The most impressive thing about Enclave, the thing that strikes you as soon as you start playing, is the graphics. Sharp, artistic, and creative; they look just great. There’s smoke, steam, fog, fire, and water, and it is all very nearly photo-realistic. And at the same time the environments, buildings, caves, lava, and underwater are similar to those found in some sort of gothic comic book. There is a sort of fiery underworld that would make Dante cry out in rapturous joy, an undersea world right out of Nemo, and a gothic city that would be well at home with Poe. I’m not sure how high-end a system you need to experience all that, but mine handled it without a single hiccup. The game could really be used as a demo of what modern graphics can be. Now if only the rest of the game had been as good. Don’t get me wrong, Enclave isn’t an awful game, not by a long stretch, but there are some balance issues, some level design issues, kind of overall gameplay stuff, that I would rather had been worked out in the beta phase and not made it all the way onto my desktop. Taken as a whole, Enclave is kind of third person adventure (though the camera can be switched into first person mode), much like Tomb Raider, only with fewer puzzles and more killing. It reminds me strongly of Blade of Darkness, but everyone that I’ve spoken to about that game has only returned blank stares, so perhaps BoD wasn’t very popular and therefore isn’t a terribly useful comparison. And as long as I’m tapping that vein, no one I’ve chatted with has heard of Enclave, either. They do have a marketing department, right?
The story is of a civilization literally split in two by a powerful wizard who opens a rift in the countryside into the underworld, yadda, yadda, blah blah blah. The tale is told through cutscenes, most of which consist of pictures in a book that is read to you as the pages are turned. They are so dreary, despite pretty good voice work in the reading, that I could hardly sit through them to get to the next level. There is, as always, a dark side and a light side, and you can play through thirty missions that tell the story from each perspective. Some of the earlier missions are ridiculously easy, taking almost as long to load as to play. Others are phenomenally difficult, forcing you to play them over and over again for hours until you can get them right. The save game system doesn’t help matters any. You can’t save the game just anywhere – there are instead save game locations placed here and there in the largely linear levels. If you step on one, and have 10 gold pieces in your pocket, you activate the location. When you die you will show up at that location, having accomplished everything you did up to the point you died, not the point you saved. The problem arises if you die repeatedly and run out of money to activate the save point, and some levels are very cash-poor – you’ve got to have the 10 gold pieces in hand, not in the bank from previous missions. Also, if a mission involves protecting someone, and that someone dies, you lose the level regardless if you have activated a save point or not. That becomes plenty frustrating as someone puts a broadhead arrow into you from a mile away as you stand within sight of a save spot, or run through a level an hour long only to have the guy you’re trying to protect fall into a pit trap right at the level end. Both of those have happened to me.
You start the game with a knight character to play, but with missions gain additional characters. You don’t use more than one character on a mission, but it adds something to the replayability to play a mission as a fighter, and then try it again as a druid or engineer. Without that, the replay factor in this game would be very low, because everything and everyone starts the level at pre-scripted locations. There are weapons, both edged and ranged (the ranged weapons consisting of different types of arrows and spells), but the ranged weapons are too powerful, especially later on in the game with the arrival of repeating crossbows (sort of like crossbow machineguns). The enemy AI is primarily of the come-straight-at-you type, so you can frequently back up while firing your arrows or whatever, killing or severely wounding most opponents before even resorting to risky and dangerous melee combat. It doesn’t help matters that they will sometimes get outright stuck on some feature of the landscape, leaving you free to plink the enemy to death at your leisure. The converse is often true as well, as enemy archers that you can hardly see at range cause you massive damage even before you can figure out where they are killing you from.
In between levels you can use your money (that you didn’t spend on saves) to buy armor and weapons as well as health potions. There’s a pretty good selection for a non-RPG game. Early on there are lots of things to buy and very little money, but later in the game the money almost doesn’t seem to matter as you have the best of everything and nothing more to buy. The exception to that comes from the arrow users, who have to keep buying more arrows (you obviously can’t reuse them) and some of them are very expensive.
The combat is exciting if relatively simplistic. Two mouse buttons; one activating your weapon, the other raising your shield (if you have one). I would have liked to see a greater variety of attacks available, much like in, say BoD, which apparently nobody remembers. You can manageably fight multiple enemies, as they make no attempt to surround you and attack from different directions, allowing you to keep them squarely in front of you. Otherwise, the general approach to melee combat by the AI is sound. The enemy will step in, attack, step back, and try to get its shield up to block attacks.
Beyond the graphics, Enclave isn’t particularly anything special. The plotline is such a shallow hash that you don’t end up feeling anything for the characters, which are unlikely to evoke the sort of empathy (or major motion pictures) of, say, Lara Croft. The save game system further reduces the overall enjoyment, forcing you to repeat absolutely identical levels many, many times. Finally, even with the different characters you can run through the game, I think in the week or so it took me to review it I had pretty much played all the Enclave I wanted to. It’s fun, but not really a keeper, and somewhere down the road when I’m doing some other review and I mention Enclave, I expect to be met with more blank stares.