Enslaved: Odyssey to the West -- New ImpressionsBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted May 26, 2010
The last time I saw Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, developer Ninja Theory was still putting a few puzzle pieces in place. Facial animations hadn’t been fully implemented and the voice acting still had placeholder dialogue. Even with a game that very much had an “under construction” sign in place, I was intrigued with Enslaved. And although I wasn’t allowed to play the game during a recent Namco Bandai media event, I’m still quite intrigued with what Ninja Theory has on tap. Right now, it’s still rough in places, but overall, a bit more polish should bring the look of the game together and could give us a sleeper hit this fall.
Last week’s presentation kicked off quite literally at the finale of that first demo I saw. Our heroes Monkey and Trip are still traversing the hollowed-out high rises of post-apocalyptic Manhattan to reach a crane. The segment kicks off with Monkey forcing Trip to hide in a basement so that he can survey the area for any insurmountable hazards (since, after all, any harm to Trip will harm Monkey). Symbolically, it’s the first sign of trust between the characters, as Ninja Theory’s Tameem Antoniades pointed out. That helped me get an idea of where the action seems to be taking place in the story arc: not too far along, but certainly not at the beginning of the tale. With Trip hidden safely, Monkey starts traversing some of the blown-out buildings to get a vantage point and pick off some enemies.
One thing I noticed more than in the prior demo is how Ninja Theory is playing with color in gameplay. Amidst the lush landscapes and big buildings, the team has thrown in color-based indicators to subtly guide you along the way. As Monkey traverses the environment, you’ll see plenty of shiny indicators that guide you along each precarious pole and platform. More importantly, I got a glimpse at an important upgrade: Combat Awareness. With this new ability, you’ll get a better idea of how and when enemies are attacking you. When a drone is preparing to attack you, it’ll glow with a reddish hue. When it’s vulnerable to your attacks, it’ll take on a golden radiance. It appears to be a good visual indicator that helps drive the rhythm of combat.
After Monkey makes his way through a structure, he encounters a “field” (the former office floor of a huge skyscraper) which is under the heavy surveillance of scanner turrets that sweep the floor with lasers. It’s here that I saw one of Monkey’s other new attacks: the stun shot. It temporarily breaks the defense shields of any robots he must battle and leaves them temporarily vulnerable. It helps him cross the field and manage the numerous attacks. In addition, the timer droids that I mentioned seeing in the last preview -- they have a visual counter that calls in reinforcements if you don’t take them out first -- can be “paused” if you tag them with a stun attack.
With the turrets dispatched, Monkey calls back to Trip to join him. As she heads over to reunite with him, I saw a vicious mini-boss, the Dog. Just as she’s gotten close enough to Monkey, the Dog begins patrolling around. This robot type is more nasty, since it has stronger sentient AI and its machinery resembles organic materials, especially muscle. I got a glimpse at how the game rolls out when you’re evading instead of fighting.
As Monkey and Trip strive to escape the high-rise and the Dog, I got an idea of the ways that Enslaved strives to mix platforming and evasion. At times, it will involve using Trip’s hacked Dragonfly, a flying surveillance camera, to scan before proceeding quickly. In others, the camera reversed to create the same sort of “running at the camera” effect that Naughty Dog has used so skillfully in Uncharted 2 and the Crash Bandicoot series.
And just when the duo are poised to escape the building, Trip sees an ultra-rare power cell. From what Antoniades indicated to me, the power cells are so crucial to Trip’s people (and so difficult to find) that she’s willing to risk being mauled by the hands of a gigantic robotic Rottweiler to attain it. The demo wraps up as Monkey fights off several droids while Trip traverses several platforms to get the cell while the Dog is temporarily incapacitated.
My prognosis after a second glance at Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is fairly positive. I don’t want to be overly effusive in praising it, but it reminds me in some regards of Batman: Arkham Asylum pre-release. Like Rocksteady’s game, it’s lower key in comparison to many of the AAA blockbusters that are generating pre-E3 buzz, it comes from a British studio with proven talents, it’s got very unique and eye-catching art design, and it looks like it has some interesting ideas about how to approach familiar mechanics. Though unlike Rocksteady, Ninja Theory has dealt with the pressure of a heavily hyped game that, while good, wasn’t what the publisher promised. Could Enslaved be a sleeper hit like Arkham? Right now, it’s too early to confirm, and I could be let down once I have a controller in my hands at E3. But until then, I’m giving the team the benefit of a doubt. If the gameplay and story hold up to the ambition driving the project, I’ll be watching it closely.