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Clive Barker's Undying (Mac) artwork

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.

Rating: 7/10

zippdementia's avatar
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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Lewis posted March 06, 2009:

I found that, while Undying started well, it quickly degenerated. It fell at a kind of awkward time: just around the period where really interactive games were being released, games where you could manipulate scenery and make decisions and so forth. Undying was a completely linear trudge through an entirely static world. I also found it more tedious than scary. Meh.
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zippdementia posted March 06, 2009:

The sad truth is, there's actually less of those games than you'd think. Even Half Life 2 doesn't do much with scenery or decisions. Probably the closest game to what you describe is Deus Ex.

What Half Life and a good number of other games DID have was so much atmosphere that you forget you aren't interacting with it. They are so well scripted that they don't feel linear or boxy. Take Half Life 2's infamous Strider battle. You're really in a very limited arena, but it's designed such that you feel perfectly reasonable being there, and you're too distracted to really notice, anyway. If you ever get stuck in a Half Life game, though, you start to realize how linear things are.

Thus, my statement at the end of this review. It really isn't that much different from other shooters. It had all the elements to be a half life, though. It just didn't use them.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.
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Lewis posted March 06, 2009:

"Half Life 2 doesn't do much with scenery or decisions"

Except, y'know, the Gravity Gun. Which allowed for the most advanced scenery interaction ever seen in a shooter at that point. Just saying ;)

As for decisions, well, Valve craft their levels so masterfully that you always feel like you're "choosing" to go the right way, rather than being guided down the only route. Undying does stuff like locking all the doors except the right one, which HL (the second one, in particular) really avoids.

"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."

This is nice. And very accurate. It does certain bits really well... but I don't reckon it's that good a game overall. A 7 would have been kind back when it was released, for me.
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zippdementia posted March 06, 2009:

Yeah, I should've been clearer. I was referring more to Half Life 1 in terms of environmental manipulation, since that was closer to Undying's time.

I will say, though, that I occasionally forget that I'm manipulating the environment in Half Life 2. Valve does such a good job of incorporating it into their game that you simply forget it's there at times, taking it for granted.

But then, HL2 is probably the best shooter of all time.
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Lewis posted March 07, 2009:

I waver over that one. It's "of its time", for me. BioShock is probably, just about, a bit better.

By the way, it's spelt "segue"
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zippdementia posted March 07, 2009:

Ah, you're right! Changing that...
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bloomer posted March 07, 2009:

It occurs to me I mostly stopped playing FPSes a lot when it started to become mandatory to use the mouse if playing on my Mac. I liked Doom, Marathon, Hexen, Killing Time, etc. I tried Undying, and still have it, and consider revisiting it, but it was an early and poor (by me) attempt with the mouse. And now, RSI, blah blah, I'm unlikely to retry. I did like what I played, but yeah, I also remember the hero's voice saying in that perilous way... 'LOCKED!' too often.

WHen I hear Clive talking or interviewed, he seems awesome. But I've read books of his that were kind of impressive but unexciting (EG Weaveworld), and he directed Rawhead Rex, an utter pile of crap. Buuut he did also direct Nightbreed, which I'm kinda fond of, and Hellraiser, which had visions of greatness that were better than any of the whole of any film in the series that Hellraiser became. So more summarily, I never felt he was a transparently great artist. He seems to have great ideas that are often averagely or badly executed.
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Lewis posted March 07, 2009:

I agree. He seems to be stuck with inspired ideas, but no idea how to execute them in anything other than a derivitive manner.

As for Barker's involvement with Undying... well, he was hired late on in the project to flesh out the story. His name on the box is a sales gimmick, more than anything. The game's problems are with the development.

The main issue I have with Undying is that the setting was poorly thought out. I can almost hear the developers' train of thought.

"Let's set a whole game in a haunted house! Let's make it really terrifying! Listen, here's a load of brilliant ideas how to scare the player"

"Great, let's start making it! Oh, shit, mansions have a lot of rooms and doors, don't they? If we let the player access them all, they'll get lost. How many doors should we lock? I know, how about all of the doors?"

"Okay, cool. Ah, but now the game is frustratingly linear and predictable. Why don't we take the player away from the mansion every now and then, into some alternate universe?"

"Hey, great idea! And hey, these levels are a lot more fun to make! We can be really creative with our design!"

"Brilliant, let's make loads of them! Wait, hang on, weren't we supposed to be making a game set in a scary haunted house?"

"Oh yeah, let's go back to that the-- oh, shit, we've used all our budget and we haven't come up with a story. So we'll have to scrap the haunted house bits and get someone to write us a plot."
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zippdementia posted March 07, 2009:

And thus the Clive versus Barker scenario I mention.
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zippdementia posted April 03, 2009:

DAMMIT JENNIFER! GIVING ME FALSE HOPE OF MORE FEEDBACK!

DAAAAAAAMN YOOOOOOOOOU!!!
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MaryPineda posted April 20, 2009:

I, also am just a spambot with a girl's name. Do you sense my power and lack of feedback?
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zippdementia posted April 20, 2009:

Yes. Now give me blow jobs.

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