later on, it will be Trip who creates a similar distraction (one of several commands you’ll be able to give Trip with the LB button and a radial menu) using one of her gadgets.

Mixed in with all the mech-busting combat is a good deal of platforming. The agile Monkey can leap great distances and climb with ease, and during these sequences, you’ll never need anything more than the left stick and the A button to get around. There’s an element of timing when stringing together multiple leaps in a row with Monkey, but these platforming elements don’t seem to be very punishing–you can’t fall to your death in the majority of the platform sections (though you are open to enemy fire if you…ahem…hang around for too long).

The game’s platform elements were best displayed in the demo during a sequence where Trip and Monkey, facing a section of the city that has been overrun with mines, are forced to improvise a solution. Trip asks Monkey to fetch a mechanical dragonfly, which they spot nearby, and Monkey takes to the rafters and nearby trees to chase down the speedy dragonfly, all the while with Trip in his ear, surveying his progress. Eventually he catches the dragonfly and hands it over to Trip, who, after a bit of tinkering, manages to turn the mechanical insect into a makeshift sensor of sorts. She links the dragonfly sensor into the visual relay in Monkey’s headband, giving him the ability to see the sensor radius of any nearby mines. The two make it through the first wave of mines with little trouble, before encountering an open expanse of city that looks to be overrun with mines, mechs, and other dangers. It’s on this foreboding note that the E3 demo of Enslaved ends.

As the game progresses, both Trip and Monkey will grow in terms of their abilities. For Monkey, that means new combat abilities, focused attacks, and ranged attack capabilities. In the case of Trip, it will mean new commands you’ll be able to issue and improved scanning that will give you a tactical advantage over the mechs that will hound you throughout the game. For instance, Trip will be able to identify mech weaknesses and identify which mech in a larger group would be the best to take out first.

In terms of both its gameplay and its narrative, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is all about teamwork. Add to that a vivid settings, plenty of action-packed set pieces, and two likable main characters (complete with some fine voice work and character animation), and Enslaved continues to intrigue us. The game is due for release this fall, but we expect to see some additional new content at E3, so stay tuned for our coverage next week from Los Angeles.

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