Realms of the Haunting is a first-person horror game styled as an action adventure similar to the Resident Evil series or Clive Barker's Undying. It utilizes a 3D engine developed by Gremlin Interactive for their previous game, Normality, and blends many cross-genre elements together to create its atmospheric gameplay. The game was well received by the gaming press for its innovative features scoring four and a half stars from CGW's May '97 issue.
The extensive FMV utilized within the game was also indicative of the period covering the growing acceptance of the CD-ROM medium. All of the major parts within the game are either performed by live actors or voice acted. But although most of the world and its furnishings were rendered in 3D, it was still reliant on 2D sprite animation to represent enemies and attacks.
There are over 20 different enemies within the game as well as 15 different weapons to choose from. It also boasts over forty or so hours of play and contains over 120 minutes of FMV footage. Many of the actors, as was typical for productions like this, were often filmed against a blank stage with the details added in later. In the case of this game, a 'blue screen' technique was used via SFX house, Bright Light.
Players control Adam Randall, a young man whose estranged father, a parish priest, has recently died. However, a mysterious priest named Elias Camber meets with Adam and gives him a package that he claims his father had wanted him to have. Upon opening it, Adam discovers the broken remains of what seem to be clay medallions. He does a little more digging on the circumstances of his father's death and finds little else, other than that Elias Camber isn't really a priest since no one at St. Michael's seems to have heard about him. Determined to find out what is going on and to shed some light on what is happening, he journeys to the Cornish village of Hellston and to a mysterious house on its outskirts.
He cautiously enters the giant mansion in the hopes of finding clues to his father's mysterious death, but no one seems to be home. Worse yet, the doors behind him have sealed themselves keeping him out. Strange sigils are burned into certain doors barring him from exploring any further, although not all of them have been locked in this way. There is something eerie about the house, but Adam has no choice but to dive into its shadowy halls and find the truth. As he explores further and narrowly avoids dying from a fireball trap, it becomes clear that there is far more to Elias Camber than first appears. For one thing, there are several paintings within the house that show him in old dress, such as a knight or as a sorceror.
Stumbling into a study, Adam finds a large sarcophagus set into the wall, but as he investigates the desk and reads through a set of mysterious, perfumed letters, a sound clatters behind him. He turns to see the ghost of his father reaching for him and pleading for his help. He tells Adam that only he can set him free and that there is great evil there. Before Adam can find out more, his father disappears. He investigates the study some more, finding that there are small golden statuettes arranged around the sarcophagus but are missing a few of their members. He also finds a gun that will prove useful. And he also finds a hidden passage behind the bookcase.
The passage leads to a series of passages beneath the house which also happen to be filled with demonic creatures. Using his gun, Adam manages to fight his way through and discovers a mysterious chapel with a giant throne set at the far end. Sitting in the great chair, Adam's mind is filled with terrible visions as emblems are burned into his hands from the armrests before releasing him. Making his way through the caves, he also stumbles across a titanic temple with angelic statues set around a mysterious staff and artifact. Whispering voices urge him to pick it up which he does, the staff's magic coming in handy for fighting the creatures that are also summoned by the intrusion.
But he is not alone. As he makes his way through the halls, he runs into Elias Camber who is revealed as Florentine. He demands the Shrive, the mysterious artifact that Adam had picked up earlier along with the staff, but Adam refuses much to Florentine's displeasure. Angered, the sorceror summons a series of demonic skeletons to fight Adam before leaving. Adam manages to destroy the undead soldiers before moving on to a great tomb beyond. There, he meets with Aelf, a mysterious Knight who tells Adam that there is a prophecy to be fulfilled and that he is the key to restoring the Balance. He gives Adam several clues as well as informing him that he will be able to contact him after recovering several artifacts of his. After he is done answering Adam's questions as best he can, Aelf disappears.
Adam escapes the tombs, fighting his way through more of the undead terrors that emerge, and returns to the study where he meets Rebecca Trevisard. At first, Adam doesn't trust her after explaining that he doesn't know what is going on or why she is there, but eventually realizes that she only wants to help. Unsure of what to make of what is going on and grateful for not having to go on ahead alone, he joins with Rebecca and together they go over what Adam has learned so far.
They look at the sarcophagus and realize that the other serpent statue that Adam had recovered from the tombs is only one of a missing set and decide to search the mansion for more leads. Several of the mysterious symbols burned into the doors flake away as their magic slowly weakens allowing the two to explore and discover that there's a lot more evil to kill know that it knows that they are there, although Adam does all of the fighting. Eventually, they discover a mysterious helmet that gives Adam visions of Aelf leading a band of knights and kneeling down to listen to the words of a dying friend. They also discover a mysterious stone that purports to being a gate, but the whispering voices make mention of having the proper key which they don't. At least, not yet.
They also find a strange, green crystal. Remembering that they had found a crystal dome set into the floor of one of the rooms earlier, they return to it and use the crystal. Suddenly, they are teleported to a room with four great windows revealing what appears to be ancient Egypt. In the corner of the room, a ragged figure wearing a cobwebbed crown beckons to Adam and Rebecca revealing himself as the Gnarl. He tells them that Time is a visitor to this place and that he is the only constant. He also knows why they are there and proposes a test to prove themselves worthy of a mysterious key that he has mentioned. He gives them the means to traverse worlds, a pair of masks, and from then on, they must head onwards.
Using the dome, they find themselves transported back to the mansion. Remembering the words of the Gnarl, they head to the mysterious stone platform and use the masks. Suddenly, they are whisked to a black void filled with pathways and floating stone as well as a mysterious man who calls himself Raphael. From him, they learn that he is the last "Gardener" of this world and that the Tower touches all worlds, the key worlds of creation. Heled, or Earth, is one of these. He also speaks of the Ire, a mysterious grey fog that attacks all that dare intrude, but it's nowhere to be seen. Adam and Rebecca explore the Tower and discover another of the "gate" stones which they use, finding themselves suddenly transported to the mansion's courtyard.
They explore the courtyard and find more mysterious items including a scroll. They use the masks again on another gate stone and find themselves transported to anotehr section of the mansion where they find a golden key and three demons they can only beat through trickery...and a crushing floor. Eventually, Adam and Rebecca make their own way down to a massive cavern and its many caves, ending up in a room protected by an angry demon. Defeating it, they find Aelf's breastplate which merges with Adam to help protect him. They explore the area and discover an observatory along with one of the journals of Florentine - dated several centuries earlier, revealing his magical longevity.
Adam also finds a golden statuette, the last one he needs, as well as a mysterious green staff. With these in tow, Adam returns to the chamber he had first entered...and had fought a rather large demon within...and discovers an unlocked door leading to a gate stone. It's the only way out since their previous path has now been blocked by a collapsed roof. They journey back to the study and its sarcophagus. With the complete set of snake statues, they arrange them around it and it unlocks revealing a passage downwards.
They journey down the ladder and through a passage the emerges within an impossible sight: a floating mausoleum. Either the house is must larger on the inside, or this is the work of incredibly powerful magic. Adam and Rebecca make their way to the giant building and discover a huge seal on the floor...that of a chained angel. They hear a voice pleading with them to help release it, speaking of a "Key of Tears". Exploring the area, they stumble upon a puzzle that reveals a chamber within which lay Aelf's dagger, a powerful weapon. Upon leaving, however, they meet a mysterious, pudgy man with spectacles and a doctor's stethoscope hanging around his neck. He pulls on gloves that appear to be made from skins and introduces himself as Belial. From the journal, Adam can't help but think that this is the same Belial that was allied with Florentine.
Belial demands the Shrive, but Adam refuses and uses its magic to burn him away. Belial disappears, but he isn't dead. Adam and Rebecca make their way out and return to the mansion where they find even more creatures waiting for them to return. They fight their way through to the library where a mysterious voice, a guardian spirit, believes that they are Florentine. They remain quiet, but the spirit deduces that they may be intruders and summons monsters to deal with them. Adam defeats them and finds more clues on what he must do to find the Key of Tears. They find another mysterious passage leading down into a hellish temple and hide behind a pillar as they see a man in a wide brimmed, black hat and overcoat enter the chamber. He approaches a mysterious plinth in the center where several green crystals are sticking up from and takes one, cackling as he limps away. When the area is clear, Adam and Rebecca approach the plinth and take a crystal as well before heading up to the altar and discovering a gate stone nearby.
From the clues they have, they find the way through the Tower to Raquia, the realm of the spirit and home to Raysiel, its immortal guardian whose power lies in imprisonment and freedom. They face Raysiel's challenging puzzles and eventually prove themselves worthy to receive the Key. With the artifact in hand, they make their way back to the mansion and to the floating mausoleum where they use it. It shatters the angelic symbol on the floor and releases its prisoner: a powerfully built man who reveals himself as Hawk.
Hawk explains that he is an angel and that he is opposed to Gaul, his counterpart and the man with the black hat that they had seen earlier. Hawk explains that long ago, the Soulstone fell to Earth where it remained to hold the Balance between Good and Evil. Demons and angels were formed out of the nature of those thoughts flowing through humanity. The more evil there was in the world, the more that the Soulstone would manifest darkness within the universe. The opposite was also true, but eventually, such thoughts would reach a crescendo and create an opportunity for creatures such as Hawk or Gaul to inherit the power that had welled up within the Soulstone. Depending on who would embody that power, the destiny of humanity would be set. Should Hawk overcome Gaul, Good would reign. The opposite would happen if Gaul should prove victorious. But only Adam could make that choice and restore the Balance as the 'Chosen One'. To do that, however, he would need to reach the Soulstone with the Dragon Sword which Florentine had removed long ago.
There were also the Seven Seals, the safeguards against releasing the power of the Soulstone. Florentine had worked to break each seal over the centuries in order to unleash the Soulstone's collected energies to a vessel of his choosing and standing as its right hand. The Dragon Sword, which was a part of the Soulstone, was also used to keep it in balance but was also removed by the sorcerer. It must be found if the Balance to be restored.
Adam and Rebecca then journey to the church of St. Michael's via another gate stone, there to retrieve a valuable item amidst an assault by demonic forces. They eventually make their way back to the mansion and have the proper key to enter the realm of Arqua, supposedly the home of paradise. It is also the Realm of the Divine and is where they must recover the Dragon Sword. They enter Arqua and amidst its beauty, find a fountain welling up within a mosque-like structure. They solve its elemental puzzles and attain a powerful vision that becomes real, summoning the Dragon Sword. With the weapon in hand, Adam and Rebecca make ready to head to Sheol...Hell itself.
They make their way through the Tower and emerge from another gate stone only to find Belial's burnt face waiting for them on the other side with a sizeable force. Adam is defeated in the ambush, but Rebecca manages to slip away. Later, imprisoned, Adam hears Rebecca's voice as she uses her psychic talents to reach him. She manages to help free him, but without the Dragon Sword and the Shrive, they have no hope in stopping Belial and Florentine. They must first escape, however.
The two make their way out from the dungeon graveyard and into a maze where they discover the gate to Sheol. Since the evildoers had left Adam with everything else other than the Shrive or the Sword, he uses the masks to enter the Tower. Exploring it, the two discover that Belial had placed the Sword and the Shrive in a private little area of the Tower that required a clever bit of jumping to reach. But Adam and manages to retrieve the relics after nearly dying on the way.
With the Dragon Sword, Adam and Rebecca enter the Gate to Hell which actually turns out to be quite a nice place at first. They emerge in a field o grass with a fenced in path leading to a crystal gate. Abaddon, the guardian spirit of Sheol, awaits them and points to the gate behind him as the way through. Adam steps through the gate, but Rebecca is nowhere to be found. He also discovers that the gate is raised up on a series of platforms that he can't climb so engages in one of the most boring scavenger hunts ever devised as he collects disembodied brains to feed a machine.
After nearly dying from the sheer weight of mental exhaustion of that challenge, Adam steps through to the gate to find Rebecca and a hooded figure - seemingly Abaddon - fighting. However, it is revealed that the hooded figure is actually Florentine. Florentine then reveals to Adam that he has had a traitor with him the whole time - Rebecca was actually Florentine's lover at one point and is far older than she seems. Adam, crushed and angry, steps back through the gate telling Rebecca to stay away from him as he goes to free his father.
Many more challenges and puzzles await him and he eventually meets the real Abaddon who has been trapped by Florentine and Belial. Abaddon explains that he cannot help Adam, but that his presence there proves that the Prophecy of the Balance is close to completion. Abaddon also warns Adam that someone will come to replace him as guardian of the Soulstone, but despite Adam's questions, says little else. Adam battles his way through another series of diabolical puzzles and eventually faces off against demonic flamethrower whom he defeats. Traveling through another gate stone, he finds himself at the bottomost level of Sheol where the gate to the Soulstone lies.
But Belial is also there and confronts Adam in a duel that Adam handily wins. With Belial dead, there is nothing to stop him from reaching the Soulstone. Emerging on the other side of the gate and making his way there, he sees that Florentine, Hawk, and Gaul are waiting for him. His actions will determine the destiny of humanity, of Good and Evil. Florentine goads Adam to kill him, even going so far as to turn his back on Adam, but Adam refuses to be his puppet and fall for his tricks. Frustrated, Florentine decides to kill Adam anyway and uses his magic to hold him in place.
Meanwhile, Gaul continues to shuffle his mysterious deck of cards, turning up one after another. Suddenly, the cards that he brings up are all Jokers and as he goes through the entire deck, realizes too late what is happening.
Rebecca sneaks in from the shadows and fights Florentine, but she is no match for the sorceror who furiously chokes her for her own betrayal against him. As his hands wrap around her throat, Aelf suddenly appears within the chamber and hurls his own sword at the magician, impaling him through the back, killing him at last. Perhaps the powers gathered there were enough for him to do that much. Gaul howls in defeat.
Adam is freed from Florentine's magic, Hawk explains that had he struck down Florentine with the Dragon Sword, he would have shattered the Seventh Seal which would have enabled Gaul to become the vessel of ultimate evil. Adam begins to say something to Rebecca, but she cuts him off before he can finish. She also reveals that she is the one to replace Abaddon and protect the Soulstone for all time. Adam realizes then what he must do and Hawk urges him to replace the sword back into the Soulstone. It is done at last, restoring the Balance, and Adam's father materializes before him thanking him for what he had done. The two share a close moment before Adam's father urges him to go. The power that Florentine had used has become undone, destroying all of his works including the mansion and all of its works.
He is teleported to the mansion where he dodges demonic enemies intent on seeing him fail now and confronts the Dodger, a powerful demon, before defeating it. Its death unlocks the front doors at long last allowing Adam to burst through and escape the burning house.
In the end, no one believes his story as he looks at the audience through the eyehole to his padded cell. The doctor takes notes and a nurse who looks like Rebecca gives Adam his medicine as he asks if they believe him.
Realms of the Haunting is a mix of adventure and action game elements. An inventory is provided to help store the many clues, items and written papers, that can be examined later. Many of these are used to solve puzzles, but quite a few are also used to simply add to the atmospheric storyline. The journals, for instance, provide some clues but are more entertaining as background lore adding mystery to the occult laden narrative.
Many of the puzzles vary in difficulty from simple item placement puzzles to more devious types that require the manipulation of a number of elements in order to achieve the objective. Towards the end, the puzzle difficulty ramps up significantly. The game also allows some backtracking and exploration aside from the ending sequence where it becomes linear.
Difficulty levels determine how damaging enemies are and whether or not the inventory automatically uses the correct item (if it is present in the inventory) when clicking on certain puzzles. Rebecca, although she's not seen in the game when she "joins" Adam, voices her own observations on certain items and events. The inventory also includes references to previous characters and items discussed between NPCs as an in-game journal.
Players can use the mouse to drive their movement through the game and interact with its environment, or use both the mouse and keyboard with one used for movement and the other (the mouse) used to control the camera. The control scheme does not feature mouselook unless the player holds down both the left and right mouse button to move the view which can come off as clunky. Most of the keyboard commands can be remapped, although mouse controls can't.
The environment of the game is represented in 3D and possesses a surprising amount of interactivity such as drawers, locked chests, desks, and other items lying around which can be searched. Right clicking on most items will elicit a voiced observation from Adam or Rebecca and more details can often be revealed if looked at closely within the inventory.
There are a large number of characters that make up the world of Realms of the Haunting.
- Adam Randall - The hero of the story who unravels the mysterious web surrounding the death of his father and the arcane horrors of the mansion he is trapped in.
- Rebecca Trevisard - She joins Adam shortly after his journey into the mansion. A mysterious woman with psychic powers, she aids Adam with her observations and knowledge of the occult.
- The Gnarl - A mysterious, cloaked and ragged figure wearing a golden crown, the Gnarl is a timeless being that observes all things and lends Adam some help.
- Raphael - the last "Gardener" of the Tower, that place in between worlds, who aids Adam as a guide speaking in riddles.
- Raysiel - The Guardian of the world of Raquia. It is also fond of games and as a being with the absolute powers of imprisonment and freedom, the price for failure is high.
- Abaddon - The Guardian of the Soulstone and a denizen of Sheol, the world of Hell.
- Claude Florentine - A seemingly immortal magician who is intent on bringing evil to the world in an effort to gain ultimate power.
- Belial - The demonic "Prince of Lies" who seeks to destroy Adam.
- Hawk - An angel who reveals much of what is at stake to Adam and Rebecca after being freed from his imprisonment.
- Gaul - A mysterious, old man who wears a wide brimmed black hat and overcoat and always carries a deck of cards.
- Aelf - The last of the Florentine Knights whose spirit aids Adam and Rebecca in their quest to save the world.
- The Ire - A cloud of tormented souls that wanders the Tower.
- The Dodger - A powerful demon that had broken free and wanders the Tower with the Ire. The final opponent of the game guarding the way out of the collapsing mansion.
- Adam's Father - The tormented soul of Adam's father who beseeches his son to reach his destiny and save the world from ultimate evil.
The action parts of the game resemble that of an FPS such as Doom. The selected weapon is displayed at the bottom of the screen and the amount of ammunition left is also shown. Health is always displayed as a bar and requires healing potions of varying effect to recover from damage. Aiming is handled with the mouse.
Many different weapons can be equipped from conventional firearms such as shotguns and a blunderbuss to magical items such as a staff or a dagger that fires arcane bolts and then slowly recharges over time. Ammunition can also be found within the environment in various places from crates to simply being left out in the open.
There are a large variety of enemies in the game, but most follow a predictable pattern by simply walking up to the player and then using their melee attacks. Some enemies fire projectiles, but a majority rely on physical fights. Certain limitations also made several of these fights easier to deal with as enemies couldn't walk through doorways.