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PHRASE OF THE WEEK: DIE JOB DEATH CAR? (Daijobu desu ka - Are you OK?) (C) Sodom

Saturday, August 7, 2010

[PS] Hexen: Beyond Heretic

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Hexen: Beyond Heretic

Genre: FPS
GT Interactive Software
Probe Limited
Year of release:
Slots on Memory Card:
Additional peripherals supported:
none, sadly

As a kid who loved both Doom and Heretic, I really loved Hexen as well. Yes, it was kinda darker and more complicated in gameplay than its' predcessor, but I understood it SHOULD BE that way. I have been always wondering what 4th weapon does every class have, what are the secrets in this game, loved the pre-final-boss episode in the graveyards (and Zedek, Traductus and Menelkir boss fights as well) and even considered infinite Wings of Wrath to be a glitch of sorts... And guess what, I still like it.
So, when I heard about Hexen being ported to PlayStation, my eyes started to shine, literally. After watching some videos on YouTube that cover this port, my hopes on seeing a good port became evaporated, but even with that, I've finally downloaded it from Rom Hustler. And started playing through it. Even if I understood that the port was a complete shit. So why didn't I tried to beat the N64 port? Maybe because the N64 pad is more complicated in usage than the PS one? Ah, screw it.


For those who completely forgot WTH is going on,a short recap of the story so far. So Corvus, the elven protagonist of the prequel, killed one of the Serpent Riders, D'Sparil, another Serpent Rider named Korax started to terrorize the world of Hexen. The only thing I actually don't get is how Korax may ride on the serpents when HE IS A SERPENT... Doesn't that look pointless, huh? Oh well, back on topic. So, the inhabitants of Hexen live under tyranny of The Legion, The Church and The Arcanum, each led by Zedek, Traductus and Menelkir respectively. One creepy night, these men decide to make a deal with Korax who promised to give them incredible powers in change of their lives (so they would be almighty zombies, sort of), and therefore, make life in Hexen even worse. The new protagonists, Baratus (fighter), Parais (cleric) and Daedalon (mage) dedicated their next hours of life to dispose of all four villains and become the owners of Serpent Riders' Hemisphere, an ancient relic that allows to decide the fate of any world existing in the Universe.
As you can see, the plot is nothing really special, but you know, that was only a warmup. The level design, the atmosphere, well, EVERYTHING is in spirit. THIS kind level of level design will never get out of your memory if you love it (compared to Wolf3D and Blake Stone levels which were exciting to play but not really memorable in their structure); I still remember how that goddamn Menelkir's tomb looks like, even if I haven't played it for months!..
But, to be honest, this is only a supporting factor. The most unique thing I distingushed from the other 'Doom clones' I had as a kid is that the gameplay itself tries to go, at least, a bit farther from your regular Doom clone (now, by the context, it's needed to leave this without quotes). Mostly by popularizing so-called 'RPG elements' which are popping up nearly in every single new blockbuster game (and the latest one that used them (kinda) wisely was S.T.A.L.K.E.R.). Three character classes, armor points, hub system a-la Spyro the Dragon (one 'home' level, several sublevels, plus a secret one in each of five chapters (except the prologue and epilogue)), puzzle solving, freqeuent usage of mana - these are, perhaps, all the RPG elements included in the game, which doesn't, however, distract you from the main point of the game - killing stuff. And solving puzzles, of course. These two will take most of your time when you play this. And the balance between 'kill-solve', unlike Heretic, goes more to the right than the left this time... But not that much. What? Oh, I hear. Wanna mess up with bloody stuff, huh. Pleasure. Set the Nightmare skill level before you start and you will not only be unable to stop your blood boiling, but also you won't get the puzzles solved that easily, thanks to the traditional massive respawns.
Puzzles, by the way, may not be that easy as you progress, but most of the time you just have to do what you are supposed to do in this chapter. Just to fill the holes, spoiler time. First chapter - just follow into the opened portal doors and pull all three required switches. Second - pull SIX switches this time, but only to activate the sealed doors that lead to the boss. Third - collect all the gem planets, apply all of them on the astrological board, fight the badguy. Fourth - exactly the same, only this time you collect gears to make the castle clock work. Fifth - fight three menaces of Hexen and, in case of victory, unseal the passageway to The Ultracheap Badass Final Boss Of This Game - Mister George Bush. No-no-no, kidding. Korax himself, what else were you thinking?
Classes. Probably my #1 favourite gameplay feature in the entire game. As said above, there are three classes in this game, all throughoutly balanced (but most pick the mage for some weird reason. They miss Heretic or else?). What's even more interesting, not only physical characteristics and weapons are different in each class, but the usage of several inventory items too! Let's take the most widespread one, that may be used as an alternate weapon, flechette, a bottle with green, yucky and poisonous liquid inside, for an example. Baratus is the fastest, consumes the least mana (and it case if it ends, the weapons may be used as melee ones) and has the biggest resistance against enemies' hits. One problem: his first truly long-range machine of chaos comes under number three. Him using flechettes as grenades may compensate this a bit, still... Parais is a golden middle between the other two classes in EVERYTHING. Speed, strength, weaponry... Yeah, about weaponry: he gets the first long-range weapon under slot number two and his flechettes are used to actually POISON the enemies. You know, the green clouds look no good. And are no good, which is good for us against the brainless monsters. As for Daedalon, he owns the coolest weapons in the game, indeed. For a starter, he gets a wand that may hurt the dumbies even on really big distances, albeit very poorly. But afterwards, he will be able to freeze everything in sight and even throw thunders (really effective against centaurs who block with their shields like fighting game turtles); his flechette appeal actually marks the cameo appearence of the timebombs from Heretic, the sequel! But! Despite this coolness, he's so physically weak... He walks as slow as Momo's turtle rides a bicycle made in good ol' USSR for kids with a hydropump engine placed behind! And he's the weakest in health among all the classes. So, as you see, the perfect balance. Everyone is good and everyone is bad at the same time. Make yer pick, gentlemen.
Talking about goodies returning from Hexen, I guess that I would give a pair of words to this too. Like, you still may turn your haters into... no, not chicken, this time you would mash them for a barbecue. Pigs, what else were you expecting... Also. Chaos Device is back, but now, it doesn't transport you back to the start in case if you get grounded (Banishment Device now does this), but rather pushes the legion, that is about to slash you apart, aback. Needless to say, it's now a more freqeuent item to run into.
And now about what you won't find in Heretic. Obviously, this game has three BFGs and all they look awesome, but before you start seeding death everywhere, you ought to collect three part of your future work instrument. But again, this show is really worthy to look at, ain't it, boys?
Okay, I told everything that's worth knowing about this game if you haven't tried it yet. And if you haven't done it yet, give it a shot, no matter if you will like it or not.
What I find weird, however, is that unlike his big brother, Hexen was officially ported on consoles, including the first PlayStation. Alas, while the creators of Saturn and N64 actually did made a really decent adaptation, Probe (the creators of really good ports of MK1&2, including really smoothly programmed MK2 for the PS) decided to move this into cash projects. Hence the quality.


One question to Probe. I know that the RAM constrants of PlayStation really suck, but hey, DO YOU GUYS CALL THESE GRAPHICS? This actually looks EXACTLY like Doom on Super Nintendo, plus floor/ceiling textures and bigger screen resolution. That's it. The one-sided enemy sprites, pixelated textures and screen area are still here. And don't tell me that it's the console which can't afford more juicy graphics than this. Otherwise, take a look at Doom again, but on the PS this time. Freezy framerate, the illness of almost every FPS classic ported to these times' consoles, is still here, but Williams actually managed to retain all the textures and enemies (sans Archvile, sadly), plus every enemy is covered with sprites for all 8 sides! So sorry, but your Hexen deliberately fails at this attempt and has nothing that this port has. But what's more interesting, the turning and the physics are EXACTLY the same as in the SNES Doom, which is making things just ridiculous as hell (I would keep talking about Williams and Probe messing up with BOTH Mortal Kombat and classic FPSes and ending up with having ridiculously same results, but you know, that'll be just pointless trash talking, so moving on).
In addition to really poor graphics, you may also notice that the dark fog has been added on every level. To my knowledge, such thing is implemented into modern games to put some more emphasis into atmosphere and cover the not-so-graphics away from your eyes. But c'mon! The graphics are already piece of junk so nothing would be really hidden, huh? Also, this fog is so useless that it even hampers when you, for example, are fighting the second boss. Thanks to the fog and pixelated screen, you can barely see from where this flying fucker throws fireballs! Therefore, you're unable to save Wings of Wrath for this run. Crammit.
From what this port really suffers as well, is from re-e-e-a-ally ba-a-ad programming and several enemy/platform replacements. Like, in the original version, your character will make a 'buh' sound if you stand in front of the wall and press the 'Use' button. In the PS port, he will buh every time you press 'Use', even if you don't stand in front of the wall (in clunky fashion of SNES Doom, AGAIN). And yes, they have managed to fuck the balance up. Fighter's gauntlet usually killed that two-headed dimwit, ettin, in 3 hits. Now it takes SIX hits to finish him up, the fighter just throws his fist A LITTLE BIT faster. Okay, Probe, I don't get this 'new addition'. How could you come up with such a stupid idea?!
For the replacements, let's give Darkmere a look. Originally, there were black statues holding 'firedishes', sort of. Here, they are replaced with three torches. It would be okay if those could be hanged on walls only, but later on, when I see the same torches 'flying' in the air...
Enemy replacements. For some unknown reason, the Seven Portals has all the serpents removed, leaving centaurs to mess up with. No, serpents ARE in the game, but only brown ones. Greenies are nowhere to be found, even on Light Crucible which had both types just in one level. Oh c'mon, what's wrong with you assholes? It's a fucking palette swap, goddammit!
All the sounds are on their places, thankfully, but the music... the music... well, for some reason (YET AGAIN) they reconverted the music into redbook quality, therefore, leaving only 1/3 of the original soundtrack alive. Aw damn, couldn't you use the privileges of XA so I shouldn't listen the Seven Portals theme on Shadow Woods and miss one of my favourite themes, Zedek's Tomb, huh?
This version has very, very neat (I'm not kidding) FMVs, but sadly, no matter which class you'll pick, it will always show the mage. Damn, will you ever stop me swearing? Were you unable to XA all the music and waste a bit more time on rendering same cutscenes with the remaining two characters?
Loading times. Well, these are okay, since every level loads in 10 seconds, but the saving times... I bet you don't want to wait thirty seconds while your game saves. Yeah, I counted. Thirty. It may look like nothing on words, but on practice, it feels like eternity. By the way. Wanna know why it takes thirty seconds? Well, the entire savegame occupies the whole memory card, all 15 blocks (compared to Duke Nukem Total Meltdown's 3-6 blocks). Awwwwwww, do I need to have EVERYTHING I've done logged? You don't need these dead bodies in any case since you can't do anything with them, why remembering their positions then? Can you simply store the puzzle progress sequence in just one or two bytes instead of remembering every switch, item and weapon I interacted with?! What the fucking fuck where you thinking, Probe?!!


Now there's no need to continue listing all the major fuckups done with this port. You already understand that it's just plain lame and looks and behaves like SNES Doom in many ways. All what was excusable for a 16-bit console will never go well with 32-bit one. So... the review is over?
Hee-hee, not yet. There is at least one good point in this thing. Controls. There, you may choose one of about twenty control mappings (compared to the same DNTM's three schemes) for your comfort. But where the comfort really ends is the use of 'shift' and 'inventory' buttons, you just gotta get used to them. While holding 'inventory' doesn't really do anything but switches the items with left and right on your D-Pad, the Shift button... Well, by holding it, you may change weapons (there is no reverse weapon tracking, however... and they swap as fast as in Serious Sam on the XBOX), use the items, look up or down and ascend or descend in case if you use Wings of Wrath. While the first two functions won't be a real bother, the remaining ones, apart from being rarely used, are just komp-lee-kei-t'd. Like, you wanna fly up. All you gonna do is to hold Shift + Jump + Up (almost said Ctrl + Alt + Delete, wow). And now imagine that a lot of serpents are attacking you from the ground. And that you're playing on hardest difficulty. They sure will burn your alter-ego's skin up before you press all the required buttons, for sure.
Plus, among all the level replacements, there is a good one, after all. Do you remember Korax appearing on the wall when a new chapter was about to begin? Well, now this wall doesn't disappear so cheaply, instead, it quickly scrolls down making a loud clang afterwards Now that's the thing that should be implemented into PC Hexen...
As I said at the very beginning of the review, I started playing through this version. And guess what, I made it to chapter three, Heresiarch's Seminary (a.k.a. Monastery)! So why couldn't I do that on the original Hexen? Why do I load up the ISO of this crapling into pSX emulator instead?! Why do I see all this pixelated mess that's called 'mawnstarz' again and again but keep moving the storyline on?!!
...these are the questions I would never find answers to.
Anyways, bottom line.

Considering that PlayStation was a more affordable console than SEGA Saturn or Nintendo 64, this port indeed had potential. But none of it has been pushed forward. No optimization at all, crappy design, even more crappy programming... And that's Probe, the guys who made some really decent Mortal Kombat ports! I may give them a credit on leaving all the levels in their original order (unlike Doom for the same console), but OH MA GAWD, how much have they suffered... The only reason you have to download this port (neither buy, nor rent, only download - they haven't deserved their loaf of bread this time) is kickass FMVs. Otherwise, if you can't stand its' B-sides quality, beware of this thingie. It's cheaply done, after all.

P.S. Some may say that I have overloaded this review with mentioning yet too much other classic FPSes, mostly Doom for Super Nintendo. My fault. But still, why can't I let myself say that it's technically worse than all the stuff I told about above?!
P.P.S. Also, my longest review so far. I mean, sixteen kilobytes of pure text?! Doubtin' that you have read the whole thing entirely...


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Zedek before he orders an execution. 
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So far, it looks accurate... so far.
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Korax's dirty face. 
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Frankly, even with such amount of enemies the game keeps the same framerate! 
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This damn guy takes six hits  instead of three now. WHY?!!

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'WHERE IS THE SERPENT?!' - ''He told me to kill you while he's out...'

1 comment:

  1. I remember running this game on a Pentium 66 with 16 MB Ram from DOS - top of the line in 1995!