Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
|Enslaved: Odyssey to the West|
Cover art featuring protagonists Monkey and Trip
|Publisher(s)||Namco Bandai Games|
|Engine||Unreal Engine 3|
PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360|
25 October 2013
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is an action-adventure platform video game developed by Ninja Theory and published by Namco Bandai Games. It was released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in October 2010. A complete version, featuring all downloadable content, was released for Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 3 on 25 October 2013.
The story is a loose adaptation of the novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en. The game is set 150 years in a future post-apocalyptic world following a global war, with only remnants of humanity left, along with the still active war machines left over from the conflict. The game's story follows Monkey who is forced to escort Tripitaka home safely after they had survived a ship crash. In the game, players play as Monkey, who must combat enemies using his staff from a third-person perspective, engage in different platforming challenges, and solve puzzles.
Initially pitched as a CGI film, the game development commenced after the team's had ceased the development of a sequel to Heavenly Sword. The game's setting was inspired by Life After People, while the dynamics between the two protagonists was inspired by Ico. Alex Garland was invited to write the game's story, but he became involved in the game's design to ensure that all of the game's content was consistent. Andy Serkis and Lindsey Shaw provided performance capture for the game, and Nitin Sawhney composed the game's soundtrack. Without its own game engine, Ninja Theory used Unreal Engine 3 to power Enslaved.
Announced in 2009 as Enslaved, the game received generally positive reviews. Critics praised the game's graphics, world design, Serkis' performance and Garland's script, though the game drew criticisms for its gameplay and technical shortcomings. The game was a commercial failure, selling less than Namco Bandai's expectations. A single-player downloadable content, titled Pigsy's Perfect 10, was released. A sequel was planned but was later canceled due to the game's financial underperformance.
The player takes the role of "Monkey" in a third person perspective, using a variety of combat moves and platforming skills to overcome obstacles. In combat, Monkey utilizes a staff that doubles as both a close-combat and long range projectile weapon. The staff has two forms of long-range ammunition in the form of power cylinders: orange cylinders used for blast damage and blue cylinders used for stunning foes. Monkey can also stay stationary and charge his staff to use the same stun attack. In the game, players will encounter numerous mechs as enemies. Certain mechs can also be used as weapons- Monkey can perform a finishing move on them when they are low on health, such as tearing the gun off a turret or throwing an explosive foe at other combat mechs. Other abilities of Monkey's include his force shield that can block certain amounts of damage before requiring a recharge and the "Cloud" device that manifests as a hover board that can be used to glide across the water or land at great speeds. When enemies are defeated, they drop tech orbs that can be used to upgrade Monkey's abilities, allowing the player to learn new moves and abilities for combat and devices, along with increasing overall health and shields and damage that can be inflicted on enemies. Orbs can also be found littered across levels, sometimes hidden out of noticeable sight, requiring extra exploration at times. Another type of collectibles players can collect is masks, which are scattered across different levels.
During the game, Monkey is accompanied by Tripitaka, or simply "Trip" who is to be escorted and protected as they travel. Monkey has a device attached to his head that is linked to Trip. This device, called a slave head band in the game, requires Monkey to keep Trip alive, should she die he will as well. In some instances even just going too far away from her can result in the same fate. Trip, however, can help Monkey overcome obstacles at times by performing certain actions involving her technical skills (like hacking into computer). Players can command Trip to utilize her different skills. For instance, she can scan the surrounding area revealing hazards such as land mines or mechs on standby, and project a temporary hologram to draw the enemy's attention away from Monkey as a decoy. Players can also order Trip to hide behind covers or regroup with Monkey. Having no combat ability of her own, Trip is very vulnerable in instances where she herself comes under attack by enemies. Her only last-ditch defense is an EMP blast, which she can use to temporarily stun enemies threatening her.
Other than combat, the gameplay also heavily focuses on platforming where Monkey can scale and leap across the ruins throughout the game. Some areas and platforms will collapse shortly after, requiring faster scaling before potentially falling to his death. Trip also plays a part in the platforming sections of the gameplay, making some sections of platforming more akin to puzzle-like forms of gameplay. Other instances where Monkey can make jumps/climbs, Trip instead will need to be thrown to the other side or ride on his back. Some sections of the game have Monkey and Trip separated, thus disallowing the use of her abilities for the player.
Enslaved is set 150 years in the future where a global war has ravaged the Earth, destroying most of the human race and leaving the world to be plagued by robots left over from the war, known as "mechs". Mechs still follow their programming and seek to eradicate hostiles, now surviving humans.
The game opens with the main character, Monkey (Andy Serkis), awakening in a containment cell aboard a slave ship. He escapes and accidentally causes the vessel to crash. He reaches Trip (Lindsey Shaw) leaving the ship via escape pod, but she ejects the pod without allowing him to enter. When Monkey regains consciousness after the pod's landing, he discovers that Trip has placed a slave headband on him, which provides a combat heads-up display but forces him to follow her orders; a dead man's switch will kill him if she dies. Trip explains that she wants to return to her village, which is 300 miles away, and that she needs his help to get there. Monkey is angry, but has no other choice. The two travel across New York City toward the crash site, where Monkey hopes to recover his motorcycle. As they avoid hazards and defeat mechs, glitches in the headband expose Monkey to visions of what appears to be life before the war, and he and Trip learn to trust and rely on each other.
After visiting the crash site, the two travel the rest of the way on Monkey's motorcycle, but when they reach Trip's village, the place is deserted and overrun with mechs. After clearing the village of them, Monkey and Trip discover that Trip's father is dead and no other villagers can be found. Assuming everyone to be dead, Trip refuses to remove Monkey's headband, explaining her intent to find and kill the person responsible.
Trip takes Monkey to meet up with a friend of her father's named Pigsy (Richard Ridings), who she believes can help them. Pigsy explains that a nearby mech base has Leviathan, an enormous and incredibly powerful giant mech. The three infiltrate the base, commandeer Leviathan, and steer it to the mysterious Pyramid, where the slaves are being held. Along the way, Trip apologizes to Monkey for breaking their deal and deactivates the headband, but Monkey tells her to turn it back on, hinting that they developed a romantic relationship on their journey together.
When the Leviathan reaches Pyramid, they are confronted with several giant scorpion-shaped mechs. The Leviathan's main cannon fends them off for a while, but one eventually climbs aboard and tears the cannon off, forcing Monkey to destroy the mech himself. With the Leviathan now defenseless and surrounded, Pigsy announces that the only way for them to destroy the opposing mechs is for him to overload the engines, which would blow up the Leviathan and kill Pigsy in the process. Trip frantically tries to convince him not to, but Pigsy demands that Monkey take her away from the blast radius, and Monkey complies. They make it away just in time to watch the Leviathan explode, destroying all of Pyramid's mechs with it.
In the epilogue, Monkey and Trip enter Pyramid and discover that the slaves are under the control of a single individual. The man introduces himself as Pyramid (Andy Serkis) and explains that he lived before the war, and that he offers the slaves solace from the cruel world by sharing with them his memories of a happier era. He believes he is saving them, and pleads with Monkey and Trip not to take away what he has given them. Monkey recognizes the memories as the visions he has been seeing with the headband on. Pyramid shows Monkey what he has given the slaves through a mask. Monkey becomes enthralled with the images, but Trip violently disconnects and kills Pyramid, shutting down the system and freeing the slaves. The scene ends with Trip asking Monkey if she did the right thing, leaving those in the pyramid and their future unknown.
Pigsy's Perfect 10
Set prior to the events of Enslaved, Pigsy currently lives a solitary life in the scrap yard with his only companion, a small flying robot named "Truffles" that helps Pigsy scout scraps and advice in combat. Due to his loneliness, Pigsy decides to build himself a friend, yet it would require three key components that he along with Truffles must find in the scrap yard populated by mechs. While Truffles helps throughout his search, Pigsy seems unappreciative and prioritizes his new creation. As Pigsy retrieves the final component, Truffles is damaged and shuts down in the process. With his new friend nearly complete, Pigsy learns that what his creation actually needs is a "heart", inserting Truffles inside. When activated however, his creation runs amok before being gathered up by a salvaging mech. Pigsy gives chase and fights his way into the main scrap collector. When he finally retrieves Truffles and escapes, Pigsy finds that Truffles was his real friend this entire time. Being greatly damaged however, Truffles shuts down permanently with Pigsy realizing too late that he took his only friend for granted and vows not to make the same mistake again.
The game was developed by the Cambridge-based developer Ninja Theory. Their previous project was the PlayStation 3 exclusive game Heavenly Sword. Tameem Antoniades acted as the game's director, actor Andy Serkis provided motion capture for the title, film director and producer Alex Garland served as the game's writer and designer, and Nitin Sawhney composed the score for the game. Using only two-third of the budget of Heavenly Sword, the game's development was completed on 3 September 2010, with the game's publisher confirming it had been declared gold, indicating it was being prepared for duplication and release.
After the completion of Heavenly Sword, the studio intended to develop a sequel but was forced to halt the game's production due to contractual terms with Sony Computer Entertainment. Ninja Theory decided to leave the title and all the technologies built for it to Sony and seek external funding from another publisher for their next project. This project would eventually become Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, powered by Epic Games' Unreal Engine. Initially, the game was pitched to various Hollywood studios as a CGI film, but they were uninteresting in backing the project. The company dedicated three months to creating promotional materials in order to convince publishers to sign the game. A detailed design document and a two-minute CGI trailer were shown to various publishers and the team received enthusiastic responses from them. Initially, they signed a deal with Green Screen, but the firm dissolved a month later. Namco Bandai Games later agreed to publish the game.
Mike Ball, CTO of Ninja Theory, revealed that the initial idea for the game came from Heavenly Sword, in particular, the relationship between the protagonist Nariko and her companion Kai. This relationship resonated with players, thus the team wanted to replicate their success with a set of characters that are easily recognizable. During the development of Heavenly Sword, Antoniades researched the wuxia genre and read the novel Journey to the West which he found was "epic" and "on par with Lord of the Rings. However, Enslaved is only a loose adaptation of the novel, and the team decided to shift away from the wuxia theme to sci-fi as it was a genre that many staff in the development team wanted to explore. As a result, demons were replaced by mechs, and magic was replaced by technology. Initially the game was set in a foreign world, and the team was inspired by the animations created by Hayao Miyazaki, whose works often integrate nature with steampunk. However, after watching Life After People, the team decided to set the game on Earth, one that was peaceful as nature reclaimed the world after human's disappearance. A lot of color, in particular red, was injected into the game's world to reflect this.
Early drafts for the game were written by Antoniades and writer Rhianna Pratchett. Serkis was involved in the development of Enslaved from the beginning, while Garland became involved 6 months later. Garland wrote the game's script and design the cutscenes to ensure that the transition between cutscene and gameplay was smooth. Garland agreed to collaborate with Ninja Theory as he was actively looking for a way to become involved in a video game production. The script itself was initially developed separately for a time before joining with the gameplay developers in order to "mesh" both the story and gameplay. In order to achieve this, a cinematologist was employed to teach editing, camera, and film language techniques. Such techniques, along with the use of music, were used in order to make coherent transitions between cut-scenes and gameplay.
One of the more important aspects of the script was the characterization and interaction. In regard to character relationships in video games, the team was inspired by 2001 PlayStation 2 game Ico. Chief of development Nina Kristensen described theirs as at first opposites whose relationship evolves as they learn to rely on each other in the hostile setting. Serkis also helped created the game's characters, The game features two protagonists: Trip and Monkey. Trip's design went through several iterations. She was initially designed to look like a queen and have a pale appearance so that she would look "gothic". The second iteration of the character was inspired by Tank Girl and Kai from Heavenly Sword. She wore a costume that features the face of a character and had tattoos, which were thought to give the character more personality and attitude respectively. The team tried to apply blue paint on Trip's hair, but found it unsuitable as it made her "too science fiction and punk". The initial design was deemed too "aggressive", thus the team further modify her design to make her look more delicate and fragile. Monkey also has several design features. He wears a face paint, a reference to his counterpart in the Journey to the West novel and a reflection of the character's tribal nature. Scars were added onto his face so as to increase his sex appeal, while a cloth sash was used to replace Monkey's tail.. According to Serkis, Monkey behaved like a "gruff hobo" in the game as opposed to being mischievous like he is in the novel. The hair of Monkey was once designed to be white, inspired by a picture of an albino gorilla.
According to Antoniades, Garland's initial script was very simple and that the dialogue was "reductive". This was part of Garland's intention to reduce the use of story exposition in favors of creating more drama in the script. Many of the game's information and the plot was delivered through the actor's body languages and vocal cues rather than the direct use of cutscenes. Initial scripts featured 2 hours of the cutscene, but it was drastically cut and reduced to only 1 hour and 10 minutes. To facilitate this style of storytelling, Garland suggested that camera control should be taken away from players during certain moments of the game so that players will be introduced to and become aware of the game's environments, which further help clarifying the game's story. This caused an internal debate within the company, with other gameplay designers fearing that it would break gameplay flow. This feature was kept in the game, with Antoniades saying in hindsight that such technique "helped keep things exciting".
The gameplay was developed to include more variety than their last projects, with the introduction of platforming sessions and puzzles. Players an utilize different approaches to combat, such as stealth to avoid combat altogether and/or using Trip's own abilities to their advantage. The design choice behind this according to Antoniades was to make portions of the gameplay more tactical, being at times "a puzzle game in disguise" outside of the actual puzzle portions of gameplay. The combat itself opted less for the combination-style of attacks in most combat-heavy action games, being more accessible/stream-lined while including the different abilities, equipment, enemy types and scenarios to not become too easy either, still requiring thought. The involvement of Trip was to not make her a "dead-weight" to the gameplay, with her abilities instead being helpful with her own unique abilities, making her the "brains" while Monkey is the "brute". Some gameplay features were cut from the final game. For instance, a mechanic which allows players to break the circuitry of a mech in first-person by pressing buttons like a music game was cut because the mechanic was not well-implemented.
The use of motion capture was considered by Serkis to be akin to that in a film where it supposedly helps craft a story in a virtual world. With the same method being carried over from their development on Heavenly Sword, the studio utilized the motion capture to benefit the story and characters, particularity with facial animations to capture better realistic emotions. The technology itself was said to be advanced, even requiring a mathematician for the more complex portions of coding. Beyond facial animation, most of the motion capture was utilized prominently during the cut-scenes as many of the actions within the gameplay itself were considered "physically impossible". Serkis felt that the motion capture also allowed for better performances in the dialogue itself since it allows the actors to immerse themselves into the story, become emotionally engaged thus delivering better performances. Serkis and the performance capture team also used a physical theatre in an effort to deliver believable performances. Lindsay Shaw was selected among about 60 other actresses to provide performance capture for Trip in a casting session held in Los Angeles.
Garland was also involved in the game's designs. He offered advice on the positioning of the game's camera so as to ensure that each battle scenes to become more "impactful". The idle pose of the protagonist Trip was also modified by the team in accordance to Garland's advice. In addition, Garland also frequently challenged the game's design team, demanding that every object and environment detail featured in the game must make sense within the game's world to ensure that the title is consistent throughout. Placement of random items such as forest paths and powered doors are questioned for their relevance by Garland. When the team chose to include random encounters with enemies, Garland insisted on adding story elements into them to ensure that it flows well with the game's narrative and that the combat encounter would be "a payoff". Garland's approach to storytelling was said to be eye-opening for Antoniades, though his high expectations made the producers of the game fear that the title would be ship on time. Antoniades described Garland as "intimidating", and due to Garland's extensive involvement in the game's design, he was credited as one of the game's co-designer.
Nitin Sawhney, who had previously collaborated with Ninja Theory on Heavenly Sword, served as the game's composer. According to Sawhney, the soundtrack's main theme was primarily based on "journey, transition and resolution", which also reflects the two protagonists dynamic relationship. Sawhney's second collaboration with Ninja Theory was thought to be more fluid and smooth as he has more materials like early script and animation to use as references when he was writing the score.
In August 2009, Namco Bandai announced that they would be collaborating with Ninja Theory on a new video game project. The game was announced in September 2009, initially as Enslaved for release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2010, confirming the involvement of Garland, Serkis and Sawhney. Prior to the game's release, a playable demo was released over Xbox Live and PlayStation Network on 21 September 2010. The demo features the first playable chapter of the game where Monkey escapes the crashing slave ship. Along with the standard edition of the game, various video game and general retailers offered exclusive extra content to those who pre-ordered the game. In North America alone, there were five different versions depending on the retailer. EB Games Canada and GameStop offered a downloadable extra costume for Monkey called Ninja Monkey that came with "rare stun and plasma blast staff ammo", while Walmart offered a "Classic Monkey" costume based on the original tale's protagonist and Best Buy offered a robot skin for Trip. Amazon.com offered the official soundtrack to the game while Target Corporation offered a miniature paper back comic.
In the UK, other retailers and websites like Game and Play.com offered similar bonuses while HMV released the "Talent Pack", which came in an exclusive presentation packaging and included the official soundtrack and a copy of the novel The Tesseract written by Alex Garland. Across Europe, a "Collector's Edition" was also released that featured both the game's original soundtrack and a hard-back art book. The game itself was finally released on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on 5 and 8 October 2010 in North America and Europe respectively. The game's Windows version was released on 25 October 2013. This version, also known as the Premium Edition, bundles the base game with the Pigsy's Perfect 10 DLC and several character skins. This version of the game was also available for purchase via PlayStation Network.
Pigsy's Perfect 10 is a downloadable expansion to Enslaved. Acting as a prequel to the main story where players take control of the character Pigsy, being a side-story rather than directly linked to not interfere with the events of the main game that followed. In addition to the new chapters, the DLC also provides the option to display and play through both the main game and add-on in stereoscopic 3D. It uses the TriOviz for Games Technology which allows to display the game in three dimensions on 3D-HDTV set (via HDMI 1.3 or HDMI 1.4 connection) as well as on traditional 2D-HDTV set with the Inficolor 3D glasses. The DLC was first released on both platforms on 23 November 2010. Several download codes for Pigsy's Perfect 10 were malfunctioned, prompting Namco Bandai to issue an apology and code replacements.
Since the player takes the role of Pigsy, the gameplay has also changed due to his difference in character and build compared to Monkey. While Pigsy can still climb over terrain, he cannot scale buildings as fast or athletically. Instead, Pigsy utilizes a mechanical grappling hand attached to his own to reach higher places and swing over obstacles and large gaps. When in combat, without the same fighting skills as Monkey, Pigsy instead wields a long-ranged rifle and grenades. Stealth is also a preferable approach to gameplay, requiring at times to avoid combat altogether.
According to review aggregator Metacritic, the console version of the game received generally positive reviews from critics, while the Windows version received mixed reviews. The game was nominated at the DICE Awards for "Adventure Game of the Year". It was also nominated at the Ivor Novello Award in the "Best Original Video Game Score" category. Garland and Antoniades won "Best Game" at the UK Writers Guild Award.
Jim Sterling from Destructoid praised the graphics for being "stunning", and found the game's colorful environments refreshing to look at. He liked the performance artists' performance, which he described as "wonderful", singling out Serkis' performance as one of the best in the entire cast. Tom McShea from GameSpot commended strongly the game's cutscenes, calling them "superbly made", and praised the game's reliance on character movements to tell a story rather than using dialogue. Matthew Keast from GamesRadar applauded the game's world for being original and imaginative, though he thought that the title needed more time before release for further polishing. Ellie Gibson from Eurogamer praised the game's soundtrack, describing it as "impressive" and praising it for further elevating the gameplay experiences. Justin McElroy from Joystiq however, noted that the game had several technical issues, such as low frame rate and occasionally clunky controls. Arthur Gies from IGN called the game's graphics as "beautiful" with unique and distinct character designs. However, he shared McElroy's concern, saying that there were several graphical glitches that slightly undermine the experience. Andrew Reiner from Game Informer also criticized the game's lack of polish, citing texture hiccups and camera issues as key problems.
Sterling called the relationship between Trip and Monkey believable and complex, and called the game's cast as one of the best in the year. He also applauded the game's writing and dialogue and the story for being able to integrate different elements from comedy to tragedy to action smoothly together. McElroy praised Garland's writing, and compared it favorably to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. He also liked the game's cast of character and would like to see more of them. McShea noted that the unlikely pairing of Trip and Monkey provided a great driving force for the story which enabled players to relate and connect to them. Reiner also praised the characterse for being relatable, and commented on the duo protagonist evolving relationship positively. Gibson called the game's opening hour as cliched and subpar, but he strongly praised Garland's script for avoiding needless exposition. Keast agreed, describing its approach to storytelling as "mature". Gies strong praised the story for being believable and moving, noting that it was one of the best story in any video game.
Sterling has a positive opinion on the game's combat, feeling that it is simple and satisfying, though he felt that the dodge mechanic for Monkey is useless and can create minor annoyances. He singled out the "Cloud" device as one of his favorite gameplay systems, though he lamented that there are not much opportunities to use it. McShea found the combat basic, which requires players to be constantly mashing buttons, though he enjoyed it for being "brutal" and "satisfying". He commended the developer for adding platforming sessions, boss fights and puzzles into the game to break up the game's pacing. Keast commented that the combat is more "tactical" and "methodical", though he noted that it was not as complex as other titles like God of War or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Gibson called the gameplay "solid", but she was disappointed by its lack of innovation and depth. Gies noticed noticable delay between players input and in-game actions, and felt that the combat was not interesting and varied enough. Reiner agreed, writing that while the combat was visceral, it was neither deep nor interesting. Sterling, Reiner, Keast and Gibson were disappointed by the platforming sections' lack of challenges. Both Gibson and Keast criticized the game for handholding players excessively with different guides.
Namco Bandai hoped Enslaved would have sold a million units by November 2010; however, the game only sold 460,000 copies by that date. By September 2011 sales of 730,000 had been achieved but this was not considered substantial enough to warrant continuation of the franchise so a planned sequel was cancelled. Namco blamed the game's release in a crowded window as the key factor to the game being a commercial failure.
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