This is a re-write of the first game I reviewed 3 years ago. I’ve edited the older review with my present experience and mindset. I also wanted to remove overly critical fun-making (which isn’t as helpful as I wanted to believe) and lots of redunant stuff. The original review contained 4043 words. This contains 960.
Hexen takes place in the demon invaded realm of Cronos, a world consisting only of you and the hideous creatures that are trying to kill you. The environments are deliberately ugly and are genuinely unsettling.
The constant grunts and moans of unseen monsters keeps you on edge. The occasional shrieks in the distance are genuinely disturbing. The low quality sound contributes effectively to the unsettling atmosphere as distorted screams feel unnatural, sounds that no human or animal could make.
Corpses litter the levels, impaled through spikes, hanging from hooks, or chained to the floor, restrained and left to wither away.
Enemies are suitably ugly, possessing a classical horror style, such as the swamp creature, the two headed dragon humanoid (ettin), and centaurs.
The music is fast paced, melodic and appropriately creepy. I often found myself nodding to the tune as I was running and shooting demons.
Hexen’s graphics will pose a challenge to modern audiences as they have dated considerably. Hexen chose the route of realism over style, which inherently compares unfavorably to more modern games.
You kill enemies while trying to find switches to open doors. Your motivation is to kill Korax, a demon who has invaded Cronos.
The game manual tells Hexen’s story, which is not available through steam. I gathered the above information from Wiki sites.
Text screens are provided between mission hubs, stating the same information each time. Usually along the lines of: You killed a boss, you realise it isn’t over, you step through the portal to fight some more.
Hexen: Beyond Heretic is not for you if you need story and plot to fuel you true an entire game.
Three playable classes are available. Mages are powerful casters, but are unable to survive much damage. Warriors are melee focussed, able to deal and withstand lots of damage, but are limited to melee. The cleric is effective at short and long range, and can take a considerable amount of damage.
Each class wields four unique weapons, 3 of which are situational, and one superweapon. Weapons maintain the fantasy theme, shooting magic, or are blunt maces and axes. I found myself using each an equal amount through the majority of the game – they all had their place.
I used the super weapon only on bosses, the odd surprise horde, or on difficult to access/see enemies – where no intuitive tactic seemed available.
There isn’t a very large number of enemy types, but each have different attacks and speed mechanics requiring you to change your approach depending on the enemy.
Strategies will emerge and efficiency will develop. For example, I used the mace for the close range combat, the staff (that fired….magic) for the flying ifrits, and the powerful fire-shooting gloves for the more dangerous serpents and dark bishops. Juggling between weapons mid-fight would also help reserve ammo.
Ultimately the combat is adequate. You need to use the right tools for the job while keeping resources and safety in mind. Enemies die quite gruesomely, providing satisfying visceral feedback.
You also stock an inventory of items, such as health flasks, buff, and status effect items. For the Cleric, the Poison bombs (oddly named ‘flechettes’) could stun lock entire groups of enemies, dealing massive damage, to a point where they would trivialize many fights. I dropped 5 or 6 flechettes on one boss, stun locking and poisoning him until dead. I never had to fire a shot.
The game is divided into 5 hubs, each containing around 3-5 levels. Each level will have a switch that allows access to another area (or level) in the same hub. This new area will likely have a switch that unlocks another area on a different level and so on. You traverse between levels until the hub’s puzzle (every switch ‘switched’) is complete. Often you will need to visit each level again to find which arena has been unlocked.
This back tracking, hub based approach adds little enjoyment, or anything substantially engaging. Knowing which area you have unlocked can be difficult as the level design can be confusing. I accidentally progressed in a level by activating a hidden elevator that was indistinguishable from the floor – I just happened to hit the space key randomly while walking. There were no hints that this was a usable object.
First person squinter
Progress often depended on pressing the use key on hidden walls that had little or no differentiation to the surrounding environment. This reminded me of Doom, where I would mash my face along walls tapping spacebar to find a secret – but in Heretic this is required to progress the main game.
You will find murky brown switches on murky brown walls. Wood switches on wooden walls. 2D painted objects that blend into a grainy background. The use of more contrasting colours would have saved some time as overlooking switches was common.
I had to regularly refer to guides online to find out how to progress, as some switches had no apparent function whatsoever. Even these guides were not fully sure, advising to ‘just keep flipping the switch back and forth for a bit’ until a wall opened elsewhere.
Old, not necessarily gold
If you enjoy the traditional first person shooter with not much thought required nor much in the way of story, then you may get some fun out of Hexen as long as you get past the dated graphics.
Having said that, there isn’t any reason to not just play Doom or Duke Nukem. Both of these games compare favorably in almost every way, but possess none of the downsides of Hexen.
Hexen: Beyond Heretic is not without value or fun, but it is certainly not an essential experience.