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Written by  :  Gatekeeper (306)
Written on  :  Jul 20, 2013
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars

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A lot more than “Doom with a medieval theme”

The Good

Heretic is one of those games that need some time in order to be understood and appreciated. On first glance, it will indeed look like Doom with a medieval theme thrown on top. But once you get deeper, you will see that it takes the Doom formula a couple steps further.

In this game, the player himself is the Heretic – a lone and revenge-driven rebel fighting against a seemingly endless evil. There is a lot of bitterness and despair entwined into the storyline, as you journey through a broken medieval/gothic fantasy world, fighting various demons and undead. Heretic is a classic first-person shooter – with intense skirmishes, lots of enemies to face at once, and a variety of weapons with varying degrees of usefulness (depending on the situation).

One of the things I have always enjoyed about Heretic is its ability to create various interesting and immersive environments. Episode 1 takes place in a medieval city, complete with lots of nooks and crannies to explore, buildings, rooms, cellars and great halls. Episode 2 takes you to a hostile other dimension, where the primary theme is a juxtaposition of fire and ice – an effect I always enjoy, and which adds a slight touch of Norse mythology feel to the game. Episode 3 is an opulent palace of evil, your arch-nemesis’s personal lair.

Shadow of the Serpent Riders is an expanded version of Heretic (like Ultimate Doom), which gives you two extra episodes. Episode 4 will immerse you into the ruins of a shattered world, corrupted by the forces of evil a long time ago. And Episode 5 combines elements of all previous episodes, creating the ultimate nest of evil that you will have to purge. The two extra episodes have increased difficulty and are suitable for more experienced players.

The weapons are similar to the ones used in Doom, and yet they manage to be original in their own right. The coolest thing about them: powered-up mode. Activating a certain artifact in your inventory will enhance your weapons, making them more powerful and sometimes radically changing their effect (the Hellstaff’s “red rain of death” is probably the best example for this). A weapon that acted like a rocket launcher suddenly becomes a flamethrower – do you feel like roasting some bad guys today?

The inventory items add an element of strategy to the game – they are most useful if you use them in the right moment. These artifacts can give you various benefits – healing, protection, power, invisibility, and even flying. The ability to turn your enemies into chickens or set a few deadly timebombs in the path of pursuing monsters is one of those little things that make Heretic so fun to play.

The sound effects and the music are on a very high level and enhance the atmosphere considerably. The chanting of the dark wizards, the snickering of the gargoyles, the thundering below of the Maulotaur, and the sadistic laughter of the player character when you find a new weapon are the little bits that make the game feel alive. The atmosphere is further enhanced by the addition of ambient sounds in the levels, such as evil laughs, sneaky footsteps, tolling bells, splashing water, etc.

Last but not least – level design. It tends to be more colorful and detailed than Doom’s. The levels aim to achieve a higher degree of realism, especially in Episode 1. The five episodes try hard to create five distinct worlds, and for the most part they succeed. And, of course, there are plenty of secrets (and secret levels) for the player to discover and challenge.

The Bad

Heretic’s similarity to Doom could be disappointing to players who are looking for fresh new experiences.

The game takes some time to fully appreciate, so more dynamic (or impatient) players could also be disappointed.

Like Doom, Heretic’s gameplay can be repetitive at times. The “find the keys, then find the exit” formula is clean and simple, yet it could get boring after a while.

The Bottom Line

Heretic is perfect of hardcore Doom fans or people who generally enjoy 1990’s classics. If you like it, then you definitely should look into the sequels as well – just keep in mind that the true successor of Heretic is Hexen (though Heretic II is also a pretty good game).

There are number of source ports that will allow you to enjoy Heretic in its full glory even on a modern computer / OS.