This is actually the very first PC first person shooter I ever played, my introduction to the genre, though I played it way back when games were still loaded from the DOS prompt so I've forgotten more or less everything about it. I do remember that it came out at the end of 1995, about eight months before Quake and just three months before Duke Nukem 3D, so the Doom engine it's built on would be looking a bit dated very soon.
Unlike Heretic, this managed to escape PCs and went on an exciting two year journey to the world of consoles, eventually making it over to the N64, PlayStation and Saturn in 1997, where its 2.5D graphics likely didn't look any less dated.
"Suspended within the fabric of time and space lies realm of the Chaos Sphere. For eons the Serpent Riders, masters of the sphere, have travelled the dimensions sowing destruction.The CD versions of the game start with a CGI video where a serious narrator explains the very serious events going down in the realm of Hexen that led to the righteous violence of which we are about to partake.
D'Sparil is dead. Korax, the second rider, threatens another world: the world of Hexen"
"Hexen, a world where magic's legacy has spawned corruption.
Three powers rule as one unholy trinity, each led by a single man. The warlord Zedek, High Captain of the Legion is both judge and jury to all the peoples of Hexen. Traductus of the Church holds their souls in captivity..."
"... and Menelkir, the subtle master of the arcane, weaves his unholy magic to spread fear and weakness amongst all of their subjects."Yes I had to look up how to spell all those names. Not that it matters at all really, as this is all just setting the scene and adding a bit of atmosphere. If these people ever show up again in the game it'll be as boss fights and I doubt we'll get a chance to chat much.
"Restless in an uneasy alliance, these twisted leaders rule a twisted land, crushing absolutely all who would dare to oppose them. Today they will trade their worldly power with Korak for the dark gift of unlife and a mastery of forces more terrible than even their depraved minds could ever imagine."And then tomorrow I'll come over and shoot them to death with magic fireballs.
The DOS version I got from Steam doesn't seem to have any of this CD content though, so there's no CGI intro and no Redbook music. It just skips right to the menu.
Damn, now I wish I'd made them all animated at once. The filesize would've ended up being ridiculous huge, but it would've totally been worth it.
You'd think the Fighter would be pretty fragile dressed like that, but his skin's apparently tougher than metal plate and has maxed out stats in everything but magic. The Mage on the other hand is the opposite, rubbish at everything, while the Cleric is almost straight sixes in every bar. Well the Fighter has 31 points of awesome compared to the Mage's 20 points, so it seems like a no-brainer going from the numbers, but who knows what magic even does in this?
I'll split the difference and go with the Cleric.
Alright it seems I'm armed with a mace, so I'm heading inside to see if I can find someone to smack with it.
Maybe if I collect enough of them I'll be able to simply float around the levels, unhindered by gravity.
Well that was fun. Time to start again with a different class I reckon. I think this next time I'll go with... the Mage.
|ZDoom source port (click for full resolution)|
This is what the game looks like running in a higher resolution with a modern source port by the way. I wanted to check whether it made the game any easy to see, and it does a bit.
This time I'm playing as the Fighter, who starts off armed with only his fists. Though considering that he can punch these two headed minions to death in just three hits I'm not feeling all that underpowered. The down side is that I have to be up in punching range to do it.
This is the Nintendo 64 version here, which is much closer to the original PC version in graphics quality (with a decent amount of trademark N64 blurring to soften the grittiness). At first I was put off when I realised I couldn't use the shoulder buttons to strafe, but then I found out that by switching to d-pad instead of the analogue stick redefines the controls to use them, so it's all good.
Back in my Heretic writings I mentioned how it is an asshole move to for a level designer to start hiding the main path behind secret walls, unless that was established as the way gameplay worked from the very beginning. Well Hexen here has just established it at the very beginning, so I can't say I wasn't warned this time.
Oh and now the doors I came through have started slamming open and shut in sequence, so I guess I should double check what I mapped the run button to before heading back out.
Seems that there must be more to the level behind where I started off.
What I've achieved by hitting the bell though I have no idea. The game could've told me with a message, or even let me watch it happen outside the bell tower window, but that would spoil the mystery! I suppose I'm meant to go backtracking through the level now looking to see what's changed. Yay.
This is the PlayStation version of the game this time, which looks about the same as the Saturn version, except cropped (plus it's drained all the colour out of my gauntlet). Also weirdly it's now taking me six punches to kill anything instead of three, which is less than ideal.
The CD soundtrack sounds like the PC midi version played through a soundfont by the way.
Only the N64 port gets these messages between levels by the way. Everyone other version is stuck with this:
Alright skullface you can piss off now and let me through to the next part of the level.
Seems that this area is a long rectangle with bronze doors along the walls to my left and right and a pair of towers in the middle. There are also two headed monsters everywhere! They're so far away though that they're basically invisible at this resolution in a screenshot. There's a switch over there on the wall as well so I'll stroll over and activate it.
I was kind of hoping that this would be a magic axe that fires off axes, but it's just a regular magic axe I'm afraid. Still, it means I can finally move up from punching everyone.
The Mage gets the ability to fire ice magic from his hand here, freezing enemies solid; which is awesome until you realise that you've got frozen enemies blocking your path just when you're trying to get a bit of distance on the ones sneaking up behind you.
I can't believe I'm already hopelessly stuck. There must be a trick to this room but it's completely eluding me right now. Okay, the lights turned off as I approached the window, so something might have been activated somewhere else in the level. I'll go back out of the bronze door and run a lap of the central area and see if any of the other doors have opened.
Oh man I am a fucking idiot. Either that or I've been playing too much Heretic recently. Wow I wonder how I can get up to an area that's above me... the JUMP BUTTON perhaps? To be fair this is the first Doom engine game with a jump button so I imagine that other players would've been thrown off by this back in the day as well.
Alright, I'm finally through to the adjacent room. Into the portal!
It looks like I've found myself in a proper dead end though. Flicking the switch on the back wall made this sword shape appear, so I suppose I'm meant to be walking on the platform to escape, but I haven't really done anything down here yet.
Inside the door... was a second portal! You know I'm starting to get an idea why this map might be called Seven Portals now.
Believe it or not I'm actually facing a pair of windows looking into another room, but I can't see a way to get in there from here.
Of course I could always try the big obvious switch on the wall behind me...
This is the room down the stairs on the opposite side of the level, which is a mirror image of the one I was just in, and they both have switches. First I figured there might be a time limit on them, so I hit a switch and went running around everywhere to see what had changed. Then after trying that a few times I decided to pull one of the switches, then rush down the stairs to pull the opposite one as well. Nothing!
Well the last few times I hit switches they opened up a door in Seven Portals, so I'll go back there and check to see if anything's different. Back to the portal!
Yes yes Raven Software we're all very impressed with what you've managed to make the Doom engine do, but some restraint would be appreciated. It's customary to let the player make a mistake first before incinerating them.
Actually to be fair, the lava quickly rose to the point where I was able to jump back out again, only lightly toasted, and I've got a decent stash of quartz flask medikits stashed in my inventory at this point so I was able to heal myself back to health.
Well the message at the top assures me that I've got the falcon shield! What that means though I have no idea. Oh, I guess it made my A.C. go up... which I'm going to assume to be a good thing in this. What I am sure about though is that there's two doors down here that need a fire key to open, and a noticeable lack of switches.
Well, it did, but I made it to the safety of the door at the other side in the nick of time thanks to the Fighter's incredible speed. This turned out to be pointless though as the door slammed shut before I got there and I couldn't open it. On the plus side getting back wasn't so hard, due to a handy narrow ledge running along the wall, and I even found a switch to flick along the way.
"One third of the puzzle has been solved."I don't have the words to express just how entirely useless that message is. Fine then, back to Seven Portals.
The red dots on the right are the three portals leading to the Fire, Ice and Steel maps, each sitting in an area behind a bronze door, but the three rooms on the left side of the map are still closed off and hidden. I can't see inside so they haven't been automapped. I have nowhere new to go. Crap.
I guess I'll go over to the Guardian of Steel map and see if anything's changed. Back to the portal!
THREE MINUTES LATER.
Anyway this exit is locked, but the there was a door just like on the other side of this room leading to a lift. The lift led to a branching tunnel, and one branch led... to a dead end. The other branch led to another switch though, and another helpful message!
"One third of the puzzle has been solved."Fucking awesome. And that means I should head... where? Fine I'll check Seven Portals. Again.
These are actually flechettes, and their exact effect differs depending on class. For the Fighter they're basically grenades and I can throw them by pressing the item key, meaning that this is likely one of the earliest first person shooters to have a separate grenade button.
Anyway that fight was pitifully easy. Not that combat has been a joke in this so far, it's just way easier than figuring out where I'm meant to be going next. Okay maybe it's a little bit of a joke.
Right, let's see what's behind door number 4.
I wish to retract certain comments I made earlier about the combat being too easy. Enemies are certainly capable of reducing my health down to single digits in seconds if I'm careless and cocky. Thought believe it or not I actually... didn't make it out of this situation.
A few quick loads later though and I'd managed to clear a safe path through these abominations to the next portal.
Well more swords mean more exits, so I'll go try the one on the right first.
First though I need to make it back across these ice blocks as they rise and fall and occasionally smash against the ceiling. Plus there's a bit of jumping across a tiny chasm or two. Did I mention that this is a slippery slidey ice world without a whole lot of friction?
Back to the portal... at some point hopefully!
But if you look at this map there's clearly two switch rooms down here, one of them's just been blocked off. It's the same on the right side of the map as well.
IT'S THOSE USELESS SWITCHES IN THE SYMMETRICAL ROOMS! Remember, the ones with the pulsing light effect looking into rooms I couldn't get into. That has to be it. One pushes it one way, one pushes it the other. It'll be a bit of a walk to get back to them, but it's worth a try and I have no other ideas.
SOME SWITCHING AND A PORTAL LATER.
Man this level just keeps going and going and going.
|ZDoom source port (click for full resolution)|
See if I stand in exactly this place with one foot practically off the edge of the ledge and take the screenshot at four times the resolution of the original game you can just about see what the switch opens!
But what do I do with this mask I've collected?
Well I have to use the mask on this wall you're looking at here in the dead end room and that gives me the fire key. Then I take the fire key right back to the place I collected the bloody mask!
After using the fire key I got more of this for my trouble:
"Stairs have risen on the Seven Portals."I travel back to Seven Portals go up the stairs and flick the switch.
"A door opened on the Guardian of Ice."I go back to the Guardian of Ice, find the door, jump a fire pit, get shoved into another pit by a trap wall, and etc.
"One half of the puzzle has been solved on the Seven Portals."WHAT FUCKING PUZZLE ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT? How is it even possible for one game to have this much 'vague' packed into each and every message it gives out.
"Something has happened somewhere, I guess. Go back through the portal and have a look around, it's not like you've got anything better to do. Here, I'll even respawn a few enemies for you so you can pretend you're playing a video game."No I'm not miserable, tired and frustrated, why do you ask?
Alright, back to the portal then.
MUCH MUCH LATER X2.
I did manage to suddenly transform a bunch of enemies into pigs though, which was nice. Then I attacked them with my magic hammer that fires off hammers and turned the game off.
So, Hexen: Beyond Heretic then... is it really beyond Heretic? Well as far as the technology goes that's a clear 'yes'. The version of the Doom engine running under the hood has been turbocharged to the point where it rivals Duke Nukem 3D's Build engine when it comes to the crazy things it can do with sectors. Duke 3D could have a street collapse, but Hexen could have it collapse and then fill up with lava afterwards, and man does it love to show off.
When it comes to gameplay though... Hexen's still pretty good actually, despite the huge drag factor of its pitifully limited arsenal. Each character gets just four weapons to choose from, and for the Fighter one of them is just an upgraded melee attack. Running around punching enemies to death is way more fun than it could've been (even though you can't interrupt their attacks with your own), so I've got to give it a thumbs up here as well.
But the thing about the game so far is that I haven't gotten any satisfaction from achieving things, because it doesn't present me with goals, it just hints at the effects of what I've done. When I fight my way through a level and get to the switch on the far side, I'm not thinking "aha, I've finally reached the switch to make those stairs appear," I'm thinking "well I flicked the switch and it made stairs appear somewhere for some reason". Say what you want about Doom's keycards, but at least a locked red door is an obvious problem with a clear solution and I know what do when I find the key. Plus it's not going to be hidden in an entirely different level just to make the backtracking drag on for longer.
So honestly given the choice I'd rather play Heretic again instead.
Oh and don't worry if you're reading this in the far distant future. At the time I'm writing this the game's already 20 years old, so it's not like there's any time limit for comments.