Why oh why did EA cancel the sequel =( why oh whyy!!?
This is the hardest part, figuring out where to start. Undying had me by the balls within moments of starting it up, and didnt really let up until way later near the ending during a rare dull stretch.
The storyline, crafted in part by Clive i've-quit-doing-horror Barker, centers on a family decimated by a curse unwittingly unleashed on them by one of the children, and its subsequent demise. The player joins the last surviving member of the family, Jeremiah Covenant, as he attempts to gather up the threads of his ruined family and make sense of it all, and finally to put a stop to the curse. Jeremiah is sickly and dying, and the player, taking the part of an old war buddy who has had more than a slight run-in with the occult, offers to repay a wartime favor by searching the Covenant estate for clues. Shortly after his arrival however, he learns that a rival from his youth is also present at the manor, and seriously messed up stuff start happening.
The plot basically takes you chasing down the spirits of Jeremiahs siblings as they go after his life. You learn the way the family unravelled and you trace the evil that has tainted their blood back to the very source. During the game you visit some truly interesting locales; EA must have paid their level designers way too much for this one. The Covenant estate, complete with lighthouses, pirate caves, cathedrals and underground tombs is amazingly detailed, and the other two dimensions you visit truly feel.. different. It's hard to explain, but whoever came up with these ideas, EA best not fire them. The gameplay however is fairly basic. The plot can be seen as a simple reason for the player to shoot his various guns and things at a varied list of monsters in lots of different locales, as well as use some spells to blow up stuff and solve some puzzles while looking for the occational switch or key. Mind you, i'm not complaining. Hell no.
Some feel the gameplay was overly simplistic for the subject matter, or rather, that that quality of the subject matter was too good for a shooter. To me however, Undying represents what any action fps should strive for; total game world immersion that doesnt catch onto annoying quirks of game logic, lets you simply play the game and poses you with a storyline that doesn't make you feel like an idiot. Undying is relentless, frightening, intriguing, moving and at times, astonishingly impressive.
Impressive. Undying was the first game in a very long time to make my jaw drop. There are certain key moments to the game that really made my day. To this date i still have saves right before these points so i can show my friends. Some moments are technically impressive, others are just impressive in their brilliance. Here are some highlights:
A well filled with water. When an incantation is invoked an Abyss-style water tentacle forms a bridge between two platforms. I have never seen water behave like this in any other game.
Invisible floors. In the demon dimension of Oneiros, certain parts of the game force you to take leaps of faith over yawning chasms to segments of floor that materialise out of thin air. This needs to be seen.
A certain spell you'll use quite heavily is the Scrye spell, a spell letting you take a glimpse beyond time and space, or rather at what is, what was, and what can be. The game uses this spell to show you some truly grisly things. At the very beginning, scrying at a lamp post will show you a man hung, rats drinking from the pool of blood gathering at his feet. Other places paintings on the walls will take on a demonic quality: A man in a chair appears surrounded by hungry demons, a horse on green hills becomes a horse on dying burning fields in twilight.
A moment that really struck out for me was scrying a statue, having the statue tear his chest open and display his beating heart, begging you to kill it. Savage stuff.
The moon door. Seeing the reflection of a run down cathedral in a pool of water change to its image hundreds of years earlier, in full splendor. Again this needs to be seen. I couldnt believeit.
One of the siblings is a mad painter. Upon uncovering his barnyard studio, he gives you a demonstration of his skills. He paints an image on a wall in front of you. Slowly you realise its a picture of you - with a huge tentacled demon behind you. You turn around, and there it is. The game sets you up in ways that can be truly chilling.
The tomb. As you crawl through cramped dusty fogged corridors, with the rattling of bones all around you, visibility is near none. And somewhere in far distance you hear deranged singing, coming closer and closer. This is one of the defining moments of the game for me.
The design team behind Undying have every ounce of my respect. What they have done with the setting is truly amazing. Clive Barker needs proper credit for the aspect of the game he really touched on, and that's character and monster design. This guy should be on EA's permanent payroll. What he's done here is magic. The many creatures you encounter in the game are truly menacing. Not one of them made me laugh, which is rare for a horror game. Blood drinking cloaked and tentacled sorcerors, horned head eating half-men, waving squid faced cthulhu-style assassins that literally come out of shadows.. This is gold. Another thing well worth noting is the death sequences. Every time you die the camera pulls back to give you a full view of the offending monster giving you the coup de grace. Some of these animations are truly gruesome and often i found myself deliberately dying just to see them all.
I think one of the truly crowning aspects of the game is the sound. There isn't much else to say than point out the fact that next to the Thief and System shock games, no other game i've played has even nearly touched on the brilliance of Undying. The voice acting is bearable to brilliant, the music is *always* fantastic (Bill Brown working his magic), and the creature effects are mindboggling. Apparently the sound of a certain creature slithering was a mixture of a vacuum cleaner and a banana being peeled or something. Another cue on the ingenuity of these people.
Sadly, there are problems, although i never thought they were PROBLEMS in the first place, merely issues that could have been adressed to enhance the experience.
The story loses its drive at times, particularly when the player leaves the manor and the previous wealth of visual cues and hints at the family demise give way to weird alien constructions and landscapes. Oneiros and Eternal autumn, both realms featuring heavily near the end of the game, are fairly straightforward shooting segments, and its been noted that these segments lifts the veil from the players eyes somewhat and belie the actual simplicty of the gameplay. A while after this revelation, the gameplay can seem rather samey, although, i must say, i truly enjoyed just drinking in the atmosphere of it all.
Another issue, strangely enough for a single player game, is related to game balance. At a certain point in the game you acquire a melee weapon known as the scythe of the celts, and from there on there is little reason to use any other weapon. This is a weapon that kills most things in one or two strikes, and actually heals you. The pure strength of the thing is pretty depressive, considering the varied and interesting weaponry you can get your hands on.
A third niggle has to to with the final boss fight of the game. Suffice to say, i thought the game could have been a little cleverer here rather than just pit you against a huge monster that takes a ton of damage. The other boss fights had been superb events, and the last fight simply came off as slightly... Lame. The ending however, chillingly, left room for a sequel. However, now we know there will be none. I'm going to lament this fact for a very long time, as Undying represents some of the best horror FPS action i have ever seen, and probably ever will.
The Bottom Line
A fast paced, deeply disturbing trek through the true heart of hard core horror fiction. Dreadfully impressive, and downright intimidating in it's amount of polish.