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volume 1, issue 17

Today in loonygames:

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Off the Shelf:
The Top Shelf






By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

Title: Heretic II
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software
Average Price: $45


kay, so let’s think for a second here. First came Heretic, the Doom-engine shooter that had some RPG elements. It was good. Then came a boatload of Heretic episodes. Then the fine folks at Raven made Hexen, the sequel to Heretic, that added lots more coolbeans stuff, including flying leaves, kickass sound, and hub-based gameplay. Then, Raven released Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders, the "final" Heretic adventure, that collected all the different episodes and added a new one (kinda like Ultimate Doom). Then came Hexen II. Hexen II used the Quake engine, kept the hub-based gameplay, added some really great locations, and lots of puzzles. Now, two years after Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders, three years since Hexen, and one year since Hexen II, we have Heretic II. Confused? Yeah, so am I.

But hey…who cares? They’re all great games.

I’m not even going to attempt to give you the stories of each of these games, but suffice to say, Heretic II is the first game since the original Heretic that features the character Corvus as its protagonist (hence the Heretic II, and not Hexen III). What makes all this really weird, is that whereas all the previous games were first person shooters, this one’s…third person.

I don’t know what the heck the boys at Raven were on when they decided to go to a third person perspective…but it worked. What’s really strange is how backwards Raven went about everything. Think about it: in a first person shooter (FPS), you expect to have lots of action, and some pretty lame-o puzzles. In a third person game, you expect to have lots of in-depth puzzles, and some average action.

Now Raven has the gall to release first a FPS that used puzzle based gameplay, and once we got pretty used to that weirdo concept, they turn things around and release a game that uses a third person perspective to deliver an action game. Yeesh.

That’s the key thing to remember about Heretic II. It’s an action game. Pure and simple. We’re not talking about sissy-boy mild action here…this is balls-to-the-wall-action. Heretic II has some of the best action I’ve seen in a game in years (need proof? It’s our action game of the year). The game has some puzzles…but not really. Most of the game has you running around killing everything in your path (and man…I mean everything) hunting down some object that you need to move the plot forward.

And golly…here was a shocker. Heretic II actually has a really cool story. I wasn’t really expecting that one. It’s tough to convey…the game starts with Corvus defeating the last of the Serpent Riders (from the end of Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders) and then waltzing into a portal to go home. He walks through…and discovers his home has become infested with some nasty plague-type-dealie that’s turned everyone into mindless zombies. It may not sound like much, but it’s actually quite good. One of the things that I think really helped, is that you always know where you’re going, thanks to the map that shows up between levels. It’s such a simple idea…but it really conjured up images of Tolkien and other fantasy novels that I’ve read over the years, where the adventurers are traveling across a land that’s been so planned out that they’ve got an actual map.

As you go from place to place, you visit mines, marshes and castles. Each place will put you face to face with some really nasty looking creatures who’d just love to slice you from toe to teeth. Fortunately, you’re armed with some seriously killer weapons. Actually, I have no problem saying that Heretic II has some of the most satisfying ways to kill that I’ve seen lately. You’ve got the force blast spell, that throws little blasts around, you’ve got your storm arrows, that conjure up clouds of florescent red lightning, and the phoenix arrows, that throw bursts of flame around.

But then there’s the staff. Oh, the staff. The staff is without a doubt the best melee weapon ever seen in an action game. The boot in Duke, the wimpy-ass ray gun in Quake II, the axe in Quake…these have nothing on this thing. Not only is the staff incredible to watch (more on this in a minute) but it actually kills! And well! Whooooeee.

What makes all of this great to play (and watch) is the unbelievable animations. I know there wasn’t any motion capture done here…but you’d never guess it by watching them in action. Corvus runs, jumps, climbs, pole-vaults, and kills in perfect form. It’s really quite cool to watch. Plus, the Raven kids have tweaked the heck out of the Quake II engine to include enough new lighting effects to put it easily on par with Forsaken and Unreal for sheer prettiness.

In addition to all those great offensive weapons, there are a number of really cool defensive spells you can use. These range from a force field that flings enemies across the room, to a bunch of meteors that pounce on whatever starts to attack you, to the always popular Tome of Power. All of these spells add an interesting level of strategy to an action title, as you figure out which offensive/defensive combination will work best in each particular level.

The level design is nicely done. Some levels are quite linear, having you simply go from one end to the other. In one instance, you have a central point, but you have to retrieve two different objects, and you can get them in whichever order you like. It’s still linear…but it’s less so than the rest of the game. My personal favorite level is The Gauntlet (which, according to HereticII.com was done by Michael Raymond-Judy and Eric Biessman). The Gauntlet is a "test of strength" type level, where you have to prove your worth. There are a number of varying types of gameplay all squished together into this ingeniously laid out level. It was totally unexpected, and a real rush to play.

When all’s said and done, the only complaint I have about Heretic II, is that it’s too short. Deathmatch is interesting, and a lot of fun, but a bit too chaotic for my taste (although judging by the number of servers that are running these days, obviously I’m alone here). So I’ve found myself playing through the single player again. I suppose when the biggest complaint you can muster up about a game is that it’s not long enough, something was done right. The bottom line is this: if you’re up for a truly different, and ultimately satisfying experience, check out Heretic II. You won’t be disappointed.

- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief of loonygames. He likes meat.


Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. This edition of Top Shelf is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is a majorly hostile gesture.