GC 10: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West impressions

We just came from showing of Enslaved: Odyssey To The West at Namco/Bandai where they demoed a 25-minute playthrough. We saw Chapter 11, which was at 2/3rd of the game, and the intro cutscene to Chapter 12. What we shown off was impressive, to say the least.

By now you probably already know that Enslaved has you playing as Monkey, a warrior who gets bound to the woman Trip after they both escape a slave ship. Monkey has to protect Trip on a voyage to her people’s city in the west, as she controls the hacked Slaver headband that Monkey is wearing. If that doesn’t ring any bell to you, go and read Dale’s preview now!

Chapter 11 (“The Old Battlefield”) is set in the overgrown graveyard of the war that ravaged Earth years ago. Pigsy, a fat engineer with a metal pig’s nose, has joined Monkey and Trip on their merry quest. He serves as a ranged combat support character who can also use his grappling hook to reach places Monkey and Trip can’t get to. Pigsy is also a bit of a comic relief character, jealous of Monkey always hanging around Trip. While Monkey and Pigsy might be rivals in a way, they share commons goals. Pigsy won’t murder Monkey or anything, but making snarky and sarcastic remarks about him isn’t out of the question. He is also a trader with a flying minivan who used to deal with Trip’s father when she was but a child, making his affections for her a bit creepy.

Enslaved will feature a mix of combat, exploration, and puzzles to mix up the gameplay with about a third of the game being devoted to each. As the trio enters the graveyard, it’s time for combat. Robotic enemies, leftovers from the great war, attack the team and it’s your job as Monkey to protect Trip. That means distracting ranged enemies who might target her, or standing between her and melee attackers. In this chapter, Monkey can not only use his staff for melee, but can also use two types of attacks with his staff — a blue stun bolt that destroys shields, and a red damage blast. I noticed that you don’t have a lot of ammo for both types of ranged attacks (which did seem to be very powerful) but ammo containers litter the level and entice you to progress forwards.

Running around is really fast and fluid, with the camera dropping to an over-the-shoulder view when aiming and shooting; it zooms in and around a bit during acrobatic melee attacks and combo-finishers. Running to cover will also make Monkey automatically enter cover without the need to press any buttons. Walk away and you exit cover. Blocking provides a little energy shield that looks like it could be shattered if you keep on blocking for too long. Trip, on the other hand, will always stay behind cover to protect her fragile little ass. She can project holograms to distract enemies, as well, so she is not useless. Pigsy tends to use his grappling hook to reach the high ground, from where he can blast enemies with his rifle. All the combat looked really frantic and fast paced; it looks a blast to play.

Even though it was a graveyard, time has made sure that it doesn’t fall in the “next-gen brown” territory. Nature has already partly reclaimed the area with green grass and trees. Ammo comes in the form of red and blue containers, which further add to the color palette. After dispatching with their metallic enemies, the team spot a Slaver ship flying in the distance. Apparently, the Slavers are collecting scrap to build something bad.

The trio pursues the airship across what appears to be a bridge leading to a platform with five strange looking angled pillars. As the camera zooms out, we see that the “bridge” is actually a huge, overgrown robotic arm and the platform is a hand with five enormous fingers. Reaching the platform, the level’s first boss, Rhino, attacks you. Rhino is a huge robot that can quickly roll around the circular platform. It isn’t really evil, but it is just following its original programming from all those years ago.

During this boss battle Monkey can hop on a “Cloud,” an energy disc that acts like a hoverboard. It’s being called the Cloud because in old pictures of Sun Wukong, Monkey — in the classic Chinese literary work Journey to the West that Enslaved is heavily based on — he is often depicted as flying on a cloud. While evading Rhino’s roll attacks on the Cloud, Trip, and Pigsy attack him from high cover. After evading and countering with attacks, some of the scenery is affected by the battle and Monkey does some Heavenly Sword-like platforming to reach the top of one of the large ancient robotic fingers and does some stuff to finish the boss.

What followed was a race sequence where Monkey has to hit blue orbs to boost his way through a canyon. The showing ended with the introduction cutscene to Chapter 12: The Dam. It seemed the Slavers are building something at the Hoover Dam and after shooting down Pigsy’s flying van, the demo ended.

While the gameplay looked really fun and the graphics look amazing and vibrant, that wasn’t the only thing that made Enslaved a really impressive game. The story seemed to be a really good adaptation of Journey to the West and should be really interesting to watch unfold. While Monk, the character Trip is based on, is actually a man in the original book, Ninja Theory co-founder and lead designer Tameem Antoniades told us that he grew up watching the 1978 tv show Monkey where Monk is also a woman. Antoniades seemed to be a real expert on the book so if you were wondering how much the game will be inspired by that source material then rest assured: it looks like it is in good hands.

The characters are also fantastic and the interaction between them during gameplay and cutscenes is a blast to watch. You can really see the benefit of having Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Halo movie screenplay) on board to write the dialogue. Monkey is great; no surprise as Andy Serkis voices him. Trip is equally impressive and voiced by — and based upon the appearance of — Lindsay Shaw (10 Things I Hate About You) who was 19-years-old at the time of recording the dialogue. Antoniades mentioned how they actually planted the microphones on the foreheads of the voice actors so they could talk and yell while running around a room.

I came away from Enslaved being impressed, but it was already pretty clear that it was going to be a special game to keep an eye on. After this, it is a day one purchase. The only concern I have is how long it will be, especially after Heavenly Sword. Doing the math of the time it took to clear Chapter 11, the full game should run at around seven to 10 hours. Then again, it was being played by a guy who sat there all day playing that exact same level over and over again. Whatever, give it to me now!

Maurice Tan