In high school I had an IBM laptop and a copy of Fallout. My grades took a nosedive as I diverted time from learning algebra to trekking across the wasteland in search of the water chip needed to save my Vault. Even though I got an F in math my sophomore year I don’t regret the gaming memories I made playing one of the greatest RPGs ever made.
But have I been back to play those old school top down, low poly RPGs since? Not really. I dabbled with Fallout 2 a few years back just to get a feel for the story and ultimately never finished it. It’s world and lore are things I greatly appreciate and it’s nice when playing modern titles to see callbacks to the originals but there isn’t much reason to go back to point and click my way through the wasteland again.
But let’s say I did, without the nostalgia would it be a trip worth taking? It’s good food for thought because there is an entire sector of the indie gaming world devoted to taking the games of yesteryear and slapping a fresh coat of pixels onto them. From horror, to mystery, to simulation, and yes, RPG, there is no lack of indie developers looking to turn their passion for the games they grew up playing into a career.
- Classic Fallout but with fresh pixels;
- A big world to explore;
- Tons of original art, voice overs, and environments.
- Too old school;
- Combat drags for the first act;
- A few modern touches would have gone a long way.
Encased is a good example of a game that fully embraces the long list of old school RPGs we all know and love but struggles between being overly faithful to game design now twenty years old and what modern audiences are used to and, to a certain extent, have come to expect when they buy a modern game. Games like Disco Elysium make up for simplified mechanics with story and tons of choice; the old-school aesthetic in that case works but has to make up for in volume what it doesn’t deliver in looks and gameplay.
With Encased it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Clearly a lot of thought went into setting up the game’s world, its scenarios, and developing its story. But as a love letter it tends to go too far and reminds you just how far games have come from cycling through text conversations, searching every bin, chest, and container for loot, and trading bullets back and forth with turn-based enemies five minutes at a time.
The leap from the world of 2-D side scrollers to more complex games was a huge upgrade but as time progresses so necessarily do standards. There’s a reason you don’t see many major studios embracing old aesthetics – because they’re a tough sell to modern audiences. It may be a bit of a chicken and egg type scenario of divining just what modern audiences want (Among Us looks like it came from NewGrounds.com and it was a smash hit last year) but what is clear is that some mechanics are better off left in the past.
Clicking every object in the environment was exciting when it was new because you’d never been able to do it before. Mario could only grab flowers, coins, and mushrooms and going from that to being able to click on hundreds of items in a game was nothing short of mindblowing. Nowadays the average cutscene has a larger file size than most games that came out in the ‘90s.
But I’m belaboring the point, it’s just so key to understanding Encased that I needed to lay all that out. At its heart the game is a love letter to games like Fallout and fictional worlds like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and those with the right kind of eyes will appreciate it.
The plot’s a slow burn to start but here’s the gist of it: a mysterious zone called “the Dome” has been discovered in the early ‘70s and world powers form the Chronos corporation to explore and develop the strange alien technology and anomalies found there. The whole ethos has a ‘70s corporate vibe like if Bioshock took place in the age of disco.
You play as a new Chronos employee and your first mission is to go investigate a research station that’s gone dark. You’ll bring only the skills of the class you choose and a basic set of gear. You can probably imagine that things don’t turn out well at said research station and the game kicks off from there setting you loose upon the world.
The first act familiarizes you well enough with the game mechanics but some of the early encounters can be a bit of a slog. Facing off against multiple enemies versus you alone results in some drawn out battles. It’ll boil down to standing face to face taking potshots at each other until one of you dies. At least Fallout gave you enough weapons to play around with whereas Encased gives you a pistol and a shotgun to tide you over for the game’s first act, about four hours.
Once you’re clear of this section the open-world game begins and plays more or less like Fallout. There are different factions, locations, and quests to keep you busy as you level up your character and try to unlock the secrets of the Dome. It’s all good stuff but you’re going to need patience. Not everybody has the time to sink into a game with a limited amount of interactions and combat that were new twenty years ago.
It takes a lot of time to play this game, putting it at a distinct disadvantage to something like The Witcher 3; you do a couple of quests, everything’s laid out with waypoints, a good and efficient time is had. I pine for the days I could ditch my homework to play games for hours on end after school but unfortunately I have to work to earn my bread. I also need to spend at least an hour in the gym each day or else I’ll look like a trash bag filled with cookie dough.
But if you have a ton of time on your hands and you love old school RPGs, Encased is the game for you. It really comes down to a matter of personal taste and I would have liked it if they’d jazzed the formula up even just a little bit. A game like XCOM put that franchise back on the map by making turn-based combat dynamic and exciting. Not only did you need to be tactical and control the map, but you got treated to cool kill-shot animations and neat closeups.
Things like that would have gone a long way to making Encased a more engrossing experience. I can understand wanting to do a game that’s faithful to your inspirations but that doesn’t mean you can leave modern design at the door. A synthesis of old school and new school would have made Encased a much better game.
I will say the amount of art, voice overs, and unique environments is really impressive. You’ll still have to do plenty of reading but they do a good job of making the world look, feel, and sound unique. Everything feels handmade and it almost makes me think if this developer team remade Fallout I just might make time for that trip back to the wasteland.
Alexander Eriksen | Gamepressure.com