Haunted by the ghosts of your deceased loved ones, roaming around an old Irish mansion; all the while trying to put an end to a family of ghouls. Undying is one of the few horror / suspense games that puts you in the First Person Shooter role, and it does it quite well.
The game opens up in a nice in-game rendered movie, of Irishman Patrick Galloway retelling a story of his past and the cumulative haunted memories that are contained therein. Patrick received a letter from an old friend, Jeremiah Covenant, who is now a wealthy aristocrat, asking Patrick to come to his aid. You see, for fun Jeremiah and his family recited a few verses of a black magic spell and woefully, only one remains alive - Jeremiah. Thus, the sole survivor of the estate is haunted by his dead family members, and various monsters that roam about the mansion. He has called upon you, Patrick Galloway to set things straight again.
I was bowled over at the graphics in this game; though I seem to be saying that a lot lately - it's true, games are continually getting face lifts. Undying uses the somewhat dated, yet still very beautiful Unreal engine. However, even this engine has received a face lift and boy, does it ever show.
Several things have been done to the engine, for starters a lot of work has been done with the facial and skeletal animations. You can really appreciate what I'm talking about by taking a few glimpses in the gallery. Wood, hair and other various textures in the game look remarkably authentic in that, because they partially are. Some clever tricks have been pulled with texture wrapping of real life pictures to create the illusion.
Something that really helps set the mood in horror games, and movies for that matter are the camera angles. Now, in previous horror games, like the infamous Resident Evil series it set the camera angles for you - as to build the up the atmospheric suspense of the game. However, Undying, being set in the FPS perspective, camera angles aren't a factor - it's simply shot over like any other FPS; hand in the right corner, etc.
Despite this, it's still pretty freaky. What's more, the audio is just incredible - some of the best I've heard. In most games you've got a kickin' soundtrack to blow things up to (Tribes, Serious Sam, etc.) and it really helps in those games. It's just something else to sync your heart beat to. However, in Undying there is no soundtrack - and that's a good thing.
The game relies on ambient music and sound effects to fuel the horror. What you're left with is a gloomy atmosphere filled with sneers, snickers and laughs ominously echoing throughout the mansion. It makes for a very unnerving ride.
Furthermore, if you're lucky enough to have a SB Live! 5.1 setup (both card and speakers) you'll thoroughly enjoy it as the game does a bang-up job in placing sounds around you. You don't know how many times I've 'heard' something sneak up behind me in the game and instead of doing a 180 in the game, I spin around in my swivel chair as fast as I possibly can. I don't know, it just feels right. Oddly enough...
Level design is also very well done. The mansion is place where you'll be spending the majority of your time and rightfully so, the mansion is huge! Subsequently, there are a ton of doors and passageways that you can take. Just think, you walk to one end of mansion to retrieve a key only to have to make your way through a myriad of doors, passageways, stair cases, secret doors... and a couple hours later you're at your destination.
Nah uh. The guys at EA have done a very smart thing to combat this quandary. The game undergoes the 'locked door syndrome', as some people put it. You see, to keep you from endlessly wandering around the mansion, aimless in your attempts to find the 'way out', the game is designed to literally lock the doors behind you so that you that you don't end up retracing your steps again and again and again...
One folly of this game is just that - if you don't thoroughly search the room or area you're in then you may not be able to go back there. As long as you frequently use the 'quick save' key you shouldn't be able to go too far wrong. I suppose this is good and bad in a sense. Those of us who just like to blaze through levels and never look back, heh, this is just perfect. You don't get lost and won't get caught up in the 'haven't I been here before' dilemmas. On the other hand, you explorers out there might have a bone to pick with the designers on this one...
The game starts out with the very rich and engrossing storyline, however, as you progress through the game you'll notice that the story becomes less and less as important in the game design. As you move through the game more emphasis is put on actual gameplay rather than an augmented storyline. This is both good and bad depending on what type of gamer you are... so I'll leave it at that.
All in all, Undying is simply a must for all those looking for a nice looking, superbly sounding, absorbing horror game. The game has it's faults, but the pros easily outweigh the cons in this one.