E3 2010: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West First Impressions - Monkeying Around
Written Thursday, July 01, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
The inspirations for Ninja Theory’s Enslaved are fairly obvious from the outset: Two characters with a real sense of dependency on one another, where one character must guide another character to safety. If you’re screaming The Flintstones at the computer screen right now, you’re an idiot. If you’re screaming Ico at the screen, calm down, it’s only a preview! You would be right though, but that’s beside the point. You’re screaming at a computer screen, what on earth are you doing!?
Enslaved’s story is loosely based upon the 16th century Chinese tale, Journey to the West – known as Monkey in most English speaking countries. I say loosely, simply because it’s only based on the concept and it actually boasts a completely new story and is a completely new IP. In fact, it’s been penned by Alex Garland, a British born writer who wrote The Beach and wrote the screenplay for 28 Days Later – although no zombies were harmed in the making of this video game.
If that’s not enough British for you, the main character, Monkey, is played by Andy Serkis, who most of you will know from Lord of the Rings – he played Gollum – and King Kong. Serkis not only offered his voice, oh no, that’s not enough for the British star, he’s gone the extra mile with Enslaved and offered full motion and facial capture for the role. Topping off the award winning British line-up is the Mercury Music Prize and Ivor Novello nominated composer, Nitin Sawhney, who is on-board to compose the game’s soundtrack.
As you can probably tell by the Ico reference, Enslaved follows the adventures of two main characters: the player-controlled Monkey, and the AI-controlled Trip. Set 150 years in the future in a post apocalyptic world, Monkey must guide Trip across a vibrant, but deadly environment in order to free himself from her grasp. If she dies, he dies. It’s a simple, but powerful mantra that explores the relationship of two characters who are forced together. Therein lies the dependency and as a result, Enslaved tells this complex story of two characters thrown together in the toughest of situations.
On the surface Enslaved may seem like it’s on track with its billing as a tactical-adventure title, but that doesn’t really speak volumes about the title as it seems to have a little of everything. It’s a fairly combat heavy hack n’ slash title in parts, offering you heavy and light attacks to use against the world’s robots, with plenty of chance to upgrade your weapons as well. It’s not just the weapons that can get upgraded either, as Trip will often be able to upgrade Monkey himself due to the headband that she uses to control him. Considering it’s from the talented folks over at Ninja Theory, the combat is a country mile away from that found in Heavenly Sword and is more your traditional button-masher rather than the kind of complex attack combos you’d find in something like Devil May Cry.
Intertwined with the combat are both platforming and puzzle elements, but neither are said to be particularly challenging as there is an added emphasis on the story which Ninja Theory didn’t want to detract from too much.
In a sequence that took place early on in the game, we watched Monkey and Trip – voiced by Lindsay Shaw – navigate through an environment with turrets dotted around. Try to run past them and Trip will almost certainly die, so it’s essential to ultimately disengage them. As Monkey dashes into cover, he waves his hands around in order to distract the turrets. At the same time our fearless warrior is ordering Trip to make a dash for safety. After rinsing and repeating a couple of times, it’s time for a bit of role reversal. In order to advance further, Trip needs to hack a control panel to open a nearby door, but in order to stand there, Monkey must first climb across the canyon and disable the turrets. Using some sort of light, Trip is able to temporarily disengage the turrets, allowing Monkey to get close enough to slash them to tiny pieces.
The next area offers a different puzzle of sorts and Trip encourages Monkey to catch a robotic dragonfly that buzzes around the much more vertical environment, so she can reprogram it to move through the next section. This pseudo-platforming-puzzle area will have Monkey throwing Trip on to a platform to drop down a ladder. Cue plenty of jumping and oodles of shimmying, which then ends with Monkey picking up Trip and carrying her through a mine field. It’s classic, you’re the brawn and she’s the brains kind of stuff. The platforming looks very fluid and Ninja Theory has done an admirable job with the animations of the dynamic duo, but again, it’s nothing that’s really going to challenge your intellect – although this was only the second level, so I’d hardly expect the difficulty to spike so early on.
Aside from a few trailers to date, Enslaved is a title that has evaded, but always intrigued me. There is something charming about creating this emotional tie between two characters that obviously have a dependency on one another. It’s fairly clear that although these two are locking horns to begin with, their relationship is going to be part of the game’s draw. Ninja Theory has also done an impressive job creating a post-apocalyptic world that isn’t overpowered by the usual palette of drab browns and oranges. Nature has retaken the earth and it’s a much more picturesque environment because of it. Offering something a little different, with its platforming, puzzles and hack n’ slash combat in a pretty beautiful environment, Enslaved could certainly be a bit of a dark horse when it ships this October and could make a welcome change from all the shooty-shooty-realistic games that we’re sure to be inundated with.
Enslaved is currently pencilled in for an October 8th and October 12th release in Europe and North America respectively.