Hexen, often considered the spiritual successor of Heretic, was developed by Raven Software and first released in 1994 for the PC. It was later ported to the Playstation, Saturn and N64. I had fond memories of playing Hexen, both the old DOS version as well as the Playstation port. After discovering Zdoom, a fantastic source-port of the original doom engine, I set out on an adventure into nostalgia.
I instantly remembered what I loved about this game as soon as I loaded it up. The atmosphere really gets under your skin. It’s a Sword and Sorcery themed game and is filled with misty moors, dark forests, scorched wastelands and murky swamps. Simply fantastic.
Unlike most other FPS at the time (and ‘FPS’ is used lightly here), the player is able to choose between three different character types. There is the wizard, who is weak but wields powerful magic, the fighter who is very strong but has little magic ability, and the cleric, who is the hlafway point between them. In practice there is not a whole lot of noticeable difference between the three, apart from the weapons they wield. It still is quite a decent aspect of the game, as the different characters demand different play-styles, which provides a lot of re-play value.
The weapons are fun to use and the enemies can prove to be a challenge, which makes combat in Hexen ab-so-fucking-lutely awesome. There are also a huge number of items to collect, which do everything from making you able to fly, to turning enemies into cute little piglets (seriously). There are so many items available that they will often build up until you realise that you can’t carry any more of a certain item. The flasks are a god-send. They essentially work like health/med packs in Doom, only you can carry them around and use them when you need them. Genius.
After a few hours playing Hexen, however, I remembered why I stopped playing it. While the atmosphere is fantastic, the weapons fun and the enemies challenging, the levels are a headache. Hexen works on (what it calls) a ‘hub’ system. This means a number of mini-levels will be attached to the main level, and together they constitute one ‘hub’ level. Most of the puzzles in the game revolve around flipping a switch in one mini-level to open something in different mini-level. On paper it sounds great, but in practice the reduces the game to a glorified switch hunt.
To be fair, the puzzles aren’t really that difficult, but to be even more fair, they’re not really puzzles. You flip a switch in one mini-level and then search the other mini-levels to see what has changed. It’s incredibly frustrating and brings the flow of the game down to a grinding halt. And when you inevitably can’t find the next switch, you can spend a great deal of time going back over the level to try and find the one switch you have missed. Tedious stuff. You’re best bet is to scan the walls as best you as you make your way through each section of the game, just to make sure you never miss anything.
However, with the miracles of modern science, the source-port zdoom is able to play custom WAD files, or mods, or Hexen. If Hexen itself proves to be too frustrating to play (an believe me, you will be forgiven for thinking so), you can always try out some of the custom levels designed by the fan community. While not nearly as active as the doom and doom II modding community, there is enough content there to keep you happy, and some of those mods, in my opinion, out-do the original game in terms of fun and balanced gameplay.