Graphics: Enclave‘s graphics are simply astounding. Even when zooming in close with a sniper’s arrow, you’ll soon realize that these are some of the crispest textures to hit a TV in some time. Using detail normally reserved for driving games, the enemies animate smoothly and look exactly as you’d expect, all the way down to the decorative skulls on the Orc warlords. Also impressive are the cities, ruins and dungeons you’ll explore, as they feel much less contrived than in other titles. Torches burn and cast dynamic light sources, shadows stretch realistically, and everything from bottomless chasms to burbling brooks carries the personality of each zone as a cohesive whole. The PC characters are particularly impressive, as they crouch, lean, aim and attack with all the little nuances we’ve come to expect, even pausing to put their shield away before grabbing and chugging a healing potion from their pack. The only flaw in this equation lies with the frame rate. For the most part it’s great, even when dealing with long draw distances and multiple characters, but there are moments, particularly during “triggered” events, where the game can slow to a crawl, leaving you disoriented and the camera whipping around to a new direction. In general, these are very bad times to become disoriented, as terrible things will happen to your character, which will cause horrible things to happen to your controller, but more on that later.
Interface: Enclave features some of the cooler menus around, and prominently uses the “cyber-sextant-raven” motif to transition from one menu to another. If that description makes no sense, don’t worry, because it’s a strange phenomenon that looks exceedingly cool, but has little tie to the game. Working your way through the options will reveal the usual collection of video and audio adjustments for screen position, sound balance and so forth. The in-game interface is equally elegant, packing all of the information you’d need into the upper right corner and keeping most of the screen clear. Because the characters are so clearly drawn, it’s not hard to tell what they have equipped, and health and mana are quietly drawn out in standard bar format. In all, an excellent interface that’s loud and proud when it can be, but doesn’t call for attention when you need to focus on lining up that next shot.
Gameplay: Enclave is a bipolar experience. Playing through the campaigns, you’ll alternately find yourself in two states of mind. In the first, you’ll praise this as an innovative, tactically-minded shooter and stealth hybrid with exceptional level design, monsters and environmental interactivity through scripted and player-triggered events. In the second, you’ll decry Enclave as a soul deadening, controller-tossing, sadistic and a monstrous example of an action release gone completely wrong. This is due, almost entirely, to one simple design decision – to avoid mid-level saves entirely.
You see, the wondrous thing about third- and first-person titles in this enlightened age is that you’ll rarely find yourself hunting for a key to open the red door so you can blast more zombies with your shotgun. Instead, the modern gamer is treated to tense moments, such as the one in Enclave where you enter a courtyard, only to spot a snotling light the fuse on a cannon, causing an impact that brings the gateway behind you crashing down, possibly causing minor damage due to impacts with the debris. As you sprint clear of the wreckage, a massive gate swings open, admitting an Orc warrior armored like a bipedal tank and swinging an axe that can take a third of your life on a major hit. You’re faster, but his reach is deadly, and his allies – the goblin bombardiers in the rafters – are tossing grenades down to the courtyard. You best him in single combat by craftily luring him over a grenade, which takes down the last notches of his health, and your deadly accurate crossbow bolt pierces his eye, sending him crashing to his knees and collapsing face down with a gurgle of pain. As you try to quaff a potion, the goblins drop from the rafters, and begin lobbing more grenades directly at you, and you make the wrong choice of moves, blowing yourself to bits. Still, the drama, the tension, it’s all worth it, right?
Not when you have to start over at the beginning of a level that took me, even after multiple tries, 20 minutes to reach that climax. After the third, failed, attempt at this scene, it’s either time for a little walk, or time to give up gaming, so Enclave gets shut down. Similar moments occur all through this title, as seemingly innocuous boxes suddenly explode due to sappers placing charges while you weren’t looking, and one would be wise to never make fun of an Enclave player who’s finger slipped and missed a jump over a chasm, as nothing says “game over” like a 50 mile plunge.
If you can get past this brutal design decision and have, literally, hours to devote to each level, you’ll find Enclave to be one of the richest experiences in action gaming. The scenario above is taken from one of many similarly excellent moments in Enclave, and if I didn’t have to devote an entire afternoon to finally defeat it, it would have replaced equivalent events in Halo or Red Faction hands down. The controls are spot on, and the storyline is compelling and effective. There’s a lot of good things to say here, but far too many of the great moments are marred by the fact that they’re also very deadly and that death is very final.
Multiplayer: Enclave does not have a multiplayer mode.
Sound FX: Battle cries are vital to the success of any good warrior, and from the wheedly voices of the goblins to the sibilance of the assassins, Enclave has excellent voice acting in spades. The cutscenes are particularly well done, though it’s somewhat disappointing that our characters never speak, as Hunter: The Reckoning proved that some variety based on who you were playing could add a lot of mileage to an action title’s storyline. The atmospheric and ambient effects are excellent, especially in the ruined cities where there’s always the sense that parts of buildings are still quietly collapsing upon themselves and into the rift. In battle, the sound effects truly shine, as details such as slightly different sounds for each crossbow, really shine through. Melee receives no less attention, with impacts, howls of pain and the solid thunk of a shield saving someone’s life all lovingly reproduced in Surround Sound.
Musical Score: Dynamic music is the only way to go when your game status is binary: in Enclave, you’re either exploring or fighting, and the music matches both situations. The various levels have their own tracks that largely remain in the background until a battle breaks out. At that point, the score charges forward, ups the tempo and becomes more prominent, making each fight intense rather than mellow. Cast in a largely medieval tradition, the dark campaign offers some alternate tracks with more dour overtones and darker harmonies.
Intelligence & Difficulty: Enclave is too hard to not have a difficulty setting. Put simply, the environment is deadly enough, with its traps, pits and treacherous walkways, to make even exploring a dicey proposition. When you add enemy warriors who are so heavily armored that even snipers will have trouble dropping them with a shot to the head, along with their deadly accurate bow-toting companions, the challenge level shoots through the roof. In part this is because rampaging through Enclave will get you killed, while moving slowly in the face of a charging horde will also get you killed. Essentially, this game is out to slaughter your character and there’s no way to mellow it out, making this release inaccessible to novice players. The flip side of this coin is an exceptional AI that should please pro gamers the world over. Stand with a bow and the melee types will charge you, pull out your sword and they’ll stop and begin circling. If you expect groups to leave you alone while you cut them down one at a time, then you’re sorely mistaken; enemy bowmen will circle around for a clear shot if they hear you start to reload or if you hide in one place too long. The only real drawback to the AI is that climbing levels can throw off foes quite easily, and the ranged characters are exceptional when on a perch and firing down at fighters who seem oblivious to the ladder at the base of your tower.
Overall: Enclave has so much promise that it’s a shame it’s crippled by one key design flaw. While the occassional checkpoint exists just before the battles with big boss characters, they are so rare that you may very well never see one. With its deadly traps, pits, jumps and special events, Enclave is an experience that keeps you on your toes. Most of the time these events are unavoidable, or only dodged if you’re truly lucky, meaning you’ll have to replay the sequences several times to figure out the timing. This would have been great – and with rock-solid controls, lush graphics and amazing sound, “great” might have been an understatement. With no mid-level checkpoints at all, however, death is an extremely final, maddening and all too common event. If you’re up for a challenge, Enclave will reward you richly and you’ll be privy to fantastic boss creatures, amazing AI and intense combat. For the average gamer, those later levels will go unexplored out of sheer, knuckle-whitening and controller-tossing frustration.