Ok, let's begin!
Hexen was created by Raven Software and published by Id software in 1997 for the Sega Saturn, and yes you've probably guessed it, it's a first-person shooter. Hexen is the second game in "The Serpent Riders" trilogy it's precursor been Heretic in 1994. Hexen was built using the Doom engine and as result looks like a Doom clone but instead of the usual demon spawn and guns, they're replaced with fantasy creatures, swords and magic. For disclosure with this review, I have no nostalgia with this game I owned a Sega Saturn in my youth so I know what to expect but never actually played Hexen when it first came out on the System.
Hexen takes place in a fictional realm, Cronos. Cronos is not a nice place it is controlled by three organisations the Legion, the Arcanum and the Church. In an uneasy alliance the three leaders of the factions Zedek, Marshal of the Legion; Traductus, Grand Patriarch of the Church; and Menelkir, Arch-Mage of the Arcanum have ruled with absolute power and corruption. To further there own goals these three open a portal to the Serpent Rider, Korax. With hopes of greater power and immortally. However three of their subordinates one from each leader Baratus, of the Legion; Daedolon of the Arcanum; and Parias of the Church have decided that there master's rules must come to end. They enter the portal in chase to destroy them and put an end the shenanigans of Korax. The player assumes the role of one of these three subordinates. Throughout the course of his quest, they travel through elemental dungeons, a wilderness region, a mountainside seminary, a large castle, and finally a necropolis, before the final showdown with the Serpent Rider.
The music in Hexen fits the tone and atmosphere quite well, with a sort of haunting lite that makes you feel that something not quite right about your current situation, and in the case of Hexen that doubt is quite a reliable sense. My only gripe with the music is that you hear essentially the same music throughout the hub and it's sub levels. Which is a shame as more diverse music may have helped me to realise which sub-level I'm in.
Hexen uses its assets well in conveying a colourful but still dark tone of an otherworldly dungeon. Hexen uses flashes of light to give the appearance of lighting, deep shadows to increase tension and occasionally uses colours for clues through the dungeon. Such as the colour blue for the ice dungeon and red for the fire caves to name but two. Theses colours are usually the main way to denote which sub-level you're in as it can get pretty confusing when working out puzzles. A lot of this is just background stuff really and could be missed initially but they're nice touches that improve the atmosphere of the whole game. Unlike Quake for instance with its much more dreary brown and grey palate.
Hexen has a wide variety of monster and all of them need slightly different tactics to deal with. From the standard beat to death two-headed soldier to the surprise attacking swamp monster there is some variety in how the monsters behave and attack you. In order to defeat them, you'll need to switch up your weapons on the fly to deal with them in the best possible way.
Unlike Doom, Hexen thrives on its puzzles. The whole game is essentially a twisting and changing maze with switches to pull, secret rooms to discover and artefacts to find and use to progress your way through each hub world. Unlike Doom which would be more akin to finding a key-card that then progresses you through a door that bars your way. Hexen tries to make you unravel a puzzle whilst at the same time fight off hordes of monster just itching to turn you lower intestines into a party balloon animal.
In Hexen you have a variety of play styles in the three-character archetypes you can pick from at the start; the Fighter(Baratus), the mage(Daedolon) and the cleric(Parias). The Fighter is the classic melee range combatant and to begin with, has the greatest armour stats. Eventually, he can get some range with magic weapons but on the whole, has far fewer ranged attacks than his counterparts. His flechette, a green bottle, acts like a grenade. The Mage has long-ranged weapons and spells right of the bat but is fragile and slow having the lowest armour stats of the three. His flechette acts like a mine. The Cleric is, therefore, the middle man of the game combing some strengths of the Fighter and the attack range of the Mage with later weaponry. His flechette produces a lingering poison cloud that damages everything that passes through it. These three provide a decent amount of replayability to the game.
Ok, I'm just going to say this Hexen is hard and it's pretty easy to explain why it's hard. Imagine playing Doom fighting off hordes of demons trying desperately not to get hit. Now add that you're in a maze but the maze keeps changing with every switch and lever you pull. While you're navigating this also remembering occasion cryptic clues given by the game as a hint to what you should do next. Then suddenly you run into a trap! Bombs dropping from the sealing, ground falling from under you, then death. That is Hexen! It's a constant struggle and I'm saying this now even with cheats this game is difficult. My recommendation, start on the lowest level of difficulty, keep an eye on your mana and make sure to make regular in-game saves especially if you think things are just a bit to quite and easy.
The control setup in Hexen is a bit janky. Not too surprising considering it was originally made for the PC with its large array of possible button commands now condensed into an 8 button controller. There are however ways in which a little programming may have made the console port a bit less frustrating, and freed up some of the messy control schemes. The main one been item switching and selection which is, hold Z, then scroll with right or left bumper button. The problem here is that Z is the farthest position from the comfortable area of the control and Z has six separate controls one which I might add could be redundant. The Y-axis control, essentially the ability to look up and down, this isn't required for aiming but can be helpful when looking for clues but isn't actually essential for completing the game. The other functions of Z include switching of weapons which is another hold function but this time it's left and right on the d-pad. Then there's the map screen and yes you guessed it it's hold Z plus the C button then to Zoom in is Z plus left bumper, and to Zoom out it's Z plus right bumper. At this point, you can probably guess my main problem with this? There are way too many controls been mapped to Z. It may of at the time have made sense but doing this is causing the creation of multiple command combos to remember in a stressful situation. Half the time I go to change my weapon and end up switching item instead and to add further insult, I've usually altered the Y-axis so now I'm looking skyward or into the floor. So how would I have fixed this? I'd have opted to get rid of the open button either tying it to the fire button or programming the game's doors to open when you get close. Now that B is freed up I'd make this into the Run button, though I suspect you could get away with always running there are some death drops so it's nice to give the option of careful motion. Now with X free, I'd change this to weapon switching, probably using the bumper buttons or just tapping the X button to cycle through them. So there, one combo to remember and you could keep the Y-axis command, but I don't think it's overly necessary even though it's a nice feature in a Doom engine.
Nerdy C's Nerd O Meter Rating
A wonderful, 4 out of 5
Essential Hexen is a Doom clone but has a vast array of puzzles and items. Plus three playable characters with their own unique weapons. This elevates beyond Doom itself providing a more in-depth game. The only other gripe about Hexen I have is it's lack of Boss battles especially when four possible bosses are set up in the start. These bosses would have been good as milestones through the game, denoting progress. However, Hexen's game designer opted to backload the game's bosses making you fight them at the end. As a result, the three possible sub-bosses end up being just stronger minions of Kroax and are just guarding keys. Kroax is the only enemy that feels like a boss at the end, requiring you to defeat him twice and fight off his minions and servants before, between and after the fight. Other than that it's only real problems are it's difficultly, which on repeated plays will get easier, as well as the controls which are manageable if a little janky. So if you're a fan of the Doom engine and fancy an FPS with a bit more thinking required then I recommend Hexen for you.
Please note I'm aware through research that this game is considered a lot better on its original PC version, go figure, but I would then have to compare Hexen to other PC games at the time. What I can say is that the Saturn variant has FMV cut scenes rather than the bland text scrolls between hub world to give exposition. The Saturn version also from my research is the more stable and loses fewer frames than other console ports of Hexen.