Review by Hudson

"This ain't just a shooter."

Okay, I seldom play shooters (first-person shooting 'action' games); I bought this purely because it was boasting my favorite writer's involvement, and had some of the best cover artwork I've seen in years. Turned out to be a good investment, for two main reasons: it's a good shooter, and it's also a gorgeous story. And of course, to quote my boyfriend: ''This is the first game to ever scare the crap outta me''.

Graphics: I'm dealing with these first because they're so..damn.. good. There are numerous areas to walk through, and all of them are true to the period -- moreso, all of them are startlingly, richly detailed; I can easily sit here watching over a friend's shoulder for hours, and have done so. Major, intricate eye candy here. But it's not just the surrounds. Barker's worked on the character design (hero, bosses and monsters) -- and so has everyone else. It shows; the monsters rival the worst you'll see in Silent Hill, as far as movement and creepiness go, and the bosses themselves are true individuals. The weapons in your hand move gorgeously when reloaded (one of them, somewhat sentient, growls, snorts, licks its lips randomly), and the spell effects are just plain fun to watch.

Sound: Pools of blood squelch when you step in them. It don't get better than that. Well -- okay, this does; the voice acting is some of the best I've ever heard, and the monster/spell effects are downright haunting.

Story: Here's where the game truly shines. Barker was intrigued (according to various interviews) with the 'family saga' feel, and that's one of the things that most sold me. The game has not failed to deliver. They've taken sibling rivalry to a whole new level, they've not failed to explain the..oddities..that keep springing up, and a good deal is delivered through not just conversation, but both scattered journals, and 'scrying' -- the use of a spell to look into the 'spiritual dimension' (generally the past). Witnessing atrocities that led to present circumstances (some extremely gruesome) and overhear prior conversations. There's a lot to immerse in here.

Gameplay: Okay, the meat and potatoes of any game. The last shooter I played was Heretic I -- the friends who played this with me, however, are veterans of the genre, and even on 'easy' setting, the game didn't fail to deliver for them. There's no great variety of weapons, but the monsters (and their superb AI) were a nasty challenge (when I say 'they come out of the wall', I mean it literally), the traps come out of nowhere at all, and the evironment itself is fun to play around with -- as well as being pretty interactive. Spells and weapons combine to form numerous arsenals for different occasions, and the bosses are damned nasty. By the first half hour of gameplay, several of us commented that we were 'being herded' -- which was true; there's no map available for any of the sections, but a series of locked doors and maids to follow ensured that we were seldom, if ever, backtracking. There's none of the Resident Evil 'get the key from here, to get the vial from there, then use the vial here' makework, thank God. We got lost sometimes, but rarely. The jumping challenges could get difficult, but not insurmountable, and there was very little tedium at any point.

Replayability: Are you kidding? I'm starting a new game right now; I know that there are 'scrying' scenes I missed, and rooms I never saw. And I got a kick out of flinging that severed head -- aww, nah, can't spoil it for ya.

To sum up? There's something for everyone here -- and most of it's as gruesome as it is fun. Play with the lights out, the music up, and..well, maybe a friend handy. Just make sure it's not a sibling..grins..

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/29/01, Updated 03/29/01

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