Review by Greg Wilcox



Graphics: 9

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 4

Overall: 4

Beautiful to look at yet frustrating to play, Enclave is a perfect example of visual power and good game design crippled by a poor control scheme. An action game where jumping is a key element yet nearly impossible to pull off smoothly is a big no-no, yet time and time again, you'll die in Enclave while trying to make it across the smallest of gaps. Even when you come to grips with the clunky jumping, the game hobbles you further by limiting saves to the end of a level (or before certain bosses), and tossing in deathtraps and enemies with deadly aim for good measure. That score above is a bit deceptive, by the way; subtract 2 or 3 points if you don't care a whit about graphics, and add them to the gameplay total if you can deal with the lousy jumping hell.

Still, the game has more than a few good points.You start off playing the Light campaign as a one of the good guys, and after that's all done, the Dark missions are unlocked, and you get to be bad for a bit. You'll get both sides of the main story, and unlock some really talented playable characters. It's sort of like the old arcade game Gain Ground crossed with Deathtrap Dungeon and a tiny bit of Tomb Raider. But Enclave needed a control tweak closer to TR than what ended up in the final version. You end up fighting with the controls more than with the onscreen enemies, and that's not really a good thing. Even when you get the hang of it, you'll be so afraid to make a mistake near the end of a level that playing the game becomes more of a chore than pure fun, and that's no good either.

The game has only two control setups, and the first thing you'll want to do switch to the secondary one as soon as possible. The normal setup has the characters jump by clicking down the right stick, and holding it down for higher jumps. The obvious problem is this isn't very comfortable or easy to do, as the right stick also aims and looks around. It's entirely possible (and it will happen) that you'll go to make a jump, but watch in horror and frustration as your guy or gal just goes right off a ledge into spikes or a bottomless pit, looking in a different direction. The game can also be played in a first-person perspective, but the jumping is still a big pain (and even more frustrating)

Depending on the character you choose, combat can be quite literally a hit or miss affair. Characters that use purely brute force will fall prey to ranged weapons and magic, while the strictly magic users can't go toe to toe with the bigger monsters in the game at all. Trust me, even when you've got a decent sword or bow, a 10-foot giant orc-y thing chasing you up 2 flights of stairs and out a building is nerve wracking to say the least (especially if he's got a huge axe). Each of the playable characters in the game is made for a particular area or group of areas, and it's up you to figure out who's the best one for the task at hand. This sort of trial and error is part of the challenge here, but don't expect a cakewalk once you make it past the second stage of the game.

The melee combat in Enclave is a "stick and move" style that will make you mad if you're a button masher, but is quite rewarding to the more strategic among you. Bows and ranged magic are especially fearsome once you get the aiming system down, but the enemy is just as good at times. Enemy troops are relentless and will sometimes go out of their way to gang up on you, or run behind you to keep you off balance. Some areas have cannons to use against enemy troops, in addition to the aforementioned environmental hazards, and sometimes it's in the latter case where you'll often lose the most health (bad jumps just kill you outright). Enclave isn't a fast-paced hack and slash game for the most part- it's also about anticipation and carefully planning just where you need to be when something falls over and tumbles your way.

And yes, it all looks and sounds very, very gorgeous. Enclave's environments are packed with loads of details, while friends or foes are detailed and as realistic as possible. Thanks to the power of the Xbox (and some clever programming), you can practically count the hairs on the head of your chosen hero, and all those nicks in the assorted armor and weapons you'll come across only add to the game's characters. The odd things are that while there are many scripted events involving stuff in the levels falling around you, you can't really smash anything but a few windows in certain areas. You can also activate assorted machine to smash stuff for you, but swing at a box or row of bottles with a sword, and it glances harmlessly off . Also, as great as the water in the game looks, it has no physics once you or an enemy step into it, which is really a shame. Finally, the character momentum in the game has a heavy "feel" to it, especially when the right stick pivots the camera a bit too far down. It's almost as if you're controlling a guy or gal with lead in their shoes. It's workable, especially if you get in enough practice in the early stages of the game, though. The levels are fairly quiet musically, but what's here is done very well. Sound effects are quite well done, lots of clanking of swords and explosions where needed, plus some nice environmental sounds in choice areas- good stuff.

Interestingly enough, a PS2 version is in the works, and I'll no doubt be grabbing a copy of that to see if Starbreeze has fixed and refined the controls. It'll also be fun to see how it stacks up visually to the Xbox version (hopefully they did something about that water!). On one hand, it's hard to recommend purchasing Enclave outright, but it's a more than perfect rental just to see if you'll be able to get used to the game's problems. But if you're one of those jocular, he-manly man types that'll bite the bullet and play anything that looks good, boogie on down to your favorite game emporium and whip out that wallet- you've got a town to save...


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:23 PM