Stockholm Syndrome


Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is the next cinematic action adventure game from Heavenly Sword developer Ninja Theory. I recently took a trip to the Microsoft booth at E3 and got my hands on a thirty minute long demo. Between Alex Garland's script, the involvement of Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong), and the interesting approach to gameplay, Enslaved is looking like a winner.

Enslaved's intriguing narrative is loosely based on a classic Chinese novel. It takes place a century and a half into the future, where a robot uprising has all but annihilated the human race. Those who aren't dead are being rounded up and forced into servitude. The demo takes place in New York City, which has been overgrown by all sorts of flora. A slave ship has crashed, and there seems to have been only two survivors. One of them is a resourceful but vulnerable young woman named Trip. She's a tech wizard who seems to be able to program her way out of trouble. The other character is the game's protagonist, Monkey (played by Andy Serkis). Monkey is a mysterious man whose mannerisms are befitting of his name.

The relationship between Monkey and Trip isn't exactly stable; it actually takes us back to the game's title. Despite Monkey's natural strength and almost feral personality, Monkey is captured by the robots along with Trip. At one point before the demo starts, Trip causes the slave ship to crash, and reprograms a special slave headband. She affixes it to Monkey's head while he is unconscious. She does this out of practical necessity; she cannot get back home on her own. She needs a bodyguard, and Monkey is an ideal candidate. The headband is there to ensure Monkey's obedience. If he disobeys her, he is subjected to excruciating physical pain. If Trip dies, so does Monkey. Thus begins an escort mission that may last throughout the entire game. Naturally, Monkey isn't exactly thrilled with this partnership; he is clearly unhappy about his predicament, and his threats are never disguised or veiled. However, as they make their way through this tragically beautiful world, it becomes apparent that the animosity may very well dissipate later in the game.

Enslaved contains action, platforming, and stealth sequences. Think Uncharted 2's platforming with Beyond Good & Evil's staff combat. Monkey can traverse the city wasteland with ease; if there's a chasm to get across, he can easily scramble up a broken streetlight and make use of some well-placed horizontal bars. Though Monkey is the protagonist, Enslaved is the story of a strained symbiosis. Though Trip can defend herself with an EMP blast every now and then, she generally can't hold her own like Monkey can. Luckily, she can be given commands. She can use special tech to draw attention away from Monkey; conversely, Monkey can scream at the robots to take the heat off of Trip.

The theme of forced partnership is very heavy, especially towards the end of the floor demo. As Trip and Monkey make their way to New York City, it becomes apparent that they are about to wander into the middle of an active minefield. Trip then makes a bizarre request; Monkey must catch a special robotic dragonfly. After an obligatory platforming sequence, Monkey manages to catch the insect. Trip works her magic, and Monkey's headband is fitted with an application that allows him to detect mines. Then, it's just a matter of picking the young woman up and carrying her across the deadly field.

If the E3 demo is any indication, Enslaved will be an immersive cinematic experience. For an E3 demo, the character designs and facial animations seem to be in a state of high polish. Furthermore, dynamic camera angles tilt and shake the screen with every blow Monkey lands.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West very clearly wants to be a post-apocalyptic game with a big heart, and it certainly seems to be on the right track. It's going to launch this Fall for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.