Hellpoint PC Review
By: Stephen Machuga
Hellpoint is kind of a mess. And that’s being kind. I’m currently about 15 hours into my playthrough, and I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said out loud, “So, is this a glitch, or is this a gameplay mechanic?”.
But let’s start at the top.
Hellpoint is a Dark Souls-like in almost everything but name. While reviewing things and saying that a game is a “like” is a lazy way to write, it’s extremely appropriate here. You kill enemies and get their “souls”, here called Axios, then go back to your checkpoints scattered throughout an area, not campfires, but breaches. While it borrows liberally from the Souls series, there are a few minor mechanics that differ.
In most Souls games, when you rest at a campfire...er, I mean, breach, you are able to spend your currency to level up, but at the cost of resetting all the enemies in the level. Here in Hellpoint, you can simply run back, spend your Axios, and then all the creatures you’ve killed are still down, but you do not get back your Estus flask uses...er, I mean healing injections. Enemies only come back after you are killed...and it may also be tied to the bizarre in-game clock in the upper left-hand side of the screen. But we’ll get to the clock in a bit here.
You start off in Hellpoint on a space station in disarray, literally squirted out of some machine into a pile of goo that becomes a genderless clone. There’s no story, but you do get one of Hellpoint’s only cutscenes where you open some blast shields and are treated to a vista of space and some flying...alien whales of some kind floating around...in space.
And that’s as far as you get with Hellpoint’s story until you defeat the first actual boss creature, where you stumble upon a computer terminal that calls itself “The Author”. He, like you, ironically, is trying to figure out what is going on in this space station, and created you specifically to act as his eyes and ears. Which would be great, if the game started explaining itself. But the only information you get is that something terrible is happening on the space station, the colonists apparently have taken to eating each other, and the weird dark portal outside the station is causing random things to happen at times when the station is in the portal’s orbit.
Much like Dark Souls, Hellpoint is trying desperately to be vague in everything, complete with trying to tell its story through loading screen tips and item descriptions. The problem is, the story they are trying to tell is so...bizarre, that I really am not sure where this all is going. There’s an area called the Solar Promenade (again, named through loading screens) that has a bloody great elevator that can only be operated after you grab four McGuffins that you stick in each of the corners of the elevator. Why? Who designs a space station like this? What are these weird “seals” that I’m picking up? And why do I want to go up to the top of the elevator other than it’s a place I haven’t explored yet and hey let’s see what’s up there because why not I guess that’s where the game keeps going?
When you meet the Author after defeating the first boss, you then get a new meter in your heads up display that shows you a percentage of how much you have “learned”. Every time you take on a new enemy or read some random message scribbled in blood on the walls, that percentage goes up a smidge, showing a general level of awareness as to your surroundings. I was extremely interested in seeing that number incrementally go upwards...until I defeated a major boss and was handed 40%...and literally felt like I still had no idea what was going on.”You’ve gained knowledge of the Patriarch.” I have?
So let’s dig into some issues with the actual gameplay and design. You have the option to switch between three weapon loadouts; for myself, I used one heavy weapon, one light weapon, and one ranged weapon. Twice, I couldn’t randomly change weapons. I pushed the button several times and nothing happened. Everything else was working on my controller, so I was wondering if it had something to do with plugging my controller in, but no dice there. I also got to play the “is this a game mechanic or is this a glitch”, because it wouldn’t have been impossible for me to have put on a weapon attachment of some kind that would have taken away my ability to use the weapon. For fun, I restarted the game, and whammo. It worked. Swell. Chalk another one up in the “game glitch” category.
Again, much like a Souls game, you have a choice of weapon types and classes to use. You have melee (strength and reflex), you have ranged (cognition), and you have a weird...magic…(foresight), but the problem there is Hellpoint doesn’t give you starting classes like “Assassin” or “Obsidian Templar” or whatever nonsense names they want to call their classes. You find a hunk of steel that acts as a sword, a plate off the wall to use as a shield, and there you go. You find a handful of other hunks of steel to use as swords, but I have only found one railgun to use for ranged, and I’ve only found a shield artifact that uses the foresight ability. So, hope you like sword and board, because that’s what you get. You can’t even dual wield two lighter swords or daggers.
Loot drops off enemies you kill, but most of it is simply soul shards...I mean Axios fragments, that can be cashed in at rifts for more leveling up currency, but there are no weapons, no “green, blue, purple, orange” levels of weapon rarity. You regularly get drops of random crafting items, but seeing as I’ve only found four blueprints and two forges/device printers in Hellpoint to use any of these crafting materials on, there hasn’t been much point. Again, if you could craft at every rift and had a variety of blueprints to upgrade your gear, that would be great. No dice. I minorly upgraded two of my swords to better versions of themselves and I’ve got a bag of crafting supplies I can’t use.
Sound design. The fact I have to write something about sound design is telling. Usually, sound design is an invisible part of any game, much like a dusting of spice to round off a cooked dish. If things are bad enough for me to notice your sound design problems? It’s the sign of some real underlying problems under the hood. There is a general lack of sounds in the game. Explosions and explosive barrels are silent. Enemies die, fall over, visually scream to the digital heavens, sometimes completely silently. Sometimes boss fights have music accompaniment, sometimes they don’t. Footsteps are deafening in places, the squeaks and clanks of armor overwhelm the lack of ambient ship noises you’d expect to hear in a space station. It’s bad. You can almost see the media player button turning on and off at points.
While Hellpoint touts that it has a similar co-op gameplay mechanic to Dark Souls, where you can request help from other players by placing a glowing handprint on the wall, the few times I tried it, it was not pretty. Most of the time prior to the game launch, I was told the other player’s server was full. The one time I did get into another reviewer’s game, I spent the first full minute in super “rubber band” mode, where the latency was somewhere in the 9999 ping area, just watching myself swing my sword at an enemy that wasn’t there only to get hit by something that flew over to me at an impossible speed based on the latency catching up. The game did eventually get caught up and I was able to run around with my co-op partner, but only for a little bit because I quickly got dropped.
Of course, because the Hellpoint developers borrowed everything from Dark Souls, they also borrowed the in-game messaging system from Dark Souls, where players can leave messages to one another in a different colored handprint glyph. Although, like a child trying not to copy verbatim off the student next to him during a test, instead of pre-formatted phrases, you have a series of glyphs that are nearly impossible to translate into meaningful information except for anything involving directional arrows. There’s a lot of “pointing at hidden doors” which then don’t appear to be doors at all. So that’s fun.
Every now and again, upon dying, you’ll leave behind a copy of yourself as a “ghost”, which is simply a computer-controlled clone of yourself that uses your stats and equipment to battle you. Not sure what causes them to spawn, but as I had a railgun as one of my weapons, one of the weapons my ghost would spawn with is that railgun. The problem is because he’s a computer run enemy, he had unlimited energy to fire that damn thing. I had a handful of shots, while he’s just lighting me up while hiding from behind his shield. Makes for a literal unkillable enemy.
Two major bosses I fought, the Twins and then the ruler of the cosmic underworld, Undisturbed Defas Nemudis, both broke. The giant cosmic god, sitting cross-legged, simply facing the exit door while I hit him in the butt repeatedly, while I got one of the Twins trapped in a pile of rubble in the environment and beat up on his spell casting brother. While the general rule of thumb with Dark Souls bosses and enemies is “cheezing is not cheating”, these bosses were straight broken.
I ran into a non-player character in-game who was talking to me like we had met before. We had not. But apparently, I was supposed to meet with him earlier? And what is the story with taking bosses that I’ve beaten and then just making them the enemies in the next section of the space station? That is some pretty lazy enemy design. “Well, don’t want to let this cool thing go to waste, let’s just make him fight 20 more of them?”
Look. I’m sitting here typing this, contemplating uninstalling the game without completing it. I usually grind my way to an ending, whether I love or hate a game. I have been surprised in the past after slogging through 12+ hours of a game I’m on the fence on with a compelling story or a surprise mechanic. I’m at a good place in the combat and feeling vaguely comfortable with building my asexual sentient robot, but I’m also guessing not much is going to change at this point based on what I’ve seen so far. There are far better Souls-like titles out there right now to sink 20-30 hours into, and then actually come out of the other side and be able to say, “That was a good experience.”
Hellpoint has not been a good experience.