Clive Barker's Undying (Mac) review
"Patrick Galloway traverses the silent corridors of an ancient manor. His long hair sticks to his face with sweat, and he absently brushes it away with the barrel of his magnum revolver. His other hand clutches a stone that glows softly with un-revealed power, dimly lighting the otherwise dark hallway. Somewhere in the distance, eerie laughter can just be heard over the heavy sound of rainfall. Patrick shakes his head as if to clear it. He’s here to help his friend, Jeremiah Covenant, explai..."
Patrick Galloway traverses the silent corridors of an ancient manor. His long hair sticks to his face with sweat, and he absently brushes it away with the barrel of his magnum revolver. His other hand clutches a stone that glows softly with un-revealed power, dimly lighting the otherwise dark hallway. Somewhere in the distance, eerie laughter can just be heard over the heavy sound of rainfall. Patrick shakes his head as if to clear it. He’s here to help his friend, Jeremiah Covenant, explain the mysterious deaths of his siblings. It's why he's standing in this blasted freezing hallway, outside the room of Aaron Covenant, the artist who turned to drugs and isolation in his twenties and disappeared under hushed circumstances. With a final tremble of his body, Patrick walks into the room, unaware that the red design on the carpet squelches beneath his boots... unaware that the carpet was not always red. On the bedside table sits a diary. Patrick reaches out to it, only to be startled by an unearthly howl behind him. Spinning round, he finds himself facing a monstrous squat creature like a cross between a gargoyle and a hairless ape. The creature hisses and pounces. Desperately, the Irishman fires his pistol.
Who wins this confrontation? Hopefully Patrick, because if not, it’s game over for you in Clive Barker's Undying.
Sometimes I imagine Clive Barker is actually two people named Clive and Barker, respectively. Clive is a genius who toils endlessly to make sure everything he touches turns to creative gold, while Barker spends most of his time mucking up whatever project Clive’s involved in. Clive would be the one who came up with Undying’s engrossing backstory, involving children who become cursed by a foolish intrusion into the world of the occult. Barker would be the one who decided this back story would be best served by inserting it into a linear first person shooter. Similarly, Clive would be the one to oversee the creation of a well designed and truly atmospheric haunted mansion for said shooter to take place in. Barker would be the one to nod sagely and declare that most of the game take place outside of the mansion.
In all fairness, I doubt Clive Barker was much involved with the game at all. I expect he wrote his name on the box, cashed his check, and spent a week’s vacation exploring morgues in Tibet.
Which leaves one to wonder who was going around mucking up everything Undying tried to do right. The game begins with a heavy atmosphere seeped in mystery, mystery which could easily have been stretched out over the course of the fifteen hour game. Instead, all the questions are answered as soon as they are asked, and what isn’t asked is drowned out by the sound of gunfire. Patrick Galloway doesn’t so much investigate the disappearance of the Covenant siblings as he does shoot the shit out of things on his way between boss fights.
Even without the help of mystery, the Covenant manor remains a terrifying location throughout the game. The more you explore the mansion, the more hostile it becomes. Infested from the start with the angry spirits of the dead, these spirits grow in number and boldness as the game progresses, while the number of friendly servants dwindles. There’s nothing quite as frightening as running from a horde of monsters into an area you once thought safe only to have something sneak up on you from the darkness. Compared to this, all the other locations seem mere segues, and uninteresting ones at that. Too bad, because you spend the majority of the game in these segues, with the mansion getting delivered in small servings, like desert after curds and whey.
Okay, so not all of the locations are bad. The first place you go to, an underground mausoleum, is genuinely scary and deserves credit for being so. And the place after this presents perhaps the most interesting scenario, in which you go back in time to an ancient monastery. Having just come from the monastery’s ruins in the future, it’s interesting to become a part of the events that lead to its destruction. Everything else, though, falls flat. A pirate cove seems bizarrely out of place, while an environment late in the game goes a long way towards proving the “Xen theory,” namely, that alternate dimensions are inherently boring. It all comes down to familiarity. We have more connection to that which we are familiar with. Creepy houses are something we can all relate to, and the mansion’s terrifying because of it.
Similarly, it is the simple enemies which are most unnerving. The howlers that you encounter early in the game have a terrifying cry, can jump long distances to deal massive damage upon impact, and travel in packs. In contrast, the lumbering cavemen you fight in the final level seem pointless and dull.
For what it’s worth, the shooting’s not bad. The weapons are unique and interesting. Anyone’s who ever played a first person shooter should know what to do with the pistol and shotgun, but even experienced gamers will stop to cock their heads at the Tibetan War Cannon. Probably most fun is the scythe you pick up about a quarter into the game. There’s nothing like decapitation to release stress. Then there’s the Gel’zibar stone, which can push enemies away from you. Helpful, when you consider the majority of your opponents don’t have long range ability. Furthermore, the stone makes your spells more powerful.
Yes, there’s spells, too. The game lets you use a weapon in one hand and cast magic with the other and every spell is tailored to a different kind of situation and play style. You can level them up by finding hidden items in the locations, and inevitably different players will have their favorites. There’s a damage spell, a haste spell, even a flight spell. And the Scrye spell deserves a shout-out for being one of the most unique (and sadly under-used) gimmicks I’ve seen in a game. The spell allows you to see things beyond the veil of reality, like ghosts and past events. These often play out like real-time scenes and can give you hints on where to go next, or deliver extra tidbits of story (which you’ll be desperate for).
No, the mechanics aren’t bad, and when the game spends time being atmospheric, it all comes together very nicely. Clive Barker's Undying is an underrated game that was wrongly ignored at the time of its release. There’s some unique chills and thrills here that could show modern horror games a thing or two and which should be worth anyone’s time. I recommend it, though I think had a little more care been taken with the story and some more time spent on level design, it could’ve gone from being a memorable shooter to an innovative classic.
Featured community review by zippdementia (March 05, 2009)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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