I must admit I wasn't initially expecting much from Ninja Theory's Enslaved. Sure I'd read the previews and seen the screenshots and movies, but to my untrained eye it just looked like a typical tired and cliched third person action game, and it seemed to me that it was surely destined to be a bargain-bin loser, especially when it's in a release window with quite a few heavy hitters knocking about.
Oh how wrong can one person be?
The demo begins with you imprisoned on a slave ship, and viewing the action from your egg-like cell you see a rather tastily-modelled girl escaping capture, opening all of the surrounding cells before beating a hasty retreat. That's your introduction done, time to hit the ground running.
The first thing to strike me was the supreme quality of the motion-capture, facial animation and voice work. Not since Half-Life 2 have I seen these elements presented as close to perfection as Ninja Theory has managed here. But then this really shouldn't come as a surprise, particulary when you see who's on board. With The Beach's Alex Garland on writing duties, Andy Serkis directing and Nitin Sawhny producing the game's soundtrack, this is an important moment in the on-going battle to give videogames credibility as an artform, up there with the likes of film and television. If Enslaved performs well at retail, then we could see more key figure-heads from the movie and TV world getting involved with games and helping bring the industry further forward and gaining the respect it deserves.
But back to the game the design of the characters is simply wonderful. For me they really didn't look like great shakes in the static shots, but combined with the aforementioned superb facial detail and stunningly realistic animation they are really something to behold.
The second thing you'll notice is the quality of the background vistas. It's genreally a hard push trying to make the insides of a rickety old space ship stand out in this day and age, yet with Enslaved Ninja Theory really has managed to nail it. In the end it turns out there is a simple trick to achieve success: don't use browns or greys, just add other lovely colours. Are you listening game developers?
And then it's on with the game, as I ran down the corridor, my daughter who was sat next to me exclaimed "Oh! Look at him, he looks like a monkey! I like his tail!", only it isn't a tail, it's a trailing belt, clever stuff which further highlights the attention to detail paid here. What's even more apt is that the main character's name is actually Monkey.
The controls are fluid and slick, there won't be any stupid deaths to lay at the fault of the controls here, much to my chagrin (especially with my daughter watching). They work so well they almost feel automatic, but you really have full control, it's you pushing the button to jump those collapsing floors and roll around those robots.
As this sequence pushes on you are forced into some combat (after getting your weapons back of course, an inventory which includes techno boxing gloves and a handy shrinkable staff in case you're wondering). This videogame trope also works rather well and reminded of the fighting system from Fable II, only with longer button presses instigating different techniques. Yet unlike Fable II, there is a greater and subtle level of depth thanks to the additional combos and heavy attacks. Again with the controls working so well the combat just seems to flow naturally and organically. The only annoying point was occasionally getting stuck in a combo loop, with the target stood just to the side of where I was strutting my stuff.
Eventually you find yourself on the outside of the ship via a cut scene, and again the graphics are just incredible. The cinematics are short, well scripted and never feel like they've wrenched control from you at crucial moments. Here, as you make your way along the outside of the crashing space ship the game feels a little like Prince of Persia, only much smoother, with your footholds sparkling to give you a clue as to where to head next. It feels suitably epic - think back to the opening sequence from Uncharted 2 and ratchet it up to 11.
As my time with the game came to an end I was undoubtedly left gagging for more with all of my preconceptions completely blown out of the water. It's clear Enslaved has real potential to be Ninja Theory's breakout hit and form the beginning of a hugely successful franchise. This is a game you should all be watching very closely indeed and in the year of the multiplayer third-person-shooter offers the perfect single player antidote.