It’s the final day of the Halloween gaming special week, and what better way to finish it than combining the writing of Lord of Illusion director and Candyman author Clive Barker with something similar (although only in title) to He Never Died to have FPS horror title Clive Barker’s Undying?
Clive Barker’s Undying (PC)
(USA 2001, developer: Dreamworks Interactive (defunct), publisher: Electronic Arts, platform: PC)
Irish paranormal investigator Patrick Galloway is asked for help by his wartime friend Jeremiah Covenant, as his dead siblings have come back to life and haunt him in his estate.
Novel-like but not original storytelling
Classic first-person shooters usually don’t tell an engaging story, as the gameplay revolves around reaching the end of each level, shooting as many baddies as possible and collecting keys or pushing buttons to open doors and pathways. Undying still has these elements, but it offers a much more interesting background in both character and plot development. This is in no small part due to Clive Barker’s involvement, as a dark family secret with illustrious characters is slowly unraveled. Each family member has be defeated in boss battles, but they’re introduced in conversations or diary entries and pieces of writing scattered around each environment, giving them much more depth than the typical cannon fodder. Some clues can easily be missed, so it’s up to the player how curious he is to find out more about them.
The writing in monologues, dialogues and text form is of a very high standard, and even if the themes aren’t the most original with the typical hunger for power and immortality in addition to insanity and human desires that are so common in Barker’s work, one still wants to know how it all unfolds. With a few surprises and unexpected turn of events, there’s always a reason to go on, although it gets a bit too nonsensical towards the end, something most horror stories suffer from, although it has to be said that the creature design, despite clear H.P. Lovecraft influences, complements the eccentric family members and create a unique Gothic horror atmosphere with enough blood and gore thrown into the cleverly used jumpscares.
Classic FPS action with some kind of magic
Gameplay-wise, there’s variety in the environments, weapons to use and few puzzles to solve. Despite following the rule book of scary dropbacks like a haunted mansion, monastery, dark caves and dungeons, these places are well connected via story strands, although the levels could have made without backtracking in between areas that are always interrupted by loading times. It’s okay if one returns to closed areas of a house (as in Realms of the Haunting), but remembering a place where one needs to put dynamite to get through is rather jarring. A much more interesting approach to puzzle design is the use of the Scrye, one of the many spells at the player’s disposal that gives glimpses into the past, not only offering disturbing conversation sounds or images (like alternative, bloody versions of paintings), but also scenes of people opening secret passageways or putting away keys and important items.
The weapon arsenal is quite impressive and imaginative, not only with the typical revolver or shotgun, but a Chinese dragon gun freezing opponents and a scythe that satisfyingly slices through enemies. In addition, certain spells which can be upgraded by amplifiers hidden throughout the levels help to destroy monsters and humans alike with skull heads, throw them off cliffs or even resurrect killed enemies to fight on one’s side, giving the whole gun and magic mix a strategic and customized touch. It’s essential to familiarize oneself with all these types of weapons, because enemies require different strategies to be defeated, and even on the medium setting, it happens all to often that the health bar decreases rather fast with all sorts of attacks out of nowhere. Unfortunately, the difficulty increases substantially in the final parts of the game due to some unpredictable re-spawning of enemies and unnecessary platforming segments.
Not as shiny as it used to be
Technically, the game still holds up pretty well today. While character animations can be quite stiff, the levels show enough details and high-res textures to look realistic and distinguishable. With some in-game cutscenes enhanced by fluid camera work, the overall cinematic feeling doesn’t suffer. Even better is the sound design. Despite some exceptions, the voice acting is quite good, but the great orchestral music and scary sound effects are what really make the atmosphere so gripping.
Horror at its FPS best
Clive Barker’s Undying isn’t the greatest FPS game with the deepest story of all time, but it’s certainly a unique blend of Gothic horror, a few puzzles, and satisfying shooting and spell-casting elements. The writing of plot and character development is of a high quality with only some narrative drops in between and at the end. The same can be said about the level design that usually offers variety but also some drawn-out parts and unfair platforming sequences. Overall, it certainly deserves the horror author’s name in the credits, something that isn’t always true for his involvement in movies.
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