RETRO – A new demon-slaying hero can take on the role of Undying, a new game from Dreamworks Entertainment and acclaimed horror novelist Clive Barker. In the game, you take control of Patrick Galloway, a young adventurer who becomes a master of the occult after suffering a strange magical attack. Thanks to his newfound talents, he travels the world as a sort of Agent Mulder, battling various supernatural forces – if he gets paid. But when his old friend, the dying Jeremiah Covenant, asks him to travel to Ireland on a similar case, he takes the job as a favour. Poor Jeremiah fears not death, but the fate of his own brothers and sisters, doomed to a damned eternity as slaying demons…
Since Half Life, we’ve known how much a well-crafted story can matter in an action game with an interior view. No matter the revolutionary 3D engine, no matter the double-barrelled shotgun or the violence of the chainsaw, when you’re playing alone at home and not counting your frag in a Quake game, you want to be immersed in a cosy story, not just hunting artificial intelligence-powered “bots” from track to track. That said, since Half Life, I could count on one hand the FPS-esque games that have really captured my imagination. Well, at Dreamworks, they’ve taken on no small task of trying to top Half Life’s fantastic atmosphere in their horror game. To write the story of Undying, they enlisted a true horror novelist and director of the Hellraiser films, Clive Barker, one of the people who, after Stephen King, knows best what scares us most about being “alone in the dark”…
From the pen of Master Barker…
The story, which we learn in part from the intro, is set in 1923, shortly after the first Great Depression. Our hero, Patrick Galloway, is also a World War veteran, but he and his team had to fight not against German armies, but in clandestine operations with undead soldiers. During a confrontation, Galloway is knocked down by a spell-like figure with magical powers, and only survives the encounter thanks to the rescue of his platoon commander and friend Jeremiah Covenant. Galloway soon gains special abilities and a talisman that he himself can use to magically empower himself and cast spells (well, Mulder couldn’t do that) to effectively fight the demons of the afterlife, which he increasingly believes in…
After Galloway’s old friend Jeremiah Corenant gets word that our hero has become a ghost hunter, he desperately invites him to his own castle in Ireland. Jeremiah is in deep trouble: he is dying and fears that he will turn into a ghoul like his (living) dead brothers and sisters, who haunt the house like corpse-like demons.
According to Jeremiah, his entire family is cursed, not only financially and morally ruined, but also destroyed one after another, turning his brothers and sisters into the undead. The parents died first: the mother at the birth of her sister Lisbeth, and the father by violent death in mysterious circumstances. Lisbeth followed her parents at a very young age, shortly after a mysterious digestive illness forced her to return to the family home from London. She was followed by Bethany, a persona both in life and as a demon, and then Aaron, the mad artist. Finally, there was Ambrose, the black baroness who, fleeing from the local police, threw herself off a cliff into the roaring sea. Jeremiah seems to be the only survivor…
According to Jeremiah, the only clue may be a strange ritual they performed as children, based on a dusty old book found in their father’s library. Unbeknownst to the children, the ritual, which started out as a game, had awakened ancient forces that would later not only cause their demise, but threaten the very existence of the world…
Sign in at the top
Just as a poisonous tequila is only as good when drunk with salt and lemon, Undying will be enjoyed by gourmet horror fans when it’s drunk late at night, with the lights off and the curtains drawn. The most unnerving of the constant terror that plagued me were the dog-like “howlers” with huge claws. Mostly attacking in packs, they would leap at me in huge leaps and bounds, and I only stood a chance (especially on difficult levels, because like Alice, I want to push through this one…) if I could hit them from far enough away, lightning fast, while backing away desperately.
Very difficult opponents were also the skeleton warriors in Undying, who not only attacked from a distance with some sort of slingshot and hit me over the head with a good frontal blow, but also kept resurrecting. (See below, under spells, for the solution.)
With four soundtracks and SB Live listening in my computer, I had an unparalleled experience in sound effects: the thundering lightning, the screams, the ghouls in my back and side, or the ghostly cries of a child on one of the tracks, sometimes gave me a serious fright and, immersed in the game, I even shouted in fright at my poor unsuspecting friend who had just brought in some tea with some snacks…
For a horror story with a classic tone, the makers have found great locations. As well as the Covenant family home, we’ll have to battle a wide variety of horrors from the past and the future in abandoned churches on the Irish coast, secret catacombs and more.
The graphic designers have really gone the extra mile and given Unreal Tournament’s already creaky engine a good “tune-up”. The new effect described in the trailer, which can be seen in curtains or cobwebs blowing in the wind, is amazingly well done. My jaw dropped when I came across it in a windswept open windowed corridor, but I was floored when I moved past a cobweb and the cobwebs floated in the breeze as I moved left and right!
The various buildings were also beautifully crafted, whether you’re looking at the Gothic Abbey or the Covenant House. The rooms or period furniture were also worked out with great care: when I wasn’t fighting or looking for an exit, I sometimes found myself wandering around Jeremiah’s castle, for example looking at the paintings (which often exist in reality).
Some characters are rendered in stunning detail that puts Quake 3’s engine to shame – such as the main character Galloway, or Jeremiah. The rendering of the “extras” (servants, cooks, maids, enemy bandits and priests, etc.) is not as spectacular (a No One Lives Forever is better in this respect), but it’s nothing to be ashamed of for the Dreamworks team.
The “legacy” of Unreal Tournament is a very nice implementation of water – and the makers of Undying have not changed that. Having recently been “corrupted” by the graphics engines of Litech 2.0, or Quake 3, or the graphics of Blade of Darkness, I was a little more bothered by the poorer textures in places that can be attributed to UT, or the rather angular shapes of the Irish Highlands, for example. All in all, though, the graphics in Undying are really gorgeous and, thanks to the older engine, run smoothly even on weaker images.
The Color of Magic
At the beginning of Undying you can push around with a six-shot Colt, and later on you’ll find a double-barreled shotgun, Molotov cocktails, etc. The selection is pretty poor for a Quake clone… I certainly wasn’t expecting a rocket launcher or a ray gun, but I would have liked to see a bit more variety in the weaponry. I would have liked to have tried the priests’ crossbow, for example, but I was sorry it wasn’t available. I was somewhat compensated, however, by the more varied use of magic, which I could both fight with or otherwise help me to progress.
The very first spell, ‘scrye’, for example, allows you to see events from the past linked to specific locations (in a somewhat similar way to Stephen King’s novel The Shining) and can be used when a distorted female voice sighs out (‘looooook’) when prompted to do so. This is usually just for mood and to give you goose bumps, but sometimes you will witness an important scene that is necessary to move on.
Our second spell is “ectoplasm”: this is an offensive magic similar to the “magic missile” we know from role-playing games. When summoned, a bolt of multi-pronged, lightning-like energy is launched from your right hand, which can be used to strike your enemy with a vengeance – but only if you are standing nearby (and that can be fatal for the “howlers”…)
The “dispel” spell can be used to overcome various magical obstacles. Unfortunately, we have to use it relatively few times, although it could have increased the number of logic puzzles…
Fourth, you get the nifty little “invoke” spell, which lets you revive a vanquished enemy and get them on your side. If we revive several scarecrows, we have a small army to protect us. Unfortunately, this spell doesn’t last very long at first, because (especially at base level) the soul of the revived dead will vanish very quickly.
Skeleton warriors are affected differently: since they are already dead, using invoke on them does not revive them, but locks them into the afterlife. (So this is the only way to get rid of them.)
Another characteristic of role-playing games in Undying is that our magic “evolves”: our spells level up. I was a bit sad that this is not done based on experience (unfortunately, the game doesn’t monitor this), but by using “amplifiers” (amplifiers) in certain places. When we find one, we can use it by selecting the amplifier we want to get from our list, and the one of our spells we want to upgrade, and it’s more powerful after pressing enter! The effect is obvious, I suppose: the offensive spell hurts harder, takes longer to summon dead, requires less energy, etc.
From the above, I think it’s clear that I really liked the gothic horror action game by Master Barker and his Dreamworks team. I do have to add one or two negatives to the overall picture… I was a little sorry that the makers were rather stingy with the transition cinematics Barker concocted (or Barker didn’t bother enough), because they are much shorter than, for example, the scenes in No One Lives Forever. However, those who are tired of such things cannot complain now. A few more characters would have been nice to give the story more room to unfold.
Besides, I’m really looking forward to an FPS with more logical elements like action-adventure games – unfortunately, this is not the case with Undying-. I don’t understand why some developer team hasn’t thought of mixing the two styles already? This could also be solved by making it an option for “regular” FPS fans to turn off.
Speaking of flavourful FPS, what’s missing from Undying is a multiplayer mode, which is pretty incomprehensible for a game using the Unreal Tournament engine. (The British online games magazine Gamesdomain aptly put it: this omission is like buying a Ferrari and always obeying the speed limit…) What fun it would have been, for example, to use the invoke spell in multiplayer mode: you could unleash the slain monsters on unsuspecting enemies. The creators have promised that a patch will be released later to allow multiplayer.
+ Stylish, well-crafted visuals and captivating
+ A sophisticated story from a true horror novelist
+ Beautiful, atmospheric graphics with new effects
– … A bit monotonous gameplay
– No multiplayer mode
– I miss the logical parts
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Dreamworks Interactive
Style: FPS-Survival horror
Release date: 2001