ENSLAVED: Odyssey to the West is a brand new action adventure game from Namco Bandai that the firm says can be this year’s surprise hit.
The title has been produced by Ninja Theory – the same UK developer that was responsible for 2007’s PS3 beat ‘em up Heavenly Sword. To make it stand out among other Q4 releases, Enslaved boasts an epic story set in an alternative future and a blend of action and exploration gameplay.
It features a storyline written by novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland, who wrote The Beach and 28 Days Later, and also stars the voice of Lord of the Rings’ Andy Serkis as the lead character.
Namco Bandai’s UK product manager Lauren Bradley tells MCV: “The main challenge has been building hype as early as possible for a brand new IP. At last year's announcement we focused heavily on a ‘new game’ from Ninja Theory. Many gamers are eager to see how they have moved on since Heavenly Sword and ultimately how they've delivered a new game to Xbox 360 as well as PS3.
“We believe Enslaved can be a success – it's got a point of difference and there is nothing out like it this quarter. The demo has just gone out so we're counting on word of mouth and are hoping for a similar scenario to last year’s Batman: Arkham Asylum.”
Enslaved is loosely based on the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West which has spawned a TV series and even a theatre show over the years.
The game follows the story of Monkey and Trip – two slave escapees that break out of their cells on a ship that is about to crash. Monkey is the game’s central protagonist that players control and boasts a burly physique, agile acrobatic skills and a staff that can be used to attack opponents.
Trip is an AI-controlled female character who hacks a special headband to enslave Monkey and link them together. If she dies, Monkey dies too. Trip can also provide support by offering intel on enemies, identifying new routes and upgrading Monkey’s ability. She is to Monkey as Navi is to Link in the Zelda series – only less annoying.
It’s an interesting mechanic that gives the game a unique twist and establishes a special bond between the two – not unlike the boy and girl from much-loved PS2 game Ico. Enslaved also takes a leaf out of the successful Uncharted and Tomb Raider franchises with its blend of action and exploration gameplay.
Monkey and Trip must travel on a dangerous journey back to Trip’s homeland – taking them through lush forests, across desert plains and inside industrial buildings. But despite being set over 150 years in the future in a post-apocalyptic version of the US, Enslaved is certainly no Fallout. The game features vibrant colours as opposed to a dark and gritty styling.
There are also highly detailed character models and facial animations which help portray the believable relationship between between Monkey and Trip. Their interactions are both heartfelt and real, and at the same time full of banter, adding a touch of humour to Enslaved’s serious plotlines. It’s this detail which Namco Bandai says will capture the attention of both gamers and retailers.
“It can be a challenge to get retail and media on board with new IP as they see such large sell through from franchises,” adds Bradley.
“No matter how great we say it is, ultimately it comes down to the quality. So the key was to getting them playing it early and on a regular basis to show improvements and new chapters.”
I KNOW KUNG FU
After getting his gear back at the beginning of the game, Monkey can use his staff to carry out a dazzling array of simple combos, power up attacks or special moves. For example, there’s the ability for players to swing the staff in a wide arc, knocking enemies away from each other in order for players to beat them one-on-one.
Monkey can also scale walls with ease, swinging from ledge to ledge at the touch of a button.
But it’s the story and set-pieces that set Enslaved apart from the crowd. There’s plenty of epic action sequences that players can expect to see in a Hollywood blockbuster. As players run along corridors, walls collapse and explosions knock over machines, forcing them to take a different route.
Bradley says: “This game is genuinely loved and has become the dark horse of Q4 to many. It would be amazing to see Enslaved cause an upset in October as it did at Gamescom when it won Destructoid's game of the show. That is something we think the industry needs.”
ENSLAVED COLLECTOR'S EDITION
Namco Bandai is offering consumers a special edition of Enslaved. The pack includes a hardback artbook featuring Enslaved concept art and images documenting the development process at Ninja Theory in Cambridge.
It also comes with a CD soundtrack of the game written and produced by composer Nitin Sawhney, who has worked on over 40 films and eight studio albums.
Buyers who pre-order the game from HMV will also receive a ‘Talent Pack’ version of Enslaved, which comes in its own exclusive box. This also includes the game’s soundtrack and a novel entitled The Tesseract by Alex Garland.