While I don’t like making direct comparisons, it’s hard not to point to Dark Souls when we talk about the hardcore action RPG genre. When it comes to games like that, the Souls series is the granddaddy of them all. While many have borrowed the formula, it’s games like Hellpoint that really try to take things a few steps further.
With a focus on horror and science fiction, along with some unique mechanics, Hellpoint makes a strong first impression. The real question is whether you’ll see it through those first hundred game overs or so. Let’s find out!
Interesting Mechanics Struggle Under Performance Issues
One of the things that makes these types of RPGs so intriguing, beyond the insane difficulty, is the worldbuilding and story they manage to keep just out of arm’s reach. Hellpoint is no different in this regard, but it does offer a unique approach focused on science fiction and horror over the more traditional dark fantasy setting.
The game begins with you coming out of a pod as a “spawn” and it sort of throws you into things. You’ll find some messages on the wall for tutorials, a basic set of weapons, and then it’s off to the races.
Over the course of the 20 hours or so it takes to finish the game (there is post-game content as well that leads to the true ending), the game never really offers a lot of concrete story or lore. This is painful for me because the environment and the setting itself is incredibly interesting from a visual perspective.
You can get some basic setup from the game’s description, which reveals the name of the space station as Irid Novo, a place that has been overrun by interdimensional entities. You are created by the Author to seek out the truth behind the incident that turned an otherwise thriving station into a labyrinth of cosmic horrors and unfathomable creatures.
What story you do get is incredibly interesting, but it pales in comparison to the worldbuilding you get from the environments and enemy types. Given this, the surface-level nature of the story feels like a huge missed opportunity. Then again, some people prefer to speculate, so for those who like more questions than answers in their stories, Hellpoint will deliver.
Moving on to the gameplay side of things, it’s here that we see some really interesting changes to the formula. Don’t worry though, the foundation will be very familiar to those who have played any game in the hardcore action RPG genre.
At the core, you’ll explore winding environments without the aid of a map, but you’ll find shortcuts and dimensional rifts that allow you to heal and level up. As expected, dying will take you back to the last rift and you’ll lose any experience (in this case Axioms) you were carrying.
The first thing you’ll notice is that when you return to the site of your demise, an exact clone of you will attack from the shadows. This was certainly unexpected, and while I enjoyed killing my own ghost, it became a little tiresome when I was trying to make progress and constantly being forced to fight myself instead of the enemy or boss that killed me.
Levelling in the game is pretty standard, but another interesting mechanic is that weapons will gain their own special abilities the more you use them, encouraging you to stick with what works and rewarding you for it.
There is a fast-travel system in place, but the item to do it is very rare and without a map it doesn’t feel reliable. I did, however, find shortcuts that helped cut down on travel time. Enemies also don’t respawn right away when you use a rift. This is helpful for getting back to specific areas quickly.
Perhaps my favorite change to the formula is the way health items are handled. Instead of only refilling them at checkpoints, you’ll instead earn up to two of them at a time as you land attacks. It’s a slow burn, so it won’t affect difficulty much, but it does give you a slight edge for tougher fights that I really liked.
One mechanic that held promise but doesn’t quite utilize its potential is the graphic in the upper corner that represents the station’s orientation around a black hole outside. As it moves through different parts of the cycle in real-time, different things will happen like stronger enemy spawns. I love this idea, but it’s never explained to the player in a way that helps you understand or strategize for its effects.
Co-op makes a return here as well in the usual fashion of joining someone’s game online, but Hellpoint takes things a step further by offering local split-screen which is a big win in my book. Unfortunately the split-screen exacerbates the game’s largest issue: performance.
Playing on my own while attacking, running, and yes, jumping, was really smooth for the most part. Certain attacks though would trigger a massive drop in the frame rate, to the point where it hurt my chances in combat. This only gets more noticeable in split-screen which is my preferred way to play whenever I get the chance.
I’m hoping for some performance updates to Hellpoint in the future, because a lot of what the game has going for it makes it as interesting or more so than the coveted Dark Souls series. I especially like the fluid and responsive combat, the unique setting, and the exquisite creature and boss designs.
Fans of the genre should be interested for sure, but be wary of the performance issues as they add a layer of unintended difficulty. Throw in some bugs from time-to-time and it feels like Hellpoint could use just a bit more polish before I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to Souls fans.
A Bold Step For The Genre, But Not Quite a Step Forward
Hellpoint’s presentation, performance issues aside, is excellent. The amount of creativity that went into the enemies, bosses, environments, equipment, and sound design is all top-tier in this genre for me.
It also helps that I’m partial to existential horrors and gorgeous outer space vistas, but my point still stands. The additions like jumping, split-screen, and the tweaks to certain mechanics are all welcome. I wish the story had been more up front with its answers and detail, and I hope for an improvement to the performance.
Ultimately, Hellpoint does enough right, though, for fans of the genre to be very interested in this experience. More so if improvements happen down the line.
Final Score: 7.0/10
A copy of Hellpoint was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 8/3/2020