The Enslaved: Odyssey to the West demo could not have come at a better time. It’s that time of the year where I start to get giddy for the big fall releases, and tide myself over with XBLA games (DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue) and the occasional early releases (Halo: Reach).
But I want something more. I want a hardcore action platformer, with cool characters, amazing visuals, and a tightly woven story. What can I say; I’m specific like that. As luck may have it, the currently released PlayStation Network demo for Enslaved teases me with all these promises, and so much more.
The demo opens on the massive flying slave ship 909, which holds hundreds of slaves being transported to a location the ominous overhead announcement system simply refers to as the “Pyramid.” Our hero, Monkey, quickly witnesses who we already know to be called Trip, escape her cell-pod, hack a nearby computer terminal, and cause a massive set of explosions that in-turn knocks Monkey’s pod to the walkway. Using his brute strength, he manages to escape and pursue Trip through the ship, trying to desperately get on one of the departing escape pods before none are left.
At first Monkey has no weapon; the slavers are detaining them, so the player is first introduced to the simple and really slick traversal mechanics. Monkey controls exactly like you want him to, his jumping is spot on, vaulting obstacles is a snap, and ledge traversal is highly reminiscent of Uncharted. This opening sequence is chock-full of explosive objects flying across the screen, and the generous camera helps keep everything you want to see go-boom right in the center. This is included, but not limited to: giant gaps in the ships floor being ripped away underneath your feet and the terrifyingly jaw dropping section where Monkey must scramble back into the ship as the entire back portion is ripped LOST-style from the front half.
These parts are interspersed with combat mechs the computer system is using to try and stop Monkey’s progress with, and the amazingly fluid combat of the game. It’s quite simple: you have light, hard, charge and wide attacks (there may be more in the full game). What I like about this is that it does not feel like a button masher. I felt like I was timing presses, combining all four attacks shown to us in the demo (including a block) and, most importantly, I felt like a complete bad-ass within five minutes. Hard-attacking one mech, dodge rolling away from his counter attack, leaping ten feet to face punch his friend, finishing him off with a charge, and returning to the first guy for a volley of heavy staff hits that always end with an enemy exploding. It’s cool, simple to master, and just plain fun.
Monkey then traverses the outside of the ship, jumping from wing to wing, fighting mechs, nimbly climbing up the side of a fallen wing before it gets decimated by an incoming skyscraper. It’s about there that you realize how amazing the game looks. Well, I mean, you notice that immediately, but the game-play to cut scene animations rival Uncharted 2, and that’s saying something.
You soon hit the Statue of Liberty’s burning torch, and off to the left can plainly be seen the ruined remnants of Manhattan. It’s such a juxtaposition to the entire opening sequence, where I completely forgot I was playing a game set in our future, not some alternate-fantasy world, it almost unsettles you. This is such a brilliant way to introduce the player to the world, to set up the back-story and cause us to start asking questions about it.
The demo ends with Trip installing a slave headband on Monkey, forcing him to help her with her journey back home. She hacks the thing so that if her heart ever stops beating, it will release a lethal dose of poison and instantly kill Monkey. “If I die, you die”, Trip recites to Monkey. Is it lame to admit that gave me goosebumps? Well, call me lame, because the actor’s performances are so spot on and entirely convincing, I felt an immediate connection with both. I can’t wait to see how their relationship develops and where the story goes in general.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West’s demo is out now on PlayStation Network, and is coming soon to Xbox Live; the full game releases on October 5th in the US and the 8th in the UK. I really think this is going to be a contender for game of the year and be on a whole lot of “Best of 2010” lists come December. I just hope obvious comparisons to other games, namely Uncharted, don’t cause people to pass it up.
Because, for me, these next two weeks cannot pass fast enough.