Heretic II

“Make the heathens pay!”

Raven Software’s dark fantasy saga first saw light when Heretic hit shelves in 1994, becoming the quintessential Doom clone to own that year. Early 90’s shooters were never much on storytelling, but Heretic did stand out with its dark atmosphere, great level design and creative monsters. Years passed and two indirect sequels followed suit, Hexen: Beyond Heretic and Hexen II, with a final fourth game to conclude the story. Yet Heretic II stands out not for rehashing the original game but for being the most different of the lot. It’s a mixed third-person game with some Tomb Raider tossed in as well.

Heretic II starts immediately as the elven protagonist from the original ’94 game returns to his hometown of Silverspring, only to find it ravaged by a disastrous plague. A quest starts to find out what exactly has befallen the town and who’s to blame, one that will take you to just about every corner of the kingdom. The game’s twenty or so linear levels have every flavor of dark fantasy attractions, including a dismal swamp, an ancient flooded city, a mountain dungeon and lots of other places.

A New Perspective on Things

15_1Powering a third-person action game isn’t something you’d expect out of the aging Quake II engine, but here it is regardless. Although suffering from a few noticeable quirks, the camera in Heretic II is quite function for the most part. There are almost none of the clipping problems you’d expect from free-roaming cameras. You can jump around tight corridors, wide-open spaces, and complex vertical levels with ease. And navigate them hectically you will, for the combat is an unforgiving affair. Alongside your normal weapons you’ll be using powerful spells.

Bolts of red light, showers of sparks, and moonlight-blue explosions are hurled through the shadows. Particularly impressive is the Storm Bow, which creates a lethal red cloud over your enemy, complete with magical lightning bolts. Unless you couldn’t already tell, many of the weapon designs featured here were passed over from the original DOS game Even some of the more clever spells make a return, such as Morph Ovum, which transforms nearby enemies into helpless fowl. On an amusing side note, the spell randomly backfires in multiplayer games, turning human opponents rampaging super-chickens.

You get a solid sense that you’re controlling a character rather than just steering him. The complex but configurable interface, which takes some getting used to, allows for everything from tumbling to climbing ropes to pole vaulting. There aren’t a whole lot of combinations on offer, and greater emphasis is placed on fast action than navigational puzzles, but what has been included works well.

7_1Unlike some of Raven’s previous efforts, the enemies in Heretic II are distinctive and varied. This menagerie fits nicely with the game’s fiction, pitting you against sick crazed elves, plague-sprayers, and the unique denizens of the places you visit. You’ll also find some amusing touches, such as the reptilian birds that fly off with your head when they kill you.  Action adventure fans should feel right at home here, and there’s really not much reason to shun this game other than the occasionally problematic camera and controls. Those aside, Heretic II is as fun an old-style fantasy shooter as they come.

System Requirements: Pentium 166 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, Windows 95/98

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