Go back to Clive Barker’s Undying

Written by: Rik

Date posted: November 18, 2007

So the blurb on the back of the box says Undying will “prey on your darkest fears, in a game of unparalleled horror”. Does it? Well, not quite. I’d be more inclined to call it a dark fantasy game with segments of horror. Viewed in that respect, though, it’s very successful. Also, there are definitely some parts where you can feel Clive Barker’s chilling influence; the flayed, chain-wielding Aaron Covenant could have come right out of one of his books.

The scariest bits are probably early on, and the richly detailed Covenant mansion is the perfect environment for some spooky goings on. You’re poorly armed and not completely sure of what’s going on. Doors slam, curtains billow in the wind and an undead spectre floats around taunting you. Oh, and horrible fast-moving clawed things sometimes leap out at you. The Scrye spell is a great addition here, revealing visual or audio clues as to what the hell has been going on here. You can count on at least a few “what the hell” moments, or even “Jesus no I’m not going in there”.

Later areas aren’t quite so outright scary, but you can still count on them to be highly atmospheric; there’s a real feeling of dark powers at work. There are adventures across desolate heaths, crypts and ancient monasteries. Then towards the end a chapter in the eerie and impossible world of Oneiros, where grim stone ruins float in a blood-red void. It all still looks good – it’s my opinion that Unreal-powered games haved aged quite well. The pacing is pretty well done too; occasionally the game throws a stack of monsters at you, but at other times it’s a lot quieter, taking the time to build up some tension. The only disappointment is the last section, which thematically just doesn’t fit.

Anyway tho, there’s a half-decent narrative stringing most of this together. I actually wish the plot had been a bit more developed, and it does ultimately come down to just tracking down and killing a bunch of siblings who have all turned into different kinds of supernatural horror. Then again, quite often i find myself remaking on the complete lack of narrative in shooters. Quake, anyone? So it almost seems a bit churlish to complain too hard about this one. By the standard of the day, Undying does comparatively well.

There are a few further oddities. The voice-acting definitely lets the side down, and hinders the effect of the narrative-driving cutscenes sometimes. Patrick Galloway himself is okay, in a soft-spoken kind of way. However some of the minor characters sound like a few staff were summoned from the accounts department and ordered to do their best Oirish accents. Also it’s hard to imagine why exactly the mansion staff are still hanging around; the butler seems strangely happy to sit around a house filled with monsters and the bodies of his dead colleagues, ready to give provide you with exposition.

Overall though, Undying is highly worthwhile. Atmospheric and creepy, it’s a clear step above the average shooter.