Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Preview

When I was a only a small child, I had two true loves in my life: Power Rangers, and Pacman. I’m almost certain that I must have dedicated years of my life in the pursuit of beating my Pacman highscore (which I continue to attempt to beat to this day) and collecting every Power Ranger action figure in existence (which I have since given up on as I discovered girls existed). My tiny little brain never dared dream that the creators of these two things would one day link fingers and hold hands all the way to the bank by merging into a single entity – Namco Bandai. Then on top of all that, that they would start making video games. Well in 2005 they did merge, in 2006 they did start making games, and on October 8th their latest triumph is heading to stores Nation wide – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

Ready-Up (by which I mean me and Fran) were kindly invited to the Namco Bandai offices in a hidden location in Central London (about a ten minute walk from Hammersmith, if you hit Burger King then you’ve gone too far) to play as much of the game as humanly possible in a single evening. An opportunity I relished like a policeman being offered a lifetime supply of Krispy Kremes. Actually, scrap the policeman part, like any human being with taste-buds being offered a lifetime supply of Krispy Kremes!

Upon arrival at Namco Bandai, and once I had stopped oozing several bucket-loads worth of drool over the Pacman Ghost plushies scattered throughout the lobby, we were greeted with a bonafied jungle of HD televisions, Playstation 3s and XBox 360s. Having already done some top notch professional research prior to our arrival (4 minutes while on Wikipedia on my iPhone) I immediately recognised our two heroes: Monkey (the big guy) and Trip (the girl he’s carrying) plastered over every screen. I hold back no punches and had a mild twinge in the pit of my stomach which resonated through my very soul; “Please God don’t let this game be one very, very, VERY long escort mission.”

A fair fear in my opinion. Too many great sounding, great looking, superb playing games have been ruined by unnecessary or tiresome escort missions. As a good friend once said to me: “Yeah. That’s why I play video games. To babysit dumbass AI for ten hours.” However… this was NAMCO BANDAI! I’ve held an inappropriate amount of trust in this company since I was still chewing on my own foot, so I welcomed to the chance to be proven what a judgemental idiot I was being (minor spoiler alert!: I was most definitely wrong!). So Fran and I took our seats and got comfortable, because we had been assigned four hours to complete as much of the game as our muscular gamer thumbs could handle. Though Fran was probably totally unaware of it, I took this as a challenge to see which one of us could race our way furthest into the game in the set time (a race which I’m pretty certain I won, by the way).

Enough jibber-jabber, let’s stop with the Pacman/Power Ranger love, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and play the game itself. You play as Monkey, a strong, mean alien trader with nerves of steel and an attitude to match. You’ve barely pressed start before you wake up in a jail cell with alarms blaring in every direction and no way out. Luckily for you though, Trip has decided that she is rather bored of being trapped in a similar cell just across the hallway from you, and decides to break herself out which required deactivating all security barriers while doing so (thus freeing you). Monkey, being the not totally brain-dead man he is, decides now would be a good time to get the hell out of there. Turns out, it wasn’t just Trip who deactivated the security, you’re on a freakin’ spaceship and it’s plummeting nose first at the nearest planet!

Meet Trip: escapee and world class shadow puppeteer.

Without wanting to ruin too much of the shock and awe value, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (which from this point on I’m simply referring to as ‘Enslaved’) does so well – what followed was quite possibly the most heart-pumping, adrenaline rush of an introduction a game has provided me in many years. I was chasing after Trip with all my Monkey-might with explosions flaring all around me, the ship slowly being torn apart from floor to hull and I was armed with nothing more than the A Button to clumsily jump my way towards the next door hatch. It’s a rather classic manoeuvre on the part of the developers (the ‘Run Like Hell!’ tactic) but it really worked for Enslaved to set the scene and give the player a chance to get to grips with the Prince of Persia style platforming and puzzle-solving, and it also began to prove to me that it wasn’t simply an escort game because I was chasing her! Quite badly, may I add.

I was obviously just that nano-second too slow when it came to my ship evacuation plans, because it seemed that everything was going wrong about two seconds after she ran past and about two seconds before I got there. She got to casually stroll past the unarmed, inactivated mech robots while muggins here got to beat them down Star Wars style with my dual light-sabre stick of death (I never heard it referred to as any particular name, so that’s what I’m calling it from now on). Naturally, though, this entire episode of Monkey’s life was to the tune of “There are… 5… escape pods remaining.”

A countdown which was surprisingly effective of getting me to rush as quickly as possible towards the ever decreasing escape pod bay, even to the point that a was taking quite a few leaps of blind faith in hopes that the platform I was aiming for happened to be the right direction to go in! It was utterly brilliant. I’d been in the game world ten… fifteen minutes tops and already I could feel the controller welding to my palms in preparation for a non-stop Enslaved frenzy. They were going to have to surgically remove me from that chair at the end of the day. It was the most explosive, high-octane drawing in I’ve had from any videogame in a long time. Already, I wanted to know and play more. Which tends to be a promising start when you care about the characters before you’ve even really had a solid background to them (take notes, Bioshock. This is how you set up a character).

I don’t want to tarnish the twist ending of the introduction, but I wanted to physically reach into the screen and strangle Trip. No shame, no remorse, I’d have full on O.J. Simpsoned that woman at that point. Tragically a quicktime event asking if I want to ‘Press X to use your pimp hand’ never came up, but the eventual conclusion is that you wind up on the planet, waking up next to an already conscious Trip with one hell of a headache (which is her fault. Just saying).

Welcome… TO EARTH! Circa 2160.

As it turns out… SHOCK! HORROR! The planet you’ve crashed on is none other than… Earth! Only now it’s 150 years in the future and the entire human race appears to have been destroyed by these overly intelligent killer robot mechs (“We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you. God damn you all to Hell!”). Naturally, though, as a rational and totally justified act, your first instinct is to wrap your big meaty Monkey hands around Trip’s tiny throat and throttle her for answers. No dice, I’m afraid to say, she slaps a mind control behaviour headband on you (the impressive looking crown object on Monkey in the picture above) and she’s quite willing to order it to zap your brain into an easy to digest mush if you so much as glare at her funnily. She then breaks down and lovingly informs Monkey that if she dies, that the headband will overload and kill him as well… can you see why I wasn’t completely endeared to her up to this point?

Congratulations! You have just become her unwilling bodyguard until you get her overly bossy butt back to her people, who happen to be conveniently located about 300 miles away from where you crashed. Of course, this is when the game really kicks it into high gear and the real blood and guts of the gameplay get a chance to shine. To reflect this, I’m going to leapfrog, in chronological order, through some of my favourite events which transpired over my four hour journey without ever leaving my Namco assigned seat.

Dude… the colours…

So I spent a substantial amount of time after the crash carrying Trip’s annoying (yet notably well built) ass, which once again brought my heart down to the point where I was having Dead Rising escort flashbacks on the back of my retinas, but eventually it turned out that she was more than just overly instructive eye-candy and turned out to be rather useful! That’s not even a sexist comment, either, because honestly, a blind, deaf, no legged stuffed panda would’ve been just about as useful gameplay-wise up until this point. While we were trying to traverse a rather long and unprotected walk-way, we were met with several gun turrets guarding the area, but before I’d even had a chance to make a suicidal run with a checkpoint safety tucked in my pocket – she whipped out her Futurama wristband and distracted them with a planetarium style light show. I then proceeded to stroll casually across, doing everything but swinging a cane nonchalantly as I went, and then kicked back with a metaphorical beer on the other side.

It was a weirdly satisfying moment where for once in a game I wasn’t the subject of attention. I realise how dumb that sounds, as the protagonist and all, but it gave a great sense of realism that both characters seemed to care about the ultimate goal rather than leaving it to me to plod on mindlessly towards the sign marked ‘END’ as every other AI followed in an unenthusiastic conga line behind me.

At which point I just yelled at her to follow me. I'm a true gentleman.

This is where being a professional journalist becomes difficult because there’s just so damn much I want to talk about here, but there just isn’t enough space left here to get it all in! I mean there’s the epic upgrade you get that lets you use your dual light-sabre stick of death to fire various flavours of lightning at your enemies:

Mmmmmmm… blueberry!

Or the time that you must go face-to-face with a giant mechanical turtle dog creature!:


Or even one of the many, many, MANY opportunities Monkey has to get a sneaky glance in at Trip!:

Yeah. That's right, Monkey – I caught you. More than once.

There just isn’t enough time and there aren’t enough words that I can use to describe the experience. That’s why humanity invented such magnificent ways to convey media, because sometimes text just isn’t enough to encapsulate the whole experience, and such is the case right here. Monkey and Trip are two characters I became genuinely attached to, and I really did not want to leave that chair until I made it to the end, to find out what happened (and as I didn’t make it that far, I pray to God that this game better not end on a cliffhanger and leave me waiting for a second game!). I focused on the beginning because I was drawn in by it. Yes the levels were beautiful and sprawling, of course the platforming felt like spread warm butter over hot toast, naturally the satisfaction of striking the final blow on a robot mech and watching the game switch to slow motion for added effect bordered on orgasmic – but the end product shines for me because I actually relished being with the characters and the journey they were on. (I don’t care how sappy that sounds, it’s true!)

Enslaved, was simply put, one of the most enjoyable action-adventure puzzle-platformers I’ve had the privilege to play. The gameplay was fluent and engrossing, the set pieces were well set up and well executed, and the characters were just… perfect. Monkey and Trip make a kick-ass team and at the same time the ideal odd couple. I loved every second that I was allowed to play while at Namco and I highly recommend you pre-order the game now. This very second, You don’t even need to finish reading this preview, if you’ve made it this far. I’m not going to suddenly mention anything else important – pre-order it! (or wait until a full review gets released right here on Ready-Up… then go out and buy it!)

I genuinely appreciate and applaud Namco Bandai for making this game and letting me and Fran come and get to grips with it. I cannot wait until October 8th (oh, by the way, it comes out on October 8th… Playstation 3 and X-Box 360! No fanboy arguments required) so I can get myself the full version and not have a four hour time constraint to play with it. I used those four hours to their fullest; I’m not even being sarcastic when I say that they had to turn the lights off in the office before I started to place the controller down – I was that hooked. I even offered to french kiss the developers as I was being shuffled towards the exit. Granted it was more prostitution in hopes of being given some Pacman related goodies (and it worked… although they may have done it to stop me from doing that…) but the point remains – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is definitely worth paying attention to, and if you are even slightly curious after reading your way through all of this… I recommend you call your boss/school/family/friends/dog and explain to them that on October 8th… you may just be pulling a sicky.







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