If there’s one thing that’s all the rage of late it’s the Soulsborne style. Coming to us from Quebec developper Cradle Games, which I’m always happy to see games come out of my home province, Hellpoint is a hard to pin down experience. On one hand you have this intricate space station that’s been corrupted by the forces of hell like in DOOM, while on the other hand, it’s too quiet and it often feels empty and lacking that unknown stress of what could be lying in wait behind a corner.
While the Soulsborne style barely needs an introduction anymore, the particulars of that style are always appreciated. Hellpoint takes a good deal of the core aspects from collecting (in this case) Axion in order to level up your stats and become more powerful. If you die, you leave behind your Axion in order to give you a chance to pick it up. It doesn’t decay like in The Surge, but what it does do is like in Hollow Knight where it can spawn a ghost that hunts you down until you take it out. That part was a little less fun especially when you keep dying to a boss as you try to figure out its movesets before finally claiming victory.
Now there’s a lot that Hellpoint does right. Giant interconnected labyrinths? Check. Interesting weapon styles to face off against those that stand before you? They make enough of a difference to your approach so ‘check’ (it’s hard to beat Bloodborne or The Surge on those). Easy enough to use controller style and menus systems? Hellpoint has those too and they are supported by the dark visual atmosphere that is presented. Possibly the BEST THING EVER in a 3D Soulsborne (as in the 2D’s like Hollow Knight jumping is a must) there’s a dedicated jumping mechanic and it’s integral to the exploration. You’ll NEED to jump up on top of boxes. You’ll need to jump across some passageways. Sekiro is all about the jumping but Hellpoint is more “traditional” in a sense and the addition of this mechanic really made a difference in the approach to exploration. So much more could be done and your thought processes, especially with the fact that I’m coming out of playing Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls 3, had to be adjusted.
Where things didn’t really click for me is that I kept expecting a dark foreboding sense of doom as I explored the deeper reaches but it never came. It’s dark even with your assistant cube lighting the way but there’s no stress to the exploration. You see an enemy, you take it out, you collect Axion. There’s never this fear of mobs where even the basic ones will slay you instantly as they don’t do that much damage. Some enemies are ridiculously powerful sure, but, they aren’t scary and that unfortunately also transferred over to the bosses which I’ll get to later.
Adding to the above and what should have been terrifying is that “twice a cycle” the space station will click into an orbit that allows for hordes to come pouring through with tougher mobs mixed in. It should have had me running away screaming but in certain locations I just jumped on top of a few boxes and moved on by while in others the hordes just didn’t seem to appear. At first until seeing a tooltip on a loading screen I didn’t even know what was going on and then the orbit system in the top left finally made sense. These hordes, for the limited time that they appear, should have been hunting you down instead of just passively chilling in the area that they spawned in. Great for more Axion, not so great as a stressor which is really what a Soulsborne is based off of.
Speaking of which, every Soulsborne has its unique “je ne sais quoi” that makes it different from the others. Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne, Dark Souls 1, 2, 3, The Surge, The Surge 2, Hollow Knight, and others including even Darksiders 3 with its more Soulsborne approach, they all have “something” that draws you in and almost makes you want to beg it for more in a sort of sadistic fashion and these tend to be anything but easy. But Hellpoint? I just moved from one spot to the other, beat the boss, moved to the next, tried to farm some Axion if only to upgrade my health a bit, and then move on. I honestly didn’t feel much in regards to anything while exploring until putting on my Bose Quiet Comfort 35s which let me hear ALLLLLL this ambient noise that was lost in lesser headphones or even without a fairly robust sound system. That added atmosphere, but even with it, the rest felt… bland.
Only adding to this are the mobs. You won’t start to even see much variety in the lesser mobs until after the second boss and even then, the variety isn’t that much as they aren’t that much scarier. Most have sword-like weapons, a form of ranged gun or their claws. Eventually some have knives and a fireball attack but if you hit first and your stamina doesn’t run out? You win. There’s no fear that comes from most of what you do. Hell, even if you run out and block, the rate of the attacks is never enough to get through you slowly inching back or doding out so even then, it’s just a matter of time until you win.
Otherwise, the only real issue that I had gameplay wise aside from the mobs all being rather bland is that there’s no impact. You can get hit by a boss and you’ll only really notice because your health dropped, not because you were knocked back. This one little feature means so much especially because you honestly don’t have the time to keep an eye on your health bar when you’re trying to dodge around. So if I didn’t feel a rumble at a hit or see myself knocked back, I’m assuming that I’m fine. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case and it cost me a fair amount of retries especially with the second boss where I really started to notice it going forwards.
Finally, and this is a miss in certain cases while it does raise the “difficulty” bar, but mobs don’t respawn once you get your safe space known as a rift to level up. Mobs will either respawn over time, respawn during the appearance of a horde, or whenever you die. So to level up? Often it was worth running through what you needed to and dying, rinse and repeat as it would go faster. Also in an odd turn, and in relation to the rifts and not refilling are you health injectors. They’ll be refilled once you die, but otherwise? They’ll only be replenished once you’ve successfully landed a ton of hits. Great for boss fights once you run out, but not so great when you’re a decent way into exploring and dropped from a bit too high once or five times.
Only adding to these issues, because I played this off of a PC and I’m unsure of how it would be on consoles, but unless you’ve got a high end rig Hellpoint isn’t going to look pretty. Even with a decent machine which I’m starting to look into replacing, a GTX 1060, 16GB of RAM and a 3.2GHz i7 wasn’t enough to get me past 1920×1080, low shadows and medium textures without it affecting gameplay. I mean I COULD play in full stats and on max resolution on my 55” 4K TV, but, if I did, the hitboxes were off and the reason I had trouble with the first boss? Was because the graphics couldn’t keep up. Even moving the textures to high would cause the occasional FPS lag which when needing to jump over small spaces and not die? Wasn’t worth the risk.