Enslaved is the new game from Ninja Theory – the same people that brought us Heavenly Sword.  They’ve shown their ability to weave a good story before, but Heavenly Sword admittedly had a lot of gameplay issues. Does Enslaved manage to fix the mistakes of the past, while not losing any of the great story, or did NiNja Theory manage to take the criticism from their first game, and work some magic?

Story: In Enslaved, you play a man by the name of Monkey, a loaner and a survivalist. After just barely surviving the escape and crash of a slave ship, he sees the second character in the story, a tech-savvy girl named Trip. It turns out that Trip has hacked into a slaver’s headband, and has put is on Monkey when he was out cold. Trip then tells Monkey the conditions – if he disobeys her, she can inflict pain on him through it, and if she dies – he dies. She promises him however, that if he helps her return home, she will remove it for him.

This begins an uneasy alliance between the two – one built not on trust or loyalty, but out of need. It’s here, with these characters, that Ninja Theory show their masterful ability of creating a good story. The characters look, act, and feel believable. Through your journey to being Trip home, the relationship between the two evolves, as the characters themselves change. Sure another character gets introduced mid-way through the game, but he doesn’t take the spotlight off of these two delightful characters.

The story ends up having everything you could ask for: REAL comedy, true fear, deep and moving tragedy, immense action, and feeling – lots of feeling. I haven’t played another game this year that had a story this good.

Gameplay: We can break the gameplay down into two major types – combat, and traversal. The game feels like a mutant offspring of God of war, and Uncharted 2 – with the combat being smooth, flowing, and elegant; and the climbing/platforming segments being, while maybe not QUITE as fluid as U2, amazingly well done.

The combat is simple as well, with combos being easy to pull off without a hitch. Switching from enemy to enemy is simple and effortless, and you have enough ways to take things down that just mindlessly mashing one button probably isn’t something you’ll end up doing.

I found myself getting lost once or twice during the climbing and jumping portions, but that was generally because I was overlooking something – not because of bad design. The parts you can jump to flash lightly, and the smaller ones are sometimes easy to miss (especially when you’re running from something that can kill you)

Another gameplay mechanic that Enslaved uses throughout, is the need to watch over Trip. There are sections where you have to carry her on your back; there are sections where you have to toss her to upper ledges; and there are sections where you have to defend her. Her vulnerabilities are a constant reminder of how the two of you are tied together – but not in a nagging way. I never once thought “oh I have to save her AGAIN”

Graphics: The art direction in Enslaved is stunning – rather than take a desolate “Fallout” vision of a post-apocalyptic future, Enslaved goes the opposite direction, showing the world teeming with life. It’s so nice to see this, and to see a world with such bright and vibrant colors. The foliage is really green; the sky is truly blue. It’s all nice, and compliments the design of the enemy robots (wait till the first time you see the Dog) – but what really shines is the character design. Monkey, Pigsy, and Trip look so stunning, and they fit into the environment so well.

Sound: The voice acting is easily the best I’ve heard in a game this year, and that’s quite a statement to make. Rather than fall into the pattern that befalls so many action titles of having a protagonist that growls or yells all the time (or that shows no emotion at all), Andy Serkis really manages to capture the spirit of Monkey. he manages to make you feel what Monkey does by his amazing talents. The other voice actors didn’t slouch with their abilities either (Pigsy can be really great at times), but no one can steal the spotlight from the mighty Monkey.

Wishes: Enslaved is a GREAT game, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s flaws. I wish that there was a bit more challenge in the climbing sequences – but I accept that Ninja Theory did what they did to preserve the flow. There are also times I wished I could have controlled the camera a bit better – but those times were few and far between.

Closing thoughts: Ninja Theory did indeed take every bit of constructive criticism leveled at the gameplay of Heavenly Sword, and made something wonderous happen here. at this stage in the year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Enslaved get nominated for many GoTYs, and maybe even take one for best action/adventure game. It’s truly a magical tale, with lovable characters, and a believable environment. The journey from start to finish takes around 9 hours (you can go replay any level to get more tech orbs or mask visions), and it truly is a journey worth taking. I give Enslaved by Ninja Theory a 4.5 out of 5 Michela.

Developed by Ninja Theory
Published by Namco
MSRP 59.95
Reviewed on the Xbox 360