Xbox enslaved-preview

Published on August 22nd, 2010 | by prime

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Enslaved – Preview

Storytelling is still an infant art form in videogames. There are plenty of schools of thought – the Uncharted-style cut-scene script, the Half Life exposition, even the Limbo-esque minimalism – and none has rammed its flag in the ground as ‘the way’ just yet. For a game like Enslaved though, Ninja Theory is placing one thing above all else… character.

This grand retelling of the classic Journey to the West story sees muscle-bound slave Monkey and hi-tech wizard Trip stuck trying to escape a cataclysmic world, one that has been overrun by dangerous technology. They’re completely codependent, as Trip needs Monkey’s strength and guile, who in turn needs Trip’s technical know-how. Oh, and if he strays too far from her, the slave collar around his head will kill him.

So there’s tension from the outset, but Enslaved creates a kind of buddy-movie camaraderie not just in its cut-scenes and its dialogue, but in how the characters interact with one another. The game itself is an action platformer in the guise of a game like Uncharted, where players take control of Monkey and navigate sweeping environments while laying the smackdown on a few robots that get in the way. Even during our brief hands-on time with the game, the variety in play styles was abundant, from vertigo-inducing platforming to cover-based speedy stealth.

Where the animation rules the storytelling though, comes in the more subtle elements of Enslaved’s gameplay tapestry. An early section demands the pair navigate a minefield. Monkey has to carry the skeptical Trip on his back, and as the two hop and step between explosives, you can see a bond forming. Its clever stuff; the kind of thing that adds a layer of interest beyond the simple A to B mechanics of actually playing through a videogame.

Of course, none of this would matter have Ninja Theory forgotten to include something to play with. Enslaved, though, keeps up its early pace with surfing sections, a bit of blasting and some satisfying ‘hit robot with big stick’ rucks. The team’s experience on the underrated Heavenly Sword is evident not only in the density of Enslaved’s combat, but in the sense of grandeur and purpose that every moment of the story carries. Ninja Theory has a real knack of making your actions on screen seems really important.

Even the game’s opening, a largely scripted prison escape, has a tangible sense of urgency. Perhaps influenced by the fantastic set-pieces of Uncharted 2, or perhaps just fuelled by their own inspiration, Ninja Theory has crafted almost every one of Enslaved’s action sequences with a keen cinematic eye, placing as much emphasis on spectacle as it does on pixel-perfect jumping. If Enslaved can maintain this commitment to relentless excitement, then Namco Bandai and Ninja theory are onto a winner.

Even if not, the acting pedigree is hard to fault. Lord of the Rings’ star Andy Serkis has opened up his new mocap studio to Ninja Theory, so all the cut-scenes can be given the performance capture treatment, thus making them far more believable and emotionally resonant, and Serkis himself plays the role of Monkey. While the dialogue isn’t revelatory stuff, it’s believable and enjoyable, certainly in the parts we’ve played so far. Characters actually talk about more than just what they need to do or how angry they are, and throughout the game you should gain a better understanding of what makes the pair tick, despite all the carnage.

With stunning visuals throughout, a wealth of gameplay variety, strong characters and a general slickness and polish over the whole game, Enslaved has the potential to be the sleeper hit of the year, and that’s the real story here.

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