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Scariest experience since System Shock 2

Pros Storyline Spooky atmosphere Superb graphics, sound an musical score
Cons Somewhat short Not enough replayability
Recommended it? Yes
The Bottom Line:  This new bottom line has p*ssed me off too much this day, read the review
Survival horror games for the PC are few and far between, and those of them made with high production values (read: a kick-a_$s graphics engine and freakin? positional audio) are even scarcer. Of the remaining group, those being a bit hyped by the media (and I mean just previewed, not over-hyped) can be counted on one hand. There?s an underwhelming total of three titles of this kind announced for this year at the moment, Alone in the Dark 4, Evil Dead (none of them released yet) and the subject of this review, Clive Barker?s Undying from Electronic Arts.

I still recall part of an interview the last GameCenter had with Clive Barker, where he (Barker) voiced his opinion on the present state of the industry, saying, among other things, that although the technology itself was incredibly sophisticated already, what had been done with it was not, adding he would create the gaming equivalent to The Exorcist. And while Undying is far from making the same impact on audiences that movie made thirty years ago, it is still competent enough as a survival horror game to get itself an honorable place among the titles that are part of this action subgenre.

The plot behind Undying revolves around a wealthy, powerful family and an ancient curse. The year is 1922, and the geographical location will be, for the most part, the Northern shores of Ireland. Players are cast as Patrick Galloway, a strong and determined man retired from the Irish infantry who went into exile for a crime he hadn?t committed. He is back only because of a mysterious letter his longtime friend, Jeremiah Covenant, sent him asking for assistance. Patrick is an intelligent man, but still an skeptic in terms of the supernatural. He carries the Gel?ziabar, a fluorescent stone from which strange energy emanates he got as a ?reward? in the War when a Trsanti warrior threw it at him, temporarily blinding him before escaping. He doubts what he sees when the voices around him order him to look around with their creepy tones, leading to dark visions of times long past being shown only to him. He also wonders if his friend Jeremiah has lost his sanity after hearing his story, when in his childhood Jeremiah went to the stone formations at the other side of Covenant state, along with his younger brothers and sisters, and read a passage of an arcane book of black magic he borrowed from his father?s library. What was supposed to be a children tale to scare his siblings turned out to be a horrid spell of irreversible consequences not even his father could identify, leading to gradual physical and mental changes in the Covenant children as they grew up, a problem that was secretly referred as a ?family illness? by the state?s servants and the townsfolk nearby.
Patrick will have to investigate the disturbing happenings at the Covenant state as he makes his way through the gigantic house, seeing apparitions of dead members of the Covenant family in their ethereal shape he initially denies to believe, as the house is being vandalized by ferocious dog-like creatures, the Howlers, a race of daemonic beasts pictured in legends of the local folklore.

While references to the master of arcane horror?s own mythology, H.P. Lovecraft, are clear and undeniable, the main focus in Undying is, beyond the forces of the supernatural, on characters and their affairs within the virtual world. Above all else, Undying tells the story of a man like anyone else, determined to stop the invisible enemy that threatens the life of his friend as he enters a world that is as unknown to him as it is to the player.

And that sums up perfectly why Undying is successful at telling a horror story while titles like Nocturne were not, because this kind of situations are scary when they happen to weak, average people, not bad-asses trained to deal with vampires and werewolves as if they were the fumigation squad, like Nocturne?s main character, the Stranger. And while Patrick Galloway isn?t a pathetic weakling, Barker managed to inject enough credibility into the character to make the people who are ?going to inhabit his skin, take care of it?, as he said in the aforementioned interview.

As for how you will be scared, Undying places somewhere along the lines of the Resident Evil series, meaning most of the scares will come from Howlers jumping out of dark areas to surprise you, or tentacles popping out of floors at random. This game is no System Shock 2, but what it does, it does it well enough to pull you into its world.

Graphically, Undying is second to none. Using a first person shooter engine to draw its universe isn?t a deterrent to its shock value as some people may fear. The lighting effects alone deserve a whole review, just look at how the shadows in Patrick?s gun change as he walks from a dark area to a lit one, or the yellow-red effect a burning fireplace has in the surrounding walls.
Carved wooden surfaces, extremely detailed wallpapers, dozens of different paintings that never get repeated in the course of the game, and the first mirrors that actually do what they are supposed to, to reflect the images all around them, are all here to set the new standard upon which future FPS games will be judged.

The sound department is on a par with the game?s visual quality. I might be overrating the game in this field since it?s the first one I have tested with positional audio, which by the way is highly recommended to increase the scare levels exponentially, but this technology lends itself perfectly to the purpose here. Echoes of distant footsteps, doors suddenly closing after the character enters a new room, the wind coming through the windows and the howls of bloodthirsty Howlers all around you add the final touches to an already frightening experience.

There are minor complaints, as in every other game, like the fake doors or the load system. It?s not a tiresome one; instead of a monolithic load at the beginning, the engine loads up the levels into RAM in small percentages (a la Half-Life), while you save time to some degree with this system, it comes at the cost of atmosphere (halting the action every ten minutes is too much relief to keep things scary).

In the end, Undying is a gratifying, though a bit short, experience. It tells its story in a superb way, and it doesn?t become a messy bloodbath despite the FPS engine, and while we are getting tired of seeing the spooky members of the Covenant family in every single banner add online gaming sites are throwing at us, it?s reassuring to know that the ?what doesn?t kill you will make you wish it had? motto was put to good use.

If you're looking for a classic horror game, buy System Shock 2, if you want a game that has in it the potential to be a classic, get Clive Barker?s Undying.

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