Not long ago the staff had a Serious Discussion (which lasted 3 minutes and consisted of “why not?”) about whether our First Impressions section should include demos… that is, whether we can state first impressions based on one. It didn’t occur to us to set up some kind of rule about how long the demo should be. After all, size doesn’t matter. What matters is enthusiasm.
And Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is all about enthusiasm. It’s from Ninja Theory, which made its debut with the love-it-or-hate-it PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword. Claiming they learned from their mistakes in that game (it was before my ownership of a PS3 so I haven’t played), the ninjas at Ninja Theory – seriously, those are their titles, like “Coding Ninja” and “Marketing Ninja” – promise to make a longer, better game with Enslaved.
Now, I have a soft spot for any game that’s based on or inspired by great literature. Except Dante’s Inferno, because that game was shit. Enslaved, meanwhile, is intriguing; and it is based (kind of) on one of the “four great” classical Chinese novels: Journey to the West, by (maybe) Wu Cheng’en. It’s a rich and complex novel that involves, uh, journeying. And the west.
Okay, I haven’t read it and hadn’t heard of it until I heard about this game. Sue me.
Enslaved is a modern readaptation involving robots and stuff.
Gameplay is Prince of Persia meets, um, Prince of Persia, which is not a bad thing; the demo only lasted about eight minutes, during which I – playing as Monkey, a criminal/ninja/weird hair guy – got imprisoned, escaped, survived a big spaceship crash, and wound up with a fuck-with-me-and-it-will-zap-you headband courtesy of the game’s female lead, Trip.
She wants you to protect her while she goes WEST. You’re her slave. She has enslaved you. Get it?
The demo is brief; only a few minutes of platforming, a few seconds of fighting, and a reasonable dollop of cutscenes. What I saw was pretty liquid platforming controls, and basic combo-driven combat not dissimilar to the latter two Prince of Persia games. I was impressed by the elegance with which the constantly changing camera perspective managed my thumb movements; only once did I wind up running the wrong way after a cut. And while it’s hard to judge melee combat by four or five encounters, what I saw seemed impressive.
The challenge with Enslaved is that it’s written by some Hollywood dude and directed (and starred in) by Andy Serkis, the brilliant motion actor who’s best known for playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, and that god damned ape in the agonizingly bad King Kong remake. Serkis also worked with Ninja Theory on Heavenly Sword, but, recognizing his talents, the developers gave him a lot more control in this one. Coupled with professional writing, it has a lot of potential to be a spectacularly cinematic and moving game. The only question is… is it fun to play?
What I played was plenty of fun, but the demo takes ten minutes to complete. A fellow journalist, who I won’t name because he’s operating under a press blackout and shared this on a private discussion group, described it as “Game of the Year.” But the demo doesn’t communicate that. It communicates a generally fun combat-focused platformer with highly impressive motion capture.
Demos are so easy to do wrong. You’ve got perfect demos like Crackdown that made millions buy the game; you’ve got non-demos that don’t show you what you’re like to experience. Enslaved’s demo is closer to the latter than the former; I suspect there’s more to it than was shown in the brief moments that 1.3GB demo allowed. But it didn’t make me want to scamper out and grab the game. Thus my impressions are that this one has potential to be brilliant, but if I were you I’d wait for some reviews before I did anything rash.
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