Clive Barker's Undying
If you think your family has problems, you don't know the half of it. Twenty-three years ago, the Covenant children, led by oldest sibling Jeremiah, decided to take one of their father's tomes and perform an ancient ritual on a small island off the family estate, effectively dooming his family and anyone else unfortunate enough to become involved with them. Now on his deathbed, Jeremiah is the last of the living children and the sole person keeping the family curse at bay. Calling on his old military friend and occult expert Patrick Galloway, Jeremiah begs him to uncover the mysteries of the Covenant curse. Along the way, Galloway's own limits will be tested and the Covenant children all get their chance at killing him. Fortunately, all sorts of arcane magic and weapons of dubious nature are at Galloway's disposal.
is a first person shooter set in the year 1922. The blood flows often and the gore is high as Patrick Galloway battles his way through the Covenant estate, cemetery, ancient monk temple, and the alternate universe "Oneiros." Each of the Covenant siblings might be dead, but they're not gone. Throw in an ancient spellcaster who's behind the curse and you've got yourself a mean game.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Undying is a first person shooter, but plays like a mystery. After arriving back in Ireland and going to the Covenant estate, Patrick Galloway meets up with Jeremiah Covenant for the first time since World War I and is asked to investigate the curse that has plagued the Covenant family and taken all of Jeremiah's siblings.
As the action starts (after watching several cut-scenes), Galloway first investigates the mystery surrounding the youngest sister, Lizbeth. It seems Lizbeth perished a couple of years back (thanks to the curse), yet many of the hired help have seen her walking the estate grounds. In typical first person shooter fashion, Galloway runs around the mansion speaking with the help, killing strange beasts called Howlers and finding passages of text. These passages are notes written by family members and are found throughout the game, some on loose paper, others in diaries, etc. They can be long, yet provide important clues and depth to the game since (I'm assuming) they were written by Clive Barker. The passages detail events that have occurred over the last 30 or so years including how the lady of the house gave birth to Lizbeth and subsequently died. It's a creepy and welcome addition to the game. With the investigation of Lizbeth, it is soon discovered that her penchant for evil during her living years made a profound impression on her in the afterlife. As near as I can tell, she has become sort of a banshee/vampire who leaps from rooftop to rooftop hurling magic. When Galloway defeats her, he goes on to investigate the mysteries of Aaron, Bethany, and Ambrose. Obviously, the game becomes more and more difficult (and having selected the "nightmare" difficulty skill level didn't help) as the investigations continue with time running out.
As the game continues, Galloway is forced to learn magic in order to help deal with the most powerful of monsters. This was a definite plus in the game. For example, shooting skeletons can be difficult at a distance since both the shotgun and six shooter don't have a very good range. It is much more effective to activate the "skull storm" and launch fiery skulls called up from the Earth to destroy them. And like all other magic, finding the amplifier stones scattered throughout the game will greatly increase the effectiveness of the magic. With regard to your arsenal, not only do you carry a bevy of eight weapons but also nine types of magic. Now, being a veteran of first person shooters, I found it difficult to scroll through and select my magic since I was used to using the mouse wheel to select my weapons. Sometimes the only effective way to deal with monsters was to combine the two weapon types (e.g. shoot with the shotgun and then the lightning magic) and although I became pretty good with it, I still found it difficult to dodge monsters, scroll through my weapons, scroll through my magic, and kill the monsters. My only suggestion would be to invent a two-wheeled mouse to alleviate the problem.
On the negative side, the weapons used in Undying were boring and weak. I felt that they were uninspired and not as powerful as they should have been -- some didn't even make sense. One oddity in particular was the spear gun, which I'm pretty sure in 1922 did not include a zoom scope. Even with the addition of silver bullets and phosphorus shells, I felt that the developers could have come up with better devices to deal with the inhabitants of the Undying world. The only bright spot was the Scythe of the Celt, a powerful weapon that could slice a moose in two and is the best weapon with which to fight the siblings. Unfortunately, it is big and slow when not engaged in its alternate use. The magic on the other hand was quite unusual and refreshing. I found the "Scrye" spell to be the most unique. As Galloway runs though the game, a whispering "look" can be heard. If you activate the scrye, Galloway can see things that others can't (e.g. ghosts and events from the past), it's pretty cool and creepy.
As I played Undying, I found the plot to be unique and surprising which in my opinion was amplified by reading all the notes Galloway discovers. One of my friends did not read the notes and I believe that he won't get the same level of enjoyment out of the game that I did. Undying is a very dark and bloody game and some of the notes found in the game can only be described as sick. This is after all, a Clive Barker game. Patrick Galloway is the original paranormal investigator and although surprised at what he finds in the Covenant household, he is not completely blown away by the events that unfold. He has, after all, seen plenty of weird things during his travels.
Undying does not support multiplayer play, an unheard of option in this day and time. Strange, since there is a communication key and some of the levels look like they were made for deathmatch levels. Undoubtedly a patch or site will soon rectify the lacking multiplayer option.
Undying utilizes the Unreal engine and boy does it shine. Frame rates can be jacked up to a fast 60 frames per second. Monsters move fast and look evil. The graphics are as good as anything on the market right now. I particularly liked the layout and look of the Covenant mansion. Rooms looked like real rooms that have been occupied by generations of family members. Chairs, couches, candles and pictures adorn the house and it isn't until you explore that you will realize the amount of effort put into the game by designers to make the environment work so well. Likewise with exploring the other locations, everything looks great. I literally jumped while playing this game and, while mostly caused by the monsters, an important part of it was because the environment was so creepy and it freaked me out. I couldn't tell you how many times I would stop playing and look over my shoulder because I felt something breathing on my neck. My recommendation is to play this game in the dark for full effect.
As good as the game looks, it's nothing compared to the audio. The music, which can best be described as gothic, was my favorite part of the game. It sounded awesome as it came through the computer's surround system. Monster grunts and noises were done well and the crack of the six shooter was crisp.
The voice acting was also done well as all characters spoke with varying degrees of Irish accents. Jeremiah Covenant was obviously a product of wealth and favor and spoke as a gentleman should, where Patrick Galloway spoke more as a man of the Earth coming from his roguish background. Any way you slice it: man, monsters, and music are all on par for perfection.
Recommended: Pentium III, 500 MHz or faster, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB Direct3D or Glide capable graphics card. 610 MB of free hard disc space with an audio card capable of environmental audio (EAX).
Reviewed on: Pentium III, 850 MHz, 394 MB RAM, and a VooDoo 5 graphics card.
While Undying certainly won't redefine the genre, it has definitely raised the bar as far as first person shooters are concerned. The combination of magic and weapons is unique and, meshed with excellent graphics and sound, makes this a game a winner. The plot is strong and characters are fresh and exciting, and I honestly believe that a stronger selection of weapons would have made Undying a "must buy." The game has few faults and deserves credit for trying new and different approaches to a tiring genre. My hat's off to the team at EA and Clive Barker for making a scary and twisted game.