Raven’s newest entry into the 3D action realm certainly looks good, but why third-person only?
How many of you out there remember the original Heretic? This was the game that took the Doom engine to a whole new level and put Raven software in the 3D action hall of fame. At the time, Heretic was one of my favs. Heck, I must have finished it 4 or 5 times and I still go back and play it every now and then. Well � the long awaited Heretic II has finally hit the shelves. Let me tell you I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time.
Heretic II takes off where the original Heretic ended. You take control of Corvus, the Elven hunter from the original episode. The opening animation in Heretic II outlines the story since the end of Heretic. I seems that after slaying D’Sparil, one of the dreaded Serpent Riders, Corvus steps through a portal which he believes leads back to his homeland. Instead, in an ironic and depressing twist, D’Sparil altered the portal destination and Corvus is transported far away from the Elven city of SilverSpring. After wondering the badlands, Corvus finally finds his way back to SilverSpring. Instead of receiving a hero’s welcome for saving the world from D’Sparil, Corvus instead finds that all of his brethren have been mutated by a mysterious plague that turned them into remorseless, blood-thirsty killers. It’s just not Corvus’ day � or month � or year � or century for that matter.
Heretic II uses a highly modified version of the Quake II engine. Not only are the graphics, moves, and general feel of the engine totally updated, but Heretic II uses a third-person perspective as well. “But,” you say (we have all of you bugged � and we’re watching Rockwell too) “certainly they included an option for a first-person view as well.” Nope. Unfortunately the designers decided not to include any switchability, citing that it would take away from the playability of the game. OK � whatever. I know it certainly took away from the playability of Quake II, Unreal, and Half-Life. Man, nobody liked those games. If only they would have used a third-person view. I love not being able to aim precisely and looking at my tight little Elven butt as I run around the city streets (hmmm � could this have been an attempt to get more girls into computer gaming). And it really helps me get immersed in a game that has me looking at myself from behind. You know, just like real life. Alright, alright � I kid the designers a bit about their choice of third-person only for Heretic II. Overall they did a pretty good job of implementation. The camera generally does a good job of keeping up with your character and it rarely gets stuck in a wall or in front of Corvus. And the choice of a third-person perspective does show off the graphics and Corvus’ hot new moves, like creeping, rolling, the backstroke, and even pole vaulting. Good job guys.
The levels themselves are huge and look really great. The designers used a linear design formula, meaning you are pretty much lead to the end of a level. You all know the routine � run around, get to a door that doesn’t open, run some more, find a key that opens the door, if you can’t find a key look for a lever or button, run back to the door, etc. Unlike Hexen, also set in the Heretic gameworld, you do not need to return to previous levels to solve quests, although you may go back to retrieve any mana or health power-ups you left behind. Heretic II also incorporates the use of power-up shrines where you can get healed, regain your mana, increase your armor power, and receive certain specials like the ability to fly.
Corvus has quite an arsenal of spells and weapons on his hands � literally. You start with a bladed staff which magically appears it your palm when you request it. Other weapons you can acquire include an assortment of bows and the HellStaff. You’re spell compendium includes such beauties as Sphere of Annihilation, Meteor Swarm, Firewall, and Iron Doom. You’ll definitely have a variety of ways to get medieval on the slew of creatures that will barrage you. In addition to damage spells, Corvus also has a number of defensive spells at his disposal. The Ring of Repulsion, for instance, produces a circle of energy around Corvus which pushes monsters aside.
Heretic II sports some very impressive graphical work and your screen is generally filled with big, bright gobs of eye-candy. The wall and floor textures are highly detailed and the landscapes are quite impressive, though rather bland in places, with environments ranging from populous cities, murky swamps, and eerie dungeons. And I can’t rave enough about the spell and lighting effects � good job guys. The death animations are perhaps some of the goriest to date, with flying arms, legs, and heads that still spurt blood even after they’ve been loped off. The game does allow you to adjust the violence level so, if the kiddies play, you don’t have to worry about the cat for the next few months.
Unfortunately, even though it looks pretty, the AI in Heretic II is definitely lacking. In a one-on-one battle you can pretty much defeat any of the baddies simply enough, so Heretic II relies on horde AI to make the game more challenging. Nothing is more frustrating than getting jumped by a group of five of six bad guys at once (this happens a lot in Heretic II), especially since the third-person perspective makes it difficult to aim accurately and turn around quickly to face your next foe.
Overall Heretic II is fun and certainly looks good, but it’s not as good as I had hoped … of course, being a big fan of the original, maybe my expectations were a little high. While it has some of the best lighting effects I’ve seen in an action game, good level design, and utilizes a third-person view better than any game to date, the AI could use some improvement and I’m sure many gamers really would have liked the addition of a first-person view. Now I’m going to go play a few levels of the original � just for a kick.