Showing off a cinematic experience that no other system could quite match, Heavenly Sword was a classic demonstration of why the PlayStation 3 existed in its early days. Developer Ninja Theory got a fair amount of flak for the signature title's length (or lack thereof), and they hope to prove that they've taken these lessons to heart with their new IP, Enslaved: Journey to the West. At the same time, they've raised the bar by taking some of the most annoying ideas in action gaming and going out of their way to make them work.
Monkey, the hero of the game, lives in a vastly postapocalyptic Earth in which the jungles have taken over the world — think jungles with overgrown crates and bits of futuristic tech. He's been captured and brought aboard a slave ship, where he gets a lucky chance to escape along with Trip, a technologically savvy girl. Unfortunately, she slapped a slave collar on him, with a kill-switched connection to herself so if she dies, so does he. Forced to work with her, Monkey has to make his way to her hometown. Oh, and the robotic slavers want them both dead. (Somehow, this is based on the classic epic, "Journey to the West." Then again, so was Dragon Ball.)
At its core, the gameplay is much the same as in Heavenly Sword at its core: highly cinematic, with intense takedowns and few puzzles. The game also mixes in some free-running mechanics and sometimes requires the player to think. For example, if enemies are shooting at you while you run, you may want to rest on a specific pole to make them run out of ammo — say, for instance, a pole that's connected to a large sign that blocks their shots. The camera switches between free and locked. The idea is that the camera is usually locked to point you to something significant, though it does remain stationary for cinematic reasons as well.
While Monkey is strong and tough, Trip is comparatively weak; she's able to take an occasional hit, but she's usually in deep trouble if a robot gets to her. Fortunately, she's not stupidly limited to following or fleeing. Not only can she manipulate technology that Monkey could never figure out, but she can also distract enemies for him if she's behind sufficiently good cover. She also provides his upgrades over time and has a dandy "panic button" that stuns everything around her and is loud enough to be a clear signal that you need to get to her immediately. Ninja Theory hopes to make her a useful partner and thus avoid being Resident Evil 4 or its ilk.
The graphics are beautiful and are favorably reminiscent of Ninja Theory's past work, with perhaps a few layers of extra polish. There are smooth animations between combos, plenty of spot-specific animations keep things varied, and beautiful environments that creatively twist together the usual jungle and postapocalypse themes.
At worst, Enslaved is as good as its spiritual predecessor — with a firm promise of being significantly longer. That alone sets a pretty high bar for its fall release. The producer has promised a longer game, though he wouldn't commit to a calculated hour count.
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