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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Preview

Nick_Tan By:
Nick_Tan
07/09/10
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
EMAIL TO A FRIEND
GENRE Action 
PLAYERS
PUBLISHER Namco Bandai 
DEVELOPER Ninja Theory 
RELEASE DATE  
T Contains Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

The wrench in the works.


I live the life of an everyday American, so whenever I'm reminded that I'm Chinese, I'm not only surprised, but instantly ready to defend my heritage. It's a kung fu knee-jerk reaction. So when I heard that Bandai Namco, the root of all evil those Dragonball and Naruto titles, was going to reinterpret the Chinese folk classic Journey of the West in the form of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, I secretly thought, “I hope they mess this one up so I can tear them a new one.” But after playing through the one-hour demo at E3 and learning that Ninja Theory, the developer for Heavenly Sword, was behind the project, I can calmly and pleasantly say I won’t be.

click to enlargeEnslaved re-imagines more than just the familiar character of Sun Wukong, The Monkey King, by conceiving a post-apocalyptic world set one hundred and fifty years in the future that isn’t steeped in cliché grayish wastelands, but in a lush jungle gym of foliage. It is as if the mossy forgotten island nestled high in the clouds in Hayao Miyazaki’s Laputa, or Castle in the Sky, has been projected on the entire world, except that the giant robots are not friendly moving statues that birds don't mind perching on. Humans produced thousands of machines for war, but no one told the machines that the war was over. Cue mass human genocide.

Among the few people left alive on the planet, the main duo Monkey and Trip find themselves imprisoned on a menacing aircraft in separate chambers. Luckily, Trip is able to use her expert tech-savvy skills to sabotage the ship's system and force the aircraft to stumble enough to make her quick escape and for Monkey to make his as well, through brute and nimble strength. In the chaos, though, Monkey is knocked unconscious and Trip, being a thin woman hoping to return home in the West through the labyrinthine landscape, decides that she needs Monkey’s help whether or not he wants to lend it. So in an allusion to Journey to the West, she places a magical golden headband on his head that will kill him if he wanders too far off or if she dies. Yep, talk about a bitch relationship with an attachment problem.

click to enlargeOf course, this also presents an opportunity for the usually solitary Monkey to develop a relationship with a person that he’s forced to protect, through a story co-written by Alex Garland (28 Days Later). Enslavement, however, isn’t exactly the best ice breaker and Monkey is understandably pissed off for the first couple of hours, days, or even months. Thankfully, he can redirect his anger at the hundreds of unemotional killing machines lurking about.

In a third-person action-adventure packed with stealth and platforming, Monkey is one of the best picks for a hero. He shares many abilities with his inspiration Sun Wukong, albeit with a futuristic and technological twist: climbing prowess that makes quick work of stray poles and pillars lined with cracks; an extendable, digital staff that whacks robots into scrap metal and can fire blasts like a magical de facto grenade launcher; and a floating, neon blue disc that hovers on water like a magical cloud. Even without these tools, Monkey has the courage and brawn (and the hunting ability and appetite to somehow gather enough protein to stay ridiculously muscular during the apocalypse) to tear apart towering machines with his bare hands.

But for as obvious as Trip plays the damsel in distress, she is hardly a defenseless woman. If a robot is about to take a mean swipe at her, she will automatically disperse a miniature EMP blast that will stun her attacker long enough for you to bash it in the head. Beyond opening doors that block your progress, her technological genius is responsible for displaying your HUD (via headband), augmenting your abilities, and controlling a dragonfly camera for hidden objects and enemy analysis. She can also duck behind cover and attract enemy fire while you cross a precarious bridge, and you can do the same for her.

click to enlargeAnd since this is Ninja Theory, you can expect gorgeous backdrops, polished character models, and fluid animations (provided by Andy Serkis, the mo-cap genius behind Gollum in the Lord of the Rings). Environments have a soft vibrancy that makes it seem like they are blurry, but have a tattered beauty to them like a digitally enhanced Monet painting. Beneath the thin layer of paradise lays a frayed and rusted wasteland – a mystery of the natural attempting to hide the unnatural and the truth of the past.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West promises a wondrous adventure in a dangerous world that doesn’t look dangerous at all. At the same time, it seeks to retell the Journey of the West in its own way without following the folktale verbatim. And so far, Enslaved accomplishes both. Look for it to swing its way onto store shelves on Xbox 360 and PS3 in October this year.
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