Have You Played… Clive Barker’s Undying?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Liverpudlian author Clive Barker is probably best known as the creator of good old Pinhead and the Hellraiser series. If you want to see the extent of his talents, you’re best off looking at the Books of Blood short story collections though. Or Undying [GOG page], a first-person horror game for which Barker acted as both consultant and voice actor.

I have a high tolerance for schlock and gore, and Undying delivers both in spades. It feels like Barker’s take on Lovecraft and Poe, a weird tale of a dynasty gone to seed, a family home infiltrated by lunatic forces, and a smattering of culty goings-on to ensure there are plenty of things to shoot.

Yes, it’s a shooter. Despite some tremendously effective scenes that lay on the tension thicker than the spread at a colonel’s retirement buffet, Undying is all about shooting monsters. There are plenty of things to kill on the Covenant Estate, although I’m still not entirely sure if they’re already dead (some definitely are), cannot die at all (as the title implies) or exist only as figments of my character’s imagination. Actually, scratch the latter – this is definitely a game about killing dead things rather than imagining that you’re killing dead things.

It’s a good game about shooting dead things. There are spells as well as guns, loads of daft enemies, creepy bosses in the shape of the deceased Covenant siblings, and just enough chills among the hokiness to make the whole thing hang together. It isn’t a particularly remarkable game in any way but the shooting is solid and the setting is sufficiently unusual, in FPS terms, to carry the action through the rough patches.

Memory suggests I was stuck for ages on a bit where I had to shoot loads of undead monks. If that’s sounds like something you might enjoy, you’ll find Undying satisfying enough.

Frustratingly, I can’t remember Barker’s voiceover for Ambrose, one of the sibling bosses. Was Ambrose scouse? I hope so.

65 Comments

  1. EOT says:

    Never played it. I was 14 when it game out and the chap in GAME wouldn’t let me buy it.

    • SomeDuder says:

      It’s available on Steam, but I can’t recommend it. The damn thing keeps crashing back to desktop for me, over several attempts on different machines, and from what I read plenty of others suffer the same problem. The game was released in that weird period where Windows XP was just becoming a thing, and whereas later games usually work fine on a more recent OS, the early stuff, which still had to support Windows 98 doesn’t play nice with the likes of W7+.

      Which is a shame, because from what I played (Up till the part where they all go to the alternate dimension (or something, it’s been a while)), I really enjoyed the atmosphere. Some stupid jump-scares, sure, but the enviroment itself is great and almost 2spooky4me.

    • Kododie says:

      I was like 13 back then, my brother played it, I could not even watch it, Aaron was way too scary for me.

  2. piedpiper says:

    One of the best shooters that were ever made. Great story and a lot of places to visit throughout the game.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      This is one of my favorite games ever! So damn atmospheric, which is mostly because of the music and sound design (aaahh, that menu screen music). The level and enemy design is also great, highly unusual in a good way.

      I love games where you both have weapons and abilities/spells and especially the weapons here are something else. Every time I sneeze, I think of the sound the Tibetan War Cannon makes when you make a charged-up shot, lol. It’s also very fun to use the Gel’ziabar stone to keep those pesky Howlers off of you and I’ve even managed to throw them off a cliff using it.

      Honestly, the first third of the game is much more fun than the rest, but the rest isn’t bad either. I still have it installed and haven’t even touched any mods, because of how engrossing the main game is.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      Wow really? I was the right demo at the right time for this game, but I seem to remember it getting bad reviews so I ignored it. Maybe I just imagined them :(

      • Jalan says:

        It was reviewed well, it just didn’t have the sales to match.

  3. GallonOfAlan says:

    I have indeed played it, still have the disc in fact.

    Pros: excellent atmosphere, some (for the time) genuinely weird and unsettling bits. Great gameplay, good plot.

    Cons: Terrible, terrible, stage Oirish accents. Surely they could have found Irish people or even UK voice actors familiar with the accent to do it rather than the fucking, fucking awful American attempts at it in the game.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Yeah, Patrick Galloway’s voice actor is a cereal box away from doing Lucky Charms commercials. It’s a shame the voice acting is so spotty, because the writing is actually pretty damn solid (by FPS standards). Great atmosphere, interesting powers, solid weapon design…just a helluva game overall. And it holds up fairly well compared to most FPS from that era.

    • Jalan says:

      Was going to say similar (have played and also still have the boxed version on hand after all these years).

      It’s one of the few games where, if someone were doing a full HD overhaul of it, I wouldn’t think twice before putting money down on it.

    • Baines says:

      I still have the disc, but have never played it.

      It came in a discount shelf two-pack with American McGee’s Alice. Installed Alice and never installed Undying. I wasn’t a big fan of FPS on PC at the time, mind. And had a machine that wasn’t a fan of them either. Then after a while you begin to forget about those old game discs… (Soulbringer sits uninstalled in the same stack, along with a few other titles that never saw the inside of a CD tray.)

  4. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Oh yes, I have. Years ago, but it’s still vividly etched in my memory. It was the game that first turned me onto the horror genre, likely because of how well-realized the environments and baddies were. I remember that the twist towards the end really blindsided me, since I had been completely misinterpreting the central section of the demonic painting.

  5. arhaine says:

    Oh, I did play it a long time ago.
    This game had an awesome spell called Scrying, that allowed the protagonist see the mystical side of the game’s world. The portrait scene was really awesome.

  6. noom says:

    Ahh, loved this game, bizarre non-sequitur of a vagina-beast end boss and all.

  7. Shakes999 says:

    Fun game! Was seriously underrated. I think the only knock I have against it was, like a lot of games, just wore out its welcome by the end and the mechanics had run out of steam. Could have benefited from being a hour or 2 shorter. Also the final boss was tedious.

  8. Fenix says:

    I had the game, but for reasons I do not remember I never played it more than an hour or so. I remember it was very weird, spooky (there was a lens/mask/spell that affected your vision and made paintings look creepy), confusing (bits that were kind of like in space) and not a very good FPS.

    It was probably a better game than Clive Barker’s Jericho, which I played to the end. Heh! teenager logic.

    • Jalan says:

      The scrying ability was definitely cool. Definitely something I wished more games in the genre chose to ape shamelessly, rather than the same ol’ tired crud they tend to gravitate toward.

  9. XhomeB says:

    I played it for the very first time approximately a year ago, got to approximately 1/3 of the game and just couldn’t force myself to play any longer. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, maybe there’s something I might have missed, but I found it mind-numbingly boring and below average in pretty much every way.
    The first 30 or so minutes are very nice, atmospheric, intriguing, somewhat scare-ish even, but it all goes downhill from there. Infinitely spawning enemies in some rooms, shockingly unsatisfying combat, boring level design (corridors that go on and on) and immortal enemies which are more annoying than anything else.
    I don’t know. I may have to give it another chance, but what I kept murmuring to myself the first time was: “wow, how could anyone praise this game, it’s actually garbage in so many ways”.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      I think you answered that question in the first line of your comment. You first played it in 2014, while the game was released in 2001. Some of the game’s systems are outdated by modern standards, but were perfectly acceptable in their day. Besides, what really made the game is the atmosphere, which becomes infinitely more immersive the further you delve into the game (barring, perhaps, the last zone).

      It’s entirely possible that the game just isn’t for you, but the game is definitely not garbage.

      • Shakes999 says:

        Pretty much this. Back when it came out, it was pretty innovative. Scrying was a game changer at the time. That being said, I doubt I could make it through the game again if i tried today.

      • XhomeB says:

        I cannot agree with you here. Maybe the game just isn’t up my alley, or maybe it was never good in the first place. I’m very tolerant when it comes to mechanics some would deem “outdated” today, as a matter of fact, thanks to GOG, I’ve played plenty of (often, VERY) old games to know for a fact a good game remains pretty much timeless.
        Blood, for example – I did not play it in 1997. Or for another decade, in fact. My very first playthrough occurred a few years ago (2011 or 12, I can’t recall right now). I had a BLAST. It instantly jumped to the top 10 of my favourite shooters. Another example? Desperados or Little Big Adventure. I only played those after they launched on GOG, now consider them absolute classics. There was no nostalgia involved clouding my judgement.
        Like I said, maybe the game just isn’t for me. Or maybe – since I play Unreal, Quakes and so on to this day – Undying just never compared favourably as a shooter to its contemporaries (I mean, Return to Castle Wolfenstein came out the very same year, and it absolutely demolishes Undying in the fun factor department, level design, the “feel” of the weapons – imo, of course).
        I’m leaning towards the latter option, but I really need to give this game a second chance. Maybe it’ll finally “click”. It feels weird disliking something many people consider a classic.

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          “It feels weird disliking something many people consider a classic.” I sometimes find that I don’t like (as much) a game or movie that other people think is a classic, but then again, I’m me and they are other people who are not me. It’s as simple as that. I dislike Dragon Age: Origins, because of it’s combat (too much, too frustrating/boring) and like The Witcher 1 better than The Witcher 2, because of the combat, among other things. It might sound strange and not-what-other-people-thinks-ish, but that’s simply me having a different opinion.

          Regarding Undying, I think mostly everything about it is great, especially the first third. Having both weapons and spells is great, the enemies are great, the levels are great and moody, it’s very atmospheric and I lament that there is no other game like it. But that’s just me.

        • horrorgasm says:

          That would seem to be the real problem. You’re using Wolfenstein/Unreal/Quake and even Blood as the standard to compare it to when it’s nothing like those games. It’s not a fast paced twitch shooter game at all so of course it’s not going to hold up to your standards of what a fast paced twitch shooter game should be like.

          • feamatar says:

            I am often puzzled when many people say things like these from horror shooter like this and the old Aliens vs Predator games. I always found that the best way to play these games as “fast paced twitch shooter games”. Simply the best way to avoid all the jumping and shooting monsters if you are constantly on the move, and on higher difficulties you often die if you just hang around.

    • MisterFurious says:

      I think most people that like it played it when they were younger and have Nostalgia Blindness going on. I was a huge Cliver Barker fan when I was in high school and I probably would’ve loved the hell out of this game if I had played it back then, too, but I didn’t. It was fairly old by the time I got around to it and I had outgrown Clive Barker at that point, so I wasn’t really all that impressed with the game. It’s not bad, but it’s not really good, either. It has come creepy moments here and there, but I was pretty bored through most of it.

    • GameCat says:

      Undying didn’t aged well, especially compared to games like Half-Life, Unreal or System Shock 2 (which all are older BTW).
      It’s well designed game, but execution of this design have kinda budget feel. It’s just not as polished as other FPS classics.

    • Antistar says:

      From memory there aren’t actually any immortal enemies, though some may seem that way unless you know the trick to putting them down for good. And that’s the thing; it requires some experimentation, and Undying is decidedly old-school in the sense that it doesn’t always do things like hint “hey, what do you think would happen if you tried that raise dead spell on something that’s undead?” *wink*.

      There were things I never worked out on my first playthrough – or even my second or third. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played Undying; played it again a couple of years ago and I still love it.

  10. 321 says:

    ” It isn’t a particularly remarkable game in any way but the shooting is solid and the setting is sufficiently unusual, in FPS terms, to carry the action through the rough patches.”

    What the phook … Undying is one of the PC masterpieces, a superb, timeless classic, in every sense. Masterfully staged, fenomenal action, ambient, setting, atmosphere. It’s a game that can stay shoulder to shoulder with the giants, like Unreal or Half Life. AvP2 is another one from the same year, of titanic calibre. That it didn’t got the public recongnition it deserved. It’s rightfull place in history. Doesn’t matter. We, who know what we’re talking about, know the truth.

  11. RimeOfTheMentalTraveller says:

    Yes, I have. Excellent gameplay, up until the last section of the game, awesome story, if a bit anticlimactic in its ending and chilling occult atmosphere, a mix between Lovecraftian horror and Celtic myth. Very nice level design and some good writing in the journal by Clive Barker. It does suffer from a loss of momentum and interesting gameplay in the end section, but it is still a really good game. Using the Scythe of the Celt to fight is some of the most fun I’ve had in a shooter, especially with a melee weapon.
    It also piqued my interest in Clive Barker and I bough Books of Blood Volume One and The Great and Secret Show the autumn of 2013… but I have sadly yet to read them. My book backlog keeps growing. I really ought to, maybe when I finish Tristram Shandy and Gulliver. I’ve been wanting to read Imajica too.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I watched the movie Book of Blood (2009) some time ago and thought it was really good. I should probably read the short story collection. Abarat by Clive Barker also seems interesting.

  12. JD Ogre says:

    Yes. Yes I have. Never completed it, though. Creeped me out too much. :)

  13. Muzman says:

    Lahcked!

    ..is mostly what I remember unfortunately.

    I think this game discovered why horror doesn’t really work all that well in the scale and speed of an Unreal era shooter. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but so many things they were clearly trying to do didn’t work as intended. There’d be some big blast of horn music “Duun Duuuuun!!!!!” and you’d be looking around wondering what the fuss was and it was because something happened down the corridor and some beasties busted in to get you. But it was so small and far away and you missed it in your 14″ screen (and then you’re in a quite long circle strafe fight for a while). Or you’re supposed to look in the mirror so the ghost can appear behind you but you get the angle wrong so it doesn’t work etc etc.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of later designers saw all this and realised that if they want to do more movie style scares they’d better lock everything down, make sure the player is exactly where you want them to be to get that effect right.

  14. vorador says:

    I played it. It was awesome. Too bad a sequel never happened.

    There’s plenty of little details to discover with the Scrying spell so i had it on almost all the time, and produced some genuinely unsettling moments.

  15. jj2112 says:

    Yes. An underrated game that I plan to replay someday.

  16. jj2112 says:

    By the way, it’s one of the forgotten horror classics together with Realms of the Haunting.

    • ansionnach says:

      Played Realms of the Haunting a couple of weeks ago. Definitely worth a look. What it does really well (atmosphere, voice acting) made me want to forgive it its failings (combat that’s so bad it must have been an afterthought). Since the game’s not really about combat you can forgive it a lot for this.

    • president_koopa says:

      Realms. Realms of the Haunting is in my top three, the others being Planescape: Torment and The Last Express.

      Love everything about Realms, even the combat. Well-implemented inventory, great characters, even respectable FMV (if many scenes went on for too long).

      I’d love to see an RPS writeup of Realms of the Haunting, but I cannot for the life of me think of a reason for one. Maybe around Halloween it’ll be more relevant.

      Sidenote: Anyone else wanting Dark Earth to get a GOG release? There’s a game. 1997 was a great year for the PC, nostalgia aside.

      • ansionnach says:

        I really liked what I did like about Realms. The excellent voice acting, the story telling through the inventory and looking at your surroundings, the competently-acted FMV bits. Rebecca really made the game and was a wonderful side-kick with her observations and the banter between her and Adam. She had a truly wonderful voice as well. Should she be willing, the modern-day big-budget games industry should employ this lady (who I don’t think did any other games) as often as possible.

  17. ssbowers says:

    I still say “Locked” or “Jammed” when I can’t get through doors!

  18. Sian says:

    Oh yes, I remember Undying. It was the first game I played until the sun came out. I was pretty surprised it was dawn already when we stopped. It’s also one of the first games I played coop with a friend. There is no coop mode, you say? Well, back then, we both fit infront of one computer. One of us took care of movement, the other of shooting and weapon selection.

  19. caff says:

    Yeahhh Clive Barker! I only completed this a couple of years ago, and it felt a bit clunky but still pretty good.

    I think Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth was a better game though – just more intensely creepy, and felt more handmade.

  20. Geebs says:

    Yes, and it was great. The “one-two punch” was brilliant fun ages before Bioshock was a thing.

  21. kulik says:

    First game that introduced ricochet bullets, I remember as I killed myself in awe shooting at a wall. I remember also that molotov cocktails had to be trowed perpendicularly on a surface to break, throwing them at an acute angle made them slide and not break.

  22. RacerX says:

    Oh yea! I adored this game. It’s dated now but I loved the setting and the shooting.

  23. eeguest says:

    I loved this one. I would like to see it made look like Vanishing of Ethan Carter

  24. Smoof says:

    I love Undying.

    In fact, in 9th grade (around the time when the game came out), I wrote a “book report” on it. If I recall correctly, I received an “A” on it.

  25. gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

    I played it when it came out, and loved it, but the fact that the player character was BLOODY LEFT HANDED drove me NUTS! It gave me a new appreciation for how it must drive left handed gamers up a wall to play with right-handed characters.

    • Jalan says:

      Being a lefty myself, this has never really bothered me. With advancements in gaming tech, I can see the possibility of how always being confined to a right-handed way of things could drive a few of us bonkers though.

  26. Booker says:

    I loved it so much, how the main character was playing with his revolver. Every now and then he would just twirl it. The funny thing was, later you get a shotgun and he does it with the shotgun too. :D

  27. Lars Westergren says:

    I enjoyed it when I played it, it was an ok shooter. I expected so much more from it though when reading about Barker’s involvement and how much they were caring about the writing and plot, so when people call it a modern classic, put me in the “it’s overrated” group.

    It has some nice backstory and characters, but those should have gotten more time in the spotlight by putting them in say, an adventure or survival horror game. The people who made the game initially wanted to make a Doom style shooter I believe, and was hyping up “the goriest, brutallest, actionest shootah evar starring time travelling demon hunter Count Magnus Wolfram!” a 2 meter tall muscular action hero with shaven head, tattoos and dual shotguns. That legacy shows.

    I read on article somewhere (paper version of PC Gamer maybe) describing the process when someone took Clive Barker in for some reason to look at the characters and writing. Paraphrasing the discussion around the protagonist:

    “So, he is a Count. Of what lands? Does he still have any connection with his aristocratic relatives?”
    “Umm, we just thought it sounded badass if he was a Count.”
    “… ok. So even though he slays demons and sorcerers for a living, he can use magic? Was that something he was born with, did he have to do some sort of pact with dark forces, or did he go to some sort of occult academy?”
    “We didn’t think about that, we just thought it would be a cool gameplay mechanic if he could stop time and so on.”

    So out with Wolfram and in with occult investigator Galloway, a vulnerable character (in theory) with some personality and backstory. So that’s good, but there is often a disconnect between the atmospheric writing and the shootery gameplay. There are several scenes where Galloway is asking the servants what has happened, trying to piece together the mystery. The problem is that this is happening during a full monster invasion, so instead of “Tell me a little about the siblings please. Have you ever noticed anything odd happening?”, the reasonable thing to say would be “JESUS CHRIST EVERYONE HIDE MONSTERS ARE IN THE MANSION SLAUGHTERING EVERYTHING THAT MOVES!!” And once the little dialogue snippet is over, monsters inevitably run in and slaughter everyone (sometimes in unskippable cutscenes). No reaction from Galloway, generally.

    Once you get out of the mansion, dialogue also takes a noticeable dip in quality, often reaching cartoonish “Patrick Galloway! This is the final warning! Turn back now, or you will face…..CERTAIN DOOM! *evil cackling laughter, runs away*” levels.

    Memory limitations of the Playstation 1 also means small, linear levels with lots of load times, and you often face just one type of monster at a time. It did have some nice set pieces though that showed that the levels designers were all right, the monastery for instance.

    • Jalan says:

      Playstation 1?

      I followed you up until then, but then I became lost with that mention.

      • Lars Westergren says:

        Oops, PS2. You are right, game’s not that old.

        • Jalan says:

          Making more sense now, but the game never had a console release? (I phrase it as a question since I’ve only ever bought the boxed edition for PC)

          Or you’re commenting more on the limits of Unreal Engine 1 and my lack of knowledge about the technical aspects of it are preventing me from understanding the point fully.

          • Lars Westergren says:

            Yes, it was cancelled, but they had developed it with the PS2, and probably the XBox in mind, which is why levels are chopped up and stops for loading every few rooms, and monsters like the early werewolves (?) were generally varied just by size and color tints. It got better towards the end of the game though. Bigger levels, more than one type of monster at the screen at a time, so maybe that was after they had given up on the PS2 version. Or maybe they just got better at squeezing more out of the engine.

            link to ign.com

          • Jalan says:

            That’s actually quite fascinating to learn.

  28. unit 3000-21 says:

    I remember playing through Undying once when I was ill and didn’t have to go to school. I had a really great time, bombarding the mosters with spells to soften them up and then shooting them in their stupid faces instead of sitting bored in a classroom. I have really fond memories of scythe+shield spell combo and the boss fight with the ginger Covenant. I suppose it isn’t that great as a shooter, but I can’t check how good it holds up, because I can’t get it working on both my pc and my netbook.

  29. blandbutgreasy says:

    John seems to contradict this link to rockpapershotgun.com

  30. Plopsworth says:

    It’s also worth remembering that this was the one game that, due to not being financially successful (enough), instituted EA’s “No game rated above T for Teen” policy during the first bit of the noughties , since the, uh, maturity of the game was seen as one of the reasons that it failed commercially. The whole Hot Coffee controversy probably helped uphold it for a few years later too.

    Also, far too few people tried the resurrection spell on humanoid opponents who were still alive, heh. One of the handiest hidden features in my opinion.

  31. MellowKrogoth says:

    This is a horrible, disgusting game. I played Realm of the Haunting before it and I was not disappointed, the atmosphere is very well realized and I was able to overlook all the flaws because the universe just sucked me in.

    But Undying while being more recent shares none of the traits of that excellent game. It’s basically a monster closet game, but worse than Doom 3. You get tons of hard to kill, respawning enemies spawning on top of you in tiny and/or dark rooms. And instead of building up the atmosphere gradually like ROTH, you keep meeting the same stupid ghost at every turn, he makes “Bwahahah” at you, rinse and repeat. Oh, and unlike ROTH it’s almost completely linear.

    So yeah, I’ve no idea why this game is hyped as a classic, it was a big disappointment. Too bad because the background story sounds interesting… then again the way it’s presented precludes any mystery because you meet the ghosts right off the bat.

  32. Antistar says:

    Undying is one of my favourite games of all time, and I’ve lost track of how many playthroughs I’ve done over the years. I last played it a couple of years ago – partially for reference for a Skyrim mod I’m (still) working on, and partially just for fun.

    Great atmosphere and setting, fantastic sound, satisfying combat and some surprising depth to its mechanics.

    I remember the “Family Grave” story mod for it scaring the absolute crap out of me, too; more-so than the main game itself, even. For others who like the game, I’d recommend giving that a go.

  33. vorador says:

    And just in time, it’s discounted to half-price this weekend on gog.

  34. G_Man_007 says:

    This brilliant game (played it at least twice since I bought the original disc I still have – won a compo when the PS2 came out, traded the game I won for £40 at GAME and bought Undying and Outbreak) put HP Lovecraft on my radar. Call of Cthulhu made me actually read HPL.

    Never looked back – I’m sure that Shoggoth is still after me…