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Review: Hexen II and Heretic II

Reviewed By: Bill Stiteler

Review Date: January 17, 2003


Genre: Hexen II: First Person Shooter / Heretic II: Third Person Shooter
Format: CD
Developer: Raven
Mac Publisher: MacPlay
System Requirements (both): 233MHz G3, 64MB RAM, OpenGL-compatible video card, MacOS 8.6 or Mac OS X
Network Feature (Both): Yes
3D Support: OpenGL Required
Retail Price: $19.95
Availability: Out Now
Rating: T for Teen (violence)

There is a review of these games in here, trust me.

American computer games are in a rut so deep they can't see out of it. There's some absolutely ground breaking stuff out there, stuff that challenges the borders of what games can be. Play Pikmin for an hour, and you'll find that what seems like the silliest concept in the world (a tiny spaceman uses walking carrots to rebuild his ship) turns into some of the most puzzling and compelling gameplay you've done in a while. If the description of the game didn't clue you in, Pikmin's from Japan. Everything I hear about the Grand Theft Auto games says that underneath all the controversy, there's an incredible game. GTA is from Rockstar Studios, which is English. And before you saying anything about Bioware, I'm going to remind you that they're Canadian, and Canada is not a state.

And what do we have in America? Grim first-person shooters. Set in either a dystopian future or a dystopian fantasy past. You can tell the difference thusly: in the future, corporations control everything, and in the fantastic pass, it's wizards. But, whether you're fighting robots or orcs, you can bet the main character is tight-jawed, broad-shouldered, and packs more firepower than a tank platoon. The primary obstacles in these games are human bodies, and the ultimate goal is to remove as many of these obstacles as possible.

We get these for, I believe, two reasons. The first is that predictability sells. In his essay, The Well-Tempered Plot Device, Nick Lowe writes "The publishers know the public knows what it wants: it wants more of the same. Safe books. No surprises. Familiar surroundings from page one. " Lowe is talking about books, but if I changed "books " to "games, " and "page one " to "level one, " would you know? As a former adolescent white male, I helped create this problem, and as a game reviewer, I help continue it. The next time you see a blurb which reads " if you loved _______, you'll love ______, " remember to translate that as "More of the same! "

The second reason we see so many look-alike games is that game designers are themselves programmers. Their training is in what computers are capable of, and perhaps when they think of "pushing the limits," the natural point of view for them is in terms of graphics. Making everything look better than it did before. They remember the games that they loved to play, and try to improve them, as opposed to creating something entirely new.

These issues were on my mind as I played both Hexen II and Heretic II--freshly minted for the Mac as part of the MacPlay "value series " of affordably priced games--because, except for the aging graphics (barely noticeable in Heretic II, I might add), these games might well have been published last year, instead of in 1998.

Both games are set in a fantasy world. In Hexen II, you play one of four character classes (although the only difference in game play is what weapons or spells you use) as a lone warrior trying to save the world from being overtaken by the last Serpent Rider, Eidolon. It's a first person shooter, but instead of large guns you get hammers, axes, repeating crossbows, and magic spells. Hexen II is retro as hell, right down to the 3D-smooshed-to-look-like-3D graphics feel. So, you run around, you collect power-ups, you fight progressively stronger monsters. Hexen II was the first 3rd party game to use the Quake engine, and that's what it feels like--another version of Quake. While Hexen II boasts some clever level design, it's only separated from today's shooters by the quality of its graphics, which can seem positively campy at times, they're so retro. The concept however, remains the same as today's games: run and shoot, run and shoot.

Slightly more sophisticated, both in terms of its graphics and its gameplay, is Heretic II. Heretic II is a third-person adventure game, where Corvus, a warrior-wizard, is trying to discover the cause of a plague that causes everyone who gets it to become an extremely violent zombie. I'm guessing it was created by Ye Olde Umbrella Companie, and this game isn't too far off in tone or gameplay from the "survival horror " games still being put out today.

Still, Heretic II is a deeper game than Hexen II. In addition to the numerous spells with which your character powers up throughout the story, he also has a number of melee attacks which can be combined into devastating combos. They're relatively easy to master, and often have beneficial side-effects. Spin attacks can knock back multiple attackers, and pole-vault spear attacks increase your jumping distance.

Even though they came out within a year of each other, Heretic II is far ahead of Hexen II in terms of graphics. Its third-person perspective, placed just above and behind your character, gives you a panorama of the area you're in, and manages to do it without Tomb Raider's annoying "camera flies into a wall" bug. Corvus can jump, climb, and swim through the environment, although the real interaction is in fighting. Here, the third-person perspective can be a bit of pain, because depending on the angle of your point-of-view, the area an attack "hits" can vary wildly.

Both games offer multiplayer capabilities, a feature which has become standard on almost every game, and which--if I may say so--has become an excuse to skimp on decent game design. Who cares about the game if people are just buying it for deathmatches? Both Hexen II and Heretic II, however, were created when multiplayer was still something of a novelty, so there's more than enough "game" in the box.

Is there life in gaming beyond the adolescent power fantasy? There's certainly enough amazing stuff being done on consoles. Yet here we are in 2003, with piles of hype surrounding games like Unreal Tournament 2003 and Duke Nukem Forever (assuming it ever comes out), which are still mired in the gritty run-and-shoot formula that's been rehashed since Doom. It doesn't make Hexen and Heretic bad games, its just depressing that we're not making any real progress.


Applelinks Rating (both games)

Purchase Heretic II and Hexen II

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