High-fantasy fiction has been inspiring developers to create colorful fantasy games for years. Starbreeze's game Enclave was clearly influenced by fantasy fiction archetypes, and though it was originally released on Microsoft's Xbox last year, it still looks quite good, thanks to its detailed textures and occasionally inspired levels. Unfortunately, Enclave has a number of gameplay problems that its good graphics and sound can't hide.
Enclave is a third-person action game in which you can play as part of either the good or evil armies in an epic fantasy conflict. Though you'll begin on either side with a single playable character, you'll later rescue or unlock other character classes with various melee, ranged, or magic-based attacks that they can use to defeat their enemies.
But fighting isn't very precise, or very fun, in Enclave, since the game has unreliable hit detection; sometimes arrows and swords will pass right through your enemies, and your enemies' attacks will occasionally fly right through your shield (if you're carrying one) and damage you. In addition, your characters generally don't fight very quickly; most ranged weapons take a while to reload, and most melee attacks consist of a series of slow-moving, preset animations that take a while to conclude and leave you vulnerable to a counterattack. And most of Enclave's characters don't move very quickly either, so you can basically expect to take hits from your enemies no matter what, especially when multiple enemies swarm you (as they often do in later levels of the game). Your character can pick up and drink health potions, but you'll do this just as slowly as you fight, run, or change weapons, so this can be of limited use in small areas crowded by multiple enemies.
Enclave was an extremely difficult game on the Xbox, and its difficulty has been toned down in the PC version so that enemies don't kill you with a single blow, but you'll still suffer severe damage when hit by unseen traps for the first time, and you'll most likely find the game's limited save-game system to be frustrating. You can save only at predetermined safe areas, which, in certain levels, are few and far between. Make a wrong move or get mobbed by too many enemies, and you'll be sent all the way back to your previous save point. In addition, Enclave's levels, while not particularly huge, are still fairly big and will often require you to backtrack through them several times. It's safe to say that Enclave would have been a much less frustrating game to play if it had featured both a better save-game system and an in-game map. Enclave isn't a particularly lengthy game otherwise, and since it has no multiplayer options, you may not get much out of the game in the long run.
In many of the game's levels, you'll need to backtrack to find a particular item or enemy or to lead a computer-controlled companion to a specific goal area. Unfortunately, Enclave's AI for both allies and enemies is inconsistent and occasionally quite bad. Any allies you must lead or escort through a level will stop dead in their tracks if faced with even a small obstacle. There's no way to issue any commands to your allies, so you'll often have to leave them behind, even if they were supposed to help you fight your way through the level.
The enemy AI is usually good about attacking you when you come within range, and some enemies will even taunt you when they have you outnumbered. However, some enemies will get stuck on environmental objects as they try to follow you around them, and other times, if you back away from them a short distance, they'll simply stand still for no good reason. When this happens, they're easier to pick off than when they mob your slow-moving character who's poorly equipped to handle attacks from all sides, but the game's unreliable AI and equally unreliable control make for fights that are mostly unsatisfying.
It's too bad that Enclave has these problems, because its presentation is otherwise quite impressive. The game's sound effects and voice acting are passable, but you may be too busy paying attention to Enclave's great soundtrack to notice. The game's somber, oppressive music does a great job of providing atmosphere for Enclave's often-dark, gothic fantasy setting (which consists of dimly lit fortresses, secret passages, and ancient temples of evil, among other things).
Enclave also looks extremely good. Though it was originally developed for Microsoft's Xbox console, it holds up quite well on the PC. Even though the game's textures begin to show seams and jagged edges if you play the game at resolutions of 1024x768 or higher, the quality of Enclave's graphics and design is unmistakable. The game's developers clearly put a lot of effort into creating the detailed textures that adorn its levels and its highly detailed characters, who speak with animated facial expressions in the in-engine cutscenes. Though many of the game's levels consist of generic-seeming fantasy locales, such as a dungeon, a temple, and a medieval town, their good texture work and lighting, especially shadows cast from torchlight, make even the most run-down areas look good. In fact, some of Enclave's environments look surprisingly original, even artistic, such as an abandoned sorceress's lair that's filled with both deadly traps and breakable glass cages of fluttering butterflies.
Though the game's developers clearly put a lot of work into the way the game looks and sounds, Enclave's gameplay just doesn't measure up to its presentation. If you do pick up a copy of the game, you'll probably appreciate Enclave's sound and graphics, but you may also find that the game itself has too many problems to be enjoyable for long.