Clive Barker’s Undying

Undying is a gruesome shooter pretending to be a survival horror.

The artistry that makes Clive Barker’s best prose unique is the casual vividness with which he describes one complex, weirdly bejeweled vision after another. Undying is loaded with well-rendered and well-remembered Lovecraftian motifs that Barker’s more sensuous, risk-taking fiction far outclasses, but it does share both writers’ taste for parallel universes that go boom.

Let’s face it, Dreamworks has a lot to answer for after Trespasser, a bigger experimental debacle than the actual sequence of events recounted in Jurassic Park itself. Undying is single-player only – the multiplayer capability was scrapped late in production. Yet as such, its pleasantly fiery presentation of lush visuals and sharp sounds will make you forget how much the story blows.

A Haunting in Ireland


Monstrous tenants from the netherworld await in this manor, which looks appropriately creepy.

And as in most games with a successful writer’s name attached, blow it does. A house that has extra wings leading off into other dimensions populated by ravenous hordes dates back cinematically to Don Coscarelli’s 1979 classic Phantasm, and literarily to William Hope Hodgson’s 1908 neglected classic The House On The Borderland. Undying, however, spends much more time than energy elaborating on why anything is happening in either universe. It’s 1923 and you play Irishman Patrick Galloway, a laconic supernaturalist not far removed from Barker’s recurrent private detective character Harry D’Amour. Barker provided voice talent but also played his part in fleshing out the plot.

Patrick has been summoned all the way to exotic Western Ireland by his dying war-buddy Jeremiah Covenant, who is being victimized by the evil ghosts of his siblings. Also local is Patrick’s nemesis, Otto Keisinger (hard “g”), whom Jeremiah has inexplicably bestowed with his own bedroom in the manor. Suffice it to say, Jeremiah’s other houseguests turn out to include pouncing bits of claw and fang called Howlers, evil monks, deadly plant stalks, and all manner of outraged tentacles in true Cthulhu-inspired imagery.

You spend the bulk of Undying trying to get from one load-screen to the next in search of one key or another without getting clawed, eviscerated, squirted, or excreted on by the lovely hordes of undead and evil humans who exist only to ambush you through the walls or up from the floor at will. Your arsenal consists of simultaneous discharges from each hand, conventional weapons from your left, magic spells (powered, of course, by “mana”) firing from your right. With both, the fun lies more in the pyrotechnics than in the handling.

Ye Olde 1920’s Shottegunne


Conventional weapons and spells can be fired in tandem. This creates a clever dynamic to combat, and the spells are actually well thought out.

Though it’s the 1920s and the rocket launcher hasn’t been invented yet, you still have your trusty six-shooter revolver and the glowing green Gel’ziabar Stone, which has the indispensable ability to push attackers back as you attack them with your spells. As the game progresses, you acquire the Tibetan War Cannon, notable for its unlimited icy ammo and occasional reassuring chuffs of frost; a double-barreled shotgun that takes forever to chamber; and, just before the game ends, a speargun and something called the Phoenix, which lets you guide its projectile eggs to your target. The weapons look good and sound amazing, but your aim better be true when firing them.

The saving grace comes about halfway in when you get your hands on the Scythe of the Celts, which when armed gradually saps you of your mana but slices through anything for triple damage from behind and drinks your enemies’ blood to recharge your health, even while other creatures are busy flaying you alive. Disturbing? Yeah. Fun? Of course. The Scythe is also essential for defeating the game’s many hideous antagonists.

The spells are generally more interesting as well as more solid. Your basic short-range attack at the outset is Ectoplasm, but later you acquire Skullstorm, which summons up to three bickering, snarling skulls that you can discharge in a single scorching meteor when you release (okay, so there is a rocket launcher). There’s also Lightning, Haste, and a visor-like Shield that partly obscures your vision and cracks like glass when you get hit. The Invoke spell raises one of your fallen enemies to fight for you before he disperses almost immediately—to see one of the game’s best effects, try using it on one of the living dagger-wielding assassins. The Scrye spell enables you to find secret areas or clues to aid you on your quest; a disembodied voice helpfully informs you when it’s time to cast, sometimes also revealing a heartwarming family painting for what it really is – a macabre scene of death and evil grins. Your mana recharges quite fast (unless you have the scythe equipped) and as the game progresses you find glittering mana wells to bump up your maximum quotient and purple amplifiers which permanently bolster the spell of your choice.

Satan’s Spawnpoints


A cool view of Oneiros, the inter-dimensional nightmare world that you’ll visit several times.

For all this wealth of destructive palettes, the fighting isn’t nearly as polished as the scenery and sound design. The monsters are just too damn fast to get fancy with. On top of that, there are a handful of choke points where Howlers and other such creatures will respawn indefinitely unless you simply hurry past, which, for a game that thrives off tension, is plain wrong. If you can’t kill the monsters, what’s the point to fighting? Why not just hit the Haste spell and speed to the next level? Furthermore, these load screens between level-chunks feel constant. Purportedly the hubs were so heavily minced to accommodate the game’s port to console platforms.

Despite all of this, once Undying gets up and running, it woos you with sheer atmosphere and production values. Whatever price the sound guys got for this, it probably wasn’t enough, as the audio is beyond belief (or at least the effects and voices are, as there is little music to be heard). Here’s a fun, gruesome shooter pretending to be a survival horror that everyone should enjoy.

System Requirements: PII 400 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, 8 MB Video, Win 9X/ME

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