Ginger Nuts of Horror
Clive Barker's UNDYING "Still Crazy After All These Years"
It boggles my mind how few people know about this game, despite being one of the best horror games of all time, created by one of the 20th century's most famous horror writers, Clive Barker. His later foray into gaming, 2007's Jericho, went a little too far into the combat realm for me, but 2001's Undying had the perfect blend of survival horror, gunplay and magic (that's right: fucking MAGIC!), combined with an intricate, terrifying story that still, nearly 14 years to the day of its Valentine's 2001 release, has me wishing for an HD update.
Maybe it's because Undying was only ever released on PC and Mac that more people aren't aware of its existence. Similar games had a life on consoles, and fared better. According to Wikipedia, "Undying was critically well-received, but sold poorly with sales so low that announced plans for a multiplayer patch were abandoned. Console versions of the game were also cancelled, and EA... reportedly shelved the idea of a sequel."
In this first-person shooter, you play as Patrick Galloway, a paranormal investigator debunking claims of mysticism and the supernatural throughout the world. After WWI, his commanding officer, Jeremiah Covenant, requests his help to investigate the strange events at the Covenant family home in Ireland. When he was a child, Jeremiah found a book of the occult in his father's study, and convinced his brothers and sister to recreate one of the rituals between the standing stones.
The Covenant children inadvertently released an ancient evil upon their estate, and a curse upon themselves.
Galloway soon realizes Covenant House is not just haunted but swarming with dangerous otherworldly creatures. Using minimal weaponry and the Gel'ziabar Stone, which acquires new magic abilities as the story progresses (via "arcane whorls"), Galloway casts spells and blasts his way through both ghosts and monsters. Soon, he learns what happened to his friend's deranged siblings, and of The Undying King, a demonic presence who seeks to enter our world… and destroy it.
Undying succeeds where many similar games fail: in making the game mechanics fit the game.
Weapons run the gamut from plain old guns to explosive Phoenix eggs, the heavy melee Scythe of the Celt, and the Tibetan War Cannon, which fires glowing green globules at enemies. With the Gel'ziabar Stone, Galloway can use a variety of attack and defense spells like Ectoplasm, Skull Storm, and Shield. He also has a clairvoyant power called "scrye" which allows him to see into the past for a short period of time. This is useful for solving puzzles, and offers up some really creepy imagery.
True to Clive Barker's other work, there are some genuinely bizarre, terrifying creatures in Undying. The most-frequently seen are the howlers, dog-like beasts that spring at you with sharp claws, and skarrows, flying squid-like monsters who spit poison from a distance. Later, you are faced with more difficult adversaries such as the Dri'nen, tall native warriors from a realm called "Eternal Autumn," who phase in and out of reality, making them particularly hard to beat, or the Decayed Saints found in the monastery, who can only be vanquished using certain spells and weapons. These are all minor enemies compared to the Covenant siblings, each of whom have their own levels, or "realms."
But what Undying does best is tell a truly intriguing scary story. So much attention is paid to details in character and plot that it would take a series of books to cover the same ground. The atmosphere is unsettling, with frightening sounds and jump scares galore. There are also some genuinely surprising twists, wildly imaginative settings (such as Onieros, a ruined city afloat in a black abyss), and some really great, surprising character moments.
It's a vastly underrated classic, and if ever a game required an HD update, it's this. If you enjoy survival horror and haven't played Undying, I urge you to find a copy by whatever means necessary. When you inevitably find yourself saying "Locked," and "Jammed" in a faux-Irish brogue every time you try to open a door, you're welcome.
FEAR LEVEL 4/5
Duncan Ralston is the author of Gristle & Bone, a collection of short and not-so-short horror, and the upcoming novel, Salvage. He lives in Toronto with his girlfriend and their dog.