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Clive Barker's Undying

Platform: PC/Mac
Release Date: Feb. 20, 2001
Developer: Electronic Arts
Players: Single Player.
ESRB Rating: Mature

There was pain without hope of healing.
There was life that refused to end long after the mind had begged the body to cease.
And worst, there were dreams come true.


Story:

Welcome to Ireland, in the Roarin' Twenties. The Great War has affected everyone. And you, Patrick Galloway, a soldier and arcane investigator have a job to do. You've been summoned by an old war buddy who saved your life more times than you could count. Although you promised never to return to your homeland, the calling in of a favour from a friend demands it. So, with your magical stone, gained from an old battle, you make your way to the Covenant estate.

Upon arrival you discover that a lot more is going on than just an old friend asking for help. The Covenant family has all but died and only Jeremiah, your friend, survives. His house has become an arcane hotbed. Doors have become portals to other worlds, strange new devices are showing up around the house, and there are monsters with powers that could chill even the strongest of heart.

Your job, you ask? Simple really. Figure out the mystery of the Covenant family, save Jeremiah's life and maybe, just maybe, live through it all.

Gameplay:

Based on the Unreal Tournament engine, Undying starts off feeling like an action game. It even looks like an action game. Bright cartoony heads-up display that seems pulled from a Disney movie. Horror game, you say? But how can it be horrifying with all these br- Jesus! Is that a freaking corpse hanging from a lamp?

You get my point. The look and feel of the game, initially, gives the expectation of a very different game. If we were the type of people who judged a game by its first ten seconds, we would have sent Clive Barker's Undying right back and gotten something more worth our while. But we're not.

The movement, the shooting, the life/mana bars... They're all very standard. It's exactly what you'd expect from a first-person shooter game. Which helps sets you up perfectly for a horror game. Get you comfortable and then throw curve ball after curve ball.

And the AI? Gold. I remember being in the monastery tunnels and I was running from two skeletons. One threw a dagger, trying to hit me and nailed his buddy. Instead of continuing to lurch towards me, the other one actually turned around and slammed his undead buddy in the head. Comedy genius? I think so.

Normally, at this point, I would start talking about the weapons the game has and then some quirks about them. Except there are some 20 different weapons and spells, all of which come in handy over the course of Patrick's demon fighting career. And, as the game goes along, you'll discover exactly how you want to use them for yourselves. Personally? I'm a big fan of an Ectoplasm spell ready with one hand and the revolver in the other. Remember, this is the 1920s. No big nukes for you, but just wait for the Scythe of the Celt.

Graphics:

I'm a big fan of pretty games. I'd play a game with next to no story if it looked pretty. And this game is the one that all the other games are buying drinks for, because they think she's such an easy lay... I really need to work on my analogies. But it's true. Undying is beautiful. They mastered detail with it. I can only remember one part of the entire game that didn't look like I thought it would. The beds. And to be fair, I was comparing it to Half-Life 2 models. Not really supposed to be doing that. But shadows. Mirrors. Models. Oh my. Undying really aces it all. The Covenant mansion even has paintings on the wall that one would pay considerable amounts for. Spot on!

If I have one quibble about the graphics, it's the clipping. At some spots, you can see forever. And in others, right in front of your face is hard enough. While I understand that it's necessary to play the with gamer's vision in order to bring the horror effect, you can go too far. Still, there weren't a lot of places that this was an issue. One or two run through areas is about it. It's not as if I was looking for a key in a pool of steam.

Sound:

In a horror game, the most important part is the sound. Plots, although fun, aren't on the top of the list for creating a scary game. And while looking good is vital, what makes or breaks the tension is the audio. In order to inspire fear into the hearts of gamers, you have to constantly hear noises in the background. When you step on a weak board and it creaks, you need to really jump back at the sudden noise.

Undying brings together the perfect blend of music and background to make the player twitch at just the right moments. You'll jump when they want you to jump and you'll scream when they want you to scream. Sometimes, you'll be playing along and the music will fade in so slowly that you were sure it was there the whole time. And they'll string you along like that for the whole game. There won't be a moment of peace, even when you're standing in a wide open field where you can see everything before it comes to you. That's the strength of the audio in this game.

Undying was one of those games that used voice acting as a tool to enhance, not the main aspect of it. That, in itself, is admirable. Far too many games overuse voice acting and then they don't even use it well. Undying's voice actors are top notch. In fact, there probably isn't a game out now that has handled the topic as well. Impressive? Darned tootin'!

Fun:
To make some sort of analogy here: If Tetris was a small child it would be the one who liked to dance in the fields and pick flowers. If Undying was a small child it would be the one that sharpened a knife with the bones of the other children. Clive Barker is a god damn psychopath. This game is scary. After playing it, I developed a highly irrational fear of Irish zombies. And the game didn't even have a particularly large make-up of zombies.

That being said, damn... This game is excellent. I can't stress how much enjoyment I got out of this game. I got it in a five game package, along with American McGee's Alice and figured that was the best I would see. Turned out that wasn't so. Undying is absolutely fantastic. The perfect combo of story, style, and gaming. While I've never been partial to the horror genre of games (or of anything, really), Undying plays in such a way that forced me to get over it and enjoy the bloody game.

Still, it has limits. Limits enforced by both the genre and by the makers. As with most first-person shooter games, the mystic disappears after the first play. While you can always go back and enjoy it with a while, it's never the same. This is especially true in a horror game of Undying's nature. If you've played the game already, you know where everything is. No longer do you frantically run from room to room, trying to find a key or an open door. No longer do all the enemies surprise you. Hell, you know where they come and where they are. (Master Villain says Oh, and if you want to replay it, put it away for a year then get it out again. The atmosphere will get you all over again.)

Even though it's a one time game, I'd suggest picking it up. You'll get more time out of the game than you would going to the theatre. And since they're both about $10, why not try out Undying. And just remember... The bones of the dead lay everywhere around and underneath the feet of the living... Uh... That is. Watch your back.

Thanks to XWiz for an excellent Clive Barker write-up. And for spotting a variety of spelling errors. Friends don't let friends node tired.

Sources
http://www.clivebarker.com

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