Clive Barker's Undying (Windows)

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Written by  :  Dr. M. "Schadenfreude" Von Katze (589)
Written on  :  Nov 15, 2003
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars

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Haunting atmosphere, interesting and cleverly-told story, appealing characters... a game that deserved A LOT more.

The Good

Patrick Galloway started investigating the occult as an easy way of making a profit out of superstitious and gullible rich people. In Ireland, at the beginning of the 20th century, it was a fine business.
However, the more Patrick delved into the occult, the more he started to believe there are things beyond our understanding. Things no sane human mind should be in contact with.
Then the great war started, and Patrick was called to serve. He almost dies in an incident against the vicious Trsanti, but Jeremiah Covenant, captain of his unit, saved his life and left him at a hospital.
Years passed, and one day Patrick received word from Jeremiah, asking for his help to restore order in his estate. Patrick owed his life to this man so he wouldn't even think about declining.
At the fastuous manor of the Covenant family, the air is thick with premonitions. At the entrance, Patrick receives a vision, one of the Trsanti corsairs has been hanged from one of the nearby light posts, at some point in the past.
In the middle of the manor, a black tower with the appearance of an edifice older than time itself, rises defying. Mysterious lights flash on top of it.
Something evil can be sensed all over the place, lurking in the shadows, hiding inside the walls, watching from the other side of the windows.
Inside the manor, Patrick receives another vision. A ghostly man, dressed as a rich gentleman greets him. Suddenly he disappears and some hideous creature whose skin seems totally peeled-off, with chains hooked all over his body, stares at Patrick.
There is death in the air.
Jeremiah is no longer the strong and determined man he was at the war. He looks —and sounds— like a pathetic shell of a man, waiting for death to come for him... before something even worse beats it.
His words for Patrick are eloquent enough: "My siblings are dead, Patrick... but I don't think they're gone..."
Five Covenant siblings. One ancient damnation. There is work for the spook-hunter.

Despite the rather compelling STORYLINE —one to be expected from a product with the signature of Clive Barker all over it— backed up with a sheer amount of text and dialogues, Undying is nothing more than a first-person shooter (FPS).
Along with a number of more-or-less typical weapons you get to use some magic spells (both offensive and deffensive), each of which can be progressively enhanced, but the game is still far from a RPG or anything like that.
The story is more of a cosmetic resource to glue the levels together than anything else. Patrick will talk with the characters himself with no choices to make for the player, and the whole journey is a pretty linear ride. Even in the manor with all its labyrinthic structure, the only doors that will open are the ones you need to get through.
Soon enough, you will notice the game has an unspoken structure: you can tell there are several different levels, each one of which is ruled by one of the demonic Covenant siblings.
Anyway, don't take me wrong. We are talking positive here: the game HAS a pretty compelling story. I specially enjoyed the storytelling, the way the story is presented. Every time you start a level you will definitely know who you're up against, but along the way you will be fed information on someone else, letting you know for sure that there's much more to come. Along the way, through conversations and all kinds of text fragments, you will be fed information about the secret that hides behind the Covenant family, the manor, a circle of stones in an island nearby, an ancient monastery, and even a connection with Patrick's own past...

One of the strongest points of the game lays among the INTANGIBLES: it's the atmosphere. Every single one of the locations where the game takes place is conveniently horrifying.
The sheer-sized manor is of course a haunting place —specially with all those lightnings during night storms. So are the catacombs underneath the family mausoleum. Then you reach some surreal and twisted otherworld which looks just as haunting. Then you get back to the manor, and you go out, and even the daylight looks eerie somehow. Then you go to the ancient monastery, which has been abbandoned for centuries, yet not unhabited...
You get the picture.
Every now and then a cutscene suddenly fires off, the camera pans with long shots that really take their toll on your nerves, and then something happens.

CHARACTER GRAPHICS are pretty good, as it's the concept behind them.
The regular monsters are the most neatly designed creatures I ever saw in a video game. All the unhuman creatures are incredibly well done. They are gross, they are ugly, and they REALLY look menacing.
As for the Covenants, every single one of them has a strong personality and will introduce him/herself in a way that will make you think it twice before running heads first towards he/she. Even the poor Jeremiah will have his good 15 seconds. Every one of the siblings deserve being the main villain in their own story.

BACKGROUND GRAPHICS are a mixed bag: For one thing, the texture resolution is pretty low, so you can see clear texture blurs when you come close enough to a wall, a window, and what all not. On the other hand, not only the atmosphere isn't ruined at all by this, but also the design of the locations is really good. Both the real (such as the manor) and the unreal (like the wacky dreamland of Oneiros) places show a great work from the designer's part. Fine art and rich imagination, full force ahead.
On top of this, there are LOTS of fancy effects to enhance the atmosphere: foggy corridors, heavy-pouring rain, thunders that crack illuminating the manor with creepy flashes and deafening sound, et cetera. Later in the game, there is a given breed of creatures that stings and poisons Patrick, distorting his perceptions for a few seconds... you have to see the way the world looks for those five seconds. And try to aim and shoot while thus stunned, too.

The SOUND is very good. I'm not much of a soundscape freak —hell, I need walkthroughs to pass even the most silly sound-related puzzles— but this is one of those games in which the sound is definitely above average. Even I can tell so.
Both music and background sound effects enhance the suspense atmosphere to unbelievable levels. Several times I found myself ACTUALLY SCARED while slowly sneaking through certain lonely levels, with the background sounds, the eerie music, the distant howling, and what all not.
There is a given level in which, while navigating some dark catacombs, you will hear, somewhere in the distance, a harsh voice which can only come out of a corpse humming a lullaby. Enough said.
Voice acting is very good, each actor fits their character perfectly, they sound convincing enough and they all have a nice Irish accent: "Aeh owed hem meh life, though...", or something. Neat.

GAMEPLAY-wise, there is not much to say. Like I mentioned, the game is a typical FPS, based on the Unreal Tournament engine. This last bit, for one thing, assures smooth gameplay alright.
It's worth to mention that the combination of the traditional weapons and the magic spells (Patrick fires weapons with his left hand and casts spells with his right hand) can turn quite interesting sometimes, enhancing gameplay slightly. Not only you can use two different attack modes at once, but there are a few possible ways to combine magic and weapons so they complement one another. One of the coolest combinations is to charge the crossbow's arrows with the lightning spell, so whenever someone is hit in an open area with such arrows, he/she is immediatly struck by a thunderbolt coming down from the skies.
The effects of some of the spells are very imaginative, and amusing to watch, like the scrye spell, which distorts reality and shows things that are hidden to the human eye. Whenever there's something plausible to be scryed, you'll hear a spooky voice whispering "scryyyye", "seeeeee", "look aroouuund", or something like that. Brrrr.
Of course, among all the fancy spells, there is the always-praised resurrect spell, which brings dead enemies back to life to happily join our noble cause.

Finally, the game has a REPLAYABILITY ingredient in the form of bonus stuff that you can uncover through console commands, or by performing certain special actions in certain places.
Among others, you get to enter a shooting gallery, watch a disco coreography starring some of the game's characters (including a few monsters), get a huge scary monster to join sides with you through the whole game, witness a gigantic sheep coming out of a barn... go look around in the net for the cheat codes, some of these joke levels are *really* worth seeing.

The Bad

Like I said, Undying is just a FPS. Moreover, this is yet another game which at first sight makes you believe you got a lot of choices to make, but at some point —earlier than I'd have liked— reveals itself as the most linear thing. You will see lots of doors, but the only ones that will open are the ones that you need to go through in order to advance in the game.
In outdoor areas, a little wandering around will soon show you that these areas are not as 'open' as they looked like.
The game is indeed yet another FPS, and nothing more.
Even though it looks like there is much more inside at first sight, soon enough you end up finding out that it would be the same if all those cinematics, the diary notes, the kilometers worth of text, and the dialogues just weren't there. The game itself consists of running through that door that opened, kill everything that moves towards you, run through the next door that opens, kill some more stuff, run through yet another door, and eventually meet a boss character, and whack the beejezus out of him/her.
Rewind and start over. And over again until you see the credits roll.

The game deserved more from the developers. The strong storyline, the appealing characters, the haunting atmosphere —everything was there to make a way more ambitious project out of this.
I'd have loved Undying to be some sort of the early-1900's horror-story version of Deus Ex, so to say.

The Bottom Line

I think Undying is a great game.
If you enjoy horrors, and you can live with the fact that this is yet another FPS with little to none interactivity with either characters or background (unless you count beating up as interactivity, that is), you won't be disappointed by it.
I don't think you can possibly get bored with a game with such a strong atmosphere as this one. Every time you might think the ride seems to get too long, something will happen that will keep you interested.
And as a FPS, it's a funny game too.

I said the game deserved more work from the developers, but I also think it deserved more attention from the public. Apparently it wasn't well received, and official word is that the sequel (which the ending lets open doors for) will never see the light.
Another shameful unfair chapter in videogaming history, and counting.