Heavenly Sword (PS3)
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Enslaved parades around as an action platformer. For me though, the scary thing was that it seemed to have nailed every relationship I've ever had.
Enslaved is a post-apocalyptic retelling of the old Chinese tale Journey to the West. Not that the story's inspiration is paramount, it's the interaction of the characters that forms the focus of the game.
Developer, Ninja Theory, are well versed in character animation and, as in their last game Heavenly Sword (PS3), they enlist the help of Andy Serkis (best known for his role as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies) to direct the small team of actors that make up Enslaved's vocal and motion capture cast.
It's here that Enslaved: Journey to the West works best as it encapsulates the dilemma of intimate friendship. This is framed by two protagonists, the gruff Monkey and feminine Trip, being thrown together by circumstance.
It can be hard to be emotionally attached to a partner. Personally all too often I find myself playing the white knight, trying to help someone I care about to my own detriment. I loose myself in the battle to satisfy their needs before suddenly finding myself again, and trying to reassert who I once was. Sometimes I find a way forward and sometimes I don't.
In the game, capitulation to my partner's desires is a demand rather than a choice as Monkey is bound to Trip's will by a slave headband. In concept this casts the Trip in a poor light, but circumstances make her situation sympathetic.
Both Trip and Monkey have escaped a slave transport and find themselves in a feral post-apocalyptic New York, filled with robotic minions of the slavers. Monkey is a capable survivalist, having lived his whole life alone. Trip on the other hand is less adept at survival, coming instead from a technology filled commune to the West of New York. Realising her situation Trip makes a decision to adapt slaver technology (a booby trapped head band) to allow her to order him around and guarantee his help surviving the wilds and in her home.
It's a scenario that echo's many of the complexities of relationships I've found myself in.
Due in part to each actor's performance and in part to the wonderful facial animation, the moral dilemma Trip finds herself in, by enslaving Monkey in this fashion, is instantly apparent. Twitches of guilt flicker around her eyes and mix with fear as the unproven contraption starts to affect Monkey - his threats of retaliation making her recoil until the power of the head band takes hold.
Her promise to remove the band upon reaching her destination goes some way to alleviating her guilt, but the emotional tightrope walk she faces to get there is obviously still a little fearful.
It's a scenario that echoes many of the complexities of relationships I've found myself in and like those, things that appear one sided soon become more blurred. As the story proceeds we find that Monkey's more dominate personality soon starts to emerge. Power swings back his way as he tries to keep them alive, and is able to insist that Trip follows his commands when the situations dictates - and unquestioningly if she hopes to ever see home again.
In fact his enslavement becomes a happy excuse for him to stay with her.
Softening to the partnership, Trip takes the initiative again by helping Monkey through her electronics expertise - creating gadgets that grant Monkey (and the player) new powers and abilities. These advancements do much to aid their journey, frequently providing technical solutions to problems that brute force cannot overcome.
One poignant upgrade happens when their path is blocked by a minefield. Monkey believes the pair must find a new, longer path to their destination. Trip, spotting a dragonfly that has evolved electronic sensors asks Monkey to capture it. She asks him rather than commanding.
The surly Monkey initially protests but Trip doesn't push - she simply tells him clearly he doesn't have to, just that it would help. Monkey capitulates, and once the dragonfly is captured Trip reprograms its sensors to sync with Monkey's head band, endowing him with the ability to see mines in the world and get them safely on their way.
It's a short sequence but it deftly sets ups their new found co-dependency. Despite the inequality of their situation both depend on each other in the hostile world. Indeed Monkey's threats to kill Trip once he is free, soon become rhetoric bluster in the face of their growing friendship. In fact his enslavement becomes a happy excuse for him to stay with her.
The the realisation that they are better off together than apart, raked at some emotional scars as I watched the conclusion to their tale.
Enslaved is a beautifully touching story that should be experienced by anyone old enough to understand the moral conflicts every friendship involves. The evolving relationship, growing dependence, and the realisation that they are better off together than apart, raked at some emotional scars as I watched the conclusion to their tale.
While their ties are initially for convenience, soon enough Monkey and Trip are bound by love, not technology. Sure, the gameplay may be simplistic and lack challenge for more skilled players, but the intricacies of the interpersonal relationships make Enslaved one of the most adult and subtle titles I have played.
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