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Nearly three years ago, less than twelve months into the PlayStation 3’s life, Heavenly Sword was one of the first big exclusives for the console. Often called “God of War with a chick”, the Ninja Theory-developed action-adventure game didn’t turn out to be the next big franchise that Sony wanted it to be, and plans for a sequel were scrapped in favor of a new, multiplatform project from the developer. Now Ninja Theory’s next game, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, is only a few months away from release, meaning that gamers will finally be able to see what the developer learned from their first experience of this generation.

Enslaved is loosely based on the centuries-old Chinese novel Journey to the West, sometimes known as Monkey in English-speaking countries. However, instead of being set in the sixteenth century, Enslaved takes place about a 150 years in the future. A wide-spanning war has wiped out most of the human race, and robots left over from a more technologically advanced era are still following their orders, which are to essentially destroy all humans. Trying to survive the post-apocalyptic chaos is Monkey, one of the few humans to escape the robotic reign. Against his will, he teams up with Trip, who is knowledgeable with mechanical items but not particularly strong physically. Trip forces Monkey to help her return to her village, and it quickly becomes obvious that they need each other in order to stay alive.

Much like another upcoming Namco-Bandai game, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, Enslaved mixes combat with puzzle-solving and exploration while letting the player control two protagonists throughout the adventure. Trip can open doors, shut down large machines, and has useful gadgets that will assist them in their journey, but she needs Monkey to physically fight the never-ending waves of destructive robots. Using a melee weapon, Monkey is able to use physical attacks, and sometimes must distract enemies while Trip performs another task. Trip’s role is largely to avoid combat while putting her technological know-how to good use, and with Monkey’s help, she is able to sneak by the robots without being noticed.

One of the strongest things about Heavenly Sword was the memorable characters, particularly Nariko and Kai; Ninja Theory proved that their team had a knack for character design, and that continues with Enslaved. Visually, Monkey and Trip are unique, and their personalities are just as distinct. Monkey is strong and silent, a loner until being forced to work with Trip. Trip, on the other hand, is sassy and smart, and the exchanges between them early in the game are full of bickering and tense moments, but in an endearing way. Their relationship was actually reminiscent of Prince and Elika in 2008's Prince of Persia, which sported some great dialogue as the characters’ relationship progressed. It appears that Monkey and Trip will probably forge a lasting friendship along the trip, if not something more, and it will be interesting to see how they get there.

The other thing that sets Enslaved apart from every other post-apocalyptic video game is the setting itself. The ruins of civilization are visible everywhere, from the burned-out cars to the crumbling buildings, but there is something really refreshing about the way the world is presented. The game shows a more fantasy-based take on the end of humanity than gamers are used to, with giant mechanical objects scattered throughout fields of green and lush vegetation. The science-fiction elements are strong, too, between the robotic foes and Trip’s use of technology to further their journey. There’s no doubt about it, Enslaved is visually beautiful, and one can only hope that the impressive presentation holds up throughout the entire game.

With less than three months to go until its release date, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is already looking superb. However, there’s always room for improvement, and it will be interesting to see Ninja Theory’s follow-up to Heavenly Sword once the full game is out. The developer has a lot of talent and a lot of potential, and it would be a shame to see another of their titles become quickly forgotten.

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Sarah LeBoeuf
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