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Enslaved preview: The apocalypse goes green


To be as forthright as possible, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was not on my radar when it was announced last year. Apart from a handful of pretty screens, it subsequently managed to slip by me in the madness of the 2010 summer trade show season. Having now spent several hours with the first half of the game, it's impossible to think I could have missed it. Based on what I've played so far, Enslaved deserves a spot on everyone's radar, offering polished gameplay, interesting characters and a gorgeous world to explore.

Gallery: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (preview) | 16 Photos

As we've noted before, players are in control of "Monkey," a man possessed of impressive strength and a nearly inhuman ability to climb. Having crash-landed after escaping a slave ship, Monkey wakes to find himself bound by a slave headband, a device that forces him to obey his master or face incredible pain. Should the master die, the band will issue a lethal dose to Monkey. The twist is that Monkey's new master is actually one of the other escapees, a girl named Trip. And so the deal is struck: If Monkey helps Trip get back home, she will remove the headband. It's a classic setup, pairing the brutish, mouthy galoot with the technically savvy damsel, and this relationship provides one of Enslaved's major draws.

It's always the pretty ones who enslave you with a mind-controlling headband, isn't it?

As you may have guessed, the relationship between Trip and Monkey becomes much more than that of a master and slave. Monkey must protect Trip by finding pathways and battling enemy mechs, while Trip helps out by distracting enemies, healing Monkey and scanning areas for hazards. Before long, the relationship becomes one of mutual need, and one that ties into both the gameplay and the story. While players are required to protect Trip, I soon found myself wanting to protect her.

The platforming is simple but satisfying, with a flow similar to Uncharted. Jumps are context sensitive, however, meaning that it's impossible to actually miss your intended target. Still, akin to Prince of Persia or Tomb Raider, half of the fun is in finding the next handhold, the next ledge that brings you closer to the objective. Trip also adds a sense of purpose to the platforming, with Monkey often destroying turrets that block her path, creating bridges for her to cross -- or simply tossing her across gaps.

Nice doggy

Of course, good platforming is nothing without a world worth exploring, and Enslaved offers one of the most beautiful worlds I've seen in a long time. The story may take place in a post-apocalyptic America, but hold in those groans for a moment, because there isn't a drab, dreary brown in sight. Even the dilapidated buildings of New York City are bursting with greenery. Absolutely everything is lush and alive, accented here and there with deep reds and brilliant yellows. It's a world that begs to be explored and clambered across.

The setting also offers up a key undercurrent to the story, leaving players to ponder the mystery of what happened to the world. I've uncovered a few hints so far, some discreet and others hidden. Bits and pieces of the past are slowly revealed throughout the game, but it seems as though whatever befell America has a significant bearing on Monkey and Trip's journey west.

Thus far, with solid gameplay, an engaging dynamic between the two main characters and a beautiful, verdant world, Enslaved has a lot going for it. I'm looking forward to playing more, not only to find out what becomes of Monkey and Trip, but hopefully to discover why the world fell to ruin in the first place.

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