A Trip Down Horror Lane: and you thought your family reunion was hellish

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Survival horror did not take as well on the PC compared to the consoles. Only a few PC games could be considered horror. The System Shock series, for instance. The Thief series featured scary sections, but they weren’t designed with horror in mind. In 2001, with help from horror writer Clive Barker, PC gamers got an amazing horror title to call their own.

After the jump, a double barreled family therapist

Clive Barker’s Undying is a unique game all around, from story to gameplay. You play as Patrick Galloway, a paranormal investigator summoned to his friend’s estate. When the friend and his siblings were children, they performed a demonic ritual. Now the siblings are dead and resurrected as demons. They’re haunting the estate.

The story and setting add a sense of atmosphere. Undying came out during that transitional period as first person shooters moved away from the massive wide open levels of Doom to the linear corridor style we see today. While Undying was a linear game, the player had wiggle room to explore for items and plot related scenes.

The atmosphere and story were wrapped up in an engaging combat system, which you don’t normally see in horror games. Undying featured a dual weapon system. Patrick’s left hand held any weapons he picked up, while his right hand used spells. Combat was a mix between close range, long range, and magic attacks. Patrick started the game with a magical stone that allowed him to push back enemies. Combined with his spells, the stone added a touch of strategy beyond just circle strafing. Besides finding new guns, players could also explore to find upgrades to their spells. The magic system was a viable alternative to the basic weapons.

Enemies moved quickly to close the distance and attack you. Each time you were attacked, the screen lurched violently. This made me jump several times when I got attacked from behind. Each sibling had their own personal army of monsters for the player to deal with and this helped the combat from getting too repetitive.

Undying’s mix of horror and combat avoided the pitfall that Fear fell into. In Fear, the designers sectioned off the horror segments from the action, which turned the horror parts into a sightseeing tour. In Undying, you were always in danger of being attacked from out of the dark, or from around the corner. That tension also helped you decide whether or not to risk entering a dark room to find any potential upgrades.

Undying debunked two annoying trends in horror games. The first is that for a horror game to work, the protagonist must be weak. In Undying, Patrick can wield a double barreled shotgun in one hand, and summon exploding skulls with the other. He goes after demons by choice.

The second trend is throwing monsters willy-nilly at you to make a game scary. Titles like Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space feature very basic enemy AI. It’s easy to just line up enemies and blast them. In both series, eventually you have a big enough arsenal to tear through anything that gets in the way, which removes the horror aspect. After several hours of fighting the same enemies the same way, combat becomes more boring than terrifying.

Besides regular monsters, the boss battles in Undying helped to further differentiate the content, with each sibling providing a different fight. One fight had you lose your magical rock, removing your ability to deflect enemies. Another part chased you with the ghost of one of the siblings through the halls of the estate. The only real low point would be the final boss, which was a repetitive battle where you just had to repeat the same attack constantly to win.

No matter how many weapons you get in Undying, you’re still in danger of dying thanks to the fast paced combat. Enemies in close range were very dangerous due to screen lurching messing up your aim, requiring you to move quickly. Whereas in Resident Evil 4 styled games, the player’s movement is restricted to tank controls, and enemies tend to come as small groups.

Undying is sadly one of those games that fell through the cracks. Even though it received positive reviews, the game was not ported over to consoles. Clive Barker did collaborate on another game called Jericho which couldn’t hold a candle to Undying. Maybe a kickstarter could raise Undying from the grave one more time.

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Josh Bycer has had nightmares that make less sense then the Silent Hill series. As he continues to search for his place in the industry, you can find him over at Gamasutra, on his blog, or posting in the forums as Jab.