Review by Majin Zeroth

"A first person shooter where you not only need guns but clean underwear as well."

Besides the superlative System Shock series first person games with a horror slant have been few and far between. While there is some great 3rd Person horror games like the Alone In The Dark and Resident Evil series personally I think for the ultimate in creepiness you have to experience everything in first person. Things like looking behind you every time you hear a strange noise, peeking around a corner or having a monster jump out of nowhere right at you just can't be conveyed frighteningly enough in third person. Electronic Arts must have felt the same way for not only have they created one of the best horror themed First Person Shooters ever but they also drafted horror meister Clive Barker himself to provide the storyline. If you know your horror books then you'll know that this guy knows how spin a creepy occult tale and Undying is definitely no exception.

Patrick Galloway never wanted anything to do with the supernatural but after many strange events have been forced to believe that there is something out there. Forced to leave his beloved Ireland after the mysterious death of his wife he finds himself back there after receiving a letter from an old friend. Since Jeremiah saved his life during the war Patrick feels compelled to help him out in any way he can and arrives at Jeremiah's huge mansion to find the place nearly deserted and his old friend bedridden. Asked to investigate the strange occurrences that plague the place Patrick soon uncovers that Jeremiah is the center of an ancient curse that has destroyed his entire family and the mansion is invested with a great evil. The deeper he digs into this mystery the worse it gets and to escape with his sanity intact he will have fight with every ounce of his strength. To say any more will spoil the excellent plot but rest assured this isn't your average lackluster First Person Shooter affair. Expect lots of plot twists and startling revelations.

As Patrick you get to explore the huge haunted mansion and some other creepy locations as you try and figure out what is happening. Strange creatures roam around killing everyone (the death toll amongst the servants working in the mansion is sky high) and to make things worse all kinds of ghostly occurrences take place all over. Blessed (cursed) with the scrying ability Patrick can use his powers in selected spots to see what happened in the past or get a glimpse of what really is going on. Scattered about are also loads of journals and notes which will slowly reveal the twisted storyline.

Since this is a First Person Shooter you'll spend most of your time shooting things but Undying differs quite a bit from your usual run around and shoot everything in sight fare. For one thing it's creepy as hell and you are more like to creepy around pointing your gun at every moving shadow than to go running headlong into dark rooms. Creatures can jump out at you from every nook and cranny and once you've recovered enough from the fight to actually shoot back you'll find them to be quite agile foes. You'll also encounter a few other people to talk to and will have goals that need to be achieved if you want to make progress. Your handy journal will keep track of everything and is a good source of information. Besides an assortment of wicked weapons (what other game gives you access to stuff like a scythe and Tibetan war cannon). Most weapons can also use more than one type of bullet so you might make your pistol more potent by using silver bullets or add phosphorous bullets to your shotgun. Patrick will also learn magic spells during the course of the game which allows for all kinds of cool stuff like attacking with ectoplasm or using invoke to resurrect a creature you just killed to fight on your side. Scattered about are amplifiers which when found allows you to upgrade a spell but these are very scarce so be sure to upgrade something useful.

Using the Unreal engine Undying already looks great but also contains a few improvements and refinements to make it look even better. The game has some nice shadows and characters now have improved facial detail. Also featured are some of the best weather effects (rain, snow, lightning) that I've ever seen in any game. The creature designs are outstanding and the HP Lovecraft influences are easy to spot. Not only do these beasts look horrific but they also attack in unique ways. As an extra touch every creature has their own death animation for when they manage to kill you. The tentacle beast will disappear into the ground before grabbing your ankle and pulling you under as well while the skeletons will rip your heart out and eat it (nice). There are also some very disturbing bosses to contend with. The locations are all picked for maximum scariness and if the mansion wasn't bad enough you'll have to wander through some crypts, a monastery, caves and even make a few trips to some strange dimensions. Brace yourself for a bit of time traveling as well. Besides being scary as hell the game is also quite gory and killing anything usually amounts in a lot of blood lying on the ground. Walking through this also causes you to leave bloody footprints all over the place. The shadows cast by everything also add a nice spooky touch.

An essential part of any horror movie is the soundtrack and Undying has taken this to heart. You'll constantly be bombarded with creepy noises and the mansion is filled with creaking doors and strange whispers. The soundtrack is mostly quite but every now and then you'll be subjected to a tune that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Monsters also have their own unique sounds and you'll soon learn what lies up ahead through listening carefully. Creepy as the music is it's those long stretches of silence that can really freak you out. It's so bad that I kept jumping because of the sounds the war cannon make every now and then. Overall the ambient effects are really top notch and contribute a lot to the overall scariness.

The game has quite a few scripted events to make it even more horrifying and walking down a hallway when the lights suddenly goes out plunging you into darkness just as you hear monsters approaching from somewhere is pant wettingly scary. Seeing stuff in mirrors and uncovering further horrors through your scrying technique also does wonders for the heart. After playing the game for a while you'll become accustomed to all this spookiness but even after hours of playing the game will still surprise you in a few spots. It's not all doom and gloom though as the game also has a few humorous parts (both intentional and probably unintentional.)

The game is quite challenging and even on the easiest setting monsters can kill you with alarming ease. While it can be somewhat annoying it also adds to the atmosphere knowing that death can come at any moment. When enemies hit you your view also swivels with the blow which can make combat a bit disorientating at times. You can save at any time so it isn't that bad. The downside to the detailed graphics and varied locations is quite a bit loading which unfortunately you'll have to learn to live with. Your mission objectives can also be a bit vague at times and there is the odd obscure puzzle that will slow you down for a while. The game is a single player experience only as in an unusual twist for a First Person Shooter it has no multi-player features.

If like me you've been yearning for a good horror game then Undying definitely won't disappoint. It pays homage to classical horror like the Chtulu mythos by HP Lovecraft which is definitely a good thing. Just be sure to do the game justice and play it in the dark with the volume up. I guarantee you'll jump quite a few times. Not a game to play on a full bladder that's for sure.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/15/05

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