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.

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Review: “X-COM: Enforcer” (Retro Computer Game)

Well, although I had planned to review one of the “The Incredible Machine” games, I ended up being distracted by various other things.

But, before I could resume playing that game, I noticed that a vaguely interesting-looking game called “X-COM: Enforcer” was on special offer on GOG. And, since it had been reduced to £1.19 at the time (and the download was just a little under 300Mb), I thought that I’d check it out.

However, I should point out that I haven’t played any of the other “X-COM” games – so, I can’t compare this one to them. Still, from what I’ve read, the other “X-COM” games are very different to this one. So, if you’re an “X-COM” fan, your experience of this game may differ from mine.

I should also point out that at least one part of the game contains FLICKERING LIGHTS, although I don’t know if they’re intense and/or fast enough to cause problems.

So, let’s take a look at “X-COM: Enforcer”:

“X-COM: Enforcer” is a sci-fi third-person shooter game from 2001 (wow, that’s… 17 years.. ago!). The game begins with a scientist building a combat robot, called “Enforcer”, to defend Earth. However, before he can finish testing the robot, an alien invasion begins…..

It literally happens just after the robot has been brought online. What perfect timing!

One of the very first things that I will say about this game is that, although it is nothing groundbreaking, it is fun! I talked about this yesterday, but the entire game is designed to keep you playing it.

Everything from the short levels (which encourage you to play “just one more level”) to the way that the game handles combat, difficulty and mission objectives are designed to make you want to play more. So, yes, this is the kind of game which you plan to play for ten minutes, but end up playing for three hours.

This game is a time bandit, but in the best possible way 🙂

Plus, despite being released in 2001, this game is very 1990s in terms of style and atmosphere. It isn’t a gritty, serious, realistic shooter or anything like that. It is a knowingly silly sci-fi action game about robots and aliens. It is bright, colourful, gameplay-focused and fun.

It also contains some vaguely imaginative weapons and some “Duke Nukem 3D“-style witty dialogue from the Enforcer too – mostly consisting of lines like “Don’t mess with Earth!” etc.. delivered in a Robocop-like voice. Which is hilarious!

It’s down to you and me, you one… oops! Wrong game!

As you would expect, the vast majority of the gameplay revolves around combat. In many ways, this game is slightly similar to games like “Alien Shooter” or “Serious Sam“. It is an intense and gloriously mindless “shoot-em-up” game with an emphasis on frantic, fast-paced combat against hordes of monsters.

The game’s combat is, in a word, streamlined. The aiming system has been simplified to a “Doom“-style horizontal-only aiming system, which reduces the need for accuracy. Your character can only hold one weapon at a time, which encourages you to search for better weapons and means that you don’t have to worry about choosing weapons in the middle of a fight. The monsters drop time-limited bonuses when defeated, which encourages you to play quickly and aggressively.

Yes, THIS is an action game!

This simplified and streamlined combat works surprisingly well, and it helps to make the experience of playing the game a lot more intense and thrilling. Like in several other third-person shooters, you can also upgrade your character and the game’s weapons between levels (using “data points” you find in-game).

Yes, you actually have to collect the points in-game. Since this game is from 2001, there are absolutely no annoying micro-transactions here 🙂

The only slight flaw with the game’s combat is that one of the weapons – the freeze gun – slows down the pace of the combat considerably, and trying to avoid picking it up can be a bit of an annoyance. Likewise, the camera angles in the game can sometimes be angled very slightly too steeply – most of the time, this isn’t an issue, but it can be annoying at times.

The game’s upgrade system is fairly good, and provides a great incentive for getting high scores in each level. However, new weapons and abilities are often only unlocked if you find “unresearched objects” scattered around certain levels. Whilst this (and another system that allows you to unlock bonus levels) provides an incentive for the player to look around and explore a bit, it also means that the player can finish the game without even seeing all of the weapons.

In terms of saving, this game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving. However, I can sort of understand this. Since it is mitigated somewhat by the short level length, the lack of a proper saving system lends each level an “all or nothing” quality which encourages you to play more and play in a more assertive fashion. However, this system annoyingly doesn’t let you revisit previous levels though.

Which is a shame since this is one of the few games where I’d actually want to revisit previous levels to grind for more points.

Thankfully, “X-COM: Enforcer” contains a proper health system – which helps to add suspense to each battle. However, a very slow and limited form of regenerating health can be unlocked as a special ability. Given the limits of this system and the fact that you actually have to earn it, it feels reasonably fair and can actually come in handy during some of the later levels.

The game’s difficulty is deliberately designed to make the player feel like an expert. Whilst I wouldn’t call this an “easy” game, I only died a few times when playing it (and at least half of those times involved accidentally falling off of ledges).

Although a couple of the boss battles are slightly challenging, the game’s difficulty curve is fairly gentle – and it is intense enough to make you feel like an expert player, whilst also being considerably more forgiving than a game like “Alien Shooter” or “Serious Sam”. Basically, this game contains the illusion of challenging difficulty – but this is done really well (eg: I really wouldn’t be surprised if the game spawned in extra health power-ups when your health is running low etc..)

Even so, the final boss battle is at least somewhat challenging 🙂

Generally, most of the game’s mission objectives revolve around destroying a certain number of alien teleporters and/or rescuing a certain number of civilians. Occasionally, the game shakes things up by including a wave shooter-style level, a boss battle or a level where you have to protect a group of trapped civilians for a certain amount of time. Surprisingly though, these simplistic objectives work really well, since they keep the emphasis firmly on the thrilling fast-paced action.

Although the game contains a few non-linear levels, many of the levels are fairly linear. This actually works quite well in this context since, again, it keeps the action fairly streamlined. Plus, there’s even an optional hint function that helps to ensure that you don’t get stuck. If this was an FPS game, I’d consider the linear levels and hint function to be a major flaw. But, since it’s an arcade-like third-person shooter, then it actually fits in with the game surprisingly well.

Yes, this feature is actually useful rather than patronising.

In terms of visual design, this game has some reasonably good moments. Although a fair number of the levels consist of very slightly generic outdoor and urban areas, there are some visually-interesting and creative levels on offer here too. And, even the more visually-boring levels aren’t that much of a problem – since they just serve as a blank canvas for the much more exciting action within each level.

I absolutely love the architecture in this level 🙂

Plus, there’s a very vaguely “Blade Runner”-style cyberpunk level too 🙂

Then there’s this shopping centre that reminds me of “Silent Hill 3”.

In terms of length, this game took me about 6-8 hours to complete. But, thanks to the fact that it consists of lots of shorter levels, the game feels a lot more substantial when you are actually playing it. Still, given how compelling this game becomes, it’s the sort of game that would still feel “too short” even if it was twice as long.

Plus, thanks to being very gameplay-focused (rather than story or puzzle-based), this game has a lot of replay value. However, your only reward for completing the game seems to be a few extra unlockable skins for the Enforcer. Still, things like finding bonus levels etc.. help to increase the replay value too.

Early in the game, the bonus levels are very generic. But, later, you can find bonus levels like this “Pac Man”-style one…

The game’s sound design is reasonably good, with the best sound effects being the satisfying drilling sound when you pick up some health or the crunchy ice sound that accompanies the freeze gun. Likewise, the music is fast repetitive electronic music, which goes reasonably well with the style of the game. One stand-out musical moment is that one piece of background music features a sample of the famous “Houston, we have a problem” recording.

The voice acting, on the other hand, is “so bad that it’s good”. Throughout the game, there are voice-overs from the scientist who built the Enforcer. He sounds endearingly annoying – that’s the best way I can think to describe his dialogue. The Enforcer’s dialogue is.. well… robotic. Still, this adds a lot of comedy value to the game – since he delivers “badass” witticisms in a Robocop-style way.

Seriously, I miss the days when action games had sarcastic protagonists…

The voice acting for the final boss is hilariously terrible though. Seriously, the voice acting in this game is quite literally “so bad that it’s good”.

All in all, although this game isn’t perfect, it’s an overlooked gem. Yes, it’s a gleefully mindless shoot-em-up game that is relatively short and not too difficult – but it is fun. It is designed to be thrilling and to make you want to play more. If you’ve played “Alien Shooter”, “Alien Shooter 2”, “Zombie Shooter”, “Painkiller” and both classic “Serious Sam” games, and you want something vaguely similar (but a bit easier), then this game is worth playing.

Most of the game’s design decisions work really well and, although it doesn’t sound like much on paper, the actual experience of playing this game is highly enjoyable. It is a thrilling, streamlined action game that will entertain you with robotic efficiency.

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

Today’s Art (23rd September 2016)

Well, I’m still making 1980s-style cyberpunk paintings of real places. Today’s painting is a cyberpunk painting of the shopping centre in Milton Keynes, based on my memories of it from sometime around 2001. Long-term readers of this blog might also notice that this painting is at least a partial remake of this old painting from last April.

Although today’s painting is probably the most detailed painting in the series, it required quite a bit of digital editing after I scanned it.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Cyberpunk 2001 (Milton Keynes)" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk 2001 (Milton Keynes)” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (23rd April 2015)

Well, today’s painting is based on a random vivid memory that I suddenly had a couple of hours before I made this painting. It was a memory of visiting Milton Keynes in 2001. Interestingly, I only know the exact year because I still have the “Sum 41” CD single [anyone remember those?] of this song that I bought that day.

Anyway, when I was leaving the town’s surprisingly large shopping centre, I saw a red-haired woman standing in a water fountain and splashing someone.

This was completely random and – to my (surprisingly stuffy and conservative, despite my tastes in music) teenage self – almost unimaginably free-spirited.

(As a blog exclusive, I’ll also provide a copy of the “work in progress” lineart for this painting.)

As usual, the two pictures in this post are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Circa 2001 (Milton Keynes)" By C. A. Brown

“Circa 2001 (Milton Keynes)” By C. A. Brown

And here’s the lineart:

"Circa 2001 (Milton Keynes) - Lineart" By C. A. Brown

“Circa 2001 (Milton Keynes) – Lineart” By C. A. Brown