Shooting zombies should not be this frustrating. Third-person multiplayer shooter The Haunted: Hell's Reach has great promise but runs into major trouble because of absurd difficulty and a number of questionable design decisions. This is a hardcore shooter aimed solely at serious players with a lot of skill and patience, due to swarms of spawning opponents, combat mechanics that veer between straightforward shooting and melee scrapping, and ridiculous restrictions on things like regaining health and reviving fallen allies. Instead of the M rating, the game is so brutally unforgiving that it might better have been labeled with "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
Geysers of blood and extremely creepy demon adversaries are constants in The Haunted: Hell's Reach.
The Haunted: Hell's Reach started off as a mod project that won the Make Something Unreal competition in 2010. You choose one of four generic damned dudes (they look different but play the same) and head into arenas where you blast the minions of Satan in all of their creepy forms with pistols, shotguns, and submachine guns. There are two single-player modes. Inferno sees you work your way through four waves of monsters in one of the game's eight levels until a big boss battle in hell, while Survival is all about clocking the highest score possible before an endless wave of undead/demon thingies slice you to bits. Multiplayer is the main focus. Four multiplayer modes offer a bit of variety. You can play Inferno and Survival just as you can solo, and also two other more interesting games called Battle and Demonizer. In Battle, up to four humans tackle up to four undead, while in Demonizer, every slain human player goes over to the dark side and must hunt his former pals.
Whether you play alone or with friends, the action is pretty simple and straightforward. The maps are all spooky takes on standard shooter locales such as abandoned mines, ancient temples, and old cemeteries. The sedate, creepy music fits these settings, although not the action itself, which seems to lend itself more to a grungy or speed-metal soundtrack. Most of the audio comes from the weapon sound effects and your regular quips about how cool you are, which are so dim-witted that they make Duke Nukem come off like David Mamet. Creature types are limited; you fight mostly zombie-like humanoids who do little more than charge straight at you with barely a growl. Some of the creeps are a little inventive at least; mixing things up are giant club-wielding brutes, flying bug demons, a guy who spins around with big blades in his mitts, and another metal-jawed freak that spouts fire, but combat is always a straight-up affair with you pitted against hordes of mindless baddies.
Of course, this doesn't have to be a bad thing. And The Haunted: Hell's Reach does move along quickly enough to hook you. Everything is simple and repetitive, but there is something about the routine that keeps you coming back for more, just like a really good hack-and-slash role-playing game. But the bloody carnage is weighed down by questionable design decisions. The most noteworthy issue is difficulty. This is an extremely hard game, even on the so-called "easy" difficulty setting. It can take forever just to get good enough to survive a single wave of enemies, let alone two, and getting through the full four is near-impossible. Surprisingly enough, though, the excessive challenge doesn't come via a crazy number of enemies. Your minion-killing mission runs aground due to how ammo and health are doled out. Ammunition is far too sparse. Drops take place only rarely, so you are constantly running low when surrounded by goons out for your blood. Health is another problem. In place of the usual random drops of health packs, a healthstone appears every so often at random locations on the map. If you can get to it, you can shoot it to heal up. Unfortunately, this nifty arcane device tends to pop up a long way from you. And if you don't blast it to release its healing goodness within a handful of seconds, a minion steals it and takes off running.
Some of the bad guys are quite imaginative, like this spinning blade demon.
Making matters worse, a similar-looking doodad called a chronostone regularly shows up in the same way, though if you don't get to it before its very brief timer expires, it goes off and triggers murderous environmental effects like tornadoes, a storm complete with lightning strikes, fireballs from the sky, and blinding fog. So, no surprise, staying alive is rather tough, especially given that you're generally trying to find these stones on large, mazelike maps packed with narrow corridors while fleeing from a dozen or more monsters who are gleefully nailing you from behind with rotting flesh missiles, flames, some kind of pestilence thing, spiraling sickles, and other murderous projectiles.