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The Icon Bar: News and features: Heretic and Hexen preview
 

Heretic and Hexen preview

Posted by Richard Goodwin on 12:34, 17/1/1999 | , ,
 
Following the footsteps of id Software's PC release schedule, to date the Acorn scene has seen the release of Wolfenstein 3D first, the Doom twins next, and at some point in the near future Martin Piper should be taking time out from his day job in an effort to finally nail the Quake conversion on the head. However, like the PC, it appears the Acorn scene is to see two other iD Software games before Quake - Heretic and Hexen: Beyond
Heretic.

Heretic

Heretic is actually a Raven Software production, but it uses an enhanced version of iD's Doom engine. Set in a fantasy world where satanic forces have decimated the land, the game engine has been updated to include such fantasy prerequisites as an inventory, spells, and even flight capabilities. The fantasy setting allows for a more thoughtful game - for instance, time bombs allow you to lure monsters to their death without risking your own neck in a stand-up fight; flight and invisibility spells lend themselves to ambushes; you can pick up and carry a certain number of health potions with you, so that you can choose when to use them; and if you want to get surreal, there's the infamous chicken spell - five eggs shoot out in a semi circle in front of you and turns whoever it touches into chickens for a period of time, including players!
 
That's not to say there's not some good old-fashioned blasting to be done, and to help in this respect there's eight new weapons to choose from - the Staff, Gauntlets, Elvenwand, Crossbow, Dragon's Claw, Hellstaff, Phoenix Rod, and Firemace. You'll need them all though, as you're up against twelve new adversaries - the Gargoyle, Fire Gargoyle, Golem, Nitrogolem, Undead Warrior, Sabreclaw, Weredragon, Ophidian, Disciple, Iron Lich, Maulotaur, and the main man D'Sparil. You can also upgrade your weapons with the tomes of power, or protect yourself with rings of invulnerability.
 
The graphics are fairly similar to those in Doom, certainly not as atmospheric as Quake but sufficient; improvements include more realistic water, which has currents that drag you along, and when items are dropped into the water you see them splash. Settings range from castles to lava caverns and underwater fortresses. You'll be able to appreciate them a little more too, as the ability to look up and down has been added. And you don't have to be alone in admiring the scenery; more emphasis has been put on the multiplayer side of things with this game, and network play will definitely be included in the Acorn version from the outset.
 
All in all, the new setting and improvements to the engine should make the game sufficiently different to Doom to keep fans interested, and perhaps encourage anyone who didn't fancy the original to try this new flavour.

Screenshots


Title screenGlovesBig nasty


Hexen

Hexen: Beyond Heretic is, as the full name implies, the sequel to Heretic. As a sequel, Hexen continues the story of Heretic. While you were fighting the evil forces of D'Sparil in Heretic, the other Serpent Riders were busy plotting your destruction in other dimensions. You find yourself in one of these 'dungeon dimensions' in Hexen: a world populated by undead fiends! Only three humans have survived the previous battles, and the brave trio must now crush the evil regime that threatens to destroy the world forever. Unfortunately, the three humans (a cleric, a mage and a warrior) are separated upon entering the mystical portal to Hexen, and so must accomplish alone the task that they had expected to perform together: they must find the evil Korax's StrongARM (whoops! stronghold, sorry), despatch him for good and save the world.
 
Are you infused with enthusiasm for that scintillating scenario? Nor me, but then no-one cares about the story with games like this anyway. In the case of Hexen, it's merely an excuse to be even more horrific and unholy than Doom. The game is like Doom with a fantasy, spell-casting setting. So, being a kind of sequel to Doom, in style if not in name, Hexen is more of the same but with significant extensions and enhancements to the format.
 
At the very start you must choose which of the three human characters you want to play (warrior, mage or cleric) and then stick with that character throughout the entire game. This choice of character is the biggest obvious difference with Heretic, and gives Hexen a lot more variety because the same levels will play quite differently depending on which character you pick.
 
The warrior, being big, tough and thick, specialises in close-combat weapons, and does the most damage at short range. The mage, being a righteous wimp, goes to pieces when in close proximity to the big bad guys; he'll do a bit of damage when cornered, but he's altogether happier when he can hide behind a pillar and throw things at them. The cleric is a more rounded individual, though decidedly more active than the usual desk-bound accountant. He's not as tough as the gristle-brained warrior, but he can still pack a punch at close quarters. Being of superior mind to old muscle-head, he doesn't specialise in bludgeoning his adversaries with clubs either. He can use ranged weapons just like the mage; though, not being quite so cowardly, he hasn't had the same amount of practice with them. He's probably the best character to choose when you're starting out with the game.
 
So, the character you pick determines the style of play and the weapons that are available to you and also, to some extent, the way the game as a whole behaves. For instance, the power-ups act somewhat differently depending on your class. The most interesting differences, though, are in the weapons. Each hero class has four weapons of increasing power at his disposal.
 
The warrior's are all close-combat. He has a savage pair of knuckle-dusters in the form of the Spiked Gauntlets; the magic-inbued Timon's Axe; the Hammer of Retribution; and the Quietus. The Spiked Gauntlets really mean business, and the other weapons get even better: the Hammer of Retribution sends out exploding, flaming hammers, whilst the Quietus is a big sword which fires a spread of five green fireballs.
 
The cleric is armed with the Mace of Contrition (pictured in the screenshots below); the Serpent Staff, which fires a pair of poison-balls and is effective at close range; the Firestorm, which sends out a streak of fire that damages anything in the near vicinity; and the rather devastating Wraithverge, which fires a big grey cloud that splits itself into four phantoms. These ghosts shriek towards an enemy, take it out, and then move on to another, until they eventually fade away. While they last, they can even travel through walls. So the cleric has two close-combat weapons and two ranged ones.
 
The mage specialises in ranged weapons. He has the Sapphire Wand, the Frozen Shards, the Arc of Death, which seems a particularly apt name in the current Acorn climate, and the Bloodscourge. The wand is quite a weak affair, though it has unlimited range. The much more interesting Frozen Shards are a spread of icicles which freeze your enemy solid. Once dead, he stays standing there before shattering into lots of tiny pieces, which then fall to the ground and melt away! The Arc of Death is a bolt of electricity which clings to any creature it contacts and does a lot of damage. And finally, the Bloodscourge is the most powerful of all weapons in the game, firing three enormous fireballs that can take out virtually any adversary.
 
You start the game with just the basic weapon, and must collect the others. In the case of the top weapon in each class, you must actually assemble three pieces before the weapon will work. And the more powerful the weapon, the more costly it is to use in terms of manna, so you won't be able to go around firing your Bloodscourge willy-nilly at everything!
 
Although Hexen is based on the Doom engine, there's a lot more interesting things in it than can be found in Doom. It's not just about walking and running any more; now you can jump and fly, and whilst the map design is still basically in 2D, you can at least look up and down now. The scenarios aren't linear like in Doom, either: the game is divided into 'hubs', through which you can choose your own path. Switches on one level can operate stairs or doors on another. There are lots of artifacts to be found, and fog, earthquakes, swamps and crumbling bridges to be experienced. You even need to watch out for flying pigs!
 
Like Heretic, but unlike Doom, Hexen features objects (artifacts) which you can pick up, carry around and use whenever you see fit. Most of the artifacts found in Heretic are here, plus a lot of new ones. There are artifacts which will give you torch-light, let you fly, restore your health, repel monsters and weapons' fire, turn adversaries into pigs (the Porkelator) and other interesting effects. Other items in the game can be pushed around, broken, and even blown away by wind! Heretic also benefits from numerous effects that add atmosphere, like ambient sounds and visual enhancements such as lightning, moving clouds and flitting bats. The game engine is also more powerful than in Doom: apart from all those extra effects, pressing levers can also have multiple actions (i.e. they're not limited to triggering one event), and the maps are no longer entirely fixed. Walls can move unexpectedly, for example (perhaps to crush you, or push you off a narrow ledge), and doors can now physically swing inwards or slide to the side when you open them.
 
So, whilst Hexen may initially look a lot like Doom, there's actually quite a lot of new things that can happen, and a lot more variety.
 
If you like Doom, then the chances are that you'll like Hexen. It's fair to say that it's a tougher, harder game than Doom, and the monsters are certainly rather brighter. It's certainly the case that more thought is required to play it successfully. In Doom, to a fair extent you could just rush in and blast everything in sight. In Hexen, there are far more pitfalls to watch out for. Not only will the monsters transform you into a delicate paté if you let them, but there are plenty of deathtraps hidden in the map itself; like panels in the wall that suddenly swivel round and pummel you with fireballs, or poison darts or perhaps icicles.
 
There are plenty of nice graphical touches, too. Wallop a stone wall with your mace and you'll create a little translucent puff of dust; smash a stained-glass window and it'll shatter into tiny coloured pieces which sink to the ground; wander through a mist-enshrouded swamp. There are lots of little things like this, and plenty of variety in the game. Ambient sounds add to the atmosphere, and there are plenty of nasty, squelchy sounds when you hit things! OK, there are some less than convincing aspects to this game (for example, I'd love to know how those stained-glass windows manage to be so brightly lit when the vast majority of them open onto blank stone walls with no lighting!), but we can forgive the odd bit of artistic licence.
 
So, if 3D games are your thing, and particularly if you've worked your way through Doom, you'd better start saving up for this one.

Screenshots


[Entrance to level 1][Secret doors with monsters]
At the main entrance of the first level: smash those windows for power-ups! Note that it's possible to jump around in this game, so you can get over those low walls in the distance very easilyAs you'd expect in games of this genre,there are lots of secret doors which open around you when you movepast critical points; and theyusually contain a nasty surprise!
[Shattering window][Two-headed ugly]
Smashing a stained-glass window results in a pleasing tinkling of glass and generally reveals a power-up. But it may reveal a secret passage, as here, or a murderous monsterThis ugly brute (an Ettin) may have two heads, but he won't be in two minds about trying to kill you
[Firebirds from hell]
Hands up all those who thought that the only kind of firebird
was a Phoenix... Think again! The flaming gargoyle is called an Afrit

 
Note: the Hexen screenshots were taken from the Mac version of Hexen and gamma-corrected using ImageMaster to make them visible to Acorn users (they'd have been much too dark otherwise). Whereas the PC original runs at 320x240 resolution, Mac Hexen runs at 640x480, so the full-size version of these screenshots should give you a much better idea of what the Acorn version will look like. Given that the Acorn version is going to be based on R-Comp's Doom+ engine, you'll be able to push the resolution as high as you like.
 

Richard Goodwin and Theodore Rimspoke, (17/1/99)
 

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The Icon Bar: News and features: Heretic and Hexen preview