Review by hangedman

"Kill things!"

I’m not a big man.

I’m 5’10”, 130 pounds. I don’t have large muscles, and I’m considerably waiflike; there’s no shame in admitting it. Because of this, I think I enjoy games where I control a massive beast of a man and beat the unholy ****ing **** out of things with my knuckles more than most.

Enter Hexen: a Medieval FPS escapade forged by the same makers as the utterly visceral Soldier of Fortune. This game is Dungeons and Dragons running off of a Doom engine, though it’s more Doom than anything else: don’t worry yourself with trivialities like intelligence, constitution, or guilds—worry yourself about being mauled by two-headed cave warriors with iron flails. You’ve got better things to do than dissect wordy blasts of middle-English from wandering townsfolk; your efforts should be concentrated in attacking waves of opponents in a psychotic rage without dying yourself.

Hexen’s main draw over other doom-inspired FPS titles lies within the 3 character classes. Wiry characters should enjoy the mage; his use of projectiles and magical attacks allow him to put distance between his enemies and whittle them down quite effectively. The Cleric makes use of some rather vanilla fighting tactics for a first person shooter, but by no means are his flaming gloves or poisoned staff attacks pedestrian.

My favorite class, however, is the Fighter. Tearing things apart with one’s fists or a massive hammer leads to some wickedly frenetic moments, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun encircling monsters while pounding them with a Buick-sized set of spiked gauntlets. He is the character for masochists like me that don’t mind taking hits to ensure that his enemies will take so much more. He lives through what others shouldn’t and can still pound on things afterwards.

I’ve got simple tastes, really.

I like running up to someone with a flaming sword, hitting them dead-on and watching them burst into flying pieces of ribcage and arms. I like bashing something with an axe until it lets out a shriek and dies. Hexen gives me this; it has large enemies that are just waiting to be destroyed by heavy metal objects. It thrusts the player dead-center into a version of doom where it’s entirely possible to play the game like you have the berserk pack 24-7.

And as much as it’s clouded my judgment thus far, I can admit it’s not that great of a game.

Hexen is enjoyable, but it shouldn’t be.

Of almost terrible consequence is the level design; when I describe it initially, it’s going to sound like a great innovation for FPS games, and frankly that’s the way it should have worked. Hexen’s levels are few—5 to be exact, after the initial introductory level. The defining feature of these levels is that they’re huge, having multiple teleporters that lead to different parts of different areas. A puzzle found within one part of the level will most likely mandate that you need to travel to another world in order to solve it. Hexen evolved beyond Doom’s “3 keys in a level” simplicity; now you’re going to need a fire mask to unlock the room that has the silver key, which will allow you into a bell tower that (once the bell is rung) will lower a false wall somewhere else and allow you to teleport to a world that requires four clock gears before an elevator will arrive in another area you’ve visited before.

If this sounds needlessly complex, Hexen is not the game for you. In order to enjoy bashing legions of opponents, you need to make peace with the fact that there’s enough item and key backtracking here that makes Hexen comparable with a survival horror game. Puzzles in this title are not solved with intuition; they’re solved by hitting switches and pulling levers and scampering off to find out what effect they’ve produced, and god only knows where.

And should you miss a switch or an item?

Hexen effectively shuts down. Since the maps are so gargantuan, without a FAQ one could theoretically be stuck meandering around for hours, hoping to find something that will allow one a few more minutes of carnal delight.

Other complaints beyond this are reaching, but palpable considering that Hexen was one of the later generations of 2d games. Perhaps by 1995, it would have been possible to add several death animations per non-player-character, effectively double the amount of weapons per player class (each class has only four—a very trying selection for a game of such length), and add a larger assortment of enemies. The overly nitpicky would likely wish for less pixilated textures and characters, but I’m willing to let it slide.

Still, make no mistake: a Hexen player will have killed hundreds of the same enemy in exactly the same way by the game’s finale. Each level holds few surprises by way of new weapons or enemies. The fun comes in fighting off different configurations of these enemies in different locations. Swamp creatures surface and dive in between attempting to claw at you, and when fighting projectile-spewing dragons at the same time, you have a new situation that is more deadly than the sum of its parts.

Is Hexen fun in spite of the repetition and puzzle-induced obfuscations?

I think so. Shattering stained glass with a mace and finding a fire-shooting demon instead of a health vial is fun. Trading blows with an armor-clad, shield-using centaur is tense and rewarding. It’s a great feeling to throw some explosive flasks down a flight of stairs and into a snarling crowd of overgrown beasts. And for as few weapons as there are, all of them are wonderful—you can’t help but love the Cleric’s Wraithverge: it’s a staff that shoots a cloud of shrieking ghosts that tear apart enemies with their skeletal claws. Some killer sound effects compliment all of Hexen’s strengths beautifully.

It’s hard to screw up bashing people until they pop. Even if Hexen’s creators deliberately tried to sabotage their game with few weapons, horrendous amounts of backtracking, maddeningly obscure puzzle solutions, and frequently repeated characters, they ultimately failed. I just like hitting things too damn much.


Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 09/28/03

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