Where's our next Doom fix coming from?, wailed the whole country after stomping, thigh deep in gore, through Doom 1. After pacing, waist deep in entrails, through countless wad files and tiptoeing tentatively, neck deep in jism, through Doom II. the whole world's gone Doom-crazy. And so has every software company. They're queueing up five deep, with their new 3D "engines'', to unleash the next Doom beater; Corridor 7, Rise Of The Triads, Dark Forces, System Shock, Descent, Quarantine, Terminator Rampage, ShadowGate, The Fortress o'Radiaki etc., etc., et-bloody-cetera.
The only one which seems to have the credentials and the potentials to beat Doom is Heretic, a co-operative Raven Soft and iD release, which unashamedly shoves the Doom engine into a pair of wood-elf green tights and a codpiece (a big codpiece) and then plonks it whap-bang into the middle of a Tolkien-esque nightmare.
You can see why they did it. though. Spare a quick thought for all those sado rpg players, somewhat sidelined by the world's obsession with panoramic sci-fi 3D gorefests and the general public's sudden interest in such magazines as Chain Gun Monthly, What Plasma, and BFG User. Poor things. How did they cope with Doom? Not a spell in sight. Not a 70-sided die to be seen. No dragons. No trolls. No elves. And the only fireballs around come from Satan's own molten backside.
Heretic unites the whole gamesplaying populace under one texture-mapped roof. Cool and sad Machismo cyberpunk death-dealers with the consitution of a baseball bat with nails hammered into it and fey bum-fluffed "wizards" with all the Doom prowess of a harmonica. All are now united under Heretic. It's so much like Doom that the ins and outs of the plot and gameplay needn't be gone into. Suffice to say its scenario is not 7.000 light years away from the plot of a certain multi-player blaster, and suffice to say, the gameplay - killing, running, killing - is not dissimiliar either. Again, the game is split into three episodes, enticingly called Cities Of The Damned. Hell's Maw. and the Domes Of D'Spiral. You can play at five skill levels, from Thou Needst WetNurse (I'm too young...) to A Black Plague Possesses Thee (Nightmare).
The look is atypically rpg. Gone are the Aztec walls and lava rivers. Now you have granite bricks and moats. Say ''cheerio'' to mechanical doors and barrels. Say "bonj-our" instead to portcullises and explosive "pods''. Torches, cobwebs, Tudor panelling, castles, parapets, teleports - everything you'd expect from an rpg landscape. And then some more.
The main innovations are nine types of collectable objects (offensive and defensive) and an inventory to stash them in. The Tome Of Power; a black book embossed with a skull, upgrades all your weapons for 30 seconds. Previously pathetic weapons are given a new lease of life. The Elven Wand fires double fireballs; the gauntlets do double damage; the crossbow turns into a firework display; while the DragonClaw unleashes a mass of steel balls. The Morph Ovum turns your enemies into chickens (no really, it does); the Ring Of Invincibility is obvious, as is the Mask of Partial Invisibility. Timebombs Of The Ancients allow you to lay a trail of deadly explosive hourglasses. while the wings give you a chance to view your handywork from on high.
As you can see. this is all a bit "painting by numbers". The next obvious scenario fc a Doom-style game, after sci-fi, is fantasy. Whether Heretic is a Doom beater or not, remains to be seen. We'll reserve the final judgement until we see the registered version. Until then, boot up our cover CD and get playing...
The monsters in Heretic, while being actual proper monsters in their actual proper Gothic surrounds, are not actually as scarey as their Doom counterparts. Whether this is due to their graphic definition or programming or to the fact we Doom-sters wouldn't bat an eyelid If a real CyberDemon burst into our bedrooms at four in the morning with a large portion of the Stoke Newington police force - you'll have to decide. Here they are, anyway (the names are made up).
These annoyingly omnipresent little beasts have the movement patterns of the skulls from floomand the tenacity of zombie troopers. Although not so tough, their sheer numbers can give pause, as can the tougher, fireball-throwing version on later levels.
We assume these are mummies. They could be just angry strip-o-gram "actors". Anyway, these are the "Pinkies" of the Heretic world, except they move more slowly and more diagonally than their counterparts. They're quite tough, especially up close, when they land their hammy great fists on you (rather like the mummies in that Dr Who episode, Pyramids Of Mars).
These look and act like real mummies except they're prone to suddenly stopping, turning all 'flashy', and letting loose a heat-seeking skull. Avoid in narrow corridors and public toilets.
Scarey Whirlwind Makers
These horrible little buggers are incredibly tough and incredibly annoying with their two-pronged assault. First comes a nasty little homing whirl-wind, which can't be destroyed, and which will knock you off any little parapet or ledge that you happen to be standing on. And then in come the fireballs, blasting you to kingdom come.
These are horrible and would be quite scarey if they weren't dressed like Joseph And His Multi-colour Coat. You can tell when they're about 'coz they mumble chillingly like Vincent Price in your ear. Up close they're deadly, letting loose a spray of purple firebolts in your direction. They also float about so you can liken them to the Cacodemons (or Tomato Monsters, as we call them) of Doom.
Heretic Is Here At Last. This is one Doom-type game that bears iD's seal of approval. It was developed jointly by iD and Raven Software. The press release described it as a sword and sorcery shoot 'em up and "everything you loved in Doom and more". You start off with a blasting wand - a kind of equivalent of the old magic missiles - and the aim is to get out of each level in one piece.
There is no real plot, but so what, eh? On the way. there are power ups and new weapons - many of them in hidden areas. The first useful weapon is the gauntlets of the necromancer, but the best is the crossbow which fires ethereal arrows. There are also spells - and not the usual rubbish about great damage, either; one turns your enemies into chickens. All the spells and weapons mean that you have a fair bit to remember, a lot when you're in the thick of battle, anyway.
The enemies range from little red devils - mere nuisance like midges - to some really tough baddies on the later levels. There are a few that are a bit like the Arch-Vile in Doom II, but none of the enemies are as frightening as the ones in Doom. It seems a shame to compare anything to Doom. I know, but the producers of Heretic are doing just that and they need to be told. It doesn't have the same atmosphere. The spooky light effects are missing. The action isn't the same either. Heretic contains a few more puzzles, which you might think is a good thing.
It does have some interesting moves - including flying - which will whet everyone's appetite for whatever iD do or license next. Like Doom, it supports modem and network play.
Up to four players can play either co-operative or deathmatch. Heretic comes with DM - an easy to use front end for Doom. Doom II and Heretic. In multi-player mode your opponents look like the murdering dwarf in Don't Look Now, not much like a wizard at all.
The first episode. City of the Damned, is shareware. Registration gets you HeU's Maw and The Dome of stail. It also gets you extra weapons such as Hellstaff and Phoenix Rod together with other useful power ups.
Heretic is good, and deserves to attract a cult following. The network play will ensure that it I will live long and prosper.
We've had Doom. We've had countless pwad additions to Doom (ranging from entire 30-level missions featuring Alien graphics, to sample-changers that replace the usual roars, grunts and groans with "humourous" noises or out-and-out profanity). We've had cheats and hacks for Doom, which turbo-charge the weapons and make Imps explode like barrels. We've had sub-standard rip-offs of the format (Corridor 7, Rise of the Triad, etc.,) and rip-offs which try to inject a new element to the tried-and-tested gameplay (Doom on wheels in Quara tine, Doom in teeny-weeny spaceships in Descent). Now here comes another retread Doom meets J.R.R. Tolkein (and bites his head off and gargles the blood). Excited? Probably not.
Still, at least this one has "Official Rip-Off stamped all over it - after all. it's beer developed by RavenSoft in collaboration with Doom's original creator. iD itself. And rather than being a quick 'n' easy rehash c the game we all know and love, it contains some new features: the ability to look up and down, fly, and store spells and objects in an inventory for later use. Oh yes - all the weapons have two modes of use: Norm al mode, in which they are fairly deadly: and Powered-up mode, in which they become as deadly as the kind of weapon some "very large countries" likes to use against small, barely-armed nations. (Press a buttoi and watch the internal organs fly like a startled flock of crows.)
See you later, terminator
The very first thing that struck me about Heretic was how ornate most of the weapons are. Doom was jam-packed full of macho, high-tech killware. which made you feel like a big. tough, soldier guy; the sort of man who can smoke a cigar down to the butt while machine-gunning entire squadrons of axe-wielding, wild-eyed lunatics, without spilling ash all down his front. Go on. admit it. You can harp on as much as you like about how you played Doom to death because it was a technical marvel, or had wonderful gameplay. but really, deep down, one of the main reasons it kept you hooked was because, when you had just cleared a room full of teeming nasties and stood about in the resultant carnage surveying the damage, you felt a bit "tough". For the first time in your whole, weedy life, you were a Hard Man. Remember how you could never catch the ball properly during cricket lessons at school - you were scared because it "stung your hands"? Ha! Never again. You ran around for a bit. firing phallic symbols (just look at where he holds the rocket launcher) at a few nasties and. all of a sudden, your wuss days were over - until, that is. you switched the pc off, went to sleep and had horrid, scary nightmares, which made you go pee-pee in your Rupert the Bear jim-jams. Sad sad sad.
Anyway, assuming you're still reading after that monolithic ramble, the point I'm taking the scenic route to make is this: the weapons in Heretic are wimpy. They kill things and rip the monsters apart, sure.
But they're all silly, "wizardy" weapons: balls of mystic energy fired from ornate sticks. Even the crossbow, which I had high hopes for (envisaging Golems thrashing hopelessly around before me with huge steel bolts jutting out of their foreheads - the kind of thing that turns me on), fires nothing scarrier than "ethereal arrows" i.e. flashes of light. Boo. I just didn't like it. It made me feel like a cheat. They sound stupid as well. So there.
Okay, so the new weapons are a bit lame. What about the other new features? Do they improve upon Doom's gameplay? Well, not really. Being able to look up and down is all very well, but you can only look up or down an extra 45 degrees - it's rather like having your neck in plaster - and it only leads to confusion anyway, as you find yourself running about, staring up at the sky while being attacked by a Golem who has craftily sneaked up on you whilst out of your field of vision. Basically, unless you're flying, it's pointless.
And speaking of the ability to fly, that's a bit of a con as well. It's more like having the ability to hover. I was hoping that once I'd taken to the skies, the sensation of movement would be a bit like real flight - banking left and right, swooping up and down. etc. Instead, it's more like sitting on the front of a fork-lift truck, rising upwards and downwards, moving forwards and backwards, and yet never really feeling like you've left the ground.
Having an inventory, however, really is an improvement. Now you can store up those Medikits and Light Amplifiers (very sorry, "Purple Flasks" and "Torches") and use them when you need them. Furthermore, you can collect some handy spells, hold on to them until you've nearly forgotten about them, and then use them on the bad guys (or if you're playing head-to-head. your bestest buddy) at the last minute when they least expect it. The "Morph Ovum" spell is particularly rib-tickling; temporarily transforming your foe into an indignant-looking chicken that will peck at you in a desperate manner until you blast it into a snowstorm of feathers - excellent fun in Multi-player mode, where that phrase "I feel like Chicken Tonight" takes on an unexpectedly literal meaning.
Other additions include; flowing water and slippery ice (which, if you ask me, are more of a pain in the arse than an improvement): exploding volcanoes (small ones, thankfully): and a few extra effects, such as the splash of water that appears when you jump in a river, or the smoky trails left behind by incoming fireballs.
Despite these little tweaks and twidges. however, the song remains pretty much the same. It's still Doom, albeit Doom with a topping of grated lolkein and a few extra buttons to remember. Worst of all. though, the levels aren't laid out as well as iD's original Doom episodes - there's a lot more running around in confusion and a lot less lurking horror.
For maths get smashed
Let's do some maths now. shall we. Don't be afraid. Maths is fun. No, really. Look, if you're not convinced, then imagine that I'm Carol Vorderman in a catsuit/a young Jonathan Miller in a thong (delete where applicable according to your own gender/preferences/wanton desires). First of all, let us define some integers. ("Yeah, let's!" - Readers.)
Let us assume that: X = Doom's inherent playability (running, shooting, panicking, network play). Y = Heretic's bona-fide improvements upon this playability (the inventory, power-ups and the trick with the chicken).
z - Heretic's distinct disadvantages when placed alongside Doom (un-scary monsters, inferior level design, references to "Runes" and "Wizards").
There. That didn't hurt. Now, to work out Heretic's overall "worthiness", all we have to do is use this simple equation:
The result? It's a glorified pwad. It's nothing really new. Fun for a while, definitely, but compared to some of the other Doom-inspired games I've seen recently (Descent and Dark Forces spring to mind), it's a little stale. My advice is this: try out the shareware version first. If you love it and want to try out the new weapons and spells, then register and get the full package. Just don't expect Doom 3.
And as for this score, well. It's my personal opinion, reflecting my disappointment. Heretic didn't "grab" me. I'm not itching to play it again. Am l wrong? I don't think so.
Maybe, just maybe. I'm getting bored of plain old Doom. Now that makes me a heretic.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
2018-12-28 Heretic game added.
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