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Batthink avatar 5:39 AM on 09.08.2010  (server time)
Enslaved: Batthink’s Viewpoint

Some of you have no doubt had a look at Ace Flibble’s blog (the one rather unfortunately posted below two spam-blogs for a penal-enhancement advert) about his experience playing the first seven levels of Ninja Theory’s Enslaved. For those who haven’t, here’s what happened.

Ace Flibble himself. That smile would get wider in the three hours he got to play the game.

Me, Ace and a couple of other Destructoid members took up a request for people to play the game ahead of its release on 8th October. We travelled to Hammersmith, London to the UK offices of the game’s publisher, Namco/Bandai, to take part.

The sofa in Namco's lobby.

Being accustomed to the Hammersmith area on previous visits and armed with a printed map, I found the building I needed to arrive at quickly. Zooming up in a pretty fast lift, we were greeted with more people waiting to play as well as members of the office, who took us through to a room with several 360s (as well as pointing over to another with a couple of PS3 consoles) and got us accustomed to a note regarding the rules for online previews, free soft drinks and water.

Also in the lobby, a list of awards from Pocketgamer. I'm guessing that the London office ports those classic games to the mobiles.

For those whose only knowledge of the Monkey King legend is from the 1970’s series Monkey, you will still get a wry smile of recognition from the references to the actual core material. Monkey, the playable character of the game, starts off imprisoned in an egg, for example (‘the nature of monkey was irrepressible!’). You’d expect to think Ninja Theory would have dropped stuff like that, but no. What they simply did was give these references a futuristic spin, and this doesn’t feel out of place at all.

After escaping from the egg and undergoing a tutorial on the basics of gameplay via some hostile mechs, you end up having to guide Monkey to the outside of the prison ship, and that is where the first full breathtaking moments are found. Uncharted-style climbing and clambering is needed to survive, and quite a few close-calls were had, albeit on a pleasingly massive scale. And when I mean Uncharted, it does look and feel like Enslaved has been influenced by the PS3 game sequel’s shift from precarious cliffhanging animated scene into playable section. That isn’t a bad thing at all, because it has been done so well in the game I’d been controlling.

On the ground, the headband was introduced, as well as a couple more mechs to fight. The headband acted as a pretty handy HUD for information and checking where Trip (the second character) was. This latter ability is pretty important, since Monkey and Trip will become separated often. Trip will find herself under attack occasionally, and if caught by a mech, she’ll dole out an EMP that temporarily disables them. However, Monkey cannot leave her in danger for long, so allocating a button to check her whereabouts was a very sensible move by Ninja Theory. Once the mechs were dealt with, they left behind red orbs, which added to a points total. What was this for? A ‘Trip-Shop’ that upgrades Monkey’s abilities, found via the headband options. I found this very useful.

After traversing the landscape, wrecking mechs, avoiding mines, flanking turrets and a running from a huge, menacing ‘C-Dog’ (as well as very sweet bit where you get to use Monkey’s ‘cloud’; I’m hoping that there are more opportunities to use that piece of transport later on), my three hours were up. I had only managed to reach the fifth chapter of the seven we were allowed to play, but I was very happy with the game. Very seldom does a game encourage me to smile spontaneously, but this game did. Ace managed to get all the way to the seventh chapter and had to have his monitor turned off by a staff member as he was just about to enter further into the game. It wouldn’t surprise me if the reason he went almost too far was because the game was so involving…

Environmentally and graphically, the game is astounding. The rusted hues of the prison-ship make way for the bright blue sky, then lush green and red foliage around abandoned, decaying buildings. The animation on the characters is particularly impressive; Monkey’s trips and stumbles as he sprints through the ship are very fluid and natural. Aside from glowing pipes and handholds, there are some parts which do require a little bit of thought about which direction you need to go and what cover you’ll feel you’ll need when avoiding mech-fire. Trip doesn’t get herself into trouble too much as long as you have your wits about you, and as a result, becomes more of a help than a hindrance with the few abilities that she possesses.

As for negatives, the character did get a little caught on the environment because of a dodgy camera angle, which may not be handy when running from a cyborg dog about three or four times your own size. There is also this feeling of not able to jump to a surface which I felt would be achievable with the agile Monkey. Nevertheless, with the game near to its release date, I am more than satisfied that Enslaved deserves your attention and a small chunk of your bank balance when it arrives on shelves.

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