Game Review: “Hellpoint”

   Hellpoint is, perhaps, the most polarizing experience I have ever had while playing a video-game, and that makes it one of the most difficult, yet exciting to write about.

   Developed by Canadian company Cradle Games and published by tinyBuild, Hellpoint was released on home-consoles with what felt like little fanfare to speak of. I had not even known about its existence until days prior to its official release (and I actively seek out these kinds of games), but I was struck by its claim as offering an experience pairing “Dead Space” with the “Dark Souls” play style. I thoroughly enjoy both Dead Space (and the horror genre, in-general, as you no doubt know) and Dark Souls, and as someone who rarely loosens the purse strings for games on release, I was excited to be able to support a company’s first major release. I also bought Mortal Shell the same month, another “Souls” influenced experience I will be talking about later in the month.

   I was enticed early on by its inclusion of “local multiplayer,” something I am always an advocate for. I have so many fond memories of playing the Borderland and Rayman series’ with my wife that I often scour the marketplace in-search of worthwhile series’.

   The early impressions I had of Hellpoint were lukewarm, at best. In-general, in-spite of the proclamation, I never really expected “Dead Space meets Dark Souls,” and I knew I had to keep my expectations realistic. Hellpoint is an indie game from a smaller team and was released for a price that is about half the price of a conventional retail release. In-fact, when I booted up Hellpoint, I thought more about Silicon Knight‘s Too Human video-game or the 1997 film Event Horizon (a film this video-game pays tribute to with an early Trophy / Achievement). The game-play felt straight out of the Dark Souls series, borrowing the control-layout, the experience-system, and bonfire checkpoints, and I couldn’t have been happier with that fact. Like I said, I seek these out because I like them.

   The aesthetic was dated, but satiable for the thematic intent. Everything looks metallic and it does offer a futuristic dystopian to immerse yourself in. They do not reinvent the wheel and it does feel like fairly standard science-fiction fare, but I was content with it. The enemy character models are very often repeated, as are a lot of the set assets. The smallness of the game-company in itself certainly did not influence their ambition, with a robust campaign that I spent well-over twenty hours on. Some of the levels are very robust and offer many secret areas to uncover, making exploration not merely optional, but an absolute necessity.

   Although I appreciate their enthusiasm, I think it is often to their detriment. Levels can, at times, feel very empty or repetitive, or, worse yet, can feel very difficult to navigate. It is very easy to lose track of where you’re going or where you have been, and it’s even more likely you will miss something important your first lap around. As a matter of fact, it was only towards the end of the campaign, I realized I needed to backtrack to find a hidden door, unlocking an entire level I hadn’t been to. This doesn’t bother me as much as it may bother some others, but it does suggest Hellpoint is best appreciated with a strategy guide if you want to keep from missing out on anything substantial. Although games like Code Vein and Remnant have taken the “Souls” genre and allowed conveniences like mini-maps, that isn’t Hellpoint’s style and, while I don’t think it’s necessary for Dark Souls, for instance, where it would hinder the sense of discovery, I think it would really benefit Hellpoint’s level design.

   Hellpoint incorporates other unique aspects as well, like a clock system. As far as I can tell, it is never formally explained in the actual campaign, aside from snippets of information in the loading screen, but, basically: there is a Black Hole Clock that tracks orbit around the station. This can change the enemies you encounter and unleash Hordes of enemies to fight. The idea has a lot of ambiguity to it, but I appreciate it as an interesting experiment that could be expanded upon.

   The ability to jump is always a strange luxury to be afforded, and yet, in the Souls genre, it’s rarer than you think. In Hellpoint though, you are able to do just that. In-fact, Hellpoint incorporates a lot of platform elements into its game play. Some of it is optional, a venture on the wild-side for a collectible, but other times, it’s not so much. The platforming, unfortunately, is very simple, unpolished, and awkward. The jumping does not allow for precision and I died more times from falling from a cliff than I did any other time. This is a definite knock against it.

   That said, the biggest issue I had with Hellpoint arises with the multiplayer component. Although frame-rate issues and noticeable “lag” does occur in the single-player campaign on occasion, including times when your attacks simply won’t land, that’s nothing in-comparison to what awaits a couch co-op experience. This is because, to be frank, the local multiplayer is broken. I don’t mean to say that it is inefficient or not up to the very best standard, but, I mean, in fact, that, as of this writing, it is broken. As my wife and I played, our movements could be brisk or could be close to that of a crawl. We had several occasions when our game (played on the PlayStation 4) would abruptly crash. Then, there was the occasion, about ten hours in, when our game crashed and corrupted our save file (or, more accurately, it corrupted my character).

   Generally speaking, I operate under a certain set of principles when I write reviews of things. I didn’t always do this. Sometimes I will look back at something I wrote in ’14 or prior and think I came off like an outright dick, but, nowadays, as I have released my own works and matured, I try to be fair and considerate. Having your save file deleted before your very eyes is a difficult hurdle to get over. Imagine if you were reading my novel on the Kindle and it suddenly sent you back to the very start and you weren’t allowed to skip back to where you were. You probably wouldn’t read that book, would you? And yet, I did. I started the campaign over from scratch and played my way through again.

   In fairness, the single-player run went a lot better than the multiplayer version. A lot of things simply worked better as well. The sound-effects landed better and were more reactive, and, of course, I was able to play at a reasonable frame-rate. Unless they offer a sizable patch remedying their current setup, this is the way you should play Hellpoint, if you choose to do so.

   And, at times, Hellpoint can be an addictive amount of fun. Sometimes things really just work. And, when they do, you are offered a fun experience that leaves you coming back. This doesn’t, at all, make it okay they released a nearly unplayable multiplayer version, and that absolutely left me with buyer’s remorse at some points.

   However, warts and all, I found Hellpoint was a flawed (mostly on a technical side) game that took a lot of the Dark Souls formula, added some unique ideas, and amounted to what was, mostly, a fun, more simplified hack-and-slash version. That isn’t to say it doesn’t offer a challenge, mind you, but the experience always felt casual, with intricacies that were appreciated, but not fully welcomed for the core-experience. In-terms of production and execution, it is on the lower-end of the “Souls” category, but I was grateful and welcomed a lot of its fresh ideas, and how it tried to be unique and blaze its own trail. And, while I do feel I got burned some in the cross hairs, I welcome a second-chance for Cradle Games in the future.

Rating: – 2.5 out of 5.0