Platform and adventure games have long since outgrown their mass appeal. In the last five to ten years there’s been a massive shift in what type of video games we play, moving from the relatively sedate worlds of adventures and RPGs into the more heart-racing world of first person shooters. So when Namco Bandai teamed up with Ninja Theory to begin work on ‘Enslaved’ it must have been something of a gamble.
Then things started to get interesting. Alex Garland, most famous for writing ‘The Beach’, joined the project as co-writer and Andy Serkis used his extensive motion-capture experience to bring life to the main character Monkey. He also voiced the grumpy brute. Nitin Sawhney was then brought in to compose the game’s subtle and somewhat eerie music. A great deal of hype was generated around the game as is went through the production process and for once that anticipation has lived up to expectations.
In the game, loosely based around the ancient Chinese scriptures ‘Journey To The West’, you control Monkey, a loner who gets by in a post-apocalyptic world by using a combination of technology and brute strength. At the beginning of the game he’s trapped in a cell on a slave ship run by “mechs”, the powerful robots responsible for overthrowing humanity. He freed by pure chance when fellow captive Trip manages to escape from her cell and overload the ship’s systems. After escaping, Trip places a slaving device on Monkey.
This is where the game really gets compelling. Thanks to the slaving device, Monkey has a duty to keep Trip safe: if she dies, he dies. So, like other tag-team games like ‘Ico’, you control the force of the operation while trying to keep the brains alive in a brutal world. You can tell Trip when to move, create a distraction or to help you buy upgrades but she is for the most part uncontrollable. Stray too far and she will activate the headband, causing you to lose health and be disoriented.
The environments are simply stunning to walk around. Every plant, creature, abandoned car and ruined landmark are rendered in minute detail, giving the most vivid sense yet that you are actually part of a world that is simply beautiful and awe-inspiring on the one hand but deadly on the other. The motion capture effect used with Monkey in particular gives the most realistic human effect in a video game that I’ve ever seen. For all that CGI cut-scenes can create a basic look of a human, such as in the Final Fantasy series, ‘Enslaved’ takes it a step further. You can actually see each muscle and section of skin moving when he frowns (which he does a lot).
Overall gameplay is actually quite basic. The controls are simple with only a few buttons needed to control Monkey’s actions. This means it’s easy to get used to how it works but because the overall difficulty level of the game is quite high, even on normal mode, the game forces you to think before acting, a trait not often associated with your average adventure game.
My only slight criticism of ‘Enslaved’ is that sometimes the active camera will swing in such a way that Monkey will occasionally head off in the wrong direction when moving, although instances like this are quite isolated and it hasn’t once detracted from my overall enjoyment of the game and the story. People who are less confident with the workings of platfomers might find this slight glitch disorientating though.
What Namco Bandai and Ninja Theory have achieved with ‘Enslaved’ is to set the bar just that little bit higher for all platform-adventure games. In terms of graphics it can’t be beaten and the overall gameplay experience is completely compelling, keeping you gripped from start to finish. Who needs first person shooters?
Enslaved is out now on Ps3 & Xbox 360 via Namco/Bandai games. You can find out more info here or check out the trailer below.