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Hexen

GT Interactive's Hexen has arrived for N64, but was it worth the wait?

Publisher: GT Interactive
Developer: Id/Raven/Software Creations
Genre: First-Person Shooter

First came Doom, the game that single-handedly perfected a whole new genre and at the same time set off a chain reaction of clones that would, many years later, still continue as strongly as ever.

Not long afterward, Id Software teamed up with Ravensoft and brought out the game Heretic, a medieval version of Doom with enhanced gameplay features. Hexen is the sequel to Heretic.

The game centers around one of three characters; Baratus, a warrior, Daedolon, a mage, and Parias, a cleric. The three of them make up the last hope for the world Hexen, a human planet in the dimension of Cronos which has fallen under a deviously evil spell cast by three corrupted warlords. At the heart of this darkness lies Korax, the second of three Serpent Riders (the first already slain in the game Heretic), an enormously powerful, dimension-traveling beast.

Before beginning the game you must first choose your character. As you can guess, your choices consist of a mage, a warrior, and a cleric. Each comes complete with his own set of weapons and abilities. A nice touch, and one that is definitely refreshing from other games of the genre.

Once you've selected your killing machine, you must battle your way through a series of "connected" levels, warps and, of course, dungeons on your way to defeat the three warlords and Korax. There is a continent full of carnage, blood, spells, and level re-tracking in store for you on this journey.

Unfortunately, the developers of Nintendo 64's version haven't really changed anything at all from the PC release years ago (except for an added deathmatch feature) -- and the first thing gamers will feel is that the game is dated (given that they've played Hexen before). While the PC release featured somewhat pixelated graphics, the overall look and feel of the game, at the time, was very good. Hexen for Nintendo 64, however, feels more like a re-polished hand-me-down than anything else.

The developers, instead of creating anything new for the game, decided to incorporate mip-mapping and anti-aliasing features, tricks that N64's fantastic hardware enables them to do quite easily. This improves the graphics marginally, but at the same time it makes it easier for players to see the graphic imperfections of a title that is clearly past its prime. Remember Doom 64?

The game also suffers from sluggish control and framerates, even when the detail (which can be turned from turned from high to low to eliminate choppy gameplay) is set to low. If Nintendo 64 can easily handle the graphic prowess of a polygon game like Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, why is it stuttering on a game that has been deemed technologically inferior? We can only chalk this up to bad development, or poor planning.

The 3D environment of the game is very satisfying, with enough texture variety and different settings to keep the player from quickly becoming bored, or worse yet, disoriented. Hexen is also very interactive, enabling players to destroy certain parts of a world, like mirrors inside castles and trees outside.

Possibly the coolest feature of the game is the ability to cast spells and use items. For example, by using the Wings of Wrath, you are able to fly around the level, obtaining a bird's-eye view of everything, and are even able to shoot down enemies. Another useful spell, the Dark Servant, creates a life-size Maulotaur who defends you for about 30 seconds. Yet another spell, when shot, turns your enemies into pigs -- and then you can "bacon-ize" them.

Hexen's levels, unlike those of Doom, must be traveled through a number of times, so back-tracking is a necessity. Players progress through "Etheral Travel," which basically means that they warp to certain spots on one giant map. This makes it much harder to advance and adds quite a bit of challenge to the single-player experience.

Fortunately for fans of the deathmatch, Hexen comes standard with the option of playing three of your friends in a four-player battle to the death. The screen splits into four sections, similar to Mario Kart 64, and from there you can have at it. Or players can go head-to-head against friends in two-player deathmatch, which splits the screen in half horizontally. Once you choose the option of more than one player, it should be noted that the game's detail level is automatically defaulted to low in order to ensure better framerates.

While Hexen's multiplayer feature is definitely a lot of fun, we can't help but wonder how much better a game like Doom 64 would have been with the option. Doom, after all, is filled with levels that were designed for such play. Hexen seems less of a multiplayer experience and more of a single-player one, as the level design is filled with "etheral travel," which constantly interrupts multiplayer games.

Unlike Turok: Dinosaur Hunter -- the best first-person shooter on N64 so far -- Hexen isn't going to break any new ground, but with everything said and done, it isn't a bad 3D shooter and the multiplayer option won't let you down.