Realms of the Haunting

Since fresh ideas during the mid 90s in the gaming industry were few and far in between, many designers have taken to combining genres in the hopes of finding a successful mix. Take Gremlin’s game, Realms of the Haunting. This is a straightforward combination of full motion video, item-based puzzle adventuring and violently intense first-person action. It’s surprisingly fun and brings nice graphics with it as well.

11Realms of the Haunting takes the same first person engine used in Gremlin’s Normality (which is comparable to Duke Nukem’s Build Engine. It’s not true 3D and has a rather cartoony look to it), but adds action to the mix, and a dark, surreal, horrific atmosphere. Add in heavy portions of very watchable full motion video (complete with the occasional Wing Commander-like choose- your-path decision making in mid-scene), eerie sound effects and an incredibly high and bloody body count, not to mention traps, decent puzzles and death at every corner, and you’ve got some pretty involving stuff to play with.

Take the role of Adam Randall, whose father has recently died, as he enters a dark mysterious house in the spooky Cornish village of Helston bearing broken shards of mysterious magical seals which (of course) are somehow connected to not just his father’s death, but the fate of the world. The haunted house theme is pivotal here, but the game moves out into mythical realms of places between, and in, heaven and hell.

Adam is also joined and aided to some extent by Rebecca, the English psychic of his dreams (literally), a woman who is not only beautiful but actually smarter and more cultured than Adam himself (who’s a pretty bright bulb to begin with). You travel through the realms with her, though she stays out of sight until cinematic sequences pop out, and tends to add her thoughts to everything you click on (in some cases, she’s almost too chatty).

Default control are not all that intuitive, since mouse-aiming is a necessity here (it can become awkward to strafe and mouse-aim at the same time in heated battles, which there are plenty of), though you can configure the keys to your liking. Weapons range from a standard pistol to the ever- faithful shotgun, to magical staves and swords. The variety of monsters is even better; demons of all sorts, skeletons, and other minions of darkness are all out to stop Adam from unraveling the mystery of what’s going on and why he’s been chosen as the unlucky savior of Earth. The game tends to rely on a lot of cheap but effective thrills, like monsters popping up behind you suddenly and doors that slam shut by themselves.

1Puzzles are mainly of the item manipulation sort, though there are a few spots where the wrong pathway (in both cinema sequences and the actual game) can lead to deathtraps. There are a number of action-based puzzles to get by (some platform jumping and the like), but on the whole, getting through many of the devious traps the first time would take an enormous amount of perception and caution. The interactive conversation parts are mainly consigned to “Who/What/Where is: choose name from list,†but the acting and direction is actually quite good, and the story line is invitingly spooky stuff.

Graphically, Realms has some odd contradictions. Some areas are absolutely stunning, while others look downright primitive; the game’s engine was quite good when Normality came out, but is aging now. Some impressive lighting effects have been added, however, and the monsters look great. Sound effects are excellent as well, though the music is pretty weak in general.

It seems likely that Realms of the Haunting is bound to start a trend of some sort in merging adventure with action in this manner. Gremlin has created a long and challenging game with excellent atmosphere and story progression to keep you involved and motivated through the whole bloody thing.

System Requirements: 80486 66 MHz, 8 MB RAM, Win95

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