Partial Review: “Enclave” (PC Version) (Retro game)

Sometimes, there are reasonably enjoyable games that get overlooked. A computer game from 2002 called “Enclave” is one of those games. I hadn’t even really heard of it before until I happened to notice it during a sale (where it had been reduced to about 99p) on GOG a couple of weeks before I prepared this partial review.

And, yes, this will be a partial review. Basically, due to getting distracted by other stuff, I’ve only got up to the final level of the game’s “light” campaign. So, this will be more than just a ‘first impressions’ article, but less than a proper full review.

So, let’s take a look at “Enclave”:

“Enclave” is a fantasy-themed “hack and slash” action game from 2002. Interestingly, the game lets you choose whether you play as the “light” or “dark” side in an epic Tolkien-esque fantasy story. However, it seems like the “dark” campaign doesn’t unlock until you complete the “light” campaign – so, this review will just focus on this one side of the story.

To sum up the story of the “light” campaign – you have to escape from prison, defend a small city from the forces of darkness and then go on an epic quest across a nightmarish wasteland in order to find and gain the support of various allies. Just imagine all of the epic parts from the “Lord Of The Rings” films and this will give you a fairly good idea of what to expect:

You. Shall. Not. Pass!!!!!!! … And, yes, you can play as a wizard in some of the later levels.

The game also occasionally includes some vaguely steampunk elements too – like this vaguely “Riven”/”Myst”-like location.

And, yes, the “Lord Of The Rings” movies are an excellent comparison to make. This is mostly because the bulk of the “light” campaign involves fighting goblins, orcs etc…

Although there are some mild puzzle-solving elements occasionally, this game is a proper action game – in that you will be spending most of the time swinging swords, shooting arrows or casting spells.

And, some parts of the game look like a heavy metal album cover too 🙂

Although the hit detection in this game is a little clunky and the combat can feel a little bit imprecise at times, it is kept reasonably fun and interesting due to the variety of enemy types, the challenging difficulty, a few boss battles, the fact that this game is almost like a heavy metal album (except for the music) in videogame form and the level of character customisation available.

Technically, you play as a group of characters… and they all actually appear in one cutscene.

Although you start the “light” campaign with just one character (the knight), more characters become available as the game continues.

Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, and you can also choose their weapons, armour etc.. too. These things are unlocked by completing levels and by finding in-game bonus items (and, unlike in greedy modern games, you can only get in-game gold by earning it via gameplay 🙂).

See that cool-looking fiery sword. You’ll actually unlock it via gameplay 🙂 Yes, this game is from the glorious age before *ugh* micro-transactions were a thing 🙂

This high level of customisation also means that, if you’re having trouble with one level, then you can try it with a different character type or with different weapons.

The character types are sort of what you’d expect, and the best character in the “light” campaign is probably either the “halfling” character – who is a badass heavy metal/punk warrior who has scary facial tattoos, can move quickly, can use the game’s best swords, who grins maniacally whilst fighting etc.. or the “knight” character – who is a badass Roman gladiator/barbarian style character, and is also pretty metal too.

Once you’ve got some decent armour (as opposed to the default crop top) and a good shield, then the halfling is probably the best character in the game.

You can also play as a cool Roman gladiator/barbarian-style character too 🙂

The worst character is probably the “druid” character, who is an elf-like character who has little to no protection against damage (probably due to wearing a swimming costume into battle) and has a few magic-based attacks that are shared with a much cooler Gandalf-like wizard character you can unlock later.

Plus, some characters only become good later in the game when more weapons become available. The “huntress” character is a good example of this. She’s a character who specialises in using longbows and crossbows. Whilst she is playable from the second level onwards, she’s only really a good choice a few levels later – when you can equip her with some of the more powerful bows and arrows, and when you’ll find yourself in situations where you’re faced with fighting long-range adversaries from a distance.

Although the huntress is playable from the second level onwards, she’s a terrible choice for levels that involve lots of close combat (like the second level).

In terms of level design, this game is reasonably good. Although most of the levels are reasonably linear, there are occasional non-linear segments, set pieces and easy puzzles that help to prevent it from becoming monotonous. Not only that, the variety of locations on offer in this game is pretty good too:

There’s even a really awesome “Ancient Rome”-style level too 🙂

Which even includes a beach area and a gladiatorial arena too 🙂

But, saying all of this, it is very clear that this game was originally designed with consoles (rather than computers) in mind. This is most notable with regard to the game’s saving system.

Whilst you can go back and play levels that you’ve completed, you can’t save mid-level. Although most levels feature mid-level checkpoints (which penalise you 10 gold whenever you use them, meaning your gold counter doubles up as a “lives” system), the only way to save your progress is to let the game auto-save at the end of each level…. and only at the end of each level.

Yes, if you leave the game after finding a mid-level checkpoint, then you’ll have to restart the entire level next time…

Since some of the levels can take 15-30 minutes to complete and since the difficulty level of some of the later levels is very much on the challenging side of things, this can cause a lot of frustration! Still, thanks to the character customisation and the relatively short length of the levels, it won’t take too long before you’ll feel like having another go at the more challenging levels.

Plus, this saving system encourages you to play the game in shorter bursts, which means that the combat won’t feel as repetitive as it might do if you played for longer periods of time.

In terms of music, voice-acting and general presentation, this game is fairly good. Whilst it would have been cool if there had been heavy metal music on the game’s soundtrack, the game’s more traditional “epic fantasy” music is pretty cool.

Likewise, the game’s animated menus and pre-rendered cutscenes still look pretty impressive to this day (less so with the in-game cutscenes though). The voice-acting is a little bit more variable, but there isn’t that much of it and even the cornier examples of it are “so bad that it’s good”.

One thing that helps with the pre-rendered cutscenes is that they mostly involve looking at a book, which is probably easier to render realistically with early-mid 2000s computer graphics.

In terms of length, this game is fairly reasonable. Although the “light” campaign contains 14 levels (some of which are fairly challenging) and probably at least 10-20 hours of gameplay, the fact that there is another campaign (the “dark” campaign) that can be unlocked when you complete this means that this is anything but a “short” game.

All in all, this is a fun (if occasionally frustrating) epic fantasy action game. If you like heavy metal album covers, gleefully mindless action games, the epic battle scenes in the “Lord Of The Rings” movies and things that are “so bad that they’re good”, then you’ll absolutely love this game 🙂 Yes, it certainly isn’t a perfect game, but it is something of an overlooked gem and it’s worth picking up when it goes on sale…

If I had to give what I’ve played of this game a rating out of five, it would just about maybe get a four.

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Review: “Resident Evil” (Film)

Well, after reviewing “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” recently, I thought that I’d go back and take another look at the first film in the series.

Although I ended up buying a DVD boxset of the first four films (since it was actually cheaper to buy this second-hand than buying the films individually), I don’t know how many more of them I’ll end up reviewing.

Anyway, “Resident Evil” is a film that I first saw at the cinema when I was thirteen. Ever since I read in a games mag that they were turning this videogame series into a film, I just had to see it (and, luckily, getting into the film under-age wasn’t as difficult as I had feared). I was so excited! It seemed like it would be the coolest thing in the world. But, when I actually saw it, I felt somewhat cheated. The film seemed to be very different to the games that I had enjoyed so much.

But, given how my reaction to seeing “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” changed when I revisited it as an adult, I was curious to see if what I’d think about the first film in the series would be any different over a decade and a half later. And, yes, seeing this film again totally changed my opinion of it.

Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS/IMAGES, but I don’t know if they’re intense enough to cause problems.

“Resident Evil” is a sci-fi/horror film from 2002 (starring Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius and James Purefoy) that is very loosely based on the “Resident Evil” videogame franchise.

The film begins with a voice-over that explains how the Umbrella Corporation has become one of the most powerful corporations in America. The film then cuts to one of the company’s secret underground laboratories, where a vial of mysterious blue chemical is released by an unknown character.

Don’t worry, the vial is made out of CGI – it’ll be fine!

A while later, the facility suddenly goes into emergency lockdown. The lifts begin to malfunction dangerously and the facility’s central computer looks on impassively as the crowded hallways are flooded with halon gas and the sprinkler systems begin to drown the scientists working in the laboratories.

Remember, safety first!

Back on the surface, a woman called Alice wakes up in the bathroom of a stately home with no memory of who she is or why she is there. After she explores the house for a while and encounters a mysterious man, a team of masked commandos suddenly burst through the windows.

They arrest the man and tell Alice that she is one of the company’s operatives. They have been sent to the house in order to investigate what has happened in the laboratory below, and they want to take Alice and the mystery man with them…

Well, this journey isn’t going to end well…

One of the very first things that I will say about this film is that it is much better than I remember. Unlike the action-packed sequel, this is a proper horror film.

Although it still has a sensible running time (97 minutes), this film actually takes a decent amount of time to build up suspense and atmosphere – with the first zombie attack not even happening until 37 minutes into the film. Likewise, although there are certainly thrilling moments of action in this film, the emphasis is much more firmly on horror, suspense and storytelling than action.

Unlike in the sequel, these types of scenes are the exception rather than the rule.

The fact that most of the film takes place in a confined underground laboratory really helps to add a sense of claustrophobia and tension to the film. This is in keeping with the spirit of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames, even if the characters and the details of the story are very different.

The film’s suspense is further increased by the fact that the laboratory is being run by a sociopathic artificial intelligence called the Red Queen, who has no compunction about killing people.

Likewise, when the zombies appear in this film, they often appear in overwhelming hordes that the main characters have no chance of actually defeating. This usually means that the characters often have to rely on their wits more than on their guns, which also increases the level of suspense in the film dramatically. The fact that the characters also realise that they only have a limited time to escape the facility helps with the suspense too.

Yes, the characters actually have to rely on their brains (in order to stop the zombies eating them).

As for the horror elements of this film, they work reasonably well. Although this film probably won’t give you nightmares, there’s a good mixture of jump scares, grisly moments, atmospheric horror, body horror, monster-based horror and character-based horror.

In terms of the characters, this film is reasonably good. Although there isn’t really that much in the way of deep characterisation, the characters often come across as vaguely realistic soldiers and operatives, rather than superhuman action heroes. Likewise, this is one of those 1990s-style thriller films where there is slightly more focus on teamwork than on individual heroics too. The film’s cast all put in a reasonably good performance too, with no glaringly obvious examples of bad acting.

The film’s special effects are reasonably decent for the time too. For a film made in the early 2000s, some of the CGI effects are good- with the highlights being both the film’s famous “laser grid” scene and the Red Queen’s creepy hologram.

Because you can’t have sci-fi without lasers!

Some of the film’s CGI monsters and CGI models look a little bit dated though. However, many of the film’s effects seem to be timeless practical effects, which still work reasonably well.

In terms of the film’s set design and lighting, it’s fairly good. A lot of the film takes place in an underground lab that looks both coldly futuristic and ominously disused. As you would expect from a sci-fi horror film, there’s also a decent amount of cool-looking high-contrast lighting. However, the film also uses bright, harsh cold lighting reasonably often too.

Not only is the lighting wonderfully ominous here, but this office looks both old and futuristic at the same time.

And this area looks a little bit like something from the “Alien” films 🙂

Not to mention that there’s quite a bit of cool high-contrast lighting too 🙂

As for the film’s music, it’s reasonably good. Especially near the beginning of the film, the music is often used to build tension and suspense in a reasonably effective way. Another stand-out moment is that Slipknot’s “My Plague” plays during the end credits. Even though I’m not a massive Slipknot fan (although “Wait and Bleed” is a pretty good song), this song is surprisingly catchy and it has a really cool chorus.

All in all, this is a reasonably decent sci-fi/horror film. Whilst the characters and the story differ greatly from the games it is based on, it is at least reasonably close to them in spirit. Instead of being a ridiculously fast-paced action movie, it is a slightly slower-paced suspenseful horror film (with some fast-paced moments). And, on it’s own merits, it’s actually a reasonably good film.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Rock In Rio [DVD Version]” By Iron Maiden

Well, since I’m still in something of a musical mood at the moment, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about Nightwish and look at something by one of my other favourite bands – the one and only Iron Maiden. In particular, I’ll be taking a look at their “Rock In Rio” concert DVD boxset from 2002.

This was the very first Iron Maiden DVD that I ever got (my first Iron Maiden CD was either a charity single taken from this album, or the CD bonus tracks on the “Carmageddon II” game disc) and, despite the fact that one of my favourite T-shirts is based on the cover art for this DVD, it was something that I’d forgotten about slightly. It had languished unwatched for years on the shelf above my computer until, during a slight moment of boredom shortly before writing this article, I decided to dig it out again….

Wow! I can’t believe that this DVD is over 15 years old! How time flies!

Rock In Rio” is a recording of Iron Maiden’s set at the Rock In Rio festival in Brazil in 2001.

This was about a year or two after Bruce Dickinson rejoined the band following several years apart from them, and the DVD is something of a celebration of both this and of the beginning of Maiden’s more “modern” phase. Gone is the more falsetto-heavy sound of Bruce’s original time with the band during the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, it is replaced by a slightly louder, deeper and more serious singing style that is synonymous with Maiden’s more current stuff.

Scream for me Brazil!!

Although it probably took place during the tour for Iron Maiden’s then-new “Brave New World” album, Rock In Rio’s two-hour setlist is crammed with classic songs, with only about five songs from “Brave New World” making their way onto the stage. But, since “Brave New World” is probably one of Maiden’s weaker albums (if such a thing even exists), the classics-filled setlist really helps to show the band at their best.

One interesting thing here is that Bruce also sings both old songs that were originally performed by Paul Di’Anno (“Wrathchild”, “Iron Maiden” and “Sanctuary”) and, more surprisingly, two songs from Blaze Bayley’s then-recent tenure with the band (“The Clansman” and “Sign Of The Cross”).

Needless to say, he brings his own unique interpretation and energy to these songs, turning Di’Anno’s more punkish renditions of these songs into something closer to modern Iron Maiden and turning Bayley’s broodingly dramatic performances into something even more epic and dramatic.

Seriously, I cannot praise Bruce’s rendition of “Sign Of The Cross” in this concert highly enough! It is, by far, the stand-out track on the DVD. Perhaps even the definitive interpretation of the song in question. He takes a solemn, ominous, emotional song and turns it into ten minutes of spine-tinglingly energetic passion and menacing quietness.

The Siiiiiigggnnnn Offff The Crrrrooosss!!!!!!

In terms of Iron Maiden’s performance, they are as energetic and enthusiastic as you would expect – with each song roaring loudly through the speakers as Bruce Dickinson runs and leaps around the stage in his usual fashion, whilst the other band members swagger around and have fun.

There isn’t a weak or lacklustre performance during any part of the concert. All of this passion and energy is emphasised through a lot of fast video editing, which rarely lingers on a single shot or camera angle for more than a few seconds.

Of course, all of the movement and quick editing makes getting screenshots for this review a bit of a challenge. But, oh well…

Seriously, if there’s one thing to be said for this concert, it is that the band are having fun. And it is a joy to watch! Bruce occasionally makes amusing comments to the audience, whilst the other members of the band do all sorts of hilariously silly and/or cool stuff, like throwing their guitars into the air. You really get the sense that these are six expert musicians who love nothing better than putting on a great show.

And what a show it is! The stage design, lighting design and filming still stands up to this day! Unlike the more limited concert halls from many of their earlier live videos (and the one time I actually saw them live – at a theatre in London in 2006), the band take full advantage of the extra real estate offered by the gargantuan outdoor stage. Multicoloured lights glow beautifully in the darkness, a helicopter hovers above the festival to provide a few dramatic aerial shots, and then there’s the stage design itself.

Seriously, this is one of the coolest-looking stages that I’ve ever seen!

It is truly epic!

The stage is filled with scaffolding and corrugated metal panels, which help to lend the stage a slightly “dystopian sci-fi” kind of look, whilst also providing a handy climbing frame for Bruce during a few instrumental moments. The backdrop changes several times during the set, varying between art from the band’s albums and a plain black background.

And, yes, Derek Riggs’ awesome cover art for “Number Of The Beast” also makes a welcome appearance too 🙂

Needless to say- later in the set – the band’s mascot Eddie makes his appearance. This time, he’s a giant wicker man filled with pagan-style dancers.

Surprisingly though, Eddie doesn’t appear during “The Wicker Man” at the beginning of the concert, but during “Iron Maiden” (about two-thirds of the way through the show) instead.

Naturally, Eddie also has glowing red eyes too. Because, would you expect anything less?

My only real criticism of this DVD has to do with the packaging. For some reason, the discs are packaged inside a thin cardboard sleeve and held in place by two sticky pieces of sponge. To call this flimsy would be an understatement!

In fact, when I opened this DVD case after quite a few years, both discs almost fell onto the floor and the piece of sponge holding the special features disc in place seemed to be missing. Needless to say, this has caused scratching to both discs and, to my horror, I found that a few moments of the concert disc were unplayable as a result. Likewise, when I put the concert disc back into the case, I had a rather difficult time getting it to sit back on the spongy circle, which seemed to have expanded somewhat.

As for the special features disc, I didn’t really have time to rewatch it before writing this review but, from what I can remember of it, it contains documentary footage of the band during their time in Brazil, as well as interviews with the band etc….

I might be confusing it with another Iron Maiden DVD but, if I remember rightly, one of the cool things I remember from watching this disc when I was a teenager was the fact that it contained a few silly little easter eggs hidden throughout the various menus etc…

All in all, DVD packaging aside, “Rock In Rio” has stood the test of time surprisingly well. It is two hours of pure energy and passion, and it is an absolutely stellar introduction to the band if you’ve never heard them before. If you’re looking for an epic music video, you can’t go wrong with this one! Whether you watch it in one sitting or just skip from song to song, it’s something that can be enjoyed again and again.

Yes, it might lack some of the pyrotechnics and/or background animations that characterise more modern concert footage from metal bands, but it is still pretty much timeless.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least five.