Set 150 years in the future, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West seems most of all about relationships. The relationship between man and machine. Nature and technology. It could also be about binary opposites; freedom vs. slavery. Brawn vs. brains. Boobs vs. pecs. Obvious, Ninja Theory, very obvious.
In our time with the game we romped about as Monkey; burly, unsophisticated, disillusioned and enslaved. His captor - Trip - is a girl who needs the big-man’s help after a slave ship on which they are both travelling plummets to Earth. The old world is long gone - a tattered US flag hanging in one area of the landscape might tell us something, then again, it might not - and evil mechs plague the land. You can tell their evilness by their spikiness.
While Monkey is passed out, having fallen to the ground pretty hard (dude must have an Adamantium skeleton, because, damn) Trip fits to his head a band through which she can issue him commands and feed data. This basically makes Monkey - twice her size and packing heat - Trip’s lapdog. All she wants, however, is for Monkey to get guide her through the dangerous landscape. He’s not happy about it, but what can he do? One word from Trip and she can crush his skull.
Through the opening sequence and into the game proper we followed the pair as they did much running, jumping, dodging, bashing, lifting, hacking and other active verbs. This makes it sound a little trite, but in fact the premise is great, the interaction between the characters is engaging, and the world built by the devs is nice to look at, well arranged and feels worth navigating. In addition, the game’s combat seems solid so far, and the narrative flow keeps us wondering where this is all going...
The game has a great feeling of space and speed. This is due in part to the no-brain use of a Mirror’s Edge style obstacle indicator as Monkey finds his way: things you can jump on or use to advance gleam. Simple. This take a huge amount of challenge out of the control scheme, of course, but it allows the game to move at a pleasing pace, too. And it’s actually lucky that Ninja Theory have made it so easy to get around: I’m not sure if it’s an early build problem or what, but the camerawork swings on a mighty vexatious pendulum. At one end, there is some really cool creative work happening - artful slow-mos, sweeping POV shots, etc. At the other, it’s a twitchy, jerky mess.
Combat is frenetic enough that you can feel very effective against your robot enemies just by hammering out combos like you’re playing PaRappa the Rappa. Your character looks like Jak spliced with The Rock and seems to have the appropriate flexibility and brawn for said genetic abomination, so taking out your foes happens with relative ease. We’d expect more weapons, more abilities and naturally more enemies as the game progresses, but even what we got to experience was pretty impressive. Watching slow-mo finishes and standing with teeth gritted and eyes narrowed in a rain of burning mech pieces is just something you’ll have to experience for yourself, and the Braveheart style rushing-into-battle is the cream on the penny-filled cake. If we had to compare the combat in Enslaved to anything else, we’d say God of War - but remember these are early impressions.
It took me a little while to notice an attractive orchestral score bringing the game’s atmosphere to life, but like the camera work, it was a little inconsistent. At times, it was perfectly suited; the game-world is overgrown with mosses and lichens as nature has taken hold in the absence of people, so there’s a whimsical beauty in the wildflowers and lianas. But when you’re taking down mechanical foes, you really wish they had taken the Van Halen route. Time will tell, I suppose. This stuff ain’t exactly ENZSO, but it’s still of a fairly decent quality and we’re interested to see where they go with it.
The relationship between captor and captive is complex here: although technically your captor can control you through the use of your headband, she is completely reliant on you for passage through the world. So, the game also allows you to issue commands to Trip - simple ones: run now, hide now, create a distraction, etc, but they still allow you to feel as if you have at least one leg of the pants on at all times.
There’s scope for it to get more complex still: the girl with her tangled red hair, buxom top-half and perfect 0.7 waist-hip ratio. The grizzled combatant, with his scars and tattoos and gruff demeanour - talk about your classic UST. One scene has them facing each other as she pleads a certain case and we half expected that orchestral score to start up with the violas. If the writers have done their work, there ought to be plenty of rich complexity with depths to be plumbed.
Alex Garland, writer of the excellent novel The Beach (one of my all time faves, actually) penned the script and story for this one, helped out by director Andy Serkis (Gollum) who also did most of the motion capture. So we’re not talking about lightweights. Certainly the cut scenes are very well written - and well acted - but yet another disconnect presented itself in the in-game dialogue; mostly from Trip. She says some truly asinine stuff.
We’re excited to see what happens with this one, and certainly itchy to carry on putting Monkey through his paces. Enslaved looks at this end like one of those games that will keep on revealing little pieces of itself, which is lucky, because it’s a bit of a slow (familiar) starter in the world of third-person action adventure games. NZGamer.com will deliver a full review as soon as we can.