Now Playing: Realms of the Haunting (PC)

The Halloween shenanigans continue with Realms of the Haunting! This was a strange old hybrid game that was kind of a cross between a 90’s FMV adventure and a first person shooter. I suppose you could say that it slightly resembled an RPG as well. It was certainly a very ambitious game for its time, and you can tell that the developers certainly put a great deal of effort into it…but does it still hold up after all these years?

Wellll, that’s not a simple question to answer. By 90’s PC game standards it was a great looking game, and as dated and blocky as it may look now, the visual design still holds a certain charm to it even now. The FMV doesn’t hold up nearly as well though. It’s cheap, ugly, and horribly pixellated to the point where you can hardly believe that video quality like this was ever considered acceptable. The acting is awful too, which is no surprise at all for an old FMV game, but it all takes it self so seriously that there isn’t much to enjoy even for the wrong reasons.

The plot also suffers from being unnecessarily complicated. There are way too many characters that don’t really add anything at all to the story. You seem to keep meeting people that speak in nothing but extremely vague hints and “riddles” and holy shit do they go on and on about nothing. The game’s already confusing enough without these assholes popping up to tell you useless crap like “Adam, you need to defeat the ultimate evil by using the ultimate weapon, but I can’t tell you where it is, what it is, where the key to the door is, or even what the name of the evil is, so…get going”. Two of these “helpful guides” are even played by the same guy. WHY EVEN MAKE HIM TWO PEOPLE? THERE’S NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM!

There are also multiple villain characters for no particular reason. Two of them could have easily just been the same evil guy and the third one literally has NO LINES in the whole game. There’s no reason at all for him to exist.

On the brighter side of things, the environments are big, complex, and cool looking. The combat and puzzle aspects of the game are pretty solid for their time too. Combat-wise, the game compensates for not being a full-on FPS by giving you mostly magical weapons that have unlimited ammo, but take a minute to recharge, so you’ll be doing a lot of switching back and forth between stuff like a powerful magic staff, a magic sword, a magic wand, and your crappy old pistol. I suppose it somewhat resembles Heretic/Hexen in a way, but the combat isn’t anywhere near as intense here, which is good because due to the controls needed for the adventure aspects of the game, while functional, the combat can be a little bit clunky at times.

The adventure game aspects are pretty standard old adventure stuff. Part of it’s just about exploring every little nook and cranny so you can find Item A to stick in Slot B, but there are also a lot of tricky puzzles and mazes to conquer. There’s a lot of Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider-ish dungeon puzzles to be solved and most of them are pretty well-designed and intuitive. As usual with adventure games though, there are a handful that are so obtuse and convoluted that you’ll almost certainly end up having to resort to a walkthrough.

Thanks to the complex nature of the level design (which by the way spans across several big wings of a spooky mansion, secret underground crypts and caves, and trips to several other dimensions) and the previously mentioned painful unhelpfulness of your guides, it’s also pretty easy to find yourself lost or utterly confused about where to go next. Again, most of the time it’s not too bad, but there are a few times where they really could have given you some clearer direction. Hope you bookmarked that walkthrough.

Ultimately, I don’t know that it’s really something I’d quite recommend except to people that are heavy old PC game enthusiasts with a lot of patience for dated mechanics and maybe a healthy dose of nostalgia for the FMV era. Even then, you still might not be able to get into it unless you have a very specific nostalgic itch for it like I do. If you do fit into this specific niche you might want to check it out though. It’s no System Shock, but it has its moments.

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