Sigy Says – Heretic Review

I was a big fan of Doom growing up in the 90’s, but I somehow missed out on all of the “Doom Clones.” I had a demo CD for the Mactintosh version of Star Wars: Dark Forces and I played a lot of Goldenye 007 on N64, but I never really played anything else like Doom.

One of the friends I made in middle school introduced me to Heretic and HeXen, but I couldn’t find copies for a reasonable price. Instead of borrowing or bootlegging the game, I decided to just wait until I had enough money in the future (which never seemed realistic at the time).

Flash forward to today and I’ve somehow managed to have Heretic on my Steam account for 5 years without playing it. I had forgotten about the QuakeCon pack from 2011 that included every iD title from that moment. Much to my surprise after having a Doom craze, I had some more Doom to explore.

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Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders (PC [Reviewed], Mac OS)
Developer: Raven Software
Publisher: id Software
Released: December 23, 1994 (March 31, 1996 for Shadow of the Serpent Riders expansion)
MSRP: $4.99

Calling Heretic a “Doom clone” is doing the game an injustice, but it certainly has a lot of game feel similar to Doom. Almost every weapon is a reskin from Doom 2 and most of the monsters share similar properties to enemies seen in Doom. The designs are incredibly different (and really diverse), but it’s hard to initially get out of your mind that Heretic is just Doom with a different coat of paint.

Eventually, you start to pick up on some of the changes that developer Raven Software has crammed into Heretic. For starters, this is the first FPS I can think of with an inventory system. It allows for the level of challenge to be ramped up since the player can constantly hold a source of health on them.

Not only that, but you can carry around various power-ups to use in sticky situations. Other shooters at the same time forced you to utilize anything you picked up then and there; Heretic puts more control into the players hand with the inventory system.

It is a bit annoying how you need to scroll through and additionally select an item before using it, but I’ll let that slide due to the release date (1994). That something so genre bending was even pulled off on the Doom engine is just awesome, let alone how chaotic it makes combat feel.

Each weapon has a different ammo type. It solves the mini issue Doom suffered with having the pistol and chaingun share ammo; getting the chain gun made the pistol redundant. In Heretic, every weapon feels valuable at any given time. Even the dinky starter mage staff can become awesome with the correct power-up.

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What isn’t so hot is how predictable the game becomes. At first, you’re not quite sure where to expect enemies to spawn from. Walking down corridors has walls dropping and enemies flying at you from all sides. By the time you reach the third episode, you’ve seen basically all of the tricks Heretic is ever going to throw at you.

That may have more to do with the original game only being 3 episodes, but episodes 4 and 5 really suffer from a lack of creativity. They are definitely difficult and well built (better than the rest of the game, even), but it feels dull after having played through 24 maps with similar layouts.

This is coupled with how the level design tends to have a lot of dead ends that require you to return to a centralized location. I’m guessing this was a precursor to the level design in the sequel, HeXen, where every map has a hub world. It does lend to some insanely confusing layouts, though.

The sound design is also pretty lackluster compared to Doom. On its own, the music is okay and the monsters sound like monsters, but nothing is distinct and most of the enemy sounds play at the same volume. It doesn’t feel as immersive as Doom, nor does it help the player distinguish which enemy is in an area with them.

The overuse of the first boss is also pretty lame. Maybe that is down to me playing on the second hardest difficulty, but I do wish there was more diversity in the boss encounters. Facing three of those floating giant skulls level after level becomes grating.

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With all of that said, I still found Heretic to be really enjoyable. It contains enough originality that any comparison to Doom sounds nitpicky. Sure, Doom may be an overall more polished and enjoyable game, but that doesn’t make anything done in Heretic not worth seeing. Heretic is also considerably harder, so Doom veterans will be in for a treat.

Getting the game running on modern operating systems is also a breeze. Since id Software released the Doom source code a long time ago, any modern Doom source port works with Heretic. You can boot up zDoom and get Heretic going in any manner of resolution you want. Full mouse look is enabled and keys can be rebinded to whatever your fancy is. There is even support for internet play, which is pretty damn awesome.

It also doesn’t hurt that the current price is exceptional. $5 for a game that will take around 6-8 hours to finish is just solid value. If you want to spring a bit more, you can get the rest of the series on Steam for $5 more. That includes Heretic, HeXen and HeXen II. That’s a lot of classic first-person shooter action for a small chunk of change.

However you slice it, Heretic is pretty good. There are definitely things that Raven Software could have done to distinguish it from the crowd, but for a first attempt from an unknown developer, you could do worse. For the price, you’d be hard pressed to find much worse, though.

7

Good

A solid game that definitely has an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.

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Gaming Thoughts: Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a very powerful force. It can completely distort the past unlike any other thing in the world. Recently, “Duke Nukem Forever” saw the light at the end of the release tunnel and gamers were thrilled. The thing is, we all wanted it for the sake of nostalgia.

While I’m not going to detail my utter disdain for that dreadful title, I would like to go over how frustrated my past with Duke 3D got me over the new game. As awkward as this may sound, I actually played Duke 3D back when it launched in 1997.

At the time, I was 9 years old. My parents were very trusting of my understanding of video games and how they differentiated from real life, so they let me embark on any kind of violent/adult/debauched type of games. Being 9, I never noticed the blood or nudity or cursing, I just liked the game.

A few years back I got to replay Duke 3D on Xbox Live Arcade and I was surprised at how ahead of its time the game was. While there certainly were aspect that hasn’t aged well (I’m looking at you water level), the game really created a sense of atmosphere that most modern games can’t even compare to. Even the voice acting was still ridiculously hilarious, regardless of how much wit it lacked.

What else made the game so great were the graphics. While ID was busy trying to take first-person gaming into full 3D with “Quake,” 3D Realms stuck with what worked and made the best damn version of “Doom” that was ever made. Yeah, Duke essentially ripped off the grand-daddy of shooters, but it had a sense of cartoony style and flair that Call of Duty wishes it had.

When I installed Forever on my PC, I expected at least something from the original. The only thing I got was the fucking water level and that caused me to break my phone in rage. I don’t understand what the mentality was over the 14 year development cycle, but I think it’s pretty sad that we got a game that’s about 7 steps backwards from what Duke 3D did.


This is literally the only achievement Forever accomplishes.

My biggest beef, though, has to be the loss of character and art style. Like I described to my best friend/brother, Jim, “The monsters look extremely realistic. It’s like when you’re a kid and you always wondered what it would be like to actually be the character. Then when you finally see how flimsy and stupid it is, you just want the original.”

The worst offender for the character is his psychopathic sense of humor. I understand that during my life time, I’ve made some awful jokes. I’m not trying to debate here that I’m a high and mighty, morally upstanding person (hell, I get drunk on a fairly regular basis), but why would you write rape and abortion jokes into your script? Why does one line in the game consist of the word fuck, shit and bullshit 3 times each?

On the flip side, though, I’ve also been playing through the re-released Ocarina of Time on 3DS and my memories are still intact. In fact, the game is actually a bit better than I remember it some 13 years ago. Nintendo held their title to such a high standard that they even improved lacking aspects.

The wonderful, colorful, vibrant world is left alone, but polygon counts are boosted and the frame rate is smoothed out to create such a different experience that it’s almost worth owning both versions. My only complaint in more recent years was the damn iron boots in the Water Temple and Nintendo fixed it.

Playing through, all I could say to Jim were things like, “Oh shit, it’s time for Jabu-Jabu,” or, “God, these chickens look ridiculous in 3D,” and my personal favorite, “Oh snap! Din’s Fire! Shit just got real!” I got misty eyed when I heard the overworld theme again and I kept reliving memories of my youth when I got to specific moments in the game.

While I wouldn’t say that Ocarina is worth the purchase of a 3DS, if you do own the system, you owe it to yourself to relive this classic. It’s similar to how Duke 3D still outshines a lot of modern shooters; Ocarina is such a feature filled world that it puts a lot of open-world games to shame.


The horse even controls better than Red Dead Redemption! Fuck yeah, Epona!

It’s astounding how the force of nostalgia can create positive and negative emotions all within the same week. Duke fails my childhood while Link escalates it back into my conscious. This brings up a bigger idea, though; Did Gearbox sell us nostalgia for a simple dollar?

I used to hold Gearbox to a high standard. While they weren’t flawless and even their greatest game had a few issues, I always trusted their games to be fun, deep experiences. Duke does a huge disservice to the developers and really hurts their image in my eyes.

And yet Nintendo, who can consistently piss me off with their lack of online support and their asinine ideas for modern consoles, still manages to impress some 23 years into my life. When their titles get as much care and respect placed into their development as gamers hold in their hearts, then there really isn’t anything that they can’t accomplish.

While I wish I didn’t have these past experiences hindering my present being, nostalgia really isn’t all that bad. It just goes to show that developers really need to love what they are doing. If you simply finish something because gamers have been waiting more than half their lives, then you’re setting yourself up for a big failure.

As for the future, I believe nostalgia will still obscure my views. “Sonic Generations” is coming out and it’s poising to finally bring together both generations of Sonic fans. I’ve always preferred the classic style of Sonic, but if Sega can finally and lovingly create a 3D Sonic, maybe I’ll only have positive things to say.

It’s hard to tell with nostalgia, but I do know that it’s not going away anytime soon.

Technical Difficulties: Adapt to This!

Difficulty is a very subjective topic. Many gamers are going to write about specific games they found too hard or easy and they’ll get plenty of responses saying they’re wrong. While there technically is no right and wrong answer, I honestly cannot think of a game that really drives me mad with difficulty.

To further elaborate, I’m a fairly hardcore gamer. I play nearly every type of genre and I try to play them at the highest possible setting available from default. RTS and Racing games I draw the line (as I’m next to awful at them), but I typically will go for Veteran/Legendary/Realistic, etc.

To say the least, my view of difficulty is skewed. Miyamoto was claiming that “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” and “Super Mario Galaxy 2” would be difficult games and I did not find that to be true at all. It has to be my previous experience (something like 18 years) with the genre, but who am I to say?

What I would like to talk about, though, is Adaptive Difficulty. This is still a fairly new thing in video games, but it’s something that intrigues me. The prospect of doing well in a game and the game calculating your skill and increasing difficulty is something that should be ironed out in gaming.


We adapt to your skill…but really can’t calculate that because the game uses autosaves.

The first time I saw this feature was in “Far Cry” on PC back in 2004. The developers claimed they made a system where the A.I. (already fairly intelligent) would be able to distinguish your ownage from your suckage and react accordingly. That was a total farce.

I believe the LEGO series of games uses this technology, as well. I cannot tell you how much of a joke that is as the game doesn’t even allow you to die. I will say more enemies appeared in my playthrough of “LEGO Star Wars II,” but I also rarely died anyway.

“Left 4 Dead” administers this technology and it mostly gets it right. As you do better, sometimes random zombie hordes will ambush you or you’ll be facing off against a few tanks. The game even changes the layout of items based on your prowess. But sometimes you get nothing even after failing multiple times.

My question is, why does Adaptive Difficulty not work? From all the applications I’ve seen of this new feature, I’ve never once felt like the developers knew how to program it. Either the game is pathetically easy or it’s ridiculously difficult. I know “Far Cry” failed as the game used a checkpoint system, so it never really dropped from the initial difficulty you selected.

Like I said with the LEGO games, you cannot die. So, changing enemy layout isn’t going to suddenly have an impact on your experience, unless you’re an 8 year old and don’t truly grasp game mechanics.

My research into the topic only brings up “Halo: Reach” and how the A.I. will compensate for more or less partners in a Co-op match. That isn’t a true Adaptive Difficulty, though, as the game is just compensating for more people. The enemies won’t get easier if you all die.


We’ll “Adapt” to how many are here. Get it?…C’mon guys, it’s funny!

I’m not sure how to even offer a solution to this problem. What I have in mind is something along the lines of taking the stat tracking from a Halo or Call of Duty game and using that to calculate the perfect opponent. Bungie has some truly incredible stat tracking systems and I’m sure there has to be some way to sync those with A.I.

BioWare even has some kind of stat tracking for their single player games. If you can tell me exactly how many players per platform picked a Female Shepard, you should also be able to read and calculate my accuracy rating and my amount of kills. Use that information to suit the A.I. to my playstyle.

I do have faith in the term. I truly think that the perfect game could be achieved if the A.I. were able to track everything. It would be awesome if the game progressively got more challenging instead of developers just making the game harder purposely.

Until that day, though, I’ll be chugging through my games on the hardest settings possible. I live for challenge and it’s great to overcome extreme odds. Maybe I shouldn’t look for something to ease up on me, but I think it would sell games to a broader audience. That could only mean good things for our future.