Preview | Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Hands-On
Could it be Monkey magic now?
Format: PS3/Xbox 360 | Genre: Action Adventure | Publisher: Namco Bandai | Developer: Ninja Theory | ETA: 8/10/2010
Sinan Kubba combines monkey based punnery and previewing skills with Ninja Theory’s latest title ENSLAVED: ODYSSEY TO THE WEST.
COMPARED TO the Monkey that graced our TV sets in the late 70s with his cheeky grin, emphatic forehead slaps and sideshow array of expressions, the Monkey of Enslaved is a right miserable git.
Well, compared to most people he would be a miserable git, but he’s still worlds apart from the thick sideburns and even thicker accent which many of us associate with Monkey. Enslaved is going for a more mature interpretation of the Chinese story Journey to the West, which is a shame as I think some funky old school fighting music wouldn’t have gone amiss – because it never goes amiss.
I do understand why the new Monkey is such a miserable git. Caught by deathly contraptions which trap him inside a prison pod, he’s forced to negotiate an escape from a blazing airship which suddenly rips in half, and when he finally reaches the last escape pod there’s a mysterious woman already inside it. She refuses to let him in, leaving him clinging to the pod’s sides as it ejects into the sky, his screams piercing through the boom of the slave ship’s explosion in the distance. Something like that is bound to make even the happiest of creatures a bit peeved.
Not only does this opening sequence go some way to explaining Monkey’s gruff exterior, but it also sets the tone for what is another ambitious project by Ninja Theory, the team behind 2007’s Heavenly Sword, a game which also drew from Far Eastern lore. The opening of Enslaved is dramatic, interactive, and leaves our hero on the precipice of disaster, much like Drake was left hanging on the railing at the beginning of Uncharted 2 – and that’s not the first time you’ll see that comparison in this preview. Ninja Theory is clearly setting its sights high with what it wants to achieve in Enslaved.
The team has mixed Chinese fantasy with what seems to be a (literal) urban jungle take on I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. It’s a mixture brought into focus immediately as the white and red war paint coating Monkey’s face and the clannish marks spread over his beefy torso contrast against the stream of pipes lining the rusting reds and greens of the airship’s walls – technology meets tribal. While trying to flee the crash-bound ship, Monkey forces a guard into handing over weapons to him. The airship’s computer detects this and promptly feeds god-knows-what kind of damage into the poor guard’s head, his helmet flashing red as he shakes and shudders to his untimely demise, and it dawns that the guards might be just as much as enslaved as the prisoners they’re guarding.
Things get worse for the morose Monkey when he finally comes to in an overgrown New York, its skyscrapers, signs and fountains covered in grass, moss, and vines. The sounds of birds chirping, a deer galloping, and insects buzzing do little to sooth his raging headache. Monkey soon discovers the source of his pain, but it’s not good news. The mysterious woman who’d left him to cling to his death has stuck a crown-like electronic device on him while he was unconscious, and it gives her the ability to control his mind and bend him to her will. Not exactly polite, so it’s more than insult to injury when she reveals that if she dies the device will kill him also, forcing our luckless Monkey into becoming her personal bodyguard until she safely makes it home. His mood does not improve.
This premise is the basis of the play as well as the story. Monkey and his new best friend – she reveals her name as Trip – must make their way through the dangers ahead together. Co-operation is the key, although Monkey (and the player) is left to do most of the grunt work. The obstacles are almost platforming based puzzles, because Monkey must ensure both he and Trip get through them. There’s a hint of Uncharted 2 – told you – to this tropical tour of teamwork, but the physicality of the co-operation primarily stirs of a PS2 game that was something of a critical darling: Ico.
For example, early on, the pair must negotiate a drawbridge and forced it to open on its far side. The catch? It doesn’t fall down. Monkey has to live up to his name by clambering across surrounding walls and vines to get to the other side and knock it down, only to be quickly forced into protecting Trip when a trio of scythe-bearing robots attack her in his absence – this appears to be the theme for the most part early on in the game.
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