Clive Barker's Undying
What we said
"Undying is not without its faults, but it remains one of the most unsettling first-person shooters we've over come across."
What you thought
- I'm scared, genuinely scared. OK Half-Life had its moments. I jumped a few times, but with Undying, I nearly had to change my pants. I've just been playing it for the last three hours on my lowly PC, and it's without doubt the scariest game I've ever played. No other game has ever given me goose bumps down the back of my neck, until now. I'm scared to go into the next room. I've seen it running at 1024x768 on my brother's machine with a GeForce Ultra graphics card, and it's convinced me that it's time to upgrade my machine. The graphics are simply stunning. Thanks again for another honest review.
- Looking back over the few FPSs that have come and gone (or come and stayed) over the last few months, I must admit that your scoring system has been pretty much spot-on. However, looking at the 'Downers' comments in your review of Undying, I find that only one is valid - too many loading times. Fair enough. This should have shaved off about five per cent When you say "No interaction with environment", do you mean you can't push chairs about open drawers and so on? If so, I think you're judging Undying unfairty. Such features are important in RPGs and adventures, not FPSs. Indeed, not even Halt-Life allowed you to pull vending machines down on aliens' heads. And when you say "insufficient variety of enemies", that made me laugh. How about skeletons, demons, ghosts, Neanderthals and culhsts? When compared to something like Soldier Of Fortune, AvPor Project IGI, it's pretty varied. I ask you, what variation is there in Soldier Of Fortundi Soldier, soldier with a big gun, soldier with an even bigger gun... You praise Undying in your review, but give it a comparatively rubbish mark. According to your scoring system, Gunman Chronicles is better than Undying. Absolute bollocks. Undying should at least be scored at about 90-94 per cent. I'm sure other people would agree with me.
- I have to trouble you just one more time. First off, thanks for printing my feedback on No One Lives Forever (which I still believe was scored too low) in issue 100. Since then I have read your review on Clive Barker's Undying and now I have to kneel in the dust - your reviews are back on track with this awesome one. Reading it I was just going yes... yes... yes... It was absolutely spot-on. System Shock 2 is still the best but Undying creates the same sense of fear. Like System Shock 2 I could hear the monsters all the time, and I never knew when they were going to strika When they did, I screamed so loudly that my neighbours could probably hear me. My mother must be wondering why I've been calling her so many times in the past weeks, since I normally only call her for Christmas. But between you and me-I was scared. The game is a mix of Sleepy Hollow, Dracula and The Shining. I thought that the sounds used in Half-Lite and System Shock 2 worked extremely well, but the sound in Undying is even better. So, after three years of subscribing to your magazine, I can now say that the only review I haven't agreed with was No One Lives Forever-and I guess I can forgive you once. After all you are ttie only magazine that uses the whole score chart.
Download Clive Barker's Undying
- PC compatible
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Games are not usually the haunts of natural storytellers. Even the greatest titles suffer from conventional plots with little character development - Half-Life being a prime example. Deus Ex developed a multi-layered narrative, but it still relied too much on mission-based gameplay and traditional sci-fi paranoia. The only successful attempt in recent memory is Planescape: Torment, but then that was almost an interactive novel, so important was the written word in driving the game forward.
So when someone like Clive Barker, one of the greatest horror/fantasy writers of our age, decides to try his hand at computer entertainment, you know something special is going to happen.
The Rise Of The House Of Usher
Clive Barker's inclusion in the title is slightly deceptive. Most of the story to the game was already in place when he joined the project, but his involvement has meant that Undying has become a much more sophisticated beast, with a strong main character and a more developed plot than your average game. The vision is much closer to Edgar Allan Poe and HP Lovecraftthan anything Barker has ever produced (indeed, some of his suggestions were deemed too outlandish and perverse for a mainstream audience) and is a pretty close approximation of what the two writers would have come up with had they teamed up to create a first-person horror game - though there would surely have been a few more characters in love with their terminally ill 14-year-old cousins. The tone is close to that of Realms Of The Haunting, bringing to mind that early 20th century demonic evil personified by Aleister Crowley.
You play the part of Patrick Galloway, an investigator into the supernatural who travels to Ireland to help an old war buddy, Jeremiah Covenant. The Covenant estate has fallen under some sort of curse - most of Jeremiah's brothers and sisters are dead and strange creatures roam the mansion and its surroundings. All of this is connected to a nearby medieval monastery where monks have carried out rites that let an unspeakable evil into the human realm. You learn more about this past and about the thoughts and fears of the Covenant family through diaries and letters you find scattered about; these also help imbue Undying with a sense of history. The past inhabits the present, while your own actions aim to retread the footsteps of those who have gone before you. The house in which the first section of the game takes place is a typical gothic mansion, its shadow hanging over the lives of everyone concerned. So much for Edgar Allen Poe's contribution. Lovecraft's influence is easily felt in the lurking horrors that have invaded this world from other dimensions.
The tone is set by the marvellous presentation, which includes some suitably Carmina Burana-ish music and some good voice acting (despite a couple of slightly dodgy Irish accents). Graphically it's nothing less than stunning, making great use of the highly-tweaked Unreal engine and offering a staggering amount of visual detail. The drawback to this is that there are far too many loading delays - particularly in the early stages of the game -which disrupt the pace of the game and can become quite exasperating. The architecture and interior decoration are breathtaking throughout, and you will want to explore every corner of the massive mansion. The fine detail doesn't quite extend to the servants though, who all look remarkably similar to one another, alive or dead. Later levels feature more wide open areas, which thankfully reduces loading times. One thing does remain constant, though. You'll be petrified all the way.
Games are still struggling to engage us emotionally but they have already made great advances in exploring our most primal instinct: fear. Undyintfs atmosphere brings it close to the sustained psychological unease of System Shock 2 without abandoning the shock tactics of Aliens Vs Predator.
The ambience is always tense, balancing a controlled sense of dread with the presence of creatures who jump at you from dark corners. You can always hear them before you can see them, thanks to Undyincfs use of sound, which is on a par with anything we've encountered before. The air crackles with the sound of the weather, while the unobtrusive music, tbe distant howl of monsters, the creaking of floorboards, even the breathing of a nearby creature all contribute to your apprehension. Then, when you're attacked - and this is one of the game's many great touches - your screen is physically affected, jolting your vision and tearing streaks of blood that last a few seconds, long enough to throw you off balance and make you panic. It's subtly and effectively done and every bit as frightening as getting attacked by aliens in AvP. You'll often find yourself recoiling from the monitor as creatures hurl themselves at you, leaving you desperately trying to find the controls to aim for their heads instead of firing wildly around them (damage is localised, so a well-placed shot can kill). I lost count of the number of times I jumped back in my seat and let out an embarrassingly girlish scream of terror.
Another unsettling, and highly original device, is the way you can sometimes peer into past horrors. As you progress through the game you acquire a number of spells. One of these (Scrye) allows you to see in the dark, and allows you to witness moments in the past. When you reach an appropriate area a ghostly voice reverberates in your head inviting you to look around. Harmless walls suddenly become covered in bloody handprints and awful -and sometimes helpful - scenes are re-enacted, telling you the story without having to resort to words. It's just like The Shining.
Descent Into The Maelstrom
If there's one area in which Undying is slightly weak it's in its puzzles. Object finding and door opening are the norm for the most part, although there are some good magic related puzzles along the way. Since it doesn't pretend to be an adventure game, what's more jarring is the little scope for interaction with the environment you have. There's no way to interact with if things or people, so you have to rely on the game doing it for you. The only things you can touch are those that directly affect the next few I moments in the game and you are shepherded most of the way by doors that conveniently lock and jam shut when it suits them.
Despite this, there are so many small details that catch your attention and you become so lost in the second-to-second survival, the minor irritations soon go away. The use of magic also elevates it above other titles, adding a different type of gameplay only hinted at in the spell-filled Wheel Of Time. There are occasions when magic works better than your trusty revolver and a few well aimed spells can do more harm than a Wild Bunch truckload of shrapnel.
One type of magic in particular stands out, providing you with some of the most memorable moments in the game. The revive spell can be used on a dead monster or human to bring it back to life for a brief period and fight on your side. But use it on a living person and you'll witness one of the most awe-inspiring scenes you'll ever see, as they turn their gun on themselves to blow their brains out with a wild cry of madness or slash open their own throats with a gurgle of surprise. If they have any friends around they're quite likely to run away and hide, displaying some excellent AI in the process. In fact, even the dumbest of creatures is intelligent enough to provide a real challenge. Monsters hunt in packs and withdraw to regroup only to attack again when they see you reloading. Some humans attack you with swords if you're close enough and then with guns when you're further away. In later levels, you have to break into a monastery guarded by monks that quickly bring to mind the guards in Thief, as they say things like "I think I heard something" before walking away if they fail to notice you.
Undying is not without its faults, but it remains one of the most unsettling first-person shooters we've ever come across. A multiplayer patch is expected to follow in the next few months but since this was always meant to be a single-player experience, you won't really notice its B absence. Hopefully, this game has whet Barker's appetite and will encourage him to get involved in a project from the outset. We've said many times that games are still in their infancy, and that is certainly true of their narrative and emotional engagement. Perhaps Barker can help them to grow up.
Clive Barker Is probably my favourite horror writer of all time, beating the sometimes racist HP Lovecraft to that most coveted of titles. There's always been something about Barker's utterly macabre visions and concepts that has interested me and Undying was simply the gaming resolution to it all. I know there's Jericho as well, but that suffered from huge consolitis, despite having so much potential in terms of the scenario and the characterswitching abilities, so we'll skip over it.
Undying will always be remembered as Barker's finest computing hour so far, unless you were particularly fond of the old Nightbreed game. Chilling, intriguing and exciting in equal measures, Undying and its plot were sadly ignored by the dunderheaded population at large, so only a chosen few felt its awful and horrific majesty.
The game still shines as a beacon of brilliant writing and intelligent game design, but it's looking a bit too ropey nowadays for any massive recommendation. That and the ridiculous number of locked doors still infuriate the hell out of me.
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.
Undying 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.