Developer(s) – EA Los Angeles
Publisher(s) – EA Games
Director(s) – Brady Bell
Producer(s) – Brady Bell
PEGI – 18
Released in 2001 at the dawn of the sixth generation of gaming, Undying is a first-person shooter programmed by Brady Bell of Medal of Honor fame and written by acclaimed horror writer and director Clive Barker telling a story of the occult, eldritch horrors, and creatures of the night. Despite being released to widespread critical acclaim at the time, the game ended up selling unjustifiably poorly, and a sequel has been shelved ever since. I recently played through this game for the first time, and I was taken completely by surprise with just how great and how silently innovative it was in the grander scheme of things. Both the sixth and seventh generation of games would be a time for many first-person shooting series to find popularity throughout the gaming industry with the likes of Halo, Call of Duty, Half-Life, and Red Faction dominating sales charts everywhere. However, there were a few games in the genre that unfairly fell through the cracks and never got the attention they deserved, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than this.
Graphics – 8/10
Undying takes place in a dark and atmospheric mansion on the coast of Ireland, similar to games like the original Resident Evil and Luigi’s Mansion. But throughout, there are also some wonderfully disturbing secrets to uncover with certain sections breaking away to lead the player to some horrific environments; the game’s setting is like a character in and of itself, which is something that Clive Barker is renowned for conveying. It reminded me very much of Hellraiser II when the main character is taken to the labyrinth world of the cenobites. The mansion is also littered with terrifying creatures from every corner of horror, from Lovecraft to Bram Stoker. There’s not a great deal of music throughout to add to the tension, but what music there is in certain sequences was expertly composed. The biggest criticism I have about the visuals is that like the game Darkwatch, the environments are sometimes not lit enough, almost to the point of impracticality. But regardless, this doesn’t create too much of a problem throughout.
Gameplay – 9/10
Undying is a first-person shooter, but far higher than the standard of what gamers were used to at the time. The player also has supernatural abilities to use in either combat or to solve puzzles throughout the mansion, there is a series of wonderfully unconventional boss fights, collectibles for the player to pick up throughout, and also a plethora of easter eggs to uncover for good measure, including a hidden shooting gallery. An open-world first-person shooter, even a semi-open world one as this is, was pretty much unheard of back then and as a result, it offers far more to play for than many other FPS games that were around at the time.
Controls – 8/10
The game’s controls are, however, an aspect with which I had a couple of problems; for the simple reason, that first-person shooter games are best played with a controller, which unfortunately as this is a PC exclusive developed in the early 2000s, doesn’t offer. One time, this game was on Steam, but for some reason, it was pulled, which is a great shame because not only are people being further denied the opportunity to play it but they’re being denied the opportunity to play it in the best possible way since control mapping would’ve fixed this. Maybe it will be put back on steam one day, or re-mastered as what many players are crying out for, but for the moment, the original CD-ROM port is the only official way to play it.
Lifespan – 7/10
Lasting 6 and a half hours there about, the game perpetuated the industry-standard lifespan of a first-person shooter, on par with the likes of classics such as Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark. Whilst not on par with games like Fallout 3 and 4, and games in the Borderlands series, it still lasts a fair amount of time; even more so than a lot of FPS games that were released across the seventh generation like Halo 4. If the series was ever expanded upon, there is certainly scope to make a sequel last even longer than this in my opinion, given the nature of how the story ends.
Storyline – 7/10
The story of Undying takes place in 1923 in Ireland. A World War I veteran and paranormal investigator named Patrick Galloway is summoned to the mansion estate of the Covenant family by Jeremiah Covenant in order to investigate strange and violent goings-on within the mansion. Soon, Patrick uncovers an ungodly truth about the Covenant family that will have players on the edge of their seats. As Clive Barker was so good at doing, the game’s story is extremely well-executed from start to finish. The voice acting can come off as wooden, and even a little comical at times, but it’s not bad enough for players not to be able to take the narrative seriously like it is in the original Resident Evil.
Originality – 9/10
It may be easy to take a cursory look at this game and write it off as a generic shooter title (perhaps that was part of the reason why it unjustly sold as poorly as it did), but the fact of the matter is that in many respects, this game was years ahead of its time. Without games like this, System Shock and Half-Life 2, there would be no BioShock or Borderlands; shooters that would defy convention and offer players more than just going around and shooting anything that moves. There’s plenty of that in this game, naturally, but there’s more than enough to make it stand out as one of the unique FPS games of the sixth generation.
Overall, Clive Barker’s Undying is an obscure gem that deserves a far bigger part in gaming history than what it has been confined to since its release. It’s exceedingly enjoyable to play with a superbly crafted narrative, and hopefully one day it will be made available to gamers of newer generations through either a re-release or remaster.