Realms of the Haunting
Crikey - Where Do I Start? Realms of the Haunting is such a scary, scary game. I'm ashamed to admit it. Me - the big, 'hard' Northerner who eats and breathes horror films and is never afraid to walk down a dark alley at night, or get on the last bus home surrounded by an army of drunken bigots - frightened by a 'poxy' computer game? S'true. (Yup, that's what it says on his CV - Ed.)
As a horror story, Realms of the Haunting would not look out of place in a David Cronenberg filmography. It's a mean, spirited tale of trapped souls, black magic and bloodthirsty monsters that unfolds using an intelligent and innovative mix of video, role-playing, conversational interaction and all-out first-person blasting action.
Hell on Earth
The story opens with main character dude Adam Randall on a journey to the Cornish village of Helston to investigate the recent death of his priest father. Terrible visions plague him en route and, even worse, upon arriving at his late father's house the appearance of a ghostly apparition opens up a whole rotting can of worms, triggering supernatural activity all over the shop. Adam's father, it seems, was up to more than the odd church Mass.
The house is peppered with locked doors initially. Mysterious symbols daubed in what looks like glowing green blood prevent them from being opened. There's a gun, some written clues and a few flickering candles to start off with. Not much you may think, until a hidden passage is found leading to the sprawling catacombs below... then the game really begins to hot up.
Time to die...
Taking over where the fmv leaves off, your first encounter with the headless, sword-wielding beasts that scream like buggery when they emerge from the floor is a pant-cacking experience not at all helped by the incredibly atmospheric lighting of the glowing lava pools and flickering candelabras. A few well-aimed shots are all that are needed to despatch these nasty basts, although the shotgun found later on is far handier at taking out any of the 25 different monsters that you encounter trying to eat you throughout the game.
Now. the first thing to say here is that Realms isn't Quick. It never set out to be and doesn't even live in the same genre, if truth be known. There is a lot of shooting, admittedly, and the first-person polygon environment is pretty sound, but the emphasis here is on the story and puzzle-solving. Realms is reminiscent of past rpgs such as Stone Prophet and the Ultima Underworld series, even though the mechanics of the game are much simplified and dispense with such trivialities as thacos (convoluted ad&d combat point system) and all the usual dice-rolling crap associated with games of this sort. There's a detailed inventory, a hyper-intelligent cursor that indicates whether things can be used or looked at, and an energy bar that does the usual business. The controls work well (keyboard for movement and mouse for interaction) and don't obstruct progress, which is what we want at the end of the day, isn't it?
Split into chapters. Realms of the Haunting eases the player into Adam's boots gradually, taking great care not to make things too difficult too early on. Every time something significant happens an impressive piece of video takes over, fleshing out the plot, offering vital clues (don't take your eyes off any of it for a moment!), sometimes even branching off in different directions depending on your reaction to a particular situation. A female sidekick gets involved quite early on, which makes for surprisingly lively banter as almost everything in the game can be discussed between them. This proves extremely useful as you learn that Rebecca (for that is what she is called) is blessed with psychic powers and an understanding of the occult. And she doesn't just stand there screaming when the monsters attack, which is a blessed relief.
Best for years
Realms' strengths lie in the fact that all the gaming elements mix together so well, and that the game is bloody massive and a real challenge to play through. Attention to detail levels are set to maximum and almost everything you find lying around can be looked at for clues or picked up to use. There are even light switches on the walls, which you'll learn to use straightaway upon entering a darkened room - believe you me! The architecture throughout the house and in the different realms is fantastic, astoundingly intricate and well textured. It is a pity that the rigidly angular nature of the graphics makes things look a little flat at times, but certainly don't let that put you off playing the game.
As I mentioned earlier, it's a scary experience. The sound effects have a lot to do with this - insane laughter, crying babies, hollering beasts and creaking floors add so much to the game you'll be jumping out of your skin, like I was, every time you hear something out of the ordinary.
Realms of the Haunting is Gremlin's best game for years. It's an epic. It's a completely absorbing experience from start to finish, and it really, really deserves your attention.
There are many ways in which you can measure how addicted you are to a game. The most obvious is by calculating how much time you've spent playing it. I spent most of my week off playing Realms of the Haunting (yes, I know how sad that sounds, shut up, okay?) and I only stopped because the gold disc wouldn't work in my CD drive anymore. So as you've probably guessed, I was rather taken with it. Firstly, because the graphics are breathtakingly beautiful. Secondly, because all the different game elements complement each other perfectly. But mostly, because it's just so damned playable. There's always something to do, somewhere to go, someone to meet, puzzles to solve, things to get scared off (as Paul points out in his review) and tons more stuff going on besides. I don't really have anymore to add to what Paul has already said (except to say I agree with all his comments) other than to urge you to go out and buy this game as soon as it arrives in your friendly neighbourhood software store. (They're not American - Ed.) Shut up!
Download Realms of the Haunting
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Realms of the Haunting Screenshots and Media
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