Back when I was a wee lad (which was quite a few years back) my buddies and I began to rate games. There were classics (which is self-explanatory), dogs (games that werent very good), average, and avoid at all costs. We also had another distinction—it wasnt a rating so much as it was an addendum to our score. The distinction was controller breaker, and anyone whos been gaming since the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) era is probably familiar with it.
A game that was given the dreaded controller breaker rating could be one of two things—a game with a severe difficulty level implemented through ingenious game design (Ninja Gaiden, for example) or a game that was an exercise in aggravation thanks to cheap death, flawed controls, or some other technical deficiency. It should be noted that for every Ninja Gaiden, there were literally ten other games that were controller breakers for all the wrong reasons.
Games have gotten easier since the early days of the NES, and because of that, I havent seen an old school controller breaker in quite awhile—until I bought Enclave for the Xbox.
Enclave is a shining example of the original controller breaker games—a title so aggravating due to its poor design that its all but guaranteed to have gamers chucking controllers across the room with frightening regularity. I love a hard game as much as the next guy (maybe even more so—Ive been pretty vocal in my disappointment with overly simplistic games), but when the difficulty springs from cheap death, a shoddy combat system, and one of the worst save systems Ive seen since the 8-bit days, I think its safe to say we have a game thats a controller breaker for all the wrong reasons.
The shame of this is that Enclave is a beautiful game to look at. The level of detail in the graphics is often stunning, with a variety of different areas to wage battle in and explore. Unfortunately, once the game goes in motion the major flaws (and there are many) become all too noticeable.
The titles gameplay is of the standard hack-and-slash variety. The player chooses a character (more characters become available as the player advances through the games stages), equips him, and sets out for battle. All the attacking is handled through the right trigger on the controller, while the left analog stick moves the player, and the right turns. This set-up can take a bit of getting used to—having to use both analog sticks in unison is a bit disconcerting at first. However, once the player gets the hang of it, it becomes almost second nature.
While the control scheme isnt anything spectacular (nor as difficult or ultimately rewarding as the one in Gunvalkryrie), its one of the few areas where the game rises above mediocrity.
Once the player gets off the set-up screen and into the game proper, the problems rear their ugly heads—repeatedly. The combat in Enclave is simplistic even by hack-and-slash standards. Much like The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the player rushes in, hacks away, then pulls back to avoid taking damage. This works for much of the game—at least until the player encounters multiple enemies. Once that happens (or until the gamer runs into someone with projectile magic), prepare to die—often.
If the enemies dont kill you with a frightening amount of regularity, then the games booby-trapped floors and falling structures will. The world of Enclave is apparently in need of an architectural overhaul because at nearly every turn, something is collapsing on top of the player. Rushing around corners is an ill-advised tactic, as in many instances something will wind up falling and killing the player instantly.
Of course, all of this death wouldnt be so bad if the game had a fairer save system. Enclave doesnt believe in saving during a level, and as such, only one or two levels actually has a save point. For the vast majority of the game, the player must survive the entire level to advance—with each death causing the whole level to be started from scratch. Fight the boss of a level and die? Its back to the very beginning. Just remember how much those controllers cost before tossing it in frustration
The paradox of Enclave is that if it didnt have such a shoddy save system, the game would almost be too easy. The combat mechanics are so simplistic that getting through the levels would be fairly simple if the player were allowed to save at various points as he/she progresses. To counter this, Starbreeze Studios has made each stage an all or nothing affair—which certainly increases the difficulty, but not in a way thats fair to the player. I have little trouble imagining players picking up Enclave, playing a bit, then getting to a mission where they continually die, and putting the game away out of aggravation. No one wants to run through an entire stage ten or more times, but thats exactly what youll have to do at various points in this game.
I really wanted to like Enclave. Im a big fan of hack-and-slash games, and the promise of lots of hack-and-slash gameplay coupled with the games beautiful graphics had me salivating in anticipation. Unfortunately, Enclave proves the old maxim that beauty is only skin deep—because once the player gets past the rich graphics, theyll find a deeply flawed game with a difficulty level that can best be described as masochistic. Games are supposed to be fun—and Enclave isnt.