The Undead Syndrome [Review]
September 13, 2012
The Undead Syndrome…it’s…well, you see…uh…
I am willing to trawl through just about any corner of digital and physical space looking for new horror games, and will try just about anything once. I don’t know how I managed to trip over The Undead Syndrome, but I was completely captivated with how hilariously unwieldly it looked. With the developer looking like he was having trouble getting the character to move properly, and the random rainbow-hued enemies intermixed with dough-faced joggers with knives, I knew this was something I needed to play. Sometimes you need to pick up something that looks like this just to see what’s going on.
After you’ve laughed your way through the first goofy cutscene, you’ll find yourself standing up from a bed, the camera pulling up way too close behind you. It’s something that is going to be driving you crazy for the entire length of the game, so you may as well get used to it. Your character model is jammed pretty far into the left corner because of it, so you’ll find that your own body will constantly hide enemies, chests, and doors from you unless you spin the camera around a lot. For anything other than an enemy it’s not a big deal, but if it’s a bad guy, you’re going to eat a lot of hits before you figure out what’s happening.
The camera zooms in even closer after you’ve just come through a door. I actually jumped at one point because I saw this creepy half-face floating in mid-air in front of me. I thought it was a new enemy and began to fire at it, but soon found I was just shooting at the disembodied face of my character model. The camera had moved in so close that it was right in the center of my character’s head.
My face wasn’t the only thing that seemed to detach itself, either. Often, enemies would be clipping through the walls as they moved around, some poking out through floors above and below me. Shadows would shoot across the room and be on the wrong surfaces, and that was assuming the shadows even looked like the belonged to the items they were reflecting off of in the first place. Everything is also supposed to be layered in a thick green fog like something out of Silent Hill, but most of the time the fog seems to be emanating from the main character. Not much can negate tension in a horror game as much as a stink cloud suddenly shooting off you, I’ll tell you that.
You might be excused for not being able to see much of these graphical problems due to the on-screen clutter, though. Like I said, your character model is usually in the way, but there’s also a nice, huge compass sitting in the upper right of the screen that obscures much of that side of the screen, too. In total, I’d say you can only see out of about sixty percent of the screen at any one time, so have fun getting attacked.
If I could only see what was coming, I might have enjoyed the combat a little more. It plays like most third person action games, where holding the left trigger brings up your weapon and right trigger fires it. You use something the game calls KI, where you can fire a certain amount of energy bolts based on a regenerating energy bar. The crosshairs are a little large (and also get in the way, as if there’s need for more clutter), so you’re still guessing a bit at where your shot is actually going to go. You have to factor in distance and your shot’s speed (as the blast isn’t instantaneous), something that made shooting a bit more fun. I just felt like I had to do a little more than aim a reticule to hit something, and it involved me in the combat a bit more than I would have expected. It was pretty fun, and went a long way in keeping me playing.
It won’t be long before the on-screen clutter lets an enemy sneak up on you, and that’s when a big problem will come through. When enemies are right in your face, it is almost impossible to hit them with your shots. They almost all go right through the enemies even if they’re standing right up in your face. As it turns out, your shot starts a short distance in front of your character model, so if an enemy is directly against you and attacking, you’ll have to back away a step or two in order to hit it. Your character isn’t all that fast, either, so you’ll have a lot of trouble backing out of the way.
Bringing up your KI shot takes a second or two, which also doesn’t help. If you get hit while bringing your weapon up, you’ll drop it while also getting frozen in place. If you don’t want to see your entire health bar chewed up by one mistake, you’d better start spamming the jump button and hoping for the best. It’ll typically get you out of the way, but your character moves so slow that you’ll have a hard time getting your weapon up while backing away from the monster. I eventually learned to never let go of the left trigger, and if you ever intend to play this, so should you. It’ll keep you alive.
You might find yourself wondering about the things that are trying to kill you as you mow them down. For starters, there’s the doughy, shirtless jogger wearing jeans and wielding a knife. Not exactly undead, but the guy is probably the scariest thing in the game. He’s pretty relentless when he sees you, and every once in a while you’ll come across one lying on the floor. These ones hop up and come after you, and the first time one did that was pretty much the only time in the game when something genuinely scared me. I think it’s telling of a horror game when the most frightening thing in it is a shirtless weirdo, but hey, that’s probably the scariest thing you’re going to meet in the real world, too. Points for realism I guess.
Given that the game’s title is The Undead Syndrome you might expect to see some dead things to fight after the jogger, but the enemies only get stranger. After him came a few types of tentacle floating things, scorpions that attacked by doing front flips, and balls with sharp points attached to them. There’s also a boss that looks like a humanoid upper body on a giant hand that you fight a few times, but that’s everybody. Those undead from the game’s title? They aren’t coming. Maybe they thought it was misleading in a way that made the game more interesting, as there is something that happens at the end that I think is supposed to be a shocking twist, but it doesn’t really work. It did get me to buy the game, though.
With the right music the game might have stood a small chance, but this is the worst crime of all. It takes a lot for me to turn down my speakers when I play a game, but The Undead Syndrome‘s music is piercing at the best of times. Almost all of the sounds have this high-pitch to them, where each note is painful on your ears. I really have no idea what was going on or how no one noticed that every song and sound effect was grating, but here we are. You can’t shut the music off either. The game plays a certain tune when there are still enemies in the area, and given that the camera is too close for you to see that you’re taking damage, you need those sounds to tell you that there are still bad guys around. There were times that the only reason I could tell that I was getting hurt was because the enemy tune was still playing, making me turn the camera to look for them; finding them breathing right down my neck.
There are a few more additions to this game that help keep its problems at bay. There is an experience system, so at least you’re getting a little something every time you kill one of the weird monsters. It doesn’t even take all that much effort to build up your character to the point where she won’t take much damage from all of those sneak attacks, which does make the game more enjoyable. There is also a cool stone system that allows you to equip gems in parts of your body for certain bonuses, but there are only a few of them in the game. It feels like something that could have been a major draw to the game if a lot more work had gone into it, but right now it just feels like they stuck in a whole equipment system so you could play around with two suits of armor.
The Undead Syndrome has a few neat ideas at work, but there are just too few of them to counterbalance its problems. Combat is too much of a mess to be fully enjoyed, the music is necessary but literally makes me cringe, and the game just looks ugly. It may be fun at times, and it’s two hour length makes it very hard for it to get on your nerves for long; but it’s just not something I can recommend for anyone who doesn’t have an intense love of flawed games. If you do play it, expect to end the game with a look of confusion and exasperation on your face.
Images courtesy of thexblig.com, msxbox-world.com.
Out Of 5
The Undead Syndrome
The enemies are interesting, but everything moves around in the most stiff, wooden way possible. There isn't much to look at besides plain walls, broken up about three times by what look like children's drawings of monsters. Everything else is clipping around for no apparent reason, making the game looked messed up whenever it's not too busy being boring.
Physically painful. I would shut it off if I didn't absolutely need it to hear whether there were more enemies around. Every single note is shrill, and I'm not even exaggerating.
Your character moves at a snail's pace, even when equipped with the stone that speeds up movement. Jumping is a pain and unnecessarily difficult, but the game still makes you do it a lot of the time. Your KI weapon also takes forever to get ready to fire, so you can and will die often just from not having it ready at all times.
There are a lot of neat perks that make the bulk of the combative gameplay interesting, but you're mostly just clearing rooms of the same four enemies. Beyond that, the platforming is abysmal and the handful of puzzles in the game can all be completed by following written instructions on the walls. It's just not something that's going to be all that good for long.
The combat can be satisfying, and the perks of the experience and bonus stone systems give the game a bit more depth, but it's just not very entertaining. The only reason I pressed on was because it was short, and because I really wanted to know where the developers were going with this thing. Also, when you find out the big plot twist your brain just might implode from how dumb it is.