Movies and games are increasingly crossing paths. We've had games that have big Hollywood involvement before, of course, but Enslaved feels like it has tapped into the movie biz's talent pool at every opportunity. It has a story co-written by Alex Garland, the man who wrote The Beach and went on to pen numerous screenplays for Danny Boyle; it also stars and is directed by Andy Serkis, the British actor who brought Gollum to life in The Lord of the Rings.
It feels like story and storytelling were at the forefront of development, and as such the game never falls into the usual trap of unnaturally-extended dialogue and unbelievable characters. While the world of Enslaved is set in the future, complete with technology straight out of a sci-fi movie, nothing feels out of place, with everything fitting into the universe that has been created. Perhaps the strength of the story shouldn't have come as much of a surprise, given that it's loosely based on classic Chinese novel Journey to the West - which went on to be the basis for cult 70s TV show Monkey.
New York has been destroyed, with slavers rounding people up through the use of mechs. Enslaved begins with Monkey, a larger-than-life shirtless man with hands bigger than your face, escaping from his cell onboard a crashing slaver ship. As he runs through the increasingly perilous exploding innards of the craft he comes across Trip, a 19-year-old girl also trying to get off the doomed vessel. Monkey manages to cling onto the escape pod she's entered and the pair jettison off, landing some distance from the crashed ship.
The landing wasn't smooth for Monkey, seeing as he was on the outside of the pod, so he's left unconscious. When he awakes he finds that Trip has placed a slave headset on him, meaning he has to do what she says or feel pain - and worse still, if she dies, he dies. It's fair to say that the two don't get on, but Monkey has to go along with Trip's plan to get to her family's village. He is essentially her protector, and there's a lot of protecting to be done due to the number of mechs roaming the land.
Thankfully Monkey is more than equipped to deal with anything that stands in his way, with a staff that can be used as a melee weapon, a plasma-firing gun and a shield. Combat is certainly stylish, with Monkey aggressively taking mechs apart with a flurry of swinging attacks. Melee is handled with two buttons, allowing for light and heavy strikes; by holding the former you can also perform a stun move. Monkey can also block and counter, roll to evade enemy strikes and perform multi-hit focus attacks.
Initially the use of the staff as a projectile weapon feels a bit laboured, with Monkey unable to carry much ammo and the firing rate being quite slow, but before too long you've bought numerous upgrades that improve things immensely. Towards the end of the game combat is shared equally between melee and ranged attacks, and the mixture of ammo types (stun and blast) makes for engaging gameplay.
Problems are never too far away, though. For one, the camera is a real pain at times, with your view obscured by foreground objects or getting unhelpfully close to the action. Your combat options also feel quite slight, as Monkey's arsenal of attacks doesn’t expand enough throughout the campaign. The upgrade tree opens up a few new moves, improves Monkey's shield and increases his health, but compared to other games in the genre the combat is a touch lightweight.