Enslaved gameplay preview

Hands-on: Is Heavenly Sword dev's latest the biggest surprise of the year?

From what we saw of Enslaved this month, it's not nearly getting the attention it deserves.

The latest from talented Heavenly Sword developer Ninja Theory, the game combines a dark, Journey-To-The-West-inspired plot (penned by 28 Days man Alex Garland), Uncharted-calibre platforming and a meaty-looking combat system that's both beautiful and tactical. Basically, it looks pretty frickin' good.

Set in a world 150 years in the future, Enslaved has you taking on the role of Monkey, a strong and brutish loner who's been unwillingly partnered with technologically savvy young woman, Trip, as they escape from a mysterious slave ship.


Left stranded in a now unrecognisable world with a minuscule human population and merciless robots left from wars long past, the pair now have to make the epic journey home. The twist is - thanks to a hacked slave headband on Monkey - the pair are now linked together. If she dies, he dies.

In our demo Monkey and Trip are trying to sneak through a crumbling and overgrown New York City without getting mauled by robotic baddies. It's a location that proves Enslaved really is a stunningly beautiful game; as colourful as Mario, as detailed as Gears and as beautifully animated as Uncharted.

The latter's down to a returning cast member from Heavenly Sword, one Mr. Andy 'Gollum' Serkis. Serkis is both directing cut-scenes and acting in the role of Monkey here - and the results are impressive.

In cinematic sequences, characters' detailed yet subtle facial animation work is nothing short of fantastic - while in combat the game's camera jolts forward with every strike, birthing a violent and visceral visual display.

It really does look triple-A quality - and at times even manages to challenge Nathan Drake's PS3 genre-topper in sheer epic-ness.

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Platforming sequences - which have burly Monkey swinging from polls, grabbing at individual bricks and dramatically clinging on to metalwork with his fingertips - look straight out of Naughty Dog's game. Make no mistake; that's a BIG compliment. And I saw it on Xbox 360.

Naughty Monkey
As Monkey combat utilises the big man's trusty staff, which we're reliably told is swung in a standard fashion using X, in a heavy move with Y, X for a stun attack and X and A for a knock down.

The clever camera moves already make blows look stylish, but it's clear from our demonstration that Enslaved's combat is also deep, with plenty of counter moves, focus attacks (earned by dodging opponents) and evasive manoeuvres.

Trip supposedly compliments this action-focused gameplay with her own bag of gadgets, which includes a decoy, various weapon upgrade tools and a flying camera which you can use to scan the environment ahead. It's also nice to see her make her own way around the world without getting in the way of the action.

One scene had Monkey traverse an abandoned subway station occupied by 'sleeping' robot enemies. Each bot gave off a visible detection radius which when triggered would wake the pose.

Monkey could cleverly dodge the radius using his platform skills to flank the group and get to the main, 'broadcasting' baddie, who once destroyed left the group venerable and unable to call for backup.

Ninja Theory's clearly going for depth and strategy in its gameplay, as well as visual splendour. But it was the pretty stuff that drew us in most during our Enslaved demo - in particular one chase scene later on, in which Monkey and Trip make a mad dash to escape a giant robo-panther.

It's a gorgeous sequence in which the mechanical aggressor fluidly trips, stumbles and smashes through decayed New York scenery.

The set pieces we saw were absolutely of Uncharted's calibre. If the rest of Enchanted to can match up to these mammoth standards, then we'll be in for a treat.