Video Game History Episode 28 – Clive Barker’s Undying (Halloween Special)

Clive Barker’s Undying is a survival horror game that has a deeply gothic look and feel to it, and while I’m not that familiar with Barker’s work apart the book ‘The hellbound heart’ and film adaptation ‘Hellrasier’, I am very familiar with the works of H P Lovecraft, who is in fact my favourite horror writer and someone who greatly inspired Barker’s writing.

Starting the game you’ll find yourself in a huge gothic mansion, a mansion that has a lot of locked doors, some of which you must find the keys for which often requires backtracking and because of that you might be thinking: this game is going to be a lot like ‘Resident Evil’.
However there are a number of things that make this game unique. First off throughout the game you dual wield a weapon in your left hand and magic in your right. As you progress you will be given access to more weapons and magical abilities, which you can quickly switch between using either a hotkey or a radial menu. Your magic recharges automatically. Magic can be used in combat, and one ability in particular will allow you to see in the dark, ghostly apparitions of corpses, and things from the past. It will even reveal the truth behind certain things.
You’re magical abilities and what they do can be looked up in the journal along with any scrolls you find, the writing in these scrolls is usually pretty good delivering the kind of creepy sometimes cryptic messages you would expect to find in a horror game. And fortunately you do not need to study these scrolls in order to find out what to do next as there is also the option to check your objectives. Between this and the logical way the levels are laid out and the fact that the puzzles are usually easily solved through a little bit of backtracking or using magic, you will rarely find yourself lost or stuck. Which is a refreshing change from other survival horror games, because as much as I love games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, they will often burden you with abstract puzzles which personally I have no luck solving without a strategy guide. Even though the starting area in this game, the mansion, is huge. It won’t be long before you find yourself exploring the grounds around it using a boat. You’ll also find yourself doing things like using a magical ability to cross between barriers that block you off, and my personal favourite: exploring other realms which presumably are in between dimensions.. or something like that.
These other realms or whatever they are supposed to be, are by far the richest in atmosphere in this game. The sound and art design here although perhaps heavily cliché’ is very rich and enticing. The deep rumbles of otherworldly thunder, and the red hellish sky and broken, loosely connected, sometimes mystical gothic architecture is a lot of fun to navigate. Even if it does require the occasional bit of basic plat forming which tends not to work all too well in first person games, although it’s not too infuriating here.
The sound design in the game overall is good, there is always a foreboding atmosphere created by the whistling of wind, the howling of monsters as they attack, the heavy sound your footsteps make when indoors, and a variety of ambient noises that change depending on different areas your in throughout the game. One very weak point in the sound design is the noise human-like enemies make, usually in the form of laughter, which is horrendously cheesy.
Early enemies in the game will be demons and cthulu-ish serpent creatures, later though you’ll encounter skeletons, humans from the past who will attack you with pistols, demonic birds and a variety of other gothic monsters and demons.
The combat itself is probably the weakest part of the game, but not because it’s bad In fact it can be quite creative. For instance combining offensive weapons with defensive magic, such as the ability to raise enemies from the dead after you’ve killed them and recruit them as your own ally, is an interesting idea. The problem lies simply in how frequent enemy encounters are, especially when all you really want to do is find more interesting scrolls to read that can help you learn more about the lore of this game. Or visit more otherworld locations instead of being attacked every 2 minutes.
Throughout the game there is a fairly decent variety in locations, from the manor to the large grounds, cemetery, crypts, underground caverns, a monastery other worldly dimensions and more.

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Shamus Oddish