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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What Can Games Teach Writers About Challenging Their Audience? – A Ramble

Even though this is an article about writing “challenging” fiction that your audience will actually read, I’m going to have to start by talking about playing computer games for a while.

As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later. Still, if you want to jump to the writing advice, then skip the next four or five paragraphs.

At the time of writing, I’ve found myself in the strange situation of having two games on the go at one time (both of which I hope to review at some point). One is a fantasy/action game from 2002 called “Enclave” and the other is a set of fan-made “Doom II” levels called “Stardate 20×7” (which is the sequel to “Stardate 20×6). Anyway, the reason why I haven’t reviewed either game yet is because of how challenging they are.

This is a screenshot from “Enclave” (2002), level twelve is proving to be quite the challenge…

This is a screenshot from a set of “Doom II” levels called “Stardate 20×7” (2017). Ironically, this is one of the easier parts of this particular level…

In short, there’s one level on “Enclave” which I seem to be making very gradual progress with, due to some especially powerful in-game adversaries. Likewise, I got totally stuck on the second level of “Stardate 20×7” because – after about two hours of searching- I couldn’t work out where I was supposed to go next. This eventually got to the point where I actually ended up skipping the level (via cheat codes) so that I could carry on with the later levels, which feature more enjoyable combat-based challenge and more solvable puzzles.

Both games are challenging – yet, I’ve progressed a decent way through them (I’m about halfway through “Stardate 20×7” and about two-thirds of the way through the light campaign in “Enclave”). I still enjoy them and haven’t abandoned either one out of frustration yet – unlike, say, “Clive Barker’s Undying“.

So, why have I started this article by talking about computer games?

Simply put, they offer a very literal example of how challenge affects the audience’s experience of a creative work. Both of these games are enjoyable enough to keep playing because I’ve had a lot of practice playing computer games over the years, because they have a good difficulty curve, because of everything surrounding the games, because they have a reasonable length (eg: “Enclave” is split into two medium-length campaigns, and “Stardate 20×7” has a total of eleven levels), because they are in a genre I enjoy, because they have an interesting setting and because one of them gave me the option (via in-game codes) to skip a part I didn’t enjoy.

Yet, I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve abandoned reading fairly early on because of the author’s writing style, the length, the pacing or just the story itself.

So, what can games teach us about keeping the audience reading? Well, most of the stuff on the list of things I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago can also apply to stories too. I don’t have time to go into literally everything I’ve mentioned, so I’ll just talk about the most important points.

The first is the subject of a difficulty curve. In novels, this translates to a compelling, readable beginning. A great example of this can be found in G.R.R. Martin’s “A Game Of Thrones”.

Although “A Game Of Thrones” is a slow-paced and complex novel about the politics of a medieval-style world, it begins with a gripping first chapter about a team of soldiers in a frozen wasteland who are attacked by ice zombies. It is dramatic, it is suspenseful and it reads like something from the middle of a good horror novel. And it makes you want to read more! If G.R.R Martin had started his novel with a complex political discussion, the reader would probably be less intrigued.

The second is the subject of an interesting setting. This one is pretty self-explanatory. But, a great example would probably be William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”. This cyberpunk novel is written in an ultra fast-paced way that fires futuristic jargon at the reader constantly (with the audience having to work out what most of it means from the context). Yes, it took me two attempts to read this book. But, I loved it! Why? Simply put, the futuristic world of the story is absolutely fascinating.

The third is the subject of context. In short, if a novel taps into or relates to something the audience finds intriguing, then they’ll persevere. For example, when I was a teenager, I was – as teenagers are – obsessed with “edgy” and “controversial” things.

This is why, when I was a teenager, I read Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho”. I’d heard that the book actually had an “18+” age restriction in a couple of other countries and that it had actually been banned in some places. I had to read it. Even though this meant slogging through numerous dreary descriptions of posh restaurants and grimacing my way through scenes that made even the horror novels I read regularly at the time seem like light comedies by comparison, I persevered because someone, somewhere didn’t want me to read it. And reading it made me feel like I was rebelling.

Finally, there’s the subject of length. In short – the shorter your book is, the more challenging you can be. Another example of this from the list of “controversial” books I read when I was a teenager was Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange”.

The entire novel is narrated in bizarre futuristic slang and the audience has to decipher what it means from the context. It is, as you would expect, a very slow read because of this. Yet, it is something I persevered with because it’s a fairly slender novel (I can’t remember the exact length, but the edition I read was probably 200-250 pages at most).

On the other hand, when I tried to read Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting” during my teenage years, I abandoned it about halfway through. This novel also uses a slightly experimental narrative style, but it is at least 300-400 pages long. If it had been half the length, I’d have probably finished reading it. So, yes, length matters when you’re challenging your readers.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Things An Old Computer Game Can Teach Us About How To Add Some Heavy Metal To The Fantasy Genre

Although I have a weird love/hate relationship with the fantasy genre, I recently happened to find something really cool in this genre which made me think about how to add elements of the heavy metal genre to the fantasy genre.

Although I don’t know when or if I’ll review it properly, it’s a fantasy/action computer game from 2002 called “Enclave“. Although this game has somewhat clunky combat and was clearly designed for consoles rather than computers, I still absolutely love this game.

This is a screenshot from “Enclave” (2002).

Why? Because it is about as metal as you can get 🙂 Whether you’re playing as a chiselled barbarian-like knight or a scary halfling warrior (yes, there are other playable characters, but these two are the only good ones I’ve found so far), this game exudes badassery in every way.

Seriously, it’s like the epic fight scenes from the “Lord Of The Rings” movies, but with added gloominess, mindlessness and general epicness. Although the game includes a vaguely movie-like soundtrack, I found myself fervently wishing that “Tonight We Ride” by Unleash The Archers was playing in the background of some segments of the game instead. In other words, it’s a brilliant example of heavy metal-style fantasy.

So, what can this game teach us about adding some heavy metal to the fantasy genre?

1) Simplicity: Although the game has a lot of vaguely Tolkien-esque lore (with lots of unpronounceable names like Dreg’athar etc…), one of the reasons why it is so metal is because the story of the game is relatively simple.

I hope you like fighting monsters…..

If you play as the “good” faction, the story involves breaking out of jail, defending the city from orcs, going on an epic quest through some scary wastelands etc…. I haven’t played the “evil” campaign, but the fact that you can also play as the villians is pretty cool.

Both stories are suitably heavy metal, but why? Simply put, they’re simple and focused. They don’t get lost in the minutae of mythical politics or magical lore. Although all of this stuff is still there as a background detail, the basic story is just a simple goal-orientated thing that allows for lots of epic feats of combat and dramatic battles. It doesn’t require you to keep track of twenty character names, memorise seven family trees or anything like that, it’s just a thrilling story that is there to be enjoyed.

So, if you want to add some heavy metal to your fantasy story, comic etc.. then keep the basic underlying story relatively simple.

2) Lighting: One of the best visual ways to add some heavy metal to the fantasy genre is simply to focus on gloomy lighting and death/destruction-related imagery. Again, “Enclave” excels in this respect. So far, I’ve seen creepy old castles, a besieged city, a decrepit ancient temple and some kind of hellish underworld. All of these locations are lit by fire, magma and/or moonlight. And they look really metal as a result.

Seriously, this location is pretty much an album cover in it’s own right…

So, when making comics, art in the heavy metal fantasy genre, then make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of each picture is covered with black paint. Likewise, make sure to include lots of fire-based light sources too. If you need more examples of this type of art, then just look at some classic-style heavy metal album covers.

3) Character design: The character designs in this game provide some instructive examples of both good and bad heavy metal fantasy character design. The good examples, which I mentioned earlier, are the “Knight” and “Halfling” characters.

The knight looks more like a Roman gladiator (in terms of his spiked shoulder armour etc…) or a muscular barbarian than a traditional medieval knight. Likewise, the halfling has spiky blond hair, grins maniacally, has scary-looking facial tattoos and looks genuinely fearsome. Although her costume design (eg: dark trousers and a crop top) doesn’t include any armour, her character design still has a rather practical and rugged look that wouldn’t be out of place in a lawless wilderness or a 1980s heavy metal concert.

Yes, THIS is how to design a badass heavy metal-style character 🙂

And this Roman-like area just makes the Knight look even more like a grizzled gladiator too!

The common factor with both of these characters is that they look like hardened warriors. They look like they’ve been forged in the heat of battle and exist to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies. Their general character designs are meant to exude toughness and they seem like they genuinely fit into a harsh world that is ruled by the sword and the bow.

On the other hand, the “Druid” character is a terrible example of heavy metal fantasy character design. Simply put, she’s wearing a swimming costume.

I’m not exaggerating, this outfit is more suited to a beach party than an epic battle with the forces of evil!

Even though the game recognises the sheer absurdity of wearing something like this into battle (by drastically reducing the level of protection against damage she has), her design comes across more as blatant fanservice than actual heavy metal character design. In other words, she seems like she wouldn’t last five minutes in the game’s world. And this completely breaks the immersion for the audience.

So, design your characters with toughness and practicality in mind and they will come across as considerably more “metal” than if you aim for fanservice or ultra-stylised character design.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂