Review by Sunjammer_
"A cinematic FPS of the highest order"
On the surface, Undying is just another first person shooter, albeit with a different setting than most. Most games today deal with the future, or fantasy worlds where the fabric of reality is easily tweaked to suit the game developer. Undying however, places you in a highly plausible 19th century Ireland, with weapons suitable of their era. You play the part of Patrick Galloway, soldier gone occult adventurer for hire, who has been summoned to the Covenant Manor in Ireland to help out your old army buddy, Jeremiah Covenant. Apparently something is very very wrong with his family, and on his deathbed he has called you to find out what it is that has plagued his family for decades. The family and their home is under supernatural siege, a siege which has claimed all family members except Jeremiah. All his siblings have died under mysterious circumstances and have returned to haunt him with some fairly disturbing new faces. Lizbeth, the pretty pretty of the lot, has turned into a ghoulish beast with a hankerin' for living flesh. Ambrose has become a pirate leader with witches by his side. Aaron, the artist (and IMHO the maddest of the lot), has some pretty severe skin issues and a hook+chain fetish noone will mess with (anyone who has seen hellraiser will know what i'm talking about. This guy is mad.). Finally there is Bethany, who is pretty good at messing with mother nature. During your stay at the Covenant manor, you will chase these haunts through the absolutely VAST game area, battling their demons, learning of their history and secrets of the covenant family as you learn spells, get new weapons, improve your tactics and get scared the living hell out of. now that the background info is dealt with, here goes the actual review.
The controls and basic game mechanics are pretty standard FPS fare, except for the spells. You can use spells and weapons independently of eachother, so while you're reloading your 6 shot pistol you cant cast ectoplasm with your free hand to keep those beasts at bay. This takes some time getting used to, as some of the spells also work in concert with other weapons, such as using the lightning spell to supercharge speargun bolts. once you get the hang of it however, you will feel unprecedented freedom of tactics, and after a while, youll get quite a power rush.
The majority of the games story is told through logs, much in the way Unreal did it. Every time you pick up a new item, spell, book, have a conversation or see something important, you can hit F3 to bring up your journal, a very well written book with details about everything. This kind of gameplay may not suit a lot of people, but for me, who is quite fond of literature, the journal is a treat. You end up piecing together the story yourself, instead of getting it fed to you with a spoon like most games tend to do. Very refreshing. The cutscenes (which you can skip by hitting both mouse buttons at the same time btw. lots of people have complained about it not being possible, but well, it is. stop complaining) are handled with the game engine, so the game goes seamlessly between cutscenes and gameplay, are handled *extremely* well. I cannot stress this enough. With voice acting ranging from average to excellent, extremely well done camera work and character models with faces that can express genuine emotion, lipsynching, everything. The game takes on a movie-like feel after a while, and you can get quite emotionally involved if you try to play through the game in one sitting (which i just did). The voice acting for the main character, with his irish accent, gives the character a depth that i havent seen before. Most FPS games leave the player to *be* the character, and instead focus on happenings in the game world. Patrick Galloway is, thanks to Clive Barkers talent, a truly believable person. You sympathise for your game character, and you feel bad when he dies and you are treated to one of the game's dozens of death scenes (every time you are killed the camera will swoop out and treat you to a highly detailed scene of the beast that killed you finishing you off).
The game spans several worlds, taking basis in the Covenant Manor, a huge labyrinthine haunted house with all the cliches; wavering curtains in the wind, torches that get blown out by gusts of wind, creaking doors, creepy paintings on the walls, lightning flashes, windows that suddenly get broken by branches, all the good stuff.
There are many puzzles, usually dealing with the operation of some big device, and these arent intrusive and frustrating, but very interesting and calls for you to use your intelligence in a balanced way instead of calling for cheats and the like. There is a constant feeling of accomplishment which serves to drive you on through the game. The controls are spot on, altho a mouse wheel is pretty much essential. There are cons howeever. Every time you die the game automatically reloads the level. This takes some time. Instead it should have reloaded your latest quicksave if it was on the same level, or at least dumped you to a load game dialogue.
There is *lots* of loading in this game, and it can get tedious and breaks up the tension a bit too often.
This is the farthest ive ever seen the unreal engine pushed. *EXCELLENT* modelling and skinning, excellent use of physics and lighting, brilliant weather effects and weapons. The engine programmers have every reason to be proud. The game has effects i didnt think was possible. For instance, remember that water tentacle in the abyss? They did that in Undying on quite a large scale. My jaw literally dropped the first time i saw that. You can even swim in it. Only thing negative here is the slightly stiff motion capture work, but this is nowhere near big enough a flaw to bring the overall impression down.
Sound : 9
Undying features a fully orchestrated soundtrack with a celtic theme that suits the game admirably. The soundtrack is dynamic, so it only appears at key moments or during massive combat. Most of the game is music free, but rather fills it up with extremely well done ambient sounds. One moment early on has you crawling through foggy catacomb tunnels, with the rattling of bones around you and far off in the distance, you can hear the deranged singing of an undead woman, a sort of twisted nursery rhyme. Moments like this, the feel of being a hundred feet below the ground, all alone, and with that sound.. Sent shivers down my back. I had to call my friend to play him the sound, i had to share it. The effects are also of very high quality. Not a single dud here.
As aforementioned, the voice acting ranges from average to excellent, and when its excellent, this game truly shines. When its not as excellent, its usually not at a key moment so you dont worry about it.
The main problem however is the stability. I havent had a single crash with Undying, but the sound system seems to have a number of bugs. Repeatedly i had my walking sounds turning into pieces of music, the pistol would emit raw static when i reloaded it and banging on a rock wall with the scythe caused a dramatic orchestral hit. i had to restart the game to make things normal.
This is clearly a product of a combination of love and talent of the highest order. The team that conceived this game deserves a hundred rewards. Undying actually surpasses Half-life in every conceivable way. I dont understand why people hail halflife had such an incredible plot because compared to this, halflife is a Nancy Drew novel. Brilliant writing, excellent level design, excellent engine and sound.. Undying is a game i will play through again and again, just to get that brilliant shiver through my spine. *highly* recommended.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 05/22/01, Updated 05/22/01
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