Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
You shouldn't read this preview. Really. Play the game when it comes out, sure, but please try not to read too much about it. Even the smallest details will spoil the experience. So thanks for clicking, we appreciate it, but you can close the window now. Thanks.
Still here? Ok, but don't say we didn't warn you.
Our reluctance to share the our experiences with Enslaved: Odyssey to the West comes from the fact that the story is just so good we want you to discover it for yourself. We played a sizeable chunk of the game at Namco Bandai HQ recently and we're already hooked. Honestly, we don't remember a time when a videogame narrative had us so intrigued.
So let's start with the stuff you probably already know. Enslaved takes place on a distant future Earth, many years after a mysterious robot invasion has driven all but tiny pockets of humanity. Since then the cities have been reclaimed by nature. Vines dangle from collapsed concrete flyovers, lush grass carpets the cracked pavement, and thick, twisting tree trunks sprout from the tip of half-toppled skyscrapers.
Crashing into this oddly beautiful graveyard come Monkey and Trip, escapees from a passing slave ship. Trip, or Tripitaka to give her full name, is an ecological-minded yet tech savvy young woman, used to living her wits. You, meanwhile, are Monkey, a hulking brute of a man more used to expressing himself with violence than sitting down and discussing things over a nice cup of tea.
Monkey and Trip are not friends. Far from it. Indeed, given half a chance Monkey would snap Trip's neck in half. One of the reasons for this is that Trip has re-programmed a slaver headband and fitted it to his cranium. The headband allows Trip to communicate with Monkey no matter where he is, but more importantly, it also allows her to control him. She can crush his skull at a moment's notice.
You see Trip is smart enough to realise that although she may hate the big lump, he's actually essential to her survival. If she's to stand any chance of returning home, she'll need his skills. So off they go together, picking their way through the leafy rubble, the deadly robots that brought about the city's destruction lying in wait.
Much of Enslaved centres on the platforming elements. Monkey certainly lives up to his simian name, an overlong sash billowing behind him like a tail as he leaps from mossy ledge to leafy platform. It's nicely implemented, and wonderfully animated, drawing on some brilliant motion-capture work from Gollum himself, Andy Serkis. Before long you'll be bounding smoothly around he environment. Think of Monkey as a bulky Nathan Drake.
Meanwhile, when he's not jumping around he's usually bashing something over the head. Equipped with an extendable plasma staff, Monkey has several combos available to him from wide-sweeping attacks, to powered smashes. Furthermore, as he collects orbs from vanquishes foes he can upgrade his skills too, learning more combos, or increasing his strength and health. He's a formidable opponent.
Despite this, however, Monkey often has to sneak up to his robotic enemies, finding a circuitous route up walls and along railings before pouncing on them and performing a takedown. Accompanied by a dramatic camera flourish, these takedowns are brutal finishing moves, with Monkey plunging his hand deep into the robot and ripping out important circuity bits.
But this is a co-op game, don't forget, and as much as Trip needs Monkey's strength and agility, he needs her too. So in early sequence of the game you have to make your way through an environment dotted with turrets. Stroll casually through you'll certainly die, so it's essential to split up. Distracting the turrets by popping out of cover and waving your arms, you can draw their fire and give Trip enough time to dash to safety. Then by choosing the distract order from a radial dial, she can return the favour.
Trip offers more than just distraction, however. Her tech abilities allow her to hack doors and stun enemies so you can finish them off with your staff. She also fashions a mobile camera able to scan the area for mines, the radius of their sensors showing in the augmented vision provided by your headband.
It's in one such area, littered with proximity mines, that the duo must work together in order to survive. As Trip hasn't got a headband, she can't tell where they are, so Monkey must pick her up and physically carry her through the dangerous terrain, stopping only to throw her up to a safe platform so he can fight off waves of robots, or allow her to spy an exit.
But all this is skirting around the real draw of Enslaved. While the mechanics and puzzle elements of the game are solid, extending far beyond what we've discussed here, it's the relationship between the two characters, and the story that unfolds around them that really astounds.
That Trip and Monkey begin the game with mutual hatred, only to slowly grow to trust each other may be a trite narrative cliche, but it's the way their relationship develops that engages so wonderfully. Trip's eyes in particular are wonderfully expressive. Effortlessly conveying fear, awe, vulnerability and sadness, it's up there with the very best facial animation we've ever seen. Just as Monkey inevitably will, you'll grow to love Trip too.
Similarly Monkey may not be the two-dimensional, mouthy idiot he presents himself as early on, with our time with the game hinting at an intriguing depth of character. As these two unlikely partners reveal more of themselves, you'll find yourself invested in their story.
Which is where it gets really tricky to talk about the game. We've already glossed over certain elements of the narrative to maintain the grip of the story, but even beyond that there are some huge narrative revelations to come. Massive. Things we only glimpsed in our playthrough. Truly, the drip-feed of revelations and mysteries crafted from Enslaved's classical Chinese influences by The Beach author Alex Garland meant that by the time we were forced to put the controller down we were gripped.
So that's where we'll end it. We'll say no more. Suffice to say that we couldn't be more excited by the prospect of sitting down with Enslaved in a few weeks time and loosing ourselves once more in Trip and Monkey's journey. We just hope we haven't already revealed too much.