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Ben Vost trawls the magical depths of Hexen.

The latest free source game to be released, Hexen uses the Doom engine, but it’s a far better game which has more in common with games like Tomb Raider than the simple shoot-em-up that Doom is.

There are trappings of D&D-style RPGery, including the fact that you choose whether to be a fighter, cleric or mage at the start of the game, with the obvious strengths and weaknesses familiar to us all from a lifetime of such games.

You collect mana and potions, and while the RPG stuff is more Tunnels and Trolls than D&D, it certainly adds up as you improve your armour class, weapons and so on.

The version of Hexen I played was the Hexen_68k port by Christian Sauer (v.045) which allows for mouse play, sound and music, but there are ports to suit PPC boards (both WarpUp and PowerUp flavours) too. In any case, the requirements are slightly more stringent than for Doom since there’s a lot more going on in Hexen.

For example, it allows you to look up and down and there are a lot more peripheral features, such as leaves blowing in the wind, for the game to keep track of.

The weapons are more imaginative than Doom and overall it seems to be a better thought-out game.

The game itself is a lot more colourful than Doom, and although it sticks to the messy sprite look of its parent game, the monsters seem better-defined too. Of course, once you’ve got used to the true 3D of Quake, it’s hard to go back to the pseudo-3D of games like Doom and Hexen, but because they move a lot faster and are more colourful, it means the games can often have more depth, and this is certainly true here.

There are falling rocks, puzzles galore, resources you need to conserve if you’re using them for weapons, plus weapons that do different things depending on which class you are on, and so on.

The idea of the game is fairly Doom-like. Wander through the levels pulling switches and pushing buttons, shooting the bad guys. There aren’t as many weapons per character as there are in Doom, but the ones you find are pretty good fun, particularly the cleric’s big weapon which fires out the souls of the dead to rend apart the bad guys.

The only problem with the game is its poor keyboard control which you can’t remap. The keys chosen are in awkward places. For instance, the fire control is CTRL, but the run and sidestep modifiers can only be reached from the right shift and alt keys respectively, making it very awkward to strafe as you run.

I’m pretty sure this is a limitation of the PC original as it’s not something that can be changed by any of the porters (except presumably by remapping the raw key codes), but it still makes the game more difficult to play than it should be.

Other than that, the weapons are more imaginative than Doom, the storyline’s more involved and overall it seems to be a better thought-out game. It doesn’t have the extensibility that Doom has, but it’s great fun nonetheless.

Weapons galore

You get the chance to have four different weapons per character for a total of twelve different meanings of beating up baddies. They are as follows:

FISTICUFFS: All you start with, and it takes ages to beat someone, or something, up. The Hexen equivalent of an axe in Doom.
AXE: A hefty axe which glows when you have blue mana. It still does damage if you don't, but not as much.
HAMMER: If your enemy is at range this will fire out mini explosive hammers which seem to do a lot of damage. If they're up close, this hammer either hits them in much the same way that a toffee hammer would, or it really clouts them.
RUNESWORD: Groovy! The kind of weapon you wait ages for. It fires out five fireballs for distance-bashing and is still a swordy kind of implement when the baddies are close by.

MACE: The cleric's starting weapon. Looks meaty, but does about as much damage as the warrior's bare knuckles.
SERPENT STAFF: The Hexen equivalent of a machine gun, this chucks out fireballs pretty swiftly.
SURNY HANDS: Share the flames around with a mystical gesture and you can set everyone else on fire. This is sloooow, though.
WRAITHVERGE: Absolutely the best weapon in the game as far as I'm concerned. This fires out ghosties which seek out lifeforms and chomp them up.

BLUE DIAMOND STAFF: It spits out little bits of fire. On a par with the other character's first weapons.
FROSTY HANDS: This one spits out loads of bits of ice and can freeze your enemas. Sorry, enemies.
ELECTRIC HANDS: This one shoots a bolt of lightning from your fingertips. It doesn't move very fast so it's fun to watch the baddies trying to make a run for it with this after them.
RED STONE STAFF: Three fireballs. Auto-aim. Nasty, but what did you expect for a wizard's top weapon?

Hexen: Death Kings of the Dark Citadel logo

An add-on for a game doesn't often merit a page of AF, but Ben Vost reckons this is something special.

When we started playing Hexen in the office, we unanimously decided that it was far more fun than Doom, and it really made use of the graphical engine that Doom is made with in a much better way. The graphics were more colourful, the scenery was more imaginative and, most importantly, there were lovely little touches in the gameplay, such as the bridge collapsing in the original game, and earthquakes in this update to it.

However, DeathKings is nothing more than more of the same, moreish though it may be. The bad guys are the same medley of monsters that the original game threw at you, and the pick-ups are the same too, although there are more of them.

In any case, if you enjoyed the first title, I see no reason why you won’t be enthralled with this new set of levels, as long as you don’t mind the repetition of it. I guess in a way these ports of free source code are somewhat degraded on the Amiga – the secret codes and hints are so widely available these days that it’s too easy to simply bash your way through with full armour, weapons and mana, and with God mode enabled.

Try this without them though, and you’ll see that not only is Hexen DeathKings a harder game than Doom II (or Hexen, for that matter), it’s also more devious. Where Doom relies on you being the fastest on the draw , Hexen really takes your grey matter out and gives it a good polish.

Where Doom relies on you being the fastest on the draw, Hexen takes your grey matter out and gives it a good polish.

Often switches will open doors you’d all but forgotten about and there’s nothing like the satisfaction gained when you finally work out one of the puzzles. The only thing I’d say was that the amount of re-spawning that goes on could have been reduced somewhat without detriment to the gameplay, since you end up wasting a lot of "ammo" by having to kill monsters that have popped up to replace dead ‘uns, because you’re still not sure where to find that silver key.

All in all, I think you should get DeathKings, especially if you enjoyed Hexen, as long as you don’t mind a slightly tougher, more-of-the-same deal. As far as I know, there isn’t a demo of DeathKings, but getting a demo of the original Hexen would suffice for you to get to grips with the gameplay mechanics.

Getting it to run

Since Hexen DeathKings is essentially an additional WAD file making use of the same executable, you'll either need to run it from a command line using "file HEXDD.WAD" as one of the arguments, or get yourself a portal which allows you to edit your settings with the comfort of a MUI interface. HexenPortal is the best one I've found. It relies on MUIRexx to work, but both are readily available from the Aminet (and we'll have them on our CD next issue). It even allows you to change the horrible default keymap that Hexen uses. The only niggle with it is that you have to choose your screenmode every time with the version I was using (HexenPortal 0.4, Hexen 0.45, but I'm sure this will be resolved in time.