Hellpoint offers a blend of cosmic horror and the hack and slash action we know and love from the Soulsborne series. While it nails the unnerving atmosphere and the weirdness of cosmic horror, it struggles more with the technical side of things on a stock PS4.
Hellpoint takes place on a space station called Irid Novo, which is orbiting a black hole and currently teeming with demons and cultists. Your character wakes up in a cloning facility and has little to no understanding of what is going on. You only know that something terrible has happened, likely linked to the cultists and the dark rituals they were doing at the station. It’s up to you and your sword/railgun/dark magic to resolve the situation and banish some cosmic gods while you’re at it.
And this is where Hellpoint is at its best: the atmosphere is foreboding and you always have a sense of unease as you walk through the dark corridors of Irid Novo. The storytelling is also true to Dark Souls in that it is very cryptic, fragmented, and leaves a lot to the player to figure out on his or her own. Likewise, there are a few mechanics that play into this very well.
As you roam around Irid Novo, the station will gradually orbit the black hole that affects the station in various ways. At some points in the orbit, the veil between this dimension and the next will be weaker and demons can break into this plane, even in areas you’ve cleared out, which can be quite unsettling. In the early hours of the game, I was poking around a cleared out area, or so I thought, when I suddenly started hearing heavy, clomping footfalls. As I moved to investigate, a huge horned and hoofed monstrosity strode out from behind a pillar and was none too pleased to see me.
This and other events tied to the station’s orbit do a lot to spice up the game. Enemies can be in different locations and be more or less numerous depending on what stage in the orbit you are in. It reminds me of an expanded and more integrated version of the world tendency mechanic which could change things around in Demon’s Souls. It’s an excellent example of design and gameplay enhancing each other as it greatly increases the eeriness of the station.
Speaking of gameplay, Hellpoint has to be the most Souls-like game I have ever laid my hands on. As soon as you grab the controller and start moving around, it is exceedingly clear what kind of game this is and anyone familiar with FromSoftware’s games will know exactly what to do. The attack buttons, the gauges for health, stamina, and magic, even the menus could have been lifted whole cloth from a Dark Souls game. Over the years we have seen many games inspired by FromSoftware’s success, but I have to admit I was taken aback by just how familiar Hellpoint feels to play.
The biggest difference here might be the more varied set of ranged weapons to use. Since it’s set in a sci-fi world, you have access to all kinds of blasters and railguns that can be quite fun to mess around with. Another change is in how healing and recharging your magic works. Resting at a bonfire does not replenish your healing items in Hellpoint, instead, the only way to recharge them is by dying or attacking your enemies. It’s initially a fairly slow recharge but it enables you to keep pressing on without having to run back and rest all the time. It’s something I hope other games of the same ilk will come to emulate. It also makes the boss fights a bit more manageable as you have a chance to recover, even when you’re out of healing or take a beating in the first moments of the fight.
For as atmospheric and interesting the setting is, the visuals are decidedly lacking. Hellpoint has a bit of a problem with a hitching framerate and really ugly models and textures. If you get up close to some of them with a flashlight, they look horrendous and wouldn’t stand up well next to many PS3 games. However, most of the time everything is steeped in the darkest shadows seen since DOOM 3. It’s unfortunate as some of the designs here are quite nice and interesting to look at, but things are so dark and muddy all the time that it becomes rather boring before the end.
None of FromSoftware’s games are technical marvels and they have their fair share of bad textures and low poly models, but they still manage to look stunning. Smart use of lighting, incredible design and scale manages to paint some amazing scenery. Nothing in Hellpoint manages to convey the same feeling. Even though some elements look cool, they’re drowned out by shadows and crummy textures.
Likewise, the level design is a bit on the drab side. I understand that this is a space station, but there are only so many dark and narrow corridors you can walk down before it becomes tiring. The sameness of everything also makes it easy to get lost in the levels. Unlocking a shortcut in the Soulsborne games is like a mini-event and has a sense of accomplishment. In Hellpoint, it’s just another door in another dark pathway. It sometimes felt like they took Blighttown from Dark Souls and made a whole game out of it.
Some of the technical shortcomings in Hellpoint could probably be ascribed to the fact that it’s fully playable in split-screen co-op. Another player can just grab a controller and jump in at any point. It’s an interesting and cool concept for these types of games and I did have some fun playing with my wife. However, I don’t prefer to play this way at all as it destroys the strongest thing Hellpoint has going for it: the atmosphere. Hellpoint is definitely a game best played alone and in a dark room with headphones on, not in a light and breezy couch co-op session.
Bad textures and technical hiccups aside, I did have quite a lot of fun with Hellpoint in the end. It has some cool ideas and a top-notch atmosphere and I love the world it tries to build. However, the shortcomings are hard to ignore and I can only really recommend it to dedicated fans of cosmic horror who are thirsting for another Souls-like.
A PS4 key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Hitching framerates and drab visuals take away from an otherwise decent hack and slash with a terrific atmosphere.
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