A combination of qualification, flat moving, delays in landline connection and database upgrade issues led to an enforced break. All of that now dealt with, I’m feeling refreshed and keen to get back into it. Let’s start with a couple of new reviews that went up in my absence: Buried and Toy Story 3. I suspect the latter may cause disagreements but, while it’s good, I simply did not enjoy it as much as I hoped when compared to the stellar How To Train Your Dragon. Expect a few more reviews soon. The rest of this post was written a while ago, but I’ll put it up anyway.
I recently headed to a talk by Ninja Theory’s Tameem Antoniades, Creative Director on Enslaved. While I already view videogame development as a legitimate creative industry, it is still nice to have external confirmation. Sitting in a crowded BAFTA theatre certainly provided that.
Tameem’s talk focused on Enslaved’s collaborative process with individuals from the film industry. Andy Serkis voices the player character, Monkey, but also co-directed the performance capture sessions. Scriptwriter Alex Garland came on board at an early stage and influenced level design choices by emphasising the need to set up encounters through the use of subtle film flourishes such as fleeting shadows. And finally veteran composer and musician Nitin Sawney was providing the soundtrack.
Enslaved’s story is based on the Chinese classic Journey to the West, though in the UK it is largely known only through the cult Monkey TV series. Though they have chosen a futuristic, sci-fi setting, Ninja Theory’s Eastern influences are clear, both in their previous game Heavenly Sword and the recently announced Devil May Cry reboot, which many were surprised to see handed over to a Western developer. The post-apocalyptic USA, inhabited by mechs that vary in size from humanoid to gargantuan, is surprisingly saturated with colour a conscious decision and a welcome change from typical incarnations.
Playing the game, my concern was that the basic combat elements in the demo would swiftly become repetitive. This is avoided through the ability to upgrade Monkey’s combat abilities. Purchasing new moves gradually over the game provides nuance and keeps things feeling fresh, but the danger is that you are not forced to do so — players may instead purchase them all early on or even eschew them entirely in favour of health or shield upgrades which would turn combat into a horrible grind.
So the action platforming gameplay is enough to keep the player engaged, with neat environmental puzzles breaking the pace well, but it is really the quality of the performances — Monkey, Trip and Pigsy — that sells it. It is the first time in while that I’ve finished a game to find myself genuinely disappointed to be unable to spend more time with its characters.