Despite some issues, Clive Barker’s Undying manages to blend two dissimilar genres in a cohesive and entertaining way.
Recent horror games have proven that when players are stripped of agency, the horror elements involved are much more effective. But is it possible to create an effective horror game in which you defend from horrifying creatures using weapons? Clive Barker’s Undying proves that it is, but if you’re going to play this unconventional title make sure you prefer first-person shooters over horror titles or else you’ll be disappointed.
In Clive Barker’s Undying, you assume the role of an Irishman called Patrick Galloway. The story takes place in October, 1923 when Patrick decides to go back to his homeland after receiving an invitation from his old friend, Jeremiah Covenant. Jeremiah lives in a castle in the middle of nowhere and for the past few weeks, he has witnessed some paranormal events. Strange episodes have been taking place at the mansion and everything suggests that they might be related to the curse that destroyed the Covenant family. Knowing that Patrick has experience with occult matters, Jeremiah sends him a letter. Soon enough, sinister creatures start appearing in the castle and it’s your job to get rid of them while you unravel the mystery of the family’s curse.
Details about the story are revealed through conversations with people that work in the mansion and journal entries that are scattered around the rooms you explore. So you can talk to maids, butlers and gardeners and ask questions about past residents or read journal entries. So little by little, researching rooms and making inquiries paints a clear picture of the Covenant family.
At its core, Undying is a horror game that’s played from a first-person perspective. But to face the monsters that appear during this chilling quest, your character can use weapons and spells. Weapons include pistols, Molotov cocktails, cannons and a gigantic scythe, among many others. Spells, on the other hand, not only are useful to defeat creatures, but also to solve some of the puzzles that hinder your progress. Still, take into account that using spells consumes mana that replenishes over time. There’s a range of magical spells. Dispel, for instance, breaks invisible walls that block your path, Scrye let’s you witness paranormal events that took place thousands of years ago and so on. Apart from weapons and spells, you find items such as keys, amplifiers, traps, and special ammunition, to name but a few.
Although you can deviate from the main path to locate hidden items, the structure of the game tends to be linear. Basically, you mode forward until you can’t open doors anymore. At that point, you need to locate a key or kill a set number of enemies to open the locked door or find an alternative path. Thankfully, boss fights offer a nice change of pace. Each boss has specific weak points and they require you to use spells and weapons in a creative way. This makes boss encounters a thrilling process that’s breaks the linearity of the rest of the game.
Undying seems disjointed and generic at first, but little by little, elements start falling into place and that’s when the game starts making sense. For instance, a spell called Scrye seems useless at first, but soon, you’ll realize that you can use it to witness paranormal events. So how does this work exactly? For instance, you enter a room and a voice whispers “Scrye” or “See” and when you use the spell, a hallucination shows you what happened in that place hundreds of years ago. Furthermore, the spell is useful to find secret items, to see the health of nearby enemies or to illuminate dark corridors. The same creative approach goes for some of the spells that can be combined with specific weapons for some truly devastating effects.
But for all its strengths, Undying isn’t without some flaws. Since you always have powerful weapons and spells at your disposal, monsters rarely feel like a threat. As a consequence, the game relies on jump scares to generate some sort of reaction from the player. Also, every single time you die, you’re forced to witness a long, unskippable animation. This situation is aggravated when you die over and over, something that’s common during the fights because they involve trial-and-error. The save system is inconvenient to say the least. Basically, there’s no auto-save feature, so you have to save manually and if you forget to do so (it happened to me a couple of times,) get ready to replay entire sections, since the game sends you to the beginning of the level.
As I mentioned previously, Clive Barker’s Undying is a first-person shooter first and a horror game later. It follows the conventions of the FPS genre, so you’ll find yourself using health packs, shooting guns, performing abilities and so on. So if you play the game make sure you prefer the former over the latter or else you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Despite some issues, Clive Barker’s Undying manages to blend two dissimilar genres in a cohesive and entertaining way. The result can definitely displease fans of modern horror games. But if you’re willing to give this game a chance, you’ll see that while Undying isn’t the most terrifying game available, it never fails when it comes to entertaining. And that’s an achievement in itself.