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Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect
I don’t think there’s a hard limit on how long a game needs to be, but there are definitely games out there that are too short. Sometimes they’re like Detention, games so good that the scant two hours you get with it simply aren’t enough. Sometimes they’re like Shadowrun Returns, games that end right when it feels like they should be getting started. And then there are games like ENKI, games that don’t have enough content and try to hide that fact with little tricks. It’s not even that bad of a trick, really, it’s just that nothing in the game is put together well enough to earn it a pass.
I’m not real concerned about spoilers for a short puzzle game, but if you are turn back now. You’ve been unceremoniously thrown into a pit to await some terrible fate, because your killer has wandered off for exactly thirty minutes. In that time you need to find a way out of said pit and further out of peril, but a mess of locks and codes and hidden doors are going to make that tricky. If you’re diligent you might also learn a bit about why the hell you’ve been taken in the first place, and maybe even find some alternative solutions to your conundrum.
First of all, yes, this game is thirty minutes long. The timer starts the moment you gain control, and if it runs out you very much die. There’s a 99% chance your first attempt at the game is going to end like that, because the puzzles and items needed for them are not going to be very apparent from the start. Every time you die you start over with elements of the puzzles randomized, so you can learn what you need to do but not memorize exactly how to do it. I died on my first run but on the second, I was able to escape after a mere fifteen minutes.
That’s really the main caveat of ENKI, that it is extremely short by any metric. It’s also less of a puzzle game and more of one single, expansive puzzle of “how do I open this door”. All of your scampering around and scrounging for keys and medallions is in service of opening the one door that leads to freedom. Once you poke a bit deeper into the collectibles and puzzle out some symbolism there is an alternate ending that’s a bit more involved, but ultimately the goal is the same and it all fits neatly into a half-hour block. I personally didn’t mind the time limit itself but I am certain there are folks out there prepared to be outraged at having their progress reset every thirty minutes, and I can’t say I blame them in the least.
It wasn’t the time limit that grated on me, but the randomization element. To keep ENKI from being purely brute-forced, aspects of the puzzles are randomized every time you play. The puzzles themselves, like a safe with a symbol keypad and an incomplete crucifix, are always the same, but the items you need are in different places and the codes are changed up. I understand the need to keep subsequent runs fresh but this is the lowest-effort method possible, and leads to situations where you know exactly what to do and what you need, but not where to find it. It adds no depth at all to the puzzle, just the padding of finding the key or crest to continue.
I can level the same criticism at the horror element, and honestly I hesitate to call this one a horror title at all. The concept of being imprisoned by a serial killer and racing against the clock is certainly terrifying, but that tension is never more than implied by the time limit. You will never at any point be in any danger aside from the ever-ticking timer, no matter how hard the game tries to convince you otherwise. Indeed, the only reason I still call it horror is because ENKI is loaded with brainless jumpscares like gas pipes leaking and doors slamming. What potential there is for the atmosphere is utterly wasted, leaving you to fit the pieces of the puzzle together with aggravating hisses and snaps in your ears.
I’m not mad at ENKI, I’m just disappointed. The hook is good, the graphics are crisp (if a little dark), and the open-ended exploration and collectible-based endings are solid foundations for a puzzle game. But instead of building a grand house of horrors upon that foundation, we get a one-room shack with a flickering light bulb. The random element does little more than frustrate, and without that subsequent runs are just retracing steps until you do everything quick enough (which isn’t much of a challenge in the first place). The final nail in this coffin was when it crashed ten minutes into my third run, wiping out my progress towards a specific ending I wanted. If ENKI can’t even let me play it the way it’s supposed to be played, I don’t see how I could ever recommend it.