What could you possibly expect from a title that boasts the name of one of the world’s best horror writers? If you said horror, you’re neither right nor wrong. It’s rather difficult to classify any game as horror, simply because you don’t scare the same way as when you’re watching a movie or reading a book. Though the experience is similar, I like to over complicate things and have once again succeeded in doing just that. Personally, seeing my pathetic annual earnings summed up in my T4 scared me more than Resident Evil and Phantasmagoria combined. EA classifies Undying as a first person shooter, which is justifiable due to the first person view and the necessity to do a lot of shooting but I disagree. Would you call American McGee’s Alice a FPS? No? They both utilize FPS engines. Okay, bad example, Alice was set in the third person but was built around the Q3A engine. Undying revolves around an enhanced UT engine but as in the aforementioned title, the game is heavily story-driven, as you will see.
You are Patrick Galloway, master of the occult and fresh out of the service. You’ve been summoned to your war buddy Jerimiah’s estate because he feels your specialty may be an asset it solving a series of recent odd occurrences. Jerimiah is the last surviving member of his family, surviving being the key word because apparently his deceased siblings are out to get him. Upon arriving, Patrick is enlightened to the whole situation as well as to the fact that the family is cursed. There is great power to be had if this mystery is unravelled and, where there’s a promise of power, Galloway’s nemesis Kiesinger will be there, and there is, so he is ... and the plot thickens.
Now, let’s get down to business. Undying uses the Unreal Tournament engine but how does it rate? To describe the scenery I can think of one word: stunning. The background art and landscapes are beautiful. Insides of buildings and catacombs are marvellously rendered and the baddies look nasty, which means they look really good. After re-reading the last few sentences I realize that what I wrote sounds kind of blubbery but I just wanted to convey the feeling I got when I first started playing. Even minor things like the fluidity with which curtains or spider webs blow in the wind help add to the overall ambiance. It’s also cool how damage to you is shown briefly in your field of view as bloody scratches, ala House of the Dead. I’ve gotten some mixed reactions to this title so I didn’t really know what to expect. Unreal Tournament was great but all I can really say about Undying in comparison is… Wow.
On that same note, allow me to offer my pre-play-experience of this title. EA’s dedicated web site definitely hypes this game, which isn’t surprising considering they’re intending to earn some money from this venture. I mentioned previously that EA classifies this title as an FPS, so I instinctively assumed either some kind of Doom-clone or a House of the Dead-esque arcade shooter. It’s amazing how wrong you can be about a game if you base it strictly on its genre. Clive Barker’s Undying is, in essence, a gender-bender I would classify as a First-Person-Action-Adventure. Once you try your hand at this game, think back to my lengthy classification and see if it better describes the experience than the bland FPS label would.
Upon first entering into Covenant Manor, most would assume that this is going to be a search-and-retrieve adventure game with a mystery/horror subplot and some monster-hunting elements. If you disagree with the above, you’re much smarter than I am, or just more perceptive. Though there is a lot of searching for keys involved (and a lot of monsters to deal with) the story behind all your quests and sub-quests is fascinating. As the story unfolds in classic Barker style, you realize not only how much this game differs from classic FPS’ but also as to how vast this title is. There is a lot of ground to cover. If you’re stuck in the mansion, you may not agree but once you’ve entered into the monastery or the catacombs below, you’ll truly appreciate the immensity of this title. This may however be the game’s one main downfall. Its size requires a lot of pre-loading, so expect to do some waiting once you venture beyond the mansion.
The story unfolds by way of cut-scenes and diary entries. By accessing your journal, you can recap your objectives or find out information about items, weapons, spells and your quests. Hints often appear in the form of a diary entry or a letter from one Covenant family member to another. There are essentially six missions within the game: find and vanquish Jerimiah’s four dead siblings, Kiesinger and finally, the Undying King. When talking to people, one feature I found interesting was the ability to look around you as the conversation takes place. You never know what could be creeping up behind you.
Control is split by default between the mouse and the keyboard. Classic FPS set-up of primary/secondary weapons (in this case, current spell is secondary) on the two mouse buttons, mouse-look and WSAD to move, is used. Targeting is done with a red reticule, whose shape is customizable. For your convenience, the reticule turns green when an enemy is within range. To change weapons or spells, you can either cycle through them individually or view them all at once (in a circular formation).
FPS implies shooting, which implies weapons. Weapons range from the relatively latent Gel’Ziabar stone, which Patrick carries as a good luck charm and knocks enemies back with a shockwave, to the deadly Scythe of the Celt. Don’t fear, you’ve also got pistols, shotguns, Molotov cocktails and a mysterious Tibetan War Cannon to play with. Ammo is scattered throughout each level at decent intervals so you needn’t worry too much about running out. To spice things up, during the course of the game you’ll arm yourself with an arsenal of magical spells like ectoplasm, dispel, lightning and skull storm. The one spell that I feel deserves special mention is the Scrye spell, which you will be using quite a bit. Scrye’s purpose is twofold: The ability to see/hear events from the past, from another dimension or to see that which is invisible. Second and possibly most important is it’s luminous property. Undying is littered with dark corners, caverns and crevices, which a wary wanderer wouldn’t want to explore blindly (hey, that was almost poetic).
The Scrye’s ability to reveal past conversations comes into play a lot. You see, the game takes place in two time periods: the past and the present. The Gel’Ziabar stone helps you find locations that are “Scryable”. Later in the game, you’ll actually travel back in time to uncover the roots of the Covenant family curse. Audio clues are just as important as visual ones in this game. For that reason, I’m glad to report that I’ve no major complaints about the audio in this title. Voice acting was recorded well and the eerie sound effects add to the overall atmosphere, like the squishy sound you get after walking through a vanquished foes blood. Also, a pleasant Celtic inspired soundtrack drones on in the background as you pursue the riddle of the Covenant curse. I found that the sound was kind of grainy at times and seemed to cut out occasionally, usually after a save/load, but this is likely due to my antiquated Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16. Please don’t mock me because I can’t set up my sound card properly, it’s sometimes EAX compatible, I swear.
Remember to save your game often, not because the game’s overly difficult, but because there are different fatality animations depending on how you die. Actually, though you are limited to the number of unique saves due to only a handful of slots, the game does get difficult, even on the easy game setting. Though there are three difficulty settings, the game isn’t all that different aside from the volume of enemies and ammo placement.
According to the creators of the game, the effect they were going for was Resident Evil meets Half-Life. Actually, not to contradict everything I’ve said, that’s not a bad summation. I found a lot of interesting information on the development process of this game, including Clive Barker’s deep involvement in the entire process: from artwork, to writing to doing sound effects and voice acting (the voice of the sibling Ambrose). Looking at the big picture, meaning the game as, well, a game, I’d have to say that it was an enjoyable experience. FPS fans will be delighted, as will adventure game fans, horror genre fans and the generally quest-obsessed. On that note, if you decide to get this game, load it up, turn off the lights, crank the speakers and enjoy ... BOO!