by Keaton Arksey
previewed on PS3
Journey to the West Modernised
It is rare for a work of literature to be made into a video game. More modern tales like Metro 2033 have made the transition, while the obligatory video games based on movies based on a book (a la Harry Potter) rarely match the heights their book counterparts achieve in the literary world. Pieces of classic literature rarely get turned into games (I'm still waiting on my Romeo and Juliet dating sim), but Journey to the West, a classic Chinese tale published in the late 16th century has been adapted and retold many times. From MMORPGs to cameos in Mega Man and Pokemon, Journey to the West has been retold and referenced many times, so it is no surprise that another team is taking a stab at the classic tale with Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
Snug headbands and Giant Death Robots
Developed by Ninja Theory, the team behind the PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword and published by Namco Bandai, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is set one hundred and fifty years into the future, after most of humanity has been obliterated and deadly robots intend to wipe the human scourge completely from their world. While Journey to the West is a story of Buddhist monks pilgrimage to India to obtain sacred texts, Odyssey is about Monkey, a loner who is captured by death machines and confined on an air ship. It is there that he teams up with fellow captive Trip. They escape, but Monkey is knocked unconscious. Now, here is where things get interesting. Trip desperately desires to return to her home, but a land full of killer robots stand between her and that goal. So she decides to enlist the aid of Monkey. Seeing as how he would never agree of his own free will, Trip takes this opportunity to place a magical headband on Monkey. Should he disobey her, the headband will shrink and cause his skull to be crushed. It is definitely not your average relationship, so expect lots of tension and head crushing.
As it happens, Monkey is adept in martial arts, so his death dealing ways will come in handy while he fights robots. Unfortunately, he will also have to spend time defending Trip, for her death will bring about his demise as well. Trip can't do any actual fighting, but she can use an Electromagnetic Pulse (or EMP) to stun enemies. Not to kill them, because that would remove the fun of fighting giant robots.
Helping Trip along on the trip
While the inclusion of a second character might lead one to think that Enslaved will feature co-op, it will actually be a single player affair. That is not to say that there are not co-op style moves that can be used. Trip will be able to ride on Monkey's shoulders for faster movement, and she can also be used as a decoy so Monkey can get the drop on unsuspecting robots. Trip will also figure into puzzles and acrobatic sections. Since Trip is not nearly as skilled as Monkey, he will have to create pathways for her by destroying obstructions or simply throw her across gaps. Enslaved certainly has a strong focus on platforming, from scaling up walls and swinging across gaps. If you need an example, think of other platforming-esque series like Prince of Persia or Uncharted.
Along with being a martial arts master, Monkey can take advantage of Trip's dragonfly camera. She can use it to scout ahead and find the weak points of enemies. A colour-coded system during combat will identify the threat levels of enemies, informing you when to attack, block, or run.
Fancy looks and promising team
Enslaved is set in the eastern United States, starting off in New York. Since it is the future, most of the architecture we know and love today is still around, but has been destroyed and covered in greenery. This lends to the game's unique green visuals. Built around Unreal Engine 3.0, the game already looks phenomenal, avoiding the drab colour scheme of other Unreal engine games and using beautiful reds, yellows and greens to provide arguably the most colourful apocalypse of all time.
Enslaved has a lot of star power behind the development. Alex Garland, who wrote screenplays for 28 Days Later and the Halo movie, is penning the script for the game. The composer/musician Nitin Sawhney will be bringing his unique blend of worldwide musical styles and jazz by providing the score. Andy Serkis, whom you may know as the man who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies, will be voicing Monkey as well as doing the character's motion capture.
A surprise hit?
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, scheduled to release in only a short few weeks might not have as heavy a name as the Halos and Assassin's Creeds out there, but the developers at Ninja Theory have shown that they can make some beautiful games with fun combat. By adding platforming elements, an interesting story based on ancient Chinese literature, and a teamwork mechanic that literally puts your life on the line every minute of the way, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is looking like it could be one of the surprise hits of 2010.