Enslaved plays one of the oldest trope cards in the books: two unlikely and often unwilling characters are forced to work together to achieve a common goal. It’s a scenario that Hollywood has relied on heavily with cop dramas and comedies, and one that Enslaved: Odyssey to the West falls into when it pairs a nimble but vulnerable young woman called Trip with Monkey, a hardened loner with a sketchy past. While the setup may smack of familiarity, it’s the emotional bond that quickly forms between the two that makes this an endearing story.
We've looked at Enslaved multiple times previously, but the deeper we get, the more apparent and heartfelt the union becomes. This time around we sat down with the sixth chapter of the game, a portion that really tugs on the heartstrings as Trip finally arrives home at her village, only to find it surprisingly quiet. The scene opens with a conversation between Trip and Monkey as the pair sit beside a fire. Asked what he will do once they make it to their destination, Monkey is aloof, saying that he is unsure what comes next. Trip assures him that because of his (compulsory) assistance in returning her home, Trip's father will welcome him with open arms. Monkey is clearly noncommittal, explaining that he'll go wherever he can find food and fuel for his motorbike. There's a sadness and tender vulnerability in Trip's quavering voice as her eyes dart around searching for a glimmer of solace as Monkey stares blankly into the night.
Cut to daytime, and as the duo approaches the village, Trip stops the bike out of fear that the security system will stop them in their tracks. They go the rest of the way on foot, but there's an eerie silence as they make their way towards a nearby security post to radio a request to disable the electrified fences over the bridge that spans the yawning chasm below. Trip is surprised to find the post unmanned; unusual since Mark, the local bridge operator, is a big fan of lowering and raising platforms to allow acquaintances access to the gated community. Monkey doesn't need any encouragement to perform his brand of aerial gymnastics, and he swings, leaps, and shimmies to the other side to activate a lever to drop the metal walkway for Trip. Hold points glow to show their interactivity and allow only a single path to your destination. There's no balance or momentum to contend with as you grapple from place to place, making platforming simple as you traverse the gaps.
Some basic puzzle-solving comes into play as you're presented with a pair of parallel drawbridges across multiple levels. Though you won't ever actually play as Trip, you can directly command her to follow or to interact with environmental objects like levers through a radial menu by holding the left bumper/L1. Once across, we threw Trip up onto a ledge that was too high to reach solo and jumped headlong onto a bridge, only to have it crumble and disintegrate under our feet. Monkey’s nimble hands made quick work of a nearby tree, and we avoided the abyss by latching on to wild tendrils springing from the cliffside. Back on firm ground, we were given another bridge puzzle made up of four iron sections and as many levers. Not all of them moved the sections independently, and Trip commented that Mark was a big fan of the process because it required human smarts to be crossed--a sure-fire way to keep out those pesky mechs.
Like any relationship strong enough to stand the test of assembling kit furniture (or in this case, a bridge), we eventually made it to the other side together and continued on to the guard post atop a nearby hill. Trip commented that the towers were always manned, so it's a surprise that once we entered we were greeted not by friendly faces, but rather by blood-soaked paperwork and coffee cups left in disarray. Trip attempted to contact her community through a radio by broadcasting her presence, but was met by silence. Monkey was acutely aware of what was going on by the clues, placing a hand reassuringly on her shoulder only moments before Trip twigged to the situation, tears welling up and her voice audibly rattled by the realisation that something had gone very wrong. She broke away, scaling the hut and jumping onto a waiting zip line towards the quiet city.
Giving chase and yelling for her to wait, Monkey was immediately spotted by a group of mechs. Ducking into cover from the gunfire and scrambling back to the path outside the outpost, we spotted another nearby lookout with hopes of giving chase. Waves of robots attacked us, often in groups of three or four at a time, and required quick reflexes to evade their strikes. We found that the best strategy was to pick a single target--usually the special unit in the bunch, as denoted by a different enemy character model, or a symbol above their head--and take them down first. Takedown moves pop up after dealing enough damage and are single-button-press executions. Targeting and destroying an enemy that flings electrical bolts unleashes a small EMP wave, temporarily disabling its squadmates and helping turn the tide of battle in your favour by evening up the numbers. The game camera did occasionally hide the action, obscuring targets behind and to the side of us as we rolled to avoid attacks.
A stationary, zoomed-out camera gave us a better look at our location once the combat was over, showcasing huge vistas with rocky outcrops and the village we were making our way towards. Climbing to a clearing, we stood in the shadow of the second watchtower, climbing its exterior before grabbing hold of the metal arms of the swing and gliding towards the city.
There's a tenderness to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West that sees Monkey's gruff persona melting away, especially as he casts a gaze on the fragility of Trip as the two make up a cohesive team. While the puzzling we've seen so far certainly won't qualify you for automatic Mensa membership, the combat is fluid and requires slightly more strategy than simply alternating presses of the light and heavy attack buttons. The story has already sucked us in, and we're eager to see how the events unfold. The game is due to ship early next month on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, so keep an eye out for our full review soon.