"A very well crafted shooter that will send shivers through your soul."

“Clive Barker’s Undying” is, simply put, one of the best games no one played. The cheer brilliance of this game is a harsh contrast to its lack of popularity among the FPS crowd, despite the fact of being given the right publicity and marketing and having just about every single element for success. The sole reason why Undying did not triumph, it seems, can easily be said to be its lack of multi-player capacity. And that is because during this day and age, EVERYTHING has to be on-line, heck, even console games are starting to walk that ugly path, and even though I'm not against on-line gaming and net communities, I'm not fond of the idea of seeing video gaming transform into an on-line only travesty. It was, in fact, lack of success what doomed the “Undying” edition meant for PS2, leaving some people (at least me) angry.

Easily said, Undying feels like something Arthur Machen would have cooked had he been a game producer instead of a writer. All the elements that make up a good Arthur Machen story (The Irish/British feel, the heavy spiritual atmosphere, the rape of natural order, a secret reality existing parallel to ours, etc.) are here, but with the added effect of Barker’s macabre style. Other times, the game feels like William Hope Hodgson’s brilliant “The House on the Borderland”, especially when you are being attacked by hordes of howlers and your strongest defense is a trusty two barreled rifle. Do not be mistake, even though some Lovecraft-like atmosphere can be felt, (The devastated city in the chaotic reality of Oneiros reminds me a lot of some Lovecraftian cyclopean cities) the game is more spiritually based, unlike Lovecraft’s mechanical/materialistic world views.

Graphics: 10.
Some of the best graphics I have seen in years, despite being almost a year old. The Unreal engine was definitely pushed to its limits on this one. The game has very nice lighting effects and has a pretty mixture of dark colors, although some bright shade might be visible here and there. I don’t think I can elaborate anymore on this field.

Sound Effects: 10.
Very good and very creepy sound effects, some of the most memorable I have heard I assure you. For instance, there are certain areas where you need to walk over a pile of bones; the sounds you make really sound like if you were stepping on bones! Did you walk over a pool of dense blood? You'll hear wet sounds as you pass over it. Enemy sounds are very good as well; the howlers’ yelps and howls are the most haunting thing I have heard in video gaming, EVER. You can hear these beasts from miles away and trust me, they will send shivers down you spine. Voice acting is superb as well, and some of the enemies’ lines are downright funny. (“I will kill you for your boots, Irish man!”) Clive Barker’s fans might find it interesting to know that Barker himself plays the voice cover of Ambrose Covenant.

Music: 10.
The music in Undying is composed and directed by Bill Brown and it is simply superb. The main menu song alone is worth the time you’ll spent lamenting the lack of an OST being sold commercially. Music in this game can be divided in two fields. 1) Instrumental Music. 2) Dark Ambient music. (Usually involving one instrument or another, anyway) Instrumental music is played mainly during cut-scenes or when you enter some new and unknown area important for the flow of the game; it’s very baroque and sometimes it will acquire an interesting Middle East approach. During boss fights the music will acquire a rather tense beat with heavy strings kicking in, giving a majestic performance.

Dark ambient music, on the other hand, is played mainly during the course of the whole game, although you might encounter some areas lacking any music at all. These Dark ambient tracks are of the minimalist but dense approach (Something like Aghast’s “Hexerei im Zwielicht der Finsternis”, or Lustmord’s “Place where the Dark Stars hang”) although do not expect something as complex (within the minimal) like Aghast’s only CD. The ambient is dark, pitch dark, and the background sound effects help to build up the tension carried within the music.

Control: 8.
I am of those people who are accustomed to play his games on a console’ control pad. Although I first played Undying on an ordinary PC, my real time playing it was with a Laptop computer, so you might imagine the pain that it was to configure all the keys in order to get the most out of the game’s controls.

Gameplay: 8.
Typical FPS style, which I happen to love despite its simplicity. There are two modes of attack, direct and magic. This approach is interesting because you are not chained to a single type of attack when facing your enemies. Magic ranges from simple spells to deadly attacks, usually involving a load BANG! A bad thing about Undying, though, it’s the lack of exploration, a mistake EA happens to repeat in the Medal of Honor series as well. You see, you are inside a gigantic mansion and its gardens and there is no way for you to explore further than what is scripted. You find your way around the levels by opening any doors that happen to be open during a given time, that way one door that was closed a few chapter back is already open (out of a sudden) now. Although this definitely simplifies the process of finding your way around, it is a boring imposition within the field of exploration this game could have had delivered.

Story/Plot: 10.
Hey! It's Clive Barker! What did you expect from him? If a writer like, say, Stephen King had cooked this story, the end product would have been a terrible exercise in bad storyline (Yes, I don’t like King’s fiction one bit), but fortunately for us, this blood fest was toned down by Barker himself, although it should be noted that the team did have something to do with the elaboration of this macabre story.

You are Patrick Galloway, an Irish adventurer gone paranormal detective after the end of the Great War. During the course of the War, you and your unit, commanded by one Jeremiah Covenant, were faced by a tribe of Middle Eastern men simply called the Trisani (Or something like that), whose lines were composed by thieves, rapists and shamans. It was during your battle against the Leader of these men when you finally fell unconscious after receiving an impact from the G’elziabar stone, a magical artifact that hung from the Shaman’s neck. It was Jeremiah Covenant who tended your wounds while you were out of combat, forging a solid friendship with the man.

Ten years latter you, now an exile of Ireland after being involved in some grizzly cases plotted by one Otto Keisenger, receive a letter from your dear friend Jeremiah Covenant. Knowing your involvement in paranormal investigation, he pleads you to visit him on his family state in Ireland and try and help him solve a mysterious family curse that has taken the lives of his four siblings and resulted in the devastation of the Covenant blood-line. Jeremiah is dying from a war wound, but the scourge he and his siblings freed many years ago does not seem to care. Because the curse of the Undying King does not end with the death of the last Covenant, it just makes itself stronger. The Covenant siblings are dead, but they are not truly gone and now the come to take Jeremiah’s life.

Lisbeth Covenant: The beautiful seductress who died an early death and now roams the underground halls of the Mausoleum, singing her poetry amongst a public of rats and creatures beyond the darkest dimensions.

Ambrose Covenant: The black sheep of the family, a problem child who murdered his first man during his teens; even in death Ambrose still is fond of picking fights along with his following tribe of Trisani men.

Aaron and Bethany Covenant: The red headed twins, the poet and the biologist, each an enemy from the other.

Design: 10.
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright said: “God is in the details”. If this is true, ten the most likely thing is that this game is God itself. The beautiful attention put into detail says a lot about the people involved in this project. Every corner, every room, every object, is detailed to the minimum level; the Covenant mansion itself is proof enough of that. The arches, the doors, the flooring, the tile work and glass work (There is an impressive depiction, early on, of a Kraken embedded in crystal, looking straight down into a Nautilus shell made of tiles, both designs separated by a round flight of stairs) and the furniture, everything is perfectly done.

The Mausoleum, Oneiros and the Monastery are beautifully designed too; most impressive is the massive network of wind tunnels and catacombs bellow the monastery, decorated with religious frescoes and cyclopean underworld architecture.

Monster and Weapon design is above average as well. EA put an effort with creature design, offering us some very enigmatic and hellish creatures. The howlers being amongst the deadliest, the Hounds of G’elziabar the most rare, and the sad Crow inhabitants of Oneiros the rarest of them all. Barker’s fertile imagination is touchable.

Weapons are beautifully detailed, specially your gun and double barreled shotgun, although the Scythe of the Celt and the Tibetan War Cannon (A semi-conscious mystical weapon whose tip mouth is a growling Oriental Dragon’s head that growls and moves its tongue) are also worthy of mention.

A.I. 10.
The howlers and other creatures may attack you in big packs, but when they attack the do deliver. The creatures you will encounter around the Covenant State are very intelligent and sharp and will attack you with fierce force and sharp velocity, specially the hunter-like creatures you’ll encounter latter on. A great example of this teamwork is Bethany’s château, located some km away from the Covenant mansion. As soon as you do what you came to do, a pack of howlers will come straight to the house from every direction (The château is surrounded by vast hills) and you will feel for your life as you try to fight all the howlers that break into the château, because stepping outside means some bloody death.

Challenge: 10.
Undying is not an easy game; I’m an expert FPS player and had some harsh times with this one. Plus, there are some interesting secrets and routes of exploration to find.

Buy/Rent:
Buy.

Final Score. (Average is rounded to the closes pair number. Ex: if 7.5 = 8, but if 6.5 = 6)

Graphics: 10
Sound Effects: 10
Music: 10
Control: 8
Gameplay: 8
Story/Plot: 10
Design: 10
A.I. 10
Challenge: 10

Total: 9.55

Final score: 10.

Final comments.

Electronic Arts did a fine move with this game, it is certainly a shame that such a perfect piece software craftsmanship did not succeed in the long run. We can’t blame people, though, to each their own. The rumored sequel most likely will never come to being, and it certainly is a shame, because a sequel could be greatly benefited by the use of all the current graphic engines. This game has become one of those ultra rare FPS that just a lucky few are able to uncover and clean the dust. In all certainty, Clive Barker’s Undying is a game similar to another EA shooter that went off with a whimper, “Escape from Monster Manor”, for the 3DO Multiplayer. Like “EFMM”, Undying offers us an atmosphere of dread and decadence; a feeling the imminent darkness is hanging over our heads and makes us wonder that something definitely is wrong. (Except that Undying has a better story)

Even though games like the Silent Hill series and Fatal Frame do offer these kinds of atmospheres, Undying goes one step further. We are not dealing with angry ghosts and cases of crazy poltergeist, or the supernatural forces the govern an American resort town; we are going against the forces of Nature gone terribly wrong, against a Universe so vast and cold, that the mere act of looking straight into Its eyes means madness itself.







Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/28/02, Updated 10/28/02


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