Need a walkthrough? Then read a walkthrough!
This 4 CD game came recommended to me from nearly every magazine I read back when it was released. Most gave it a very high rating with the exception of the UK Edition of PC Gamer whose reviewer claimed the game was boring in places and likened it to walking around a travelogue with pretty scenery. Anyway, on the recommendations, I bought it at my local K-Mart for AUD$49.95.
It is a beautifully boxed game with embossed lettering, etc. I loaded it up and...was hooked big-time. Yes, it one of those games, one of those where you are so damned intrigued by what's next, or what this does or what will happen here that you finally realise it's 4AM and you have to be at work in 5 hours. Only Ultima Underworld 2 and System Shock produced similar gaming reactions with me till then.
This is an adventure/combat game. To thumbnail it, it'd be a Gabriel Knight type adventure tied to a Rise of the Triad engine...yes, it's a Doom-y affair, quasi-3D movement with first-person perspective view a la all the faves such as Heretic/Quake/Jedi Knight etc. Add to this a strong story, puzzle and adventure elements, such as Broken Sword/Gabriel Knight/Indiana Jones and you'd have it. An adventure game married to a 3D actioner. The emphasis is on adventure and puzzle solving not wasting bad guys, though there are definitely bad guys in it. The plot is straight out of a pseudo-Lovecraftian epic. The forces of darkness are breaking through due to experiments carried out by the protagonist's father and his associates, and it's up to you, the protagonist, Adam Randall, to stop this from happening...
Adam Randall is an American-raised young man drawn back to his native Cornwall in response to his father's death and a package he received in the mail, and odd dreams he has been having. After the rainy cab ride out to Hellston, he enters his father's palatial home and the adventure starts...Chapter 1, yes, like Betrayal at Krondor, the game is divided into chapters over each of the four CD's. The game starts in the foyer of this house...eyes glow from paintings, weird glowing glyphs bar your way through most of the doors...look around, pick up a box of matches and proceed...strange things! Typewriters operate by themselves...you find a automatic pistol and some ammo...the first puzzle, a painting gives a clue how to obtain a key to a locked room...you figure it out...wham! It's trapped! If you survive, you get a key...open the door...cut scene...
...yep, Gremlin, the game's now-defunct makers have opted for transitional filmed cut-scenes. Adam is a suave young actor who is a bit one note but not as hammy or over the top as some acting I've laughed at in games, like the Crusader series. Each important step in the game has a cut scene to propel the plot and story. Without exception, clues are picked up in these, so don't hit the ESC button just yet. Your first encounter in the house is with the ghost of your father...
And? What else happens?
What else happens? Wholly dependant upon what you do! Realms of the Haunting, firstly, is a very, very eerie game. Apart from its Knights Templar, Book of Revelation, Lovecraftian and Magick themes, I will admit it is scary in places. There's this gut-wrenching feeling of imminence each time you go around a corner or open a door. Rarely do you encounter monsters at a distance, mostly, they emerge from the ground or appear due to some action you have performed.
This is the part you will either relish as a challenge or detest as an impediment to the game. Generally, you are under-armed and usually below par on your health status. Health, new weapons and ammo are rare in the game. This is to deter Doomsters who might perceive the game to be a pretty variant of that classic. No, you must think in this game. Running away is often the only chance for survival. Stand and deliver, and often, you will need to reload your last saved game position...yes, it is hard, and probably reflects the reality of an average guy up against the fabulous and the supernatural. You're not the Paladin out of Hexen 2 or Kyle Katarn here, you are Adam Randall, handsome young man...
...clues to puzzles and your progress through the game are provided various ways. Cut scenes are one, but a lot of clues are from scrolls or books. The scrolls are beautifully-drawn parchment affairs, often with maps, notes or diary excerpts, written in a flowery quill hand, to give it that Magickal feel. Others are typewritten or handwritten in pen. Some you find on early in the game are letters to Adam's father on the progress of experiments; as you read through them, you realise that things are becoming more frenzied and manic on the part of the writer.
A hell of a lot of thought obviously went into designing these scrolls and books. As Adam's inventory is a bottomless pocket, you'll never lose what you pick up and you'll find yourself referring to the charts, maps and diagrams quite a bit. Other clues are physical ones, like clock-faces, indentations where something fits, sigils and runes, etc...
...well, I can't speak highly enough of Realms of the Haunting. Let me explain the "Realms" bit. To start with, you're in a mansion, then you descend down into a world beneath of caves, lava rivers, airy and vast halls with brooding statues, chapels, storerooms, crypts, fountains, pools and temples...then you come back up to the mansion and suddenly, some of those glyph-sealed doors are open...
You discover the means to travel to other realms like Raquia, Arqua or Sheol. Essentially there are four realms all connected by an otherwhere called the Tower, a wind-blown plane all slender towers, teleport gates and perilous catwalks. Raquia is an interesting place. It's manicured gardens, sculpted hedges, pools and bowers all under a pleasant blue sky. By solving a very devious puzzle you come to Raysiel's tower...where you cannot make any noise as you traverse this utterly bizarre room full of sliding platforms, ledges, bells and tinkling tiles. Which leads me to the graphical aspect of the game.
It is well-drawn for a quasi-3D bitmapped world. The palette is bright and colourful, the monsters don't pixellate close-up. The in-world architecture and environments are jaw-dropping, seriously. Forget you've seen games with 3D acceleration for a moment, and take Realms of the Haunting at prima facie.
It is beautifully drawn, each area is depicted faithfully, balconies, balusters, grottoes, halls, airy places miles up, gardens, churches, naves, vaulted ceilings, dungeons, cellars, chained arched bridges, vast chambers of otherwordly worship, misty catwalks on another plane, lanes, libraries, mausoleums, catacombs, secret doors, sliding bookcases, sarcophagi, think of something out of a mediaeval world full of Magick and you have it, drawn with meticulous precision. No room looks the same as its neighbour...it really is a work of art. It really is something else.
It is beautiful to look at, the puzzles make sense and are at times, maliciously clever, it will scare the hell out of you unless you're tranquilised by some psychotropic substance, the music and feel is eerie...download the MIDI file and have a listen. It's a grand adventure, one of those types so full of intrigue and a need to know what's around the corner or behind that door you'll lose sleep.
My quibbles with it are trivial, no keyboard mapping ability (European edition), at times you aren't wholly sure of what you're meant to be doing and the main quibble: When you return to the mansion from your sojourn in the caverns/catacombs/temple area downstairs, a girl, Rebecca Trevisard is waiting for you in your father's study.
You'd dreamt of her before. She joins you on your adventures...well, there's two of you now, so two lots of comments on items and places as you progress...BUT, only one person able to fight. All Rebecca really is an invisible voice over your shoulder giving you hints and tips, adding a second opinion as you review items and events from your inventory, yet she has an empathic ability which aids in helping out at times.
Seriously, I thought the game's designers would have made it easier on you and given you the input of two people in a mano e mano situation with the nasties in the game. Nope, just dear old Adam, and if you walk in front of a mirror, he's all you see reflected. Nevertheless, get hold of this game and confront your senses.
Like most games of this vintage, you'll have issues running it under Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7/8/10, at least with sound. Use an emulator like DOSBox. Problem solved. The Steam version of the game comes with DOSBox.