When a new action adventure game, based on tougher than usual combat and punishing boss fights, the cynical mind immediately goes, “Oh great, another Dark Souls clone”. We’ve had straight up imitators with Lords of the Fallen, two dimensional efforts with Salt and Sanctuary, whilst the The Surge games have covered the sci-fi angle. Hellpoint is yet another Dark Souls knockoff. But this time… in space!
Channeling an aesthetic somewhere between Event Horizon and Clive Barker’s mind, Hellpoint aims to take on that minimal exposition yet absolutely nails gameplay that FromSoftware has made themselves known for.
Which leads to the obvious question: Is Hellpoint a worthy entry to the title of “decent Soulsborne game” or should it be cast to the furthest point of Hell? Let’s find out, spawn…
Rise From Your Space-Grave
As with most games of this ilk, narrative isn’t high on the list of priorities. So the backstory I’ve managed to glean is this: you awake on the space station Irid Novo. An event known as The Merge has caused things to go a bit wrong, as they do, and you are sent to investigate.
The “you” in question this time around is neither fleshed out character nor customisable avatar. Instead, you are a creation of an entity known only as The Author. Which makes no discernible difference to any other character you make in a Soulsborne, as you end up kitting them out in fancy armour anyway.
It just means that you will always look like an anorexic version of one of the Engineers from Prometheus. In the long run, it’s not the end of the world, for the aforementioned armour reason. But for the first few hours, get used to looking at the same generic template over and over…
However, is does make sense from a narrative perspective, at least: you are quite literally being respawned every time you die into a new shell. Thankfully, you do retain the same stats. I think the controller would have been out of the window if literally had to reset every time.
We Have Such Sights To Show You…
Aesthetically, I absolutely love what Hellpoint is going for. It has the cold, clinical look of a Dead Space game, somewhat interspersed with a sort of a Clive Barker-esque dressing to it all.
I don’t mean hanging chains and ritual masochistic torture going on, but a pseudo-symmetrical Lament Configuration layout to things. Not in a grandiose way, but certain structures have that almost faux-religious, clinically artistic look to them. Considering the Cenobites were originally dark priests in Barker’s novella, it seems fitting with the looming and insanely powerful knightly/clerical looking guards you tangle with.
Irid Novo looks more like the Event Horizon (before the bloodshed is found): there’s an uneasy feeling as you traverse the many labyrinthine corridors. It doesn’t look like a station that screams “friendly tourist destination”, that’s for sure.
The downside is that it quickly becomes a case of “seen one type of corridor, seen them all”, especially as you will be dying a lot in the beginning hours.
Return To The Depths, Beast!
The reason for your continual expiration is the enemy variety you face not long into the game.
Not the designs of the enemies themselves, no. They are your basic Souls enemy put through the Sci-Fi Filter 3000™. Skeletons are fleshed out space-zombie corpses, Black Knights are the earlier mentioned space clerics that are just as much a pain in the ass as they FromSoftware counterparts. Even bosses have that eldritch quality yet put through the futuristic filter to them.
Instead I refer to the completely jarring switch up of enemy types within the first hour. You start off easy enough, acquainting yourself with the controls against a few waves of space-zombies. That’s pretty standard, this is the testing stage, as it were.
But it only takes a few corridors and a couple of elevator rides and you’re pitted against the lumbering clerics. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if the bastards didn’t fire high damaging spikes from the ground, whether you’ve clocked them or not. Now, I know there’s a Black Knight hidden quite early on in Dark Souls, and it does catch people out.
The difference is he’s off the slightly-beaten path. Those cleric bastards are in the next sector, completely unavoidable and right by the first boss fight. There’s no reprieve to collect yourself before you enter that familiar barrier to the boss’ arena. That’s not “a tough action RPG”, that’s being deliberately hard for the sake of it.
Which is sadly what a lot of these imitators always get wrong. The whole ethos behind Dark Souls, Bloodborne and even Sekiro is that yes, they are a challenge but you have to progressively endure and get better with each incremental section. Whereas The Surge and even this mistake it as “here are some bastard hard enemies, deal with it”, which make it more attrition than fun to continue with.
Explorers In The Further Regions Of Experience
It’s a shame that Hellpoint stumbles so early out of the gate. When you overcome the insanely hard start, the game does open up and allows for more a customisable play style.
Much like its contemporaries, there is a myriad of weapons and armour variations to suit many a player. You know the drill by now: you can be a standard, all purpose knight. You can beef yourself out to tank many a hit and deal heavy damage, or you can favour speed and multiple flurries of accumulative strikes. Or you can be a magic user, if you’re the “hang back and shoot from a distance” kind of player.
Leveling up acts just the same way as the other games too. It’s Axioms this time around, and you spend a steadily increasing amount each time you want to boost a stat. Killing enemies yields Axioms, and if you’re lucky, an enemy will drop a little collectible amount as a bonus for killing him real good… or something. It seems pretty randomised.
Bonfires are Breaches, rifts in time that do exactly the same as the former. However, Hellpoint does have the most ass-backwards fast travel system ever devised.
Instead of a hub-like area as most others do, you do everything in-game. So naturally, you might think you can fast travel between opened Breaches to come back and exact petty revenge on early-leveled enemies, or go backtracking. Well, you can, but you can only unlock a certain amount to travel between.
That’s right, you have to have some amazing degree of clairvoyance to know which fast travel points you’re going to make the most of. So if you unlock one, only to get there and think, “Ah, I don’t need to be here” then you have wasted a perfectly good fast travel point, matey.
No, No Tears. They’re A Waste Of Good Suffering
Hellpoint’s biggest failing, and one that seriously puts me off of playing it, is the abysmal framerate, screen tearing and lagging input it suffers from. Even area traversal makes the framerate drop into what feels like single digits, and turning around too quickly made me briefly panic that my PS4 was about to crash.
The input delay is a bigger problem though. The whole point of these action RPG games is the twitch-like responsive combat, where you’re constantly trying to kill before being killed and have cat-like evasive reflexes. Which is really hard to do when it takes a good second or so for the game to register your attack prompt.
It means to counteract that, you have to try and anticipate the enemy walking in to your attack and when to press it early enough to register. The same goes for dodging: you have to anticipate when they’re going to swing for you, so you can press dodge and hope you’ve timed it right lest you get smacked upside your input delayed head.
Whilst the vaguely optimistic part of me hopes this gets patched, this shouldn’t happen when the game is already on the market. It’s poor stress testing to allow this kind of thing to be put to public opinion. For me, I may have been fortunate enough to get it for review, but the experience has been soured for me to not want to touch it again, patch or not.
Demons To Some, Angels To Others…
As much as I really wanted to enjoy Hellpoint, unfortunately the bad outweighs the good. All the positives were there, from the Hellraiser-like visuals (hence all the quotes), another Soulsborne to get stuck into, and hopefully a decent story akin to a FromSoftware or Dead Space output.
Sadly, the terrible performance issues marred the taste for me, and the constant death due to delayed inputs was too much for me to overlook. In there is a decent game that lies trapped under terrible implementation. There’s a co-op mode if you need help, as well as a unique death mechanic in that the shell you previously occupied will be running loose for you to kill.
It’s just that I didn’t care to drag someone else into my suffering, and being killed before even reaching your last dying point just held little incentive to keep trying harder.
It’s like somebody attempted to steal the FromSoftware Recipe for Success™, only managed to crib a few pages and tried to fill in the gaps with handfuls of bugs.
The point I’m trying to make here? Condemn this game to Hell.
On the surface, Hellpoint should have been a worthy contender. But too many technical issues suck any real enjoyment out of it.
Hellpoint is available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac.
Developer: Cradle Games
Publisher: tinyBuild Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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