The truth: Heavenly Sword is a fantastic game. Sure, the combat isn’t the deepest, or even the most fun, but playing that game was a true joy. The fantastic characters, the interesting story, and the impressive graphics all contributed to an experience that was one of my early favorites on the PlayStation 3.
So naturally, I headed quickly to the Enslaved: Odyssey to the West booth for a fairly lengthy hands-on demo, and Ninja Theory’s new game definitely impresses.
One of the very first things I noticed about the Enslaved demo is the heavy reliance upon cooperation between your character, Monkey, and his female companion, Trip. The opening cutscene sets up a relationship that sees Monkey becoming a leader of sorts, giving directions to Trip in order to keep her safe.
In fact, this mechanic played a huge part in the demo, with a very large part of the player’s responsibilities being tied to Trip. One of the first gameplay mechanics the game introduces you to is a radial menu that allows you to give commands to Trip. The commands are quite simple: one allows you to tell her to follow you out of cover as you create a distraction (by jumping around and yelling like an idiot, which is actually quite amusing). The demo presumably didn’t introduce all of the available commands, so there may be plenty more strategy in these commands throughout the game. As of now, it feels quite straightforward, though protecting this character who is tied so directly to your own character (if she dies, you die) scratches the same sort of itch that Ico does.
It’s also quite helpful that these two characters were immediately likable to me. Ninja Theory seems to have a knack for making completely entertaining and enjoyable characters, making it extremely easy to enjoy the game’s cutscenes and become interested in the story. While the demo didn’t develop the characters beyond a superficial level, the voice acting is quite strong, and while the faces can look somewhat awkward at times, they interact and connect quite well on screen. I’m quite confident in saying that the story and characters will be fantastically engaging in Enslaved.
The combat took me some time to get into, however. Heavenly Sword was often criticized for its combat, which was simply unremarkable. This time around, fighting feels a bit harder. Enemies have ranged attacks that can mess you up pretty quickly, though in one early combat situation, the game encourages you to find a safe route to an enemy and take it out somewhat stealthily. However, the basic combat revolves around attacks with Monkey’s staff, and there simply didn’t seem to be a whole ton of variety in the basic engagements. During the demo, I found that I was enjoying myself most when I wasn’t in combat. I did appreciate some of the cinematic finishing attacks, in which the camera shifts and zooms in similar to what Batman: Arkham Asylum did.
Luckily, there’s quite a lot more to the game. Monkey also has the ability to pick up Trip and carry her on his back, which was helpful during a section that asked the player to navigate a minefield. Monkey can also toss Trip upward to reach otherwise unaccessible areas. Furthermore, there’s a fair deal of Prince of Persia-style jumping and climbing, which felt really intuitive for the most part (I did run into one area where I was supposed to jump from a branch to a wall, but Monkey had a little trouble deciding whether he wanted to proceed or just jump in place for a while). It doesn’t do anything radically new, but it’s a nice addition that will provide great variety to the gameplay.
There were some other potentially cool mechanics, such as a robotic dragonfly that seems to provide an aerial view of Monkey’s surroundings, though the demo ended shortly after acquiring this particular piece of technology. Similarly, Trip has a portable EMP that can stun surrounding enemies, which will ensure that Trip is far from a helpless, burdensome companion.
To me, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West feels like a highly original and fascinating adventure. I love the game’s style, which melds high technology with dilapidated, overgrown temple ruins. The characters were instantly likable, and I looked forward to each bit of exposition that came next. It remains to be seen if the combat will be quite as enjoyable as the rest of the game promises to be, but I walked away from the booth wanting more, and wanting it sooner than later. We should be seeing the game in October of this year.