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SummaryIt's never too late for the Covenant's House Party!
The GoodClive Barker's Undying is another inductee to my “Games I regret playing too late” list. It joins Grim Fandango, Thief and many more. What we have here is a Horror FPS written by Clive Barker , developed by Dreamworks and surprisingly published by EA.
Undying as a first person shooter plays like most out there at the time, especially Unreal and it's no surprise since it's powered by the Unreal 1 engine. Gameplay is linear and it works very well in this kind of a game. First few minutes into the game I was expecting it to be a detective exploration game with some sparse shooting to be done here and there but I'm not disappointed at all.
With an entire mansion to explore you would think “Open Ended” but most doors will be locked and the ones which are open are the ones you need to go through to advance in the game.
What really separates it from being generic is it's plot, characters, level design and atmosphere. Execution of these are marvelous. And heading into this game clueless can yield a lot of surprises.
The plot is the main motivation for you to come back to this game. It deals with an Irish occult investigator named Patrick heading to his friend's mansion on this strange island. Patrick owes this friend his life for saving him in the past and therefore agrees to investigate this “family curse”
The games story is told through superbly executed cut-scenes and more importantly reading Journals. If reading too much in a game scares you then not to worry as the text content is to the point, interesting, well written and reasonably short. Come on just read this awesome line!
“Father always said, 'Self-reflection is the key to enlightenment.' Allow me to reflect on this day. How could I have saved my father from a slow, painful death? I could have hit him harder.”
You may probably like the simple names given to the characters for e.g. 'Bethany', 'Aaron'. And some well thought of names for locations like “Eternal Autumn”..Well at least was awesome for me.
Level design is almost flawless as well as diverse. From the mansion to an infernal realm to pirate hideouts to catacombs to a monastery and a paradise like world. I never expected such diversity. The developers have squeezed every inch of the Unreal engine here. Top this off with some amazing artwork, texturing and modeling. Everything so well detailed, even places which don't have much importance in the game.
Paintings, fireplaces, lamps, statues everything is present in the mansion's environment. Even the other levels have appropriate attention to detail such as shacks, tribal drums, basins etc.
The monsters and characters too are realistic and detailed which makes the frightful experience better. Like Lizbeth's tits. Monsters are challenging and some have a back story to them. Your weaponry is rather unique and well balanced, some rather useless. It includes a Revolver, Speargun, Scythe, a freezing Tibetan War Cannon and you can't have a FPS without a shotgun. There's a journal entry for each weapon, DON'T FORGET TO READ!
There is even a weapon which plays a major part in the plot. I can't remember how it's spelled so I'll call it the green stone. It has it's own crazy usage and side effect if used too much. You even collect items like alternate ammos for the Revolver and Shotgun, Medikits and many other objects like Dynamite. Upgrades to make your mana pool larger or regenerate faster.
Along with your wide variety of weapons you have Spells. Some cool ones, some meh. Some are used to solve puzzles, some are for arsenal, they consume mana which regenerates fast. Through the course of the game you will discover spells like Lightning, Skullstorm, Shield, Dispel Magic, Invoke, Ectoplasm, Haste. You can upgrade them by using amplifiers. Upgrading of course means increasing duration, strength, power, speed etc. All depends on the spell.
“Scrye” an important spell, so important that it needs it's own paragraph. It's pretty much the signature of the game. This Spell allows you to view events from the past and hidden objects invisible to the naked eye. The games lighting can get dark and Scrye will also act as your only light enhancing source.
Scrye is also probably one of the scariest parts of the game. When ever you are in a place or room which has something to “see”. You hear some creepy as f**k whispering voice which says “Scryee”, “Look.....”, “Seeee....” and then you have to switch to Scrye and watch the sweat drip from you as are about to hit that right mouse button.
Not all Scrye events are scary but damn I remember when I had to Scrye at that Covenant family portrait early in the game. It was f**king awesome.
Sound is perfect. Check out those sadistic laughing skulls when you use skull storm or that powerful bang of the shotgun not to forget that creepy ass whisper when you have to Scrye. But really you will mostly marvel at the atmospheric sounds. Raindrops getting louder as you move towards a window. Howler howling in the distant, lightning, calming sound of a fireplace you name it. Perfection in detail here I tell you!
Music when it occasionally appears in game is again, perfect! The menu music is epic. And finally voice acting ranges from good to above average but never descends into cheesiness.
The BadSome problems plague this game however. Firstly the controls. Had a hard time switching weapons, inventory and spells within the game with the default config. Luckily the game allows you to set hotkeys, which is a real saving grace. However on first play you will keep going into the menu and setting them as you are unaware of what skill or weapon is important.
There is however some circular menu system which allows you switch weapons and spells. But that fails hard and falls flat on it's face.
I wouldn't have whined about the above but the game will require you to switch between skills and weapons during battles, especially boss-fights. It's a good thing your medikits are automatically used as your health reaches half or I'd have another reason to whine about.
Apparently this game was supposed to be also ported to the Playstation 2. It will explain the above mentioned circular system and also the fact that the game has too many loading screens. And when it has to load the game's screen goes black with just loading text in the middle. It's really a thorn in the arse when you are immersed in the game.
And yeah I still don't understand what the hell is up with those colorful pretty icons on the hud?! It's like selling candy floss and strawberry ice cream at a butcher shop.
You'll find weaponry like the Phoenix (which works like a less powerful version of the Unreal Tournament Redeemer) useless. With the Speargun it appears at the last part of the game. Even stuff like Dynamite and Molotov Cocktails don't work well. Good weaponry is crucial to a FPS, Unreal Tournament did this very well.
(if you want to avoid a slight spoiler skip this paragraph) The last part of the game Eternal Autumn really seems like well....Unreal. Yes the game Unreal. Except for the Handmaidens you have less monstrous characters and more alien like tribal enemies. In fact they look like the enemies from the first Unreal game. I really found this part more disconnecting in the entire game's experience.
In fact the above was the biggest disappointment in the game. For me at least.
Lastly I loved the games ending but again the sequel was canned due to poor sales so we have a rather confusing ending. But I still love the last line of Patrick as well as that last particular scene. It really makes you scream “WE WANT A F**KING SEQUEL NOW!”.
The Bottom LineUndying has received good critical response In the media as well as earned a cult following. Cult following in the gaming world of course translates to “Good game which nobody brought”. As far as the underground hype it gets, it's well deserved. But I wouldn't call this the best horror game ever.
In the Action horror category there is a lot of contenders with this game but in the horror FPS genre I've still not played any as satisfying as this till date ( March 2010). Doom 3? not even close. F.E.A.R? Came halfway to that level. And I'm playing this game almost a decade after it's release.
As for hopes of a new studio handling a sequel I'd rather see this game keep it's dignity than have a shitty offspring which is the usual case with these modern trends.
Undying will appeal to fans of both Horror and shooters. People often whine about the fact that it doesn't have multiplayer but then again it's a single player game. And it's re-playability is like that of a book. You loved reading it, you'll be reading it again sometime in future.