Mini Review: “Hell’s Bells: The Meltdown” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom” etc..)

Well, after seeing part of a video review of a “Doom II” WAD called “Hell’s Bells: The Meltdown“, I stopped watching and thought “I should play this myself!

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, it is probably also compatible with any Boom-derived source port.

So, let’s take a look at “Hell’s Bells: The Meltdown”:

“Hell’s Bells: The Meltdown” is a single-level winter themed WAD from the creator of Mori Christmas that includes new graphics, new textures and (possibly) new music. According to the Doomworld page about the level, it was originally a more difficult level – but has since been toned down slightly.

Visually speaking, this WAD is really good. The level has a wonderfully wintery look that includes textures from “Hexen” in addition to lots of other new stuff. The events of the level take place in a mixture between a forest and a ruined castle, both of which look suitably atmospheric. Likewise, there’s a cool-looking statue too. Plus, one neat touch is a functional bell tower near the end of the level:

You’ve got me ringing hell’s bells! Literally, you actually have to ring this bell in order to progress…

Plus, I absolutely love this statue too.

Another interesting visual feature of this level is that there are several new monster graphics. Not only do the imps now throw snowballs, but the mancubus is now a dark shade of grey (with glowing green eyes) and fires more realistic-looking fiery projectiles. Plus, some of the Hell Knights are an icy shade of magnolia too. Although I’ve seen most of these things in other WADs before, they still help to add some uniqueness and personality to the level.

In terms of difficulty, I’d describe this WAD as moderately challenging. If you’re an experienced player, you’ll probably blaze through the entire thing in less than half an hour.

Yes, it’s a relatively short, but wonderfully thrilling level 🙂

Although the level begins in the middle of a frantic fight with several monsters, you are given a Super Shotgun pretty much instantly. Likewise, although there are some very mild slaughtermap-like set pieces and claustrophobic corridor fights, they aren’t anything too challenging. Even the level’s climactic Cyberdemon battle is easily dodged and the level’s one Arch-vile is pretty much a sitting duck too.

Although this horde of monsters isn’t exactly gigantic, the Pain Elementals help to add a bit of extra challenge.

Pictured: The mandatory Arch-vile that all good “Doom II” levels are supposed to contain. Unfortunately, this one isn’t a free-range one though.

The design of the level is really good too – it is a non-linear medium-sized level that is filled with wide open areas. Not only does the level make good use of verticality (eg: there are raised platforms with corridors beneath), but the level’s size and layout means that you won’t really get stuck.

One cool thing about the platforms in the central area of the level is that they feature small raised bars, which can be used as a jumping off point that allows you to easily leap from platform to platform without fighting the monsters in the corridor below.

Yes, this level actually contains the good kind of first-person platforming…

In terms of the music, the video review I mentioned at the beginning of the article seemed to show that a segment of AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” is supposed to play in the background. However, when I played the level, there was nothing but silence in the background. I don’t know if it was my computer, or the source port or a problem with the WAD or whatever but this was kind of annoying given that the level is probably significantly more epic with one of AC/DC’s best songs playing in the background.

All in all, this is a fun and atmospheric wintery level that will provide about 20-30 minutes of entertainment for experienced players. It’s solidly designed, cool-looking and reasonably fun. And, if you can get the background music to play properly, then it’s probably even cooler.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably just about get a four.

Advertisements

Mini Review: “Stardate 20×7” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ ZDoom etc..)

Back in 2014, I reviewed a set of “Doom II” levels called “Stardate 20×6“. At the time, I’d never played anything quite so challenging and, for a fair while, I considered it to be the most difficult set of FPS game levels ever. Yes, I hadn’t played “VeryHard“, “XXXI CyberSky” or any slaughtermaps back then. So, I guess that “Stardate 20×6” was possibly my first slaughtermap WAD.

So, imagine my delight when I was looking through last year’s Cacowards and happened to notice a WAD by the name of “Stardate 20×7“. Yes, it’s the sequel to “Stardate 20×6”!

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. At the time of writing, I’m part way through the final level and haven’t played either secret level. Still, I wanted to make sure there was at least one “Doom II” WAD review posted here this month.

Pictured: Why I’m only part way through the final level…

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “Stardate 20×7”:

“Stardate 20×7” is a nine-level slaughtermap WAD (that also contains two secret levels too) from the designer of “Swim With The Whales” and “Stardate 20×6”. It contains new music, new textures, a new monster and a slight change to the plasma rifle.

Like in “Stardate 20×6”, it fires purple projectiles 🙂

One of the things that I will say about this WAD is that, like “Stardate 20×6”, it has an absolutely beautiful purple and brown/gold colour scheme. Seriously, this WAD is an absolute joy to look at. Interestingly, whilst the first couple of levels have more of an Ancient Japan-style theme, the rest of the WAD has lots of cool-looking sci-fi locations.

The “Ancient Japan” theme in the early levels is cool, although the sci-fi levels look even cooler 🙂

Plus, like with other WADs by this author, “Stardate 20×7” takes a very traditionalist attitude towards the subject of jumping. However, the levels have been designed with this limitation in mind, so it’s barely noticeable when you’re playing. Still, you can rocket jump (since freelook can still be used) and this is incredibly useful at one point in level eight….

Trust me, you’ll want to rocket jump backwards fairly soon after pressing that button!

This WAD has a surprisingly good difficulty curve, with the first few levels being somewhat easier than the later ones. Still, it occasionally contains *ugh* puzzles.

Although the first level has a few intriguing, but solvable, puzzles – I got completely stuck on the second level. After wandering around aimlessly for about 1-2 hours and still not knowing where I should go or what I should do, I eventually ended up resorting to using cheat codes to get to level three.

But, apart from this (and one frustrating switch/platforming puzzle in level nine that I also bypassed via cheats), I haven’t really had any major problems with the level design. However, one annoying touch is that level five ends with a mandatory player death which means, you guessed it, level six begins from a pistol start.

Dammit! And I had the BFG too!

Surprisingly, for a slaughtermap WAD, the levels here are at least somewhat non-linear – with exploration, switch puzzles and keyhunting included at various points in the game. Even so, this WAD certainly has it’s fair share of fiendishly difficult set pieces.

Aside from the epic battle in level nine (you’ll know the one I’m talking about when you see it), the most challenging one is probably a small hexagonal corridor near the end of level five that fills up with several waves of Barons, Hell Knights, Revenants and Arch-viles. Not only do you have little to no cover or anywhere to retreat, but if you dawdle for too long then the Arch-viles will just resurrect all of the monsters you’ve already killed! Still, it is beatable. Just remember not to use all of your BFG ammo at the start of this area!

In other words, don’t do this and you might stand a chance…

Other intriguing set pieces include teleporting into a relatively narrow corridor filled with a layered army of monsters… with three pain elementals behind you and a caged Arch-vile in a nearby alcove (to prevent dawdling in the middle of the corridor). Then there’s a brilliant Hell Knight-filled area in level eight. Plus, there’s a timed Arch-vile area (one is released every ten seconds or so) in level four. There’s a monster-filled staircase in level six. And so much more….

Oh, the corridor segment I mentioned earlier is also really cool since it has a really “old school” kind of atmosphere to it.

Seriously, I cannot fault the set pieces in this WAD. As you would expect, they’re the sort of thing that looks egregiously unfair at first glance but which can be dealt with if you use the right tactics, if you persevere and if you are willing to work out how to escape each area (since you can’t usually fight literally every monster). Like in all good slaughtermaps, the monster encounters are more of a fast-paced action-based puzzle than a simple fight.

Pictured: The fun type of in-game puzzles! Seriously, this is what FPS game puzzles should look like.

Pictured: The “not so fun” type of FPS game puzzles.

The stand-out levels in this WAD are probably level six – which has this cool Ancient Egypt theme (complete with music) – and level eight.

Level eight is a proper old-school style slaughtermap, taking place in an eerily futuristic floating purple ballroom that is crammed with hundreds of monsters. This is the level where my reaction went from “Oh god, am I getting worse at this game? Am I too old for this?” to “Ha! Let’s dance!“.

The Danse Macabre, to be precise….

In terms of new monsters, I’ve only seen one so far. It’s a purple version of the “Afrit” monster I’ve seen in other WADs and it appears precisely once during level four. Of course, this happens after your health and ammo has been sapped by a frantic battle and you’re standing on a claustrophobic platform. And, did I mention that this monster’s attack combines that of the Revenant and Mancubus? Or that it has a lot of health too?

Seriously, I’m glad there’s only one of these monsters!

In terms of background music, there are some really great tunes here. The best ones probably have to be the Ancient Egypt-style music in level six or the vaguely Japanese-style music in level one. Seriously, I love how well the music fits in with the general theme of these levels.

All in all, this is a visually-beautiful WAD for experienced and/or masochistic players. Yes, you might get totally and utterly stuck during levels two and nine (because of keys, puzzles and/or “where do I go?”). But, if you enjoyed “Stardate 20×6” and you want even more of a challenge, then “Stardate 20×7” is definitely worth checking out. It’s atmospheric, fiendishly difficult and wonderfully purple. What’s not to like?

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.

Review: “Frank Herbert’s Dune” (TV Mini Series)

Back when I was seventeen, I binge-read Frank Herbert’s “Dune” within the space of a weekend. Over the next year or two, I read the five sequels and watched the first half-hour of the 1984 film adaptation (but stopped watching because I thought it was more of a parody than an adaptation). But, the TV mini series adaptation of the novel was one of those things that I’d been meaning to see for years, but never got round to for one reason or another.

Still, a few days before I wrote this review, I was given a DVD boxset of it (and it’s sequel, “Children Of Dune”) as an early Christmas present – and I binge-watched it over the space of about two or three days (what is it with “Dune” and this length of time?). So, it seemed like the perfect thing to review today.

Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

“Dune” is a TV mini series from 2000, consisting of three 90-100 minute episodes. This mini series can best be summed up as “Game Of Thrones in space“. And, yes, this is as awesome as it sounds 🙂

The story of “Dune” revolves around three noble houses (Atreides, Harkonnen and Corrino) in the distant future. Following a decree from the emperor of the galaxy, control of the resource-rich desert planet Arrakis has passed from the brutal rule of House Harkonnen to the more benevolent rule of House Atreides. As such, Duke Leto Atreides’ son, Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica are travelling from their water-rich homeworld of Caladan to Arrakis in order to join the Duke.

Well, it wouldn’t be a very interesting film if they’d stayed on Caladan (still, at least we’d get to see what Caladan actually looked like…)

On the journey, Paul has strange dreams before he faces a dangerous test from the leader of the mysterious Bene-Gesserit faction to determine if he is indeed worthy of the visions that the Bene-Gesserit mystics have had about him. After passing the test, the leader has a somewhat cryptic discussion with Jessica about how she had been ordained to have a daughter instead.

When Paul and Jessica arrive on Arrakis, House Atreides is ushering in their new regime. They are winning the favour of the people and everything seems to be going well. But, of course, the cruel baron of House Harkonnen has other ideas….

Again, it’d be a pretty dull film if he just accepted the emperor’s judgment and didn’t try to overthrow the new regime…

And this is just the earlier parts of the first episode. As you may have gathered, this is a somewhat complex story. Whilst it’s probably possible to enjoy the mini series if you haven’t read the book that it is based on, I would strongly recommend that you read the first “Dune” novel before you watch it. Even if, like me, you’ve read it ages ago and can only vaguely remember the story, you’ll get a lot more out of this mini series if you read the book first.

However, the series does to try to introduce a lot of things to the audience within the first episode. This is probably why, after watching the first episode, I initially thought that the series was a bit clunky, badly-written and simplistic. In the first episode, there’s a lot of exposition and not that much in the way of moral ambiguity, character complexity etc… Although this episode is still compelling and worth watching, the rest of the mini series is thankfully a bit more complex.

In other words, the first episode is really good, but the other two are slightly better.

Visually, this mini series is absolutely sumptuous. Not only are there lots of futuristic set designs that look a little bit like something from “Blade Runner” or something like that, but this mini series is atmospheric. Thanks to the compelling story, the detailed fictional world of the series and some absolutely beautiful lighting, it’s very easy to overlook the shortcomings of the series’ special effects (eg: Painted backdrops, clunky CGI etc..).

One cool visual theme is how the series uses red, green and blue lighting to signify the different houses.

Seriously, I LOVE the lighting in the dream scenes in this film 🙂

Not to mention that the set design, in the first episode especially, is exquisite too 🙂

Thematically, this mini series is a lot more complex than it might initially appear to be. The themes here include things like the morality of empires, the nature of power, determinism and free will, dependence on fossil fuels, religion, terrorism etc…

Yes, this is intelligent sci-fi where the characters and dialogue are more important than the action/adventure-based scenes.

This mini series is also really interesting in terms of how it is simultaneously a liberal and a conservative series. For example, the series is set in a very traditionalist feudal society run by emperors, barons and dukes. Yet, everything is run behind the scenes by the wise women of the Bene-Gesserit. Plus, many of the series’ most well-developed and/or complex characters (eg: Jessica, Irulan and Chani) are powerful women.

Likewise, although the mini series also takes a refreshingly equal attitude towards male and female beauty, nudity etc…, the only LGBT character in the entire show (Baron Harkonnen) is presented as a sleazy and decadent Nero-like villain. Likewise, the show criticises brutal colonialism, yet praises more benevolent colonialism.

So, yes, the mini series is a really weird mixture of liberal and conservative, which is probably a reflection of the fact that it’s based on a book from the 1960s and was first broadcast in 2000. This probably also explains why the show takes a disturbing (to modern post-9/11 audiences) attitude towards the subject of terrorism – since the “rebel” characters we’re supposed to be cheering for regularly use terrorist tactics later in the mini series.

Yes, if the series had been released even a year later, these characters would be anti-heroes/villains rather than just heroes.

The characters in this mini series are all reasonably good. Apart from Baron Harkonnen, many of the characters are intelligent, mature people who have well-defined motivations and personalities. Likewise, although the mini series is about kings and empires, it also realistically shows that a ruler is nothing without a large number of people to support them. So, there’s a really good supporting cast of characters here too.

Plus, if you’re a “Game Of Thrones” fan, Jessica is a brilliant example of a “good” Cersei Lannister-style character.

In terms of pacing and plotting, this mini series has a well-defined three-act structure that follows Paul’s journey from a young prince to a respected ruler. The first episode is a futuristic political drama, that is filled with backstory etc.. The second episode is more of a thriller/horror/fantasy-style episode. The third episode is a political/military drama. It’s an epic tale in three parts.

Although my memories of the novel it is based on are somewhat vague, the mini series seemed reasonably faithful to what I remembered of the book. Of course, the story has probably been simplified slightly. But, if you’ve read “Dune”, then you’ll feel at home here.

Woo hoo! Dune, Arrakis, desert planet… actually looks like how you would imagine 🙂

And, yes, despite the “12 certificate” this mini series is actually more mature than “Game Of Thrones”. It knows what to leave to the imagination and what to show – this lends the story more of a “serious” and mythical quality than the world of “Game Of Thrones” has. It is also able to conjure up a ruthless world of feudal politics, but without the overwhelmingly depressing feeling of nihilism, tragedy and brutality that can sometimes appear in “Game Of Thrones”.

All in all, this mini series is the definitive adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune”. Yes, it gets off to a bit of a clunky start and it’ll make much more sense if you’ve read the books, but this mini series is a brilliant example of intelligent, mature old-school science fiction. If you haven’t read the book and you like things like “Game Of Thrones”, “Star Wars” etc… then you might enjoy this mini series too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four.

Micro Review: “People Watching (Season 2)” (Animated Youtube Series)

Well, although I don’t really have time to write a full-length review, I thought that I’d take a very quick look at the second season of Winston Rowntree’s animated “People Watching” Youtube series.

If you’ve never heard of Winston Rowntree before, he’s the creator of “Subnormality” – one of the most intelligent, well-written and artistically detailed webcomics I’ve ever seen 🙂

And, as you might have expected if you’ve seen the first season of “People Watching”, it is a little bit like an animated version of “Subnormality”- albeit with different characters. Even so, there are a couple of fun call-backs to the original webcomics here, such as an episode set in the Museum of Alternate Realities (as featured in this comic update, this one and this one).

Oh my god, this place has finally appeared in “People Watching” 🙂 And the Sphynx appears in the background too 🙂

However, although this episode maintains the same format as many of the “Museum” comics (eg: a character meets three alternate versions of themself) and features some tantalisingly brief footage of the museum’s fascinating exhibits, the episode also sums up one of the changes in this season when compared to the previous one.

In essence, this season of “People Watching” sometimes has a slightly harsher and more politicised/lecturing tone to it. Although, given all of the stuff that is happening in the world these days, this is perhaps understandable.

Even so, there are some fairly interesting “classic” style episodes here, such as the poignant third episode (“Homeless People Bother Me”) featuring series regulars Ted and Martha and the heartwarmingly tragic episode four (“37”). Likewise, the full-cast opening episode of the series (“2017”) is surprisingly optimistic and also features the kind of quirky twist that you’d expect from a “Subnormality” comic too 🙂

This is a screenshot from episode three, which was probably my favourite Ted and Martha-based episode from this season.

Like with the previous series, several of the episodes also focus on more mundane and emotional topics. This has always been a major theme in Rowntree’s “Subnormality” comics. However, this animated series is at it’s very best when it focuses on the quirkier stuff that makes Rowntree’s “Subnormality” comics such a joy to read.

In terms of the sound design and voice-acting, it’s really good. Plus, one really cool thing about this season of the show is that the fourth episode also features a song by Metric (“Nothing But Time”) in the background too 🙂

In terms of the art, this series is as brilliant as ever 🙂 Rowntree has one of the most distinctive, cool and detailed art styles I’ve ever seen and it is always awesome to see in animated form.

However, perhaps due to budgetary and/or time constraints, there seem to be slightly fewer ultra-detailed backgrounds in this season than there were in the first. Even so, there are still quite a few brilliant artistic moments here and quite a few of the hilarious background details you’d expect from “Subnormality” too 🙂

This is a screenshot from episode one, showing one of the series’ many quirky background details. There is also a more detailed version of this location shown in the episode too.

Unlike the first season, this second season of “People Watching” also had a rather weird release schedule – with the first five episodes appearing on Youtube every couple of days and then the final five appearing weekly (except in Canada, where the series apparently only appeared on CBC’s website). Although the release schedule was a bit random, one cool extra feature was that – after each episode aired – a guest artist would make a poster for it on Rowntree’s Instagram page.

Like with the first season of the show, some episodes are better than others and my favourite episodes are probably the first, third, fourth, eighth and tenth episodes.

All in all, this is an intelligent, well-written and visually-beautiful animated series by the creator of “Subnormality” 🙂 Although I slightly preferred the first season to this one and would have liked to have seen more sci-fi/quirkiness, it is still really good.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Time Stands Still” By Unleash The Archers (Album)

A few months ago, I was watching random heavy metal music videos on Youtube when I happened to stumble across one for a song called “Test Your Metal” by a band that I’d never even heard of before called Unleash The Archers. I was astonished. This song was proper old-school 1980s-style metal from a modern band 🙂

Fast forward a few months and, eventually, I got round to ordering a copy of the band’s third album “Time Stands Still” (2015) after noticing that it was only about a fiver or so on Amazon. Because if the rest of it was even half as good as the music videos I’d seen, then it was worth getting.

So, let’s take a look at “Time Stands Still” by Unleash The Archers:

And, yes, this album cover is EPIC! It could almost be an Iron Maiden album cover 🙂

The best way to describe the overall sound of this album is that it is a really interesting blend of old-school NWOBHM-style heavy metal and classic European-style power metal, with some more modern Scandinavian-style elements too.

Seriously, some parts of the album sound like they could have come from an old Iron Maiden, Helloween, Judas Priest or Saxon album and some parts of it sound like they could have come from a Wintersun, Ensiferum or Hammerfall album.

One of the early lines in the album’s fifth track, “Test Your Metal”, is ‘You’ve been around town/ with an original sound‘ and this sums up the band’s style perfectly.

Although it’s easy to see who they have been inspired by, they don’t sound exactly like any one specific band. Like all great metal bands, they’ve come up with their own uniquely distinctive sound that is both instantly recognisable as heavy metal, yet also intriguingly different from everything else.

Even though the album isn’t a concept album, most of it has an “epic fantasy/sci-fi” type of atmosphere that wouldn’t be totally out of place on an Iron Maiden, Hammerfall or Helloween album.

But, the album also includes a fair amount of variety too, from the vaguely Iron Maiden/DORO/Saxon-like “Test Your Metal” to the subliminally more gothic/horror-like “Crypt” (which contains some hints of death metal/black metal in some parts) to the opening instrumental “Northern Passage” – which wouldn’t be totally out of place on a Nightwish, Lacuna Coil or Wintersun album.

The best song to sum up the overall atmosphere and style of this album is probably the third track, “Hail Of The Tide”.

The early parts of this song sound vaguely like a mixture of a song like Ensiferum’s “Into Battle” and an epic sci-fi themed Iron Maiden song like “Caught Somewhere In Time” or “If Eternity Should Fail” (but is thematically closer to Iron Maiden’s “The Talisman” or “Ghost Of The Navigator”). Soon, the song goes in a very slightly more Helloween-like direction with a more sustained vocal segment, before returning to classic-style fast paced metal vocals. After this, there’s an utterly epic growled backing vocal segment that wouldn’t be out of place in a Wintersun or Amon Amarth song. And this is only the first half of the song……

The vocals on this album are absolutely outstanding. Lead singer Brittany Slayes’ vocal style is very much in the tradition of singers like Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Rob Halford (Judas Priest) and Michael Kiske (Helloween), but she also adds many original flourishes to this traditional style.

Mostly notably, she seems to be an absolute expert at sustaining a single note for long periods of time, which adds an extra sense of epicness to the songs. But, she’s also an incredibly versatile singer, who can sing more ordinary classic rock/ metal vocals (eg: in “Test Your Metal”) and vaguely Nightwish-like vocals (eg: in the early parts of “Dreamcrusher”).

In addition to this, backing singer Andrew Kingsley adds more modern-style growled vocals in some songs (with his vocals in “Hail Of The Tide” reminding me a lot of Wintersun’s first album). Not only that, the song “Time Stands Still” features some absolutely epic Viking-style clean backing vocals/chants, which reminded me of a band like Ensiferum or TYR.

Instrumentally, this album is wonderfully sumptuous. It is a beautifully complex feast of different sounds and styles, that all blend together perfectly.

Not only are there lots of awesome 1980s-style guitar segments, but the album’s atmospheric opening instrumental “Northern Passage” also contains a wonderful mixture of gothic piano/violin music and electronic elements. Likewise, the guitar segments in other parts of the album also have a crunchier and more modern sound too.

Plus, the longer version of the song “Tonight We Ride” even features a brief bass solo at one point (4:17-4:27, if anyone is curious) too. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a metal band do this before, but it works!

Another interesting thing about the longer version of “Tonight We Ride” is that it ends with a brief audio segment which imitates flicking through several radio stations (a bit like the beginning of “Starlight” by Helloween), which culminates with a single tone rising in volume. This segues absolutely perfectly with the beginning of the next track “Test Your Metal”.

And, yes, there are actually two versions of “Tonight We Ride” on the album (eg: a longer album version and the shorter version used in the song’s “Mad Max”-style music video).

All in all, this is a heavy metal album! If some of my favourite metal bands got together and made an album, it would sound a bit like this one! It is an absolutely brilliant blend of both old and new style metal, whilst also being totally unique at the same time.

If you love bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween, Saxon, Wintersun, Hammerfall etc… then you’ll find something to love about this album. If you’re unsure, then go onto Youtube and look up both “Test Your Metal” and “Hail Of The Tide”. You won’t be disappointed.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

First Impressions: “Clive Barker’s Undying” (Retro Computer Game)

Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d take a look at an old horror game called “Clive Barker’s Undying” (which I bought for £1.19 during a sale on GOG last year).

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that this is more of a “first impressions” article than a full review. I’d planned to finish this game before I posted this review but, after getting somewhere between one-third and halfway through the game, I realised that I’d never finish it before Halloween without falling massively behind on my article schedule. Plus, I also found myself abandoning the game for other reasons that I’ll explain later.

I should probably also warn you that this review may contain a couple of (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES. Likewise, the game itself contains FLICKERING lightning effects at the beginning.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Clive Barker’s Undying”:

“Clive Barker’s Undying” is a first-person shooter game from 2001. Set in the 1920s, you play as an occultist and ex- soldier called Patrick Galloway who has been living in exile from his native Ireland until he is summoned back by a letter from his old friend Jeremiah Covenant.

When he arrives at Jeremiah’s remote mansion, he finds that Jeremiah has been taken ill. Not only that, there seems to be some kind of family curse that has filled the creepy old mansion with ghosts and monsters…..

Well, it would be a very boring game if there weren’t ghosts and monsters….

My very first impressions of this game were extremely good. Even the main menu not only looked really cool, but also had ominously dramatic background music and some amazing flame animations for the mouse cursor.

Plus, for the elitists amongst you, there’s actually a framerate slider in the options menu. A framerate slider!

Not only was this a game that Clive Barker helped to make but it was also an EA game from the early 2000s. As much as EA deserve all of the criticism they get these days, there’s no denying that for a very brief period during the early 2000s they seemed to be the best for gothic horror games. I mean, they published the amazing “American McGee’s Alice” a year before this game! So, my expectations were sky-high.

And, for the early parts of the game, they were more than met. You begin the game by exploring a gloriously gloomy old mansion and it is still creepy to this day. Although there are a few scripted moments, a lot of the horror here comes from the frantic, claustrophobic combat and the general atmosphere of the place. Seriously, the early segments set in the mansion are how to make a horror game properly.

I LOVE the lighting here too 🙂

Seriously, I got a real “Silent Hill 3“/ “Realms Of The Haunting” vibe in this area!

Seriously, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that this location is still creepy to this day

Everything here is designed to ramp up the suspense. Whether it’s the fact that the lighting is dark enough to be creepy, but not dark enough that you get totally lost (eg: usually there is at least one lit area visible at any one time) or the constant sense of ominous suspense that gradually builds as you creep around the gloomy corridors in fear of your next monster encounter, this part of the game is scary.

This constant fear is amplified by the fact that you are occasionally attacked by powerful fast-moving monsters who will leap at you furiously.

Usually, your best bet is to get a headshot with your revolver in the few seconds you have whilst they are scampering towards you. But, of course, there’s usually more than one of them around at any one moment and you only have six bullets in your gun (and not enough time to reload if you miss too often..). This is how to add tension to an action-horror game!

Of course, once you see THIS, it’s almost too late…

In addition to this, Patrick also has several magical abilities that he can use (which use a recharging “mana” counter). The one you will be using most often is the “Scrye” ability – not only does this highlight enemies and allow you to see in the dark for a short time (with cool purple-tinted night vision no less 🙂 ), but it will also allow you to see things that you can’t ordinarily see.

Often, you will hear an ominous whisper telling you to use the ability and then, for example, a nearby painting will be transformed into a grotesque vision of hell:

Well, the game does have the words “Clive Barker” in the title. What did you expect? Unicorns and puppies?

However, as utterly awesome as the earlier parts of the game are – it doesn’t stay this way for too long. Even though there are some really cool locations after you initially explore the mansion, don’t get too used to them…

Seriously, this ominous floating building reminded me a bit of “American McGee’s Alice” 🙂

And just take a look at this gloriously gothic mausoleum 🙂

After a while, you will find yourself beneath an old monastery, and this is where I started to lose interest in the game. Not only do you have to trudge through endless dark underground catacombs (using the scrye ability every twenty seconds or so is practically mandatory…), but the game’s difficulty level goes from “enjoyably challenging” to “keyboard-smashingly cheap“. On “normal” difficulty, no less!

I’ve got six health points and skeletons have started spawning from this pile of bones. Skeletons that require expert marksmanship to defeat…

Not only does the game get more and more stingy with health packs and ammunition, but it also has a habit of spawning in lots of powerful monsters too. Many of these monsters require lightning-fast reflexes and/or precision aiming. Now, this would be ok if the game had a fast iteration time. But it doesn’t.

Every time you are killed, and it will happen a lot, you often have to sit through an unskippable 10-15 second death animation. Needless to say, this gets very old very fast. Other retro games like “Blood” can get away with being ultra-challenging because you can be back in the action about 1-5 seconds after you’ve died. Not so with this game…

This is a death animation from earlier in the game. Yes, these unskippable animations are creepy when you see them for the first time. Less so when you see them for the thirtieth time…

Eventually, this cheap difficulty and the sheer boredom of dingy catacomb after dingy catacomb just got the better of me and, whilst I’d planned to play more of this game before writing this article, I found myself skiving off and re-playing part of “Doom: The Golden Souls” instead. It seemed fifty times more fun than spending another hour of frustration in the catacombs….

What can I say? Fun wins every time…

Anyway, one strange feature of “Clive Barker’s Undying” is that it was designed for a future console port that was never actually made.

What this means is that there are short “loading” screens between some areas, and there’s also a spell/weapon wheel feature, which is actually quicker than cycling through your weapons and spells using the keyboard. Although these things are a little bit annoying, they’re hardly game-breaking problems. However, I noticed a fair amount of screen tearing whilst playing some parts of the game, but this might just be my computer.

From what I’ve seen, the game’s weapons are actually fairly good. In addition to a revolver and double-barelled shotgun (both of which require frequent reloading, which ramps up the tension), you can also find a “Tibetan War Cannon” which serves as an infinite-ammo freeze gun. Plus, I found sticks of dynamite and molotov cocktails too.

Of course, having played “Left4Dead2” quite a bit during my early twenties, I kept expecting Patrick to shout “throwing a molotov!“.

The “Tibetan War Cannon” is a golden dragon that spits chunks of ice! Seriously, I love how creative FPS game weapons used to be 🙂

In addition to this, you can find alternate ammo types for the pistol and shotgun (eg: silver bullets and incendiary shells) which can be very useful. Plus, one of the game’s spells allows you to shoot energy from your palms, and there’s a green stone you can use to repeal monsters. Seriously, I love how creative FPS game weapon design used to be.

The game’s monster designs are surprisingly good, with many of the monsters presenting a formidable threat to the player.

There are fast-moving “Howlers”, teleporting Lovecraftian horrors, invisible guards, powerful skeletons etc… Many of these monsters are vulnerable to different tactics and/or weapons. If they were used more sparingly, these monsters would be brilliant! However, the game will occasionally just spam these monsters at you sometimes. And, given how challenging they are, this quickly borders on unfair.

Seriously, if there were one or two Howlers here, it would be really fun! But, there are at least four….

In terms of voice-acting and sound design, this game is variable. Whilst the game’s music is brilliantly suspensful, the voice-acting can vary in quality somewhat – although this just adds to the vintage charm of the game. Likewise, the sound effects are all reasonably ok too.

All in all, wait until this game is on sale and then play the earlier parts of it. This game has a timelessly brilliant beginning, which is still utterly creepy to this day. The earlier parts of this game are atmospheric, suspenseful and a perfect example of a horror game. However, as soon as you start finding yourself in dingy underground catacombs, then save yourself the frustration and play something else instead….

If I had to give what I’ve played so far a rating out of five, it would probably get a three.

Mini Review: “Ghoul School 3D” (V 2.3) (WAD For “Heretic”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d take a look at a wonderfully ghoulish “Doom II”Heretic” WAD from 2017. Yes, you heard me correctly – “Heretic“. I think that this may well be a first for this blog.

I am, of course, talking about a WAD from the creator of “Project Einherjar“, “Strange Aeons“, “Nerves Of Steel” and “Derceto” called “Ghoul School 3D“.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD (since “Heretic” uses the same engine as “Doom”).

Plus, since I write these reviews quite far in advance, it’s possible that this WAD may have been updated in between the time I prepared this review and posted it (the version I played was version 2.3).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Ghoul School 3D”:

“Ghoul School 3D” is a large two-episode WAD (with each episode being one level spread seamlessly over several maps) that is a FPS-style remake of an old NES game called “Ghoul School”.

The story of episode one is that you play as a high school student called Spike, whose school has been overrun with ghouls, zombies and ghosts. Not only that, his crush Samantha has gone missing too! In the second episode, the school has been overrun with eyeball monsters due to the Necronomicon developing polyps…

Yes, seriously!

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it has personality! Not only does it have a wonderfully cheesy “1980s movie”-style atmosphere, it also features a variety of quirky and inventive weapons. There’s also a lot of humourous dialogue and (on a couple of occasions) voice-acting too.

Yes, even though it is a “Heretic” WAD, it includes “Strife“-style text dialogue trees (which you need to use to find mission objectives).

These dialogue trees also include most of the game’s comedy too 🙂

Although I initially worried that this WAD would consist of maze-like corridor-based style level design, it actually contains a surprising variety of different areas.

Such as this area. Hold on, is that a … Gremlin… on the door 🙂

Interestingly, the second episode re-uses some familiar locations – but with a variety of changes. This feeling of “familiar, but different” is really cool and it helps to add some depth to the game’s “world”.

In addition to this, despite the “retro” style, this is a WAD that actually requires jumping to be enabled. Fortunately though, there’s relatively little in the way of first-person platforming though.

Emphasis on “relatively”.

The level is fairly non-linear, with the school serving as a hub area that you revisit between exploring other areas. In the first episode, this area is populated by students, teachers and endlessly-respawning monsters.

Well, it is meant to be an invasion of the undead. So, this might explain it…

I’m in two minds about the respawning monsters – on the one hand, they keep the tension up and help to keep this area interesting. On the other hand, if you spend too long in a room, expect the entrance to be blocked by a crowd of them when you try to leave. In the second episode, this is less of an issue though.

Interestingly, several new areas of this hub level are also available to explore during the second episode – including a large sports stadium, a basketball court, several outdoor areas and an extra classroom or two.

And, yes, the ghouls and the eyeball mutants duke it out in the stadium too.

If you haven’t guessed from my mention of a hub area, this WAD is probably more close to “Hexen” than “Heretic” in terms of gameplay. And, yes, that means *groan* puzzles.

Dammit, I have to think as well…

Although there aren’t a gigantic number of puzzles, there are more than you would expect. Whilst some of the first episode’s puzzles are challenging but solvable (eg: the bookcase tower puzzle, the teleporting monster puzzle and the “sacrifices” puzzle) because of small clues nearby, I got completely and utterly stuck on at least two occasions and was forced to resort to using cheats.

In the second episode, I was forced to use cheats again – both to solve a puzzle (how on earth are you meant to get into the rat warren?) and because the sheer number of simultaneous fire effects in one large map slowed my framerate to below one (and, yes, I’m using an older computer. But, well, this is a mod for a game from 1994!). This then caused the game to get stuck in an unwinnable state (because a teleporter wouldn’t activate), which necessitated further use of cheat codes.

If you’re using an older computer, then this screenshot is a pretty accurate representation of the framerate during this map from episode 2.

I also solved at least one puzzle (eg: what to do with the red orb in the first episode) by accident too. Likewise, if you use the “raven logo” item in the first episode anywhere other than in one very specific area in the first episode, then you can easily end up permanently stuck too.

Yes, it’s the coolest power-up in the game, but don’t even think about using it frivolously….

Plus, a few parts of the game require you to use the school’s intercom system to open new areas. Although this sounds fairly easy, the intercom machine in one location has other machines nearby (which do nothing when you use them). So, finding it for the first time can be a matter of trial and error.

And, yes, you can mess around with the intercom too.

Likewise, you can find “Zelda”-style locked chests throughout the level that can be opened with golden keys that are hidden in various locations. Although I didn’t get to open every box, they usually just give you extra health, ammo and/or weapons.

In terms of the new monsters, they’re really cool. In addition to several varieties of ghoul, there are also zombies, burning zombies, zombie soldiers, eyeball mutants, fiery flying monsters, giant skulls, rats, tesla coils, ghosts, bosses etc.. too. Seriously, there’s a really cool variety of monsters here.

I guess you could say that this WAD is ghoulishly fun…

A wild MISSINGNO appeared!

Some monsters also have weapon-specific vulnerabilities. For example, the WAD’s “lost soul”-style ghosts take more damage from fire, lasers and water. The water-based vulnerability also applies to the burning zombies too (although they can be killed with other weapons, if you want to waste ammo), and it’s a really cool gameplay feature.

It isn’t a Super Soaker, it’s a reverse flamethrower!

As for the new weapons, they’re really good too. Although some of them re-use sprites from various other 1990s FPS games, they fit into the game’s setting really well and are fairly satisfying to use. They include a baseball bat, a Super Soaker filled with holy water, a rivet gun, a spray can flamethrower, a magic-based attack and a badass laser gun.

It may look boring, but just wait until you fire it….

In terms of music and sound design, this WAD is really good too 🙂 In addition to some interesting “vintage horror”-style theremin music in one area, one cool feature is that one of the bosses actually has voice-acting, and it is hilarious. I can’t remember the exact wording, but he says something like “Nothing can destroy me… except death” when you kill him. Likewise, Spike will also occasionally say stuff when you pick up weapons and upon death.

All in all, if you’ve got a copy of “Heretic”, then “Ghoul School 3D” is worth checking out. It’s filled with atmosphere, personality, action and humour. The level design is really good too. However, the puzzles can be frustrating at times and one segment of episode two is pretty much unplayable on older computers – so, expect to get stuck or use cheat codes a few times.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four. Because, despite the flaws I’ve mentioned, this WAD has personality, humour, creativity and style. It may have been released in 2017, but I wish that this WAD had been around during the 1990s.