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.

First Impressions: “Shadow Man” (Retro Computer Game)

2017-artwork-shadow-man-first-impressions

First of all, this is (for reasons I’ll explain later) more of a “first impressions” article than a full review. At the time of writing, I’ve played this game for a few hours and have possibly looked at somewhere between a fifth and a third of it.

Although I’d vaguely heard of “Shadow Man” in the games magazines that I read during my childhood, I didn’t really discover it until a sale on GOG a few days before originally writing this article. Although there were mixed reviews on the site, the fact that it was a late 1990s gothic horror 3D platform game that had been reduced to something like 70p made the decision to buy it something of a no-brainer.

So, let’s take a look at “Shadow Man”:

shadow-man-logo

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it has one of the most impressive introductory cutscenes that I’ve ever seen. I usually don’t care about introductory cutscenes, but this one really knocked me off my feet. As soon as you start the game, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” thunders in the background and you are treated to an ominous monologue from none other than Jack the Ripper:

Trust me, this is WAY more dramatic in-game.

Trust me, this is WAY more dramatic in-game.

Jack laments that his crimes have not produced the results that he desires and that, to continue his occult experiments, he must end his own life. However, before he can plunge a knife into his chest, he is interrupted by a rather suave fellow called Legion who asks him to design a temple to pain and suffering in the afterlife. Gleefully, Jack agrees and stabs himself.

Then, we flash forward to 1990s America where a man called Michael LeRoi is talking to a Voodoo priestess called Nettie. Michael is a “shadow man”, imbued with powers that allow him to cross between the worlds of the living and the dead. Nettie tells him that something terrible is happening in the world of the dead, and it is up to him to stop it.

Although it may not sound like much, the voice-acting, writing and gothic atmosphere of even the intro movie alone is astonishingly good. This is the kind of epic intro movie where you’ll easily ignore the slight clunkiness of the late-1990s 3D graphics because of the sheer strength of the writing and atmosphere.

The game itself is, as you would expect, an action/puzzle-based 3D platform game. You fight lots of monsters and solve occasional movement/item-based puzzles (for example, locked doors require you to collect a certain number of souls in order to open them).

The locked doors ALSO look like something from "Stargate" too :) The 1990s was TRULY a great decade!

The locked doors ALSO look like something from “Stargate” too 🙂 The 1990s was TRULY a great decade!

Unlike in similar games released at a similar time (eg: “American McGee’s Alice” etc..), you don’t progress through the levels in a linear order. In fact, there’s a rather large hub level and a fast-travel system.

You'll be visiting this place quite a lot between levels.

You’ll be visiting this place quite a lot between levels.

The only problem with the fast-travel system is that the game will also respawn all of the monsters whenever you revisit somewhere you’ve already been. Given that this is a game from the golden era of gaming, the combat is more on the challenging side of things.

In fact, the earlier levels are actually more difficult for the simple reason that you are only equipped with a weak pistol that requires something like ten shots just to defeat even one low-level undead creature. Yes, when you learn to use some of the game’s features (like the lock-on strafe feature), the difficulty drops slightly, but this is a game where every fight is a tense fight to the death.

Yes, even this small two-headed creature from the early part of the game is still a legitimate threat.

Yes, even this small two-headed creature from the early part of the game is still a legitimate threat.

But, although this game is a PC port of a console game, there’s a proper saving system which helps to mitigate the game’s high difficulty level. In other words, you can save whenever and wherever you need to. I honestly don’t know how people played this game on consoles, where there were probably fixed checkpoints or something like that.

In terms of the controls, this game is surprisingly (and refreshingly) old-school. Although you can (and should!) customise the controls, the game is exclusively keyboard-only. Even the combat uses a traditional “Doom/Doom II”-style vertical auto-aim system. Whilst this filled me with 1990s nostalgia, the lack of mouse controls might be disconcerting if you’re more used to modern games.

The gameplay and environment design in “Shadow Man” is both brilliant and not so brilliant at the same time. There are some really cool-looking areas in this game and, like all great games from the 1990s, the levels are the kind of non-linear things that actually require you to explore.

Dammit, why don't games look like this any more? Seriously, I love this style of lighting :)

Dammit, why don’t games look like this any more? Seriously, I love this style of lighting 🙂

For some bizarre reason, this part of the game reminded me of both "American McGee's Alice" and the first "Jak And Daxter Game", which is never a bad thing :)

For some bizarre reason, this part of the game reminded me of both “American McGee’s Alice” and the first “Jak And Daxter Game”, which is never a bad thing 🙂

 And THIS looks like something from the imagination of Clive Barker too!

And THIS looks like something from the imagination of Clive Barker too!

However, although you’ll have a lot of fun exploring the game’s world for a few hours, you might get completely and utterly stuck when you start encountering the first two of the game’s five bosses. These bosses reside in the world of the living and, from what I’ve seen, they’re demented serial killers who will often shout cheesy one-liners at you:

Yes, as the subtitles show, this guy is somehow hilarious and creepy at the same time.

Yes, as the subtitles show, this guy is somehow hilarious and creepy at the same time.

From what I’ve been able to gather from walkthroughs, you actually need a specific three-part item to beat these bosses. But, I haven’t been able to find out how to get two pieces of this item. In other words, the main reason why this is only a “first impressions” article is because I got completely stuck.

Yes, although the challenging parts of the game are usually extremely enjoyable, this part crosses the line from “fun” to “frustrating”. For example, the game itself only hints that you need an item to defeat the bosses after a long battle with said bosses. You’ll think that you’ve almost defeated the bosses, only for them to get back up and for Michael to make some cryptic comment about how he wished he could use his shadow powers in the world of the living.

All in all, despite the high likelihood of getting completely and utterly stuck after a few hours, I’d still recommend checking this game out for everything before that part of the game. It’s atmospheric, it’s thrilling and it shows off some of the reasons why the 1990s were such a creative and imaginative decade in the history of gaming. Plus, old-school 3D platform games on the PC are something of a rarity, so this game is well worth checking out for this alone.

If I had to give what I’d played so far a rating out of five, it would get just under a five. It’s almost perfect.

Review: “Red Faction II [PC Version]” (Retro Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Red Faction II Review sketch

Although I have very fond memories of playing the Playstation 2 version of “Red Faction II” when I was a teenager, I’d almost forgotten about this game until earlier this year when I saw that the PC version of this game was on special offer on GOG. Out of sheer nostalgia, I bought a copy within an hour of seeing it.

During the sale, the game cost about two quid and this is probably what I’d recommend paying for this game (for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this review). So, it’s probably a good idea to wait until it goes on offer again. At the time of writing, this game also seems to be available on Steam for a slightly lower price than the full-price GOG version, however it also comes with all of Steam’s DRM too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Red Faction II”:

2016 Red Faction II Main menu with bot match

“Red Faction II” is a dystopian science fiction FPS game that was originally released for the Playstation 2 in 2002 (with the PC port being released in 2003). Although it is supposedly a sequel to “Red Faction“, you don’t need to have played that game first since it’s almost a completely different game.

In “Red Faction II”, you play as Alias, a demolitions expert in a team of nanotechnology-enhanced super soldiers that serve under the command of a Stalin-like dictator called Sopot. However, after a few years, Sopot becomes suspicious of the super soldiers and orders them killed.

Fortunately, Alias and the rest of the team are able to escape execution and they decide to ally themselves with the Red Faction, a group of rebels who are waging a civil war against Sopot’s government….

Although the premise of the game sounds slightly generic, there’s a surprising amount of complexity in the game’s story. Yes, it can’t exactly be compared to a novel – or even a TV show – but, for a FPS game from the early 2000s, the story is slightly more complex than you might think. However, I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers.

I have a lot to say about this game, so I’ll start by talking about the things I loved about this game and then I’ll talk about all of it’s flaws. There are a lot of things in each category, so I’ll split this review into two segments.

The Good Things About “Red Faction II”:

One thing that I really love about this game is it’s atmosphere. Although there are at least few generic “military base”/ “dreary factory” levels, some of the levels have a very distinctive cyberpunk aesthetic to them that reminded me of a cross between “Tron” and “Blade Runner”:

Yay! An ominous-looking laboratory :)

Yay! An ominous-looking laboratory 🙂

It may be a brutal dictatorship, but it also looks like "Blade Runner". Every cloud DOES have a silver lining, I guess.

It may be a brutal dictatorship, but it also looks like “Blade Runner”. Every cloud DOES have a silver lining, I guess.

The range of weapons in “Red Faction II” is surprisingly good too. Although this game includes a few boringly “realistic” guns, many of the weapons on offer here are of the futuristic variety and they all look, sound and feel really great.

The weapon that you’ll probably be using the most is the “NICW” – a futuristic assault rifle that also contains a powerful grenade launcher. Since it’s extremely useful at both short and long ranges, you’ll probably just end up ignoring all of the other weapons once you find it.

Not only is the NICW useful during normal gameplay, but it's secondary fire can also come in handy during boss battles too.

Not only is the NICW useful during normal gameplay, but it’s secondary fire can also come in handy during boss battles too.

Plus, unlike many other FPS games, “Red Faction II” contains a ridiculous number of weapons. One of the advantages of playing classic FPS games on the PC is that you can use the number keys to switch between weapons. Well, in “Red Faction II”, you’ll also have to use several punctuation keys to select weapons too. And that’s not even including the 4-5 types of grenades that you’ll find throughout the game. Seriously, I cannot fault the weapons in this game.

As for the enemies, they’re moderately interesting. Since this game came from the tail end of the time when FPS games were at their best, there is some actual creativity here. Although you’ll spend the first few levels fighting generic “enemy soldier” enemies, you’ll soon also be facing robots (large and small), evil “nano elite” super-soldiers and two types of zombies.

Yes, they’re technically nanotechnology-enhanced corpses but, well, zombies!:

Yay! It's a known fact that the presence of the undead automatically makes any FPS game about ten times as fun :)

Yay! It’s a known fact that the presence of the undead automatically makes any FPS game about ten times as fun 🙂

In addition to this, the game also contains several challenging boss battles too. Does anyone else remember when FPS games used to include these? Although these battles can occasionally become frustrating due to some poor elements of the game’s design (which I’ll discuss later), they mostly provide an enjoyable challenge where you’ll have to think carefully about the tactics that you use.

This game also includes several vehicle segments too. Although I’m normally opposed to vehicle segments in FPS games, most of these segments are fairly good (especially those where you get to use a giant suit of battle armour). However, the segment where you control a gun on an aircraft plays like an on-rails shooter rather than a FPS game, which can be confusing at first. However, as I’ll explain in the other half of this review, one of the game’s other vehicle sections isn’t so good.

Another good thing about this game is the excellent voice acting. A few seconds after you see the main menu, you will be greeted by a thunderous speech from Sopot which really sets the tone for the game. Seriously, it’s something that you won’t forget – and will probably be able to recite parts from memory after listening to it a few times. Not only that, there are also a couple of famous names amongst the voice cast too:

Lance Henriksen AND Jason Statham :)

Lance Henriksen AND Jason Statham 🙂

Plus, as a single-player gamer, one thing I loved about the PC port of this game is that fact that instead of a multiplayer mode (that I’ll never use), the game only includes a “bot match” mode, where you can play deathmatch, capture the flag etc… games against the computer 🙂

The bot match system includes a classic-style health system and several unlockable levels. However, those expecting an online or local  multiplayer mode will be disappointed.

The bot match system includes a classic-style health system and several unlockable levels. However, those expecting an online or local multiplayer mode will be disappointed.

Since you’ll unlock extra content for it (as well as several movie/ model/ concept art galleries) as you progress through the main game, it has even more replay value than you might expect. However, if you’re a multiplayer gamer, the lack of local or online multiplayer will probably be a critical flaw rather than an awesome feature.

The Bad Things About “Red Faction II”:

Despite all of my praise for this game, it is not without a litany of serious flaws. Most of these problems stem from the fact that this game is very obviously primarily designed for consoles. These are things that I didn’t notice much when I was a naive PS2 (and PC) playing teenager but, as a more seasoned retro FPS PC gamer, they stand out from a mile away.

The first of these problems is that this game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving. Yes, I can see why this was done for practical reasons on consoles, but there’s no excuse whatsoever for it in PC games. And, as if to taunt you further, the game contains a “save game” option in the in-game menu, which only allows you to re-save your latest checkpoint.

This problem is compounded by the fact that many of the boss battles are preceded by unskippable cutscenes which you’ll have to re-watch every time that you die. And, this will probably happen again and again and again….. Seriously, I pretty much memorised the dialogue in the cutscene before the final boss battle.

This (approximately one minute-long) cutscene is permanently seared into my brain, thanks to a combination of checkpoint saving and the fact that it is totally unskippable!

This (approximately one minute-long) cutscene is permanently seared into my brain, thanks to a combination of checkpoint saving and the fact that it is totally unskippable!

In addition to checkpoint saving, this game also includes a limited form of *ugh* regenerating health. Since the original version of this game was released in 2002, the rot hadn’t fully set in yet, so you’ll still be able to collect health power-ups. However, these serve as more of a “lives” system and you lose one of them whenever your short regenerating health bar runs out.

Ironically, the “bot match” mode includes a proper non-regenerating health system, so I don’t see why this couldn’t have been added to the main game as well.

Plus, despite carrying the “Red Faction” name, this game has barely any links to the previous game. In fact, even the really cool “geo mod” system in the first game (that allowed you to destroy almost everything in the game) has been reduced to a few specific pre-determined desctructible items, walls and areas. I really don’t understand why this unique and distinctive feature was mostly removed in the second game. I mean, it was one of the things that made the original “Red Faction” stand out so much.

Not only that, there are only a few very easily-missed token references to the first game here:

Wow, I never that that I'd actually be happy to see the logo of the nefarious Ultor Mining Corporation....

Wow, I never that that I’d actually be happy to see the logo of the nefarious Ultor Mining Corporation….

The level design in “Red Faction II” is also more “modern” than classic too. What I mean by this is that many of the levels are of the highly linear variety. Yes, there are a few non-linear parts and a few cool hidden areas to find but – for the most part – there isn’t really much room for exploration. You just carry on walking along the one fixed path that the game designers have told you to follow.

This bridge may look cool, but it also sums up the design of a lot of the levels.

This bridge may look cool, but it also sums up the design of a lot of the levels.

This level is quite literally just a shooting gallery.

This level is quite literally just a shooting gallery.

Even though I’m not really much of an options nerd, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that, apart from re-bindable keys and a few gameplay options, the “options” menu is fairly limited. You can’t change the screen resolution or do many of the things that you would expect in a PC game. Still, since it’s from 2002-3, this game will run smoothly on even fairly old PCs (like mine).

Although the game’s progamming is fairly stable and reliable, I had one “shout at the screen in frustration” moment when a glitch prevented me from completing a particularly difficult boss battle. After several attempts, I’d finally completed the first half of the battle and I was moving to the second half when….

 ... I got stuck in a door. I'd just spent the past five minutes fighting a difficult boss... Oh well, back to the last checkpoint to do it all over again !!!

… I got stuck in a door. I’d just spent the past five minutes fighting a difficult boss… Oh well, back to the last checkpoint to do it all over again !!!

The absolute worst part of the game by far is, of course, the submarine section.

Many of the vehicle segments in this game are fast-paced and thrilling… and then you have to spend some time aboard a … well, I can’t think of an insult strong enough to describe it … submarine. Not only does this decrepit rust-bucket handle like a slow-moving brick (unlike the enemy submarines that will be shooting you and the homing mines scattered on the ground below you), but it’s weapons are slow-firing and inaccurate too.

 I'm not a religious person but, in the very unlikely event that hell exists, all of the computer games there probably look like this one level!

I’m not a religious person but, in the very unlikely event that hell exists, all of the computer games there probably look like this one level!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’ll be spending these parts of the game navigating murky underwater caverns. In fact, once you’ve completed the objective in the last part of the submarine level, you then have the fun task of finding the submarine bay that will allow you to finally leave this despicable crime against gaming behind you. Forever.

Of course, the submarine bay doors are not clearly lit or clearly marked. In fact, they’re hidden in a part of the level that doesn’t even obey the laws of physics! In one part of the level, there are several thin metal platforms (that are thinner than the submarine) protruding from a rock. If you try to land on top of them, as any sensible person would, nothing will happen. Instead, you have to go underneath one of these thin platforms… to surface inside a large indoor facility that is obviously directly above the thin metal platform that you just landed on top of twenty minutes ago! AAAARGH!!!!

Conclusion:

All in all, this game is a real mixed bag. For every wonderfully cool thing about it, there is also something absolutely terrible. Although I miss the days when I could be naively nostalgic about this game, re-playing it wasn’t an entirely bad experience. As such, I’d recommend waiting until this game goes on sale before you buy it (or, even better, buying the first “Red Faction” game instead).

Even so, there’s a lot of fun to be had here, if you’re willing to put up with some extremely frustrating moments and console-centric PC game design.

If I had to give this game a rating out of five, it would maybe get a three.