Inspired by a story idea by Steven Spielberg and molded with critical input by renowned horror author Clive Barker, Clive Barker's Undying is a collaborative effort by various talents to sculpt a story-driven, horror-based first-person shooter. The game delivers on several fronts by providing an eerie atmosphere dripping with dark surprises, horrific monsters, and an intriguing storyline, but fails to live up to its potential considering the high-profile names involved.
Irish accents pervade the introductory animation, which sets the stage for upcoming events: a lone investigator gets more than he bargains for as he plumbs deeper into the realm of the supernatural, an unexplainable experience of WWI, and the unpleasant (but necessary) repayment of a favor to an old friend. With little to go on but these vague hints, you, as Patrick Galloway, are invited to your friend's manor in western Ireland.
Jeremiah Covenant's life has been full of strange paranormal experiences, but now that events have recently gotten out of hand, he's asked you to investigate the strange occurrences happening at his manor. People start dying, monsters come pouring out of the woodwork, and you're suddenly up to your neck in mayhem with sinister events spiraling out of control as you delve into dark mysteries.
In addition to the standard health bar and random selection of weapons found in most titles of the FPS horror genre, a mystical element has been added in the form of spells. At the start, you know only the "Scrye" spell, sort of a combination flashback/sixth sense, which provides an abundance of useful, fascinating, and horrifying information throughout the game. Eventually, you learn spells like hurling ectoplasm at enemies, raising the recently deceased, and disabling magic.
The reasonably diverse arsenal of weapons ranges from the standard pistol and shotgun, appropriately styled for the early-'20s setting, to unusual implements like a scythe, a Tibetan War Cannon, and everyone's favorite, the Molotov Cocktail. As for targets, the first mythological aberrations encountered are vaguely impish looking creatures with vile claws and a particularly unsettling scream. The second set of beasts are bigger versions of the first, which leads to the idea that perhaps the monsters roaming the main estate are none too diverse. Fortunately, the game drips with atmosphere, so the introduction of the second type of monster is actually worth remembering, and doesn't just convey a feeling of "finally, something else to kill."
The prevailing horror-suspense style is incredible, especially when moving through the manor. Not since Resident Evil has the feeling of opening each new door, or walking down a seemingly blank hallway, so filled the player with impending doom. While much of the game relies more on things jumping out at you and the suspense of what might be behind the next door, the actual physical manifestations of fear are conveyed through a rather attractive graphical environment.
The architecture and surrounding environs of the manor is admirable, with a great deal of attention given to all the trappings of an ancient Victorian-era mansion. The models, while not exactly the best ever seen in a FPS, are more than adequate and, at times, look quite good. The extremely well-designed main character is the direct product of Clive Barker, who completely reworked the original artist's concept. The musical score provides depth to the already stylish horror feel of the game, with effective ambient songs and creepy music cues popping up when least expected.
As with most games, Clive Barker's Undying has a few weak points, with some elements introduced later in the game that dampen enjoyment a bit. For example, a select few of the skeletal enemies decide not to die when you kill them, usually in the worst possible places. At times they stay down after being killed twice, but other times they don't, and when six or seven of them chase you down a hallway and you have no means of dispatching them, running away is the only good choice. As "undying" creatures, they certainly fill the bill, whether intentional or not on the part of the designers.
Other oddities seem excessive, such as the mysterious Arabic pirates that suddenly start attacking you during one of the earlier levels -- up to that point, any humans encountered were safe to approach. While the unexpected may keep you on your toes combat-wise, no explanation is given for the sudden appearance of evil turbaned individuals in the middle of an Irish countryside. Later in the game, though, the constantly evolving web of bizarre cults and evil pirates begins to make more sense.
Clive Barker's Undying is certainly a unique first-person shooter and despite the feeling that this particular variety of horror and suspense seems a tad contrived at times, gameplay is actually fresh and warrants a good look by fans of both first-person shooters and survival horror.
Graphics: The visuals are solid from start to finish, though certainly not the best of the genre. The "other world" portrait is quite amazing and nothing is unattractive. The rolling hills are bland but the manor is nicely detailed.
Sound: The solid and appropriately eerie musical score adds greatly to the "jump out of your seat with terror" atmosphere. Voice acting is good, though not spectacular, as are the sound effects.
Enjoyment: The genuinely scary atmosphere and fun shoot-'em-up gameplay is enjoyable, but the AI could have been tweaked to make some actions more believable. It's hard to imagine a gardener calmly walking up to talk with you about the bushes after nearly being slaughtered by a horrific creature from a nightmare realm. Some levels involve a great deal of running back and forth while wondering what to do or where to go, and combat is reasonable but not always consistent. The inability to skip extended death animation sequences is annoying.
Replay Value: The adventure is extremely linear, so replaying becomes a case of trying to finish faster or finding secrets you may have missed the first time through.
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