Like anyone else who was a fan of Heavenly Sword, I was instantly intrigued when I heard that Ninja Theory had a new game in the works. This year I had a chance to go hands-on with their latest work at the Namco Bandai E3 booth.
I actually started the demo about halfway through it, so I missed about ten minutes of the beginning. The first thing that struck me was how gorgeous the game is. Not in the sense of graphical fidelity (though it's certainly not lacking there, either), but rather art direction. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic scenario. Upon hearing this when the game was announced, I immediately sighed and thought that the last thing I wanted was a game set in a bleak brown and grey wasteland. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West flips the script in this case, though. It's long after the apocalypse actually took place, and the world is in a sort of rebound phase. Lush green plant life dominates your view, turning the broken, bombed out city into a jungle that still retains the shape of the old buildings.
Navigating the world are the two main characters, Trip and Monkey. When I heard the characters would be spending the entire game together, my mind instantly jumped to "co-op". As it turns out, co-op just really wouldn't work. You take the on the role of Monkey, the brawn-before-brains staff wielder who, along with Trip, is one of the few remaining humans in the post-apocalypse.
The two characters have pretty different personalities, while Monkey is quite similar to his simian namesakes Trip is very intelligent, and more often than not is the one issuing all of the orders. In fact, were it not for a brilliant bit of trickery on her part, this unlikely alliance wouldn't even have formed.
It's because of this fundamental difference in characteristics that co-op just wouldn't work. Monkey is the muscle, taking care of all the immediate threats, while Trip uses her tech tools to help you out along the way. She's controlled by the AI, though you do have the option of giving her orders through a pop-up skill wheel. She can perform tasks like projecting a distraction and unlocking doors. In addition to those skills there were no less than six open slots, presumably for skills you would unlock later. Of course, any time you're forced to spend time with an AI partner there's the risk of every second of the game becoming an escort mission but I was assured that, though she does have health, it was almost impossible for Trip to die.
I'm told the gameplay is split pretty equally between platforming and battling, with a little puzzling thrown in for good measure. The combat takes a lot of cues from recent action games, featuring both a light and heavy attack button. Not only that, but you can hit these buttons in different orders to pull off different combinations of moves. Sure, not exactly groundbreaking, but it does feel good.
One reason for that: while in battle the camera is also very dynamic, and this may be my favorite part of the game that I saw. With each strike in the combo, the camera will swing around a little and lock into place. It's always timed perfectly with your attacks, and makes the combat feel a lot more visceral. The camera moves smoothly, but somehow it also feels like it moves violently. It definitely makes the combat more cinematic.
As you battle you'll be earning experience, which you can use for any number of things, including unlocking new combos and modifying the abilities of your characters. I've always been a big advocate of light RPG elements in games, so seeing it here has me pretty pleased.
Overall the game looks really cool, the art style is gorgeous, and the combat felt solid. Of course it may become old after a while, but each battle felt pretty invigorating in the fifteen minutes I spent with the game; I think the dynamic camera was a big contributer to that feeling. The story looks like your standard "post apocalyptic desperate attempt to return home" but the dynamic between Monkey and Trip affords the developers a great opportunity to craft a pretty good story. For now I'm definitely interested, and look forward to hearing more as we approach its Fall 2010 release.