Enola is a horror adventure game by indie developer and publisher The Domaginarium. First released on Steam back in September 2014, it recent received an update implementing ‘Nightmare mode’ which made the already frightful story deeper and darker.
In Enola you have no weapons in the traditional sense, just your wits that you’ll use to solve puzzles and uncover the disturbing mystery of the nightmare you find yourself in. Let’s take a look.
Be warned that this game does cover dark and twisted themes that might turn some players away.
The story revolves around a female protagonist, Enola, sifting her way through the macabre world created by Angelica, her lover, learning more about her history and story as she does so. The Steam page states ‘SOME PARTS OF THIS GAME ARE DISTURBING OR CRUEL’ and that warning should not be taken lightly. Enola’s themes are indeed very dark, and touch upon issues of abuse, rape, and a woman trying to find the ability to love and trust again. While I enjoy a compelling story, the material was very descriptive and dark, making it challenging to continue in places. I sometimes found myself detaching from the experience due to its very mature nature.
As you wander through areas like old houses, factories, a cemetery, etc. you have to navigate death traps like floor spikes, and revolving blades that will kill you instantly. Be sure to save often as there are no defined save points. You will always go back to the place you last manually saved. Memory banks appear throughout the game and provide more of the story through snippets of written text. A good portion of that is spoken word which was nice to see the developer take the time to add as it fuels the immersion of the game. It can however sometimes be hard to understand exactly what is going on because you can find these out of order, learning something further in the story before you should have. It’s not game breaking, but it does confuse the timeline a little bit.
Enemies appear in the form of black mannequins, and need to be pushed off with a series of quick button presses so that you can continue your journey. I’d be lying if I said they didn’t make me jump as they come at you startlingly. I was walking through a garden maze and noticed a black form was following me. Even though they usually won’t kill you, just knowing that you are being hunted, and every time you look back there is something still chasing you, fills me with a sense of unbridled fear that I can feel in my bones. I really appreciated this part as sometimes the game lacks instances of true terror.
Getting down to the look and feel of the game is where everything falls apart for me. The game is mostly linear in terms of where you need to go next, but each area is littered with doors and rooms that are completely pointless and have nothing of interest or value in them. You find yourself looking for “item 1 of 3” in a very large area with multiple doors, some you can go in and some you can’t, and the majority of the environment holds zero information or items of importance. It’s extremely frustrating and was actually my biggest issue with the game; the size of the rooms and corridors. While this might seem trivial, it felt like nothing was built to scale in relation to the character. Everything was so large and exaggerated that it felt rushed and not thoroughly thought out.
Graphically this game could have come from the 90’s. It felt uninspired, bland and it gave the impression that someone went into the content manager of a 3D modelling program and just grabbed whatever was there. Items like a ladder or crates felt out of place and were everywhere. It’s confusing as a player when you are trying to find the reasoning of the items placed in the environment, only to realize that they are pointless and are just there to block an area, or just for the sake of it. Considering you don’t want to miss any important items or details, you are almost forced to seek out every nook and cranny only to be moderately rewarded with a piece of story or item.
The music never really felt atmospheric as it sounded the same through most of the game. When you are in a new area, and the music changes, it seems to fit for a short while before inevitably swelling for no reason only to repeat and start over. Your character is rarely in danger when this happens, and there is no real reason for this track to be playing giving you a false sense of fear when there doesn’t need to be one. A counter argument would be that it’s there to keep you on edge, which in places it does, but the issue is when you are exploring an area for 30 minutes. This music keeps playing over and over until you finally realize that no matter what you do you’re safe and the point is lost.
Another big aspect of this game is the choices you have. Let someone live, or let them die. You are given good backstory on the target in question, and you have a choice to either kill them based on hatred for what they’ve done or let them live. It usually comes down to someone who did something terrible, but that terrible thing was not to you or someone you know. They are a bad person, here is what they’ve done, pull the switch or not. While I love this idea, there is no real point to either choice. This is summed up by the final confrontation at the end of the game where you have no other option but to kill, even if you chose to spare everyone else you came across. A choice here would have made more sense. As far as I could tell, the ending is not affected at all by these decisions which made them feel empty.
I remember the first 2 hours or so were quickly becoming boring. To be fair to the game I was determined to finish it – which I did. It does get better and start to get pretty crazy compared to the opening couple of hours. Overall I enjoyed the midpoint of the game and getting towards the end, but that joy was ripped away from me once I finished the game and saw how everything I did didn’t really matter. It was an up and down ride throughout, but overall it doesn’t hit the mark for me. This game had/has promise if it’s every revisited and re-done but in its current state it’s not something I can recommend unless this type of story is more important than gameplay.
Much like Gone Home, if you are playing strictly for the story you may really enjoy this game like many other reviewers have already. If you want a balance of gameplay and story, then I suggest looking elsewhere as this game suffers from many broken mechanics and design flaws.
Tl:dr – Some games give you a solid reason to “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” and others leave you torn because of the effort or personal story you can see through the games narrative. Enola is such a game where there is heart in the development but it never quite hits the mark. The game can become quite tedious and I struggled to accept the design choices that were made which overall took me out of the elements of this game. Decent story but uninspired gameplay really detracts from the experience that could have been.
Rating – 5/10
Purchase – Steam £11.99