Here's hoping Unreal had fun being the king of shooter graphics, because Heretic II is about to eat it for lunch. In Activision's fantasy-shooter sequel, players assume the role of Corvus, who must find the cure for a deadly magical plague. Using a seriously tweaked Quake II engine, Heretic II offers a third-person perspective, making the game look less like a corridor crawler and more like ye olde Tomb Raider with increased speed and serious mystical firepower. Among said weaponry are such period novelties as walls of flame, spheres that look and act like exploding beach balls, and arrows that rain blood. There's also a host of magical defenses that hover around you while you walk. The Quake II foundation is obviously solid, but this playable pre-alpha proved surprising. Even at this incredibly early stage, Heretic II already looks better than many games look in their final forms.
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The power of the Tome returns you to your homeland, but what you find there is not what you expected. Your medieval land has been ravaged by an evil plague -- your kinsmen are mutating before your very eyes and rising up to attack you. As you struggle to discover what has happened and to save your people from this new evil, the same mysterious disease overcomes you. Now you must embark on a quest to discover the source of the plague and find a cure before all is lost -- including your own life!
Heretic II goes back to the original storyline and to the single main character, rather than the three separate character classes from the Hexen series. While some references are made to events from Hexen and Hexen II, _Heretic II is definitely not a continuation of those games, but rather a true sequel to the original Heretic.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Unlike its predecessor, Heretic II steps away from the traditional first-person view to a behind-the-back third-person perspective, much like the Tomb Raider series. But Tomb Raider never had it this good -- the rich depth of the world and the stunning array of weaponry take this game a step ahead. Unlike many other first-person games, Heretic II offers expansive architecture that gives you the feel of a complete world. From seething swamps to dusty old temples, each level is designed to look both real and fantastic.
All the creatures in the game are detailed, especially the hero, Corvus. His movements, whether walking, running, creeping along the ground, climbing or swimming, are all smoothly animated. Most impressive are his combat moves. When using his basic weapon, a long pike, he can perform a variety of special attacks, including a devastating spinning move that can decapitate almost any foe. He also has an array of magic spells and weapons, ranging from simple fireball spells to the deadly Phoenix Bow.
In addition to his offensive array, Corvus boasts several useful defensive spells. My favorite is the meteor shield -- when cast, it creates several shimmering green orbs which orbit you until you get close to an enemy, then the orbs lock on and track even the fastest foes. Combining your offensive and defensive abilities is the key to success.
One of the nicest features is the tutorial that will teach you the basic moves you will need to complete the game, from simple jumping, climbing and swimming to pole vaults and the special attacks of your pike. It's worth playing through for the chance to bash on the whacking chicken alone.
One drawback in the game is the inability to control the camera position. While the camera usually positions itself so that you have a mostly unobstructed view, there are times when it will inhibit some of your peripheral vision, making it difficult to detect enemies hiding to either side. It was also hard to spot objects and clues in some areas -- there was no way to get the camera into a position where you could see clearly. Adding the ability to switch temporarily to a first-person view to scan the area would have helped.
The other main problem is that the game is too short. It didn't take very long to play through all the levels to the ending, and the final story wrap-up didn't really go anywhere. The game really needed to be about half again as long -- there wasn't much sense of having accomplished a great task when it was over.
One area not to miss is cooperative multiplayer. We had more fun playing the game with two going through than playing alone. Most 3D games have focused on deathmatch play (which is also in Heretic II) -- it was nice to see some extra attention paid to making cooperative play just as fun.
Although Heretic II is based on the same engine as Quake II, there have been so many improvements added that the underlying engine is almost unrecognizable. If you don't have a good 3D accelerator, you will definitely want to pick one up before playing -- the effects for the various spells and weapons are amazing, and the rich lighting and fog effects used in the levels have to be seen to be believed.
The animation is rich and detailed, from the little things like Corvus brushing away flies to the creepy insect-like movements of the T'Chekrik. Even the violence in the game is lovingly rendered -- all the enemies die in spectacular gouts of blood and gore (this is not a game for younger kids).
The music and effects are understated, but in a good way. Rather than bowling you over with an in-your-face soundtrack and eardrum-popping effects, the game designers chose to focus on making the game's sound believable. From the soft dripping of water in the swamps to the eerie cries of unseen animals, every sound blends together to produce a rich background. Not that there aren't plenty of great crashes, explosions, and crackles to accompany the fighting; they've just been done with style, rather than overdone.
Windows 95/98 or NT 4.0 (with service pack 3), Pentium 166 MHz with 3D hardware accelerator or Pentium 200 MHz with MMX (software), 32 MB RAM required (64 MB recommended), 100% Windows 95 compatible sound card, 4X CD-ROM drive (600 k/sec. sustained transfer rate), hard disk drive with at least 360 MB of uncompressed space available, 2 MB SVGA DirectX compatible video card, joystick and mouse (3-button mouse recommended). Supports network and Internet play via TCP/IP
Heretic II more than lives up to its predecessors -- this game is in a completely different class. Although it continues the Heretic and Hexen story and holds over many weapons and items from the earlier games, the third-person interface gives it a completely different (and, in my opinion, better) feel. The game isn't as long as I would have liked and the new interface does have some quirks that can make navigating some areas frustrating, but overall it's a lot of fun and worth adding to your collection.