I’m sure there will come a point where the market is so saturated with soulslikes that they start to feel like the new ‘everything must have zombies’ fad, but we’re still in the larval state since perhaps wisely people waited for From to decide to finish Dark Souls before they all threw their hats in. This is not the first space souls I have played, and while Hellpoint is definitely rough around the edges and a bit clunky, it manages to feel unique enough, much as Dead Space did in a market saturated with zombies.
The story is quite minimal, even for a Souls game, and it is not necessary for playing the game to read into the vague snippets provided so if you’re just looking to get into the action and start surviving through an abandoned space station where various demons and undead robots are trying to kill you be relieved that there is not much conversation- though the bit there is tends to be vaguely tied to some secrets and extra bosses.
The main compelling aspects of the game thus fall to combat and exploration, both with their flaws and bright spots. One thing that immediately becomes clear as different in the game is the controller layout, it lacks the ability to hold down a button for a different effect for most items- for example, rather than dodge roll being circle, and run being holding circle, they have them mapped to different buttons entirely. With a set of weapons I felt very limited in the number of things I could do, there’s no parry, if you want to kick something down you need your left hand empty and a specific right hand weapon.
Those limitations are further stretched over the maps, items, abilities and monsters you face. There’s so few gear types that you end up finding the same weapons or armours in different zones as static drops that sadly don’t organize in your inventory so even getting rid of every thespian hook means finding them scattered in the dismantling menu. After the second zone I had enough basic crafting mats to make every item in the game, and there does not seem to be a way to turn this abundance into axioms (which are your souls for levelling up your character and weapon modules).
Monsters feel very similar after a while, while there’s perhaps a few dozen types of them, many are so similar it really feels at most there’s only a few, and even then the strategy for handling them tends to be fairly basic. Melee monsters usually swivel even mid swing making dodging around them futile, even if you can get behind them the cleave of several attacks is almost 360, while casters tend to have the opposite problem, locked into long animations once they start casting. The locking in of animations for both yourself and foes means almost every enemy in the game can be dealt with the same way- for melee, lunge in and get off a few blows once their animation finishes then back out, and for casters just strafe.
Though at a certain point fairly early on you may find even basic strategy stops being needed unless you come across a room with a horde of foes. When I started playing, from the central safe hub in the game there are two options to go to, and I picked wrong. I went to a place called Port Issoudun, not realizing that this was perhaps one of the two hardest zones in the game. Areas with large packs of foes with large health bars, multiple rooms that close you in with a boss like foe and plenty of adds, enemies
that quickly close the distance preventing you from separating them, and your first encounter with one of the most deadly foes in the game taking place in a cramped hallway with nowhere to retreat to.
It was frustrating, difficult, varied, and mixed with strategy and rapid decision making- in other words, enjoyable and exactly what I want from this style of game. While there is one issue of making such a challenging zone so early in that it can turn players off early, I was hit with the other end of the problem. Once I’d gotten through that area, the rest of the game felt like a breeze. From then on zones, while still having their own challenges, would perhaps have one or two combat encounters that felt threatening and otherwise I could just go in swinging. As my gear strengthened but enemies did not, or for the most part actually ended up getting weaker, the game began to feel too easy. Now, of course there are ways to strengthen areas much like in Dark Souls 2 to make nearby foes more powerful, but that still won’t change that regardless of stats, the foes you come across at the start of the game are more of a challenge than almost anything else.
That isn’t to say there’s nothing difficult in later zones, there’s still a few foes that’ll provide entertainment, and the optional bosses are relentless with massive swings, but I can safely say well over half my deaths in combat happened in the second area, and other than the optional bosses I one shot almost all of them generally without much difficulty, and at least 90% of my deaths in the game came from falling.
This brings me to the bulk of the game, exploration. This game has a jump, which can be used for a jump attack in combat but largely is utilized for vertical exploration and exploring parts of the game with plenty of jumping. Now, unfortunately exploration and combat are poorly mixed, very few of my deaths came from the environment during combat, and in the places where there’s a hole and enemies to fight it’s not even difficult to get most of them to jump in- sometimes you don’t even have to bait them or knock them off, they’ll just backstep or even run right into a pit. The main killer for myself is being locked in a swing animation when a foe jumps in a cliff and then following them. For the most part though, there feels like there is a disconnect between combat and exploration segments.
Which is perhaps fine, as mentioned most of my deaths came from areas without combat so clearly if anything needs a difficulty ramp up it’s not the jumping parts. The jumping parts are varied and decently done, and there’s absolutely a lot to explore in the game, but there’s some clear issues. Sometimes the same jump will feel shorter depending on where you jump from, like if you’re on the edge of a platform you get an extra two feet of distance. Sometimes I’d drop from something that was only a few times my height and instantly die, while others I’d fall where it felt like double that and only take half damage. I once jumped in an elevator and took barely any damage, and later in the same elevator took full health damage. Many of the rules of the game felt inconsistent in that regard, where testing of the same actions could yield at times wildly varied results.
Exploration in the game is decent overall, but some of the most challenging jumps that had us die multiple times yielded junk rewards, while some of the easier parts gave the most valuable treasures. There’s numerous zones where everything starts to look the same, and you’re sent down winding corridors which fork into other forks, and even though I played with a friend with far better direction
sense then myself we still ended up regularly spending time back tracking and trying to remember where a fork was to go explore. It’s like a labyrinthine maze where everything is connected in some way, and sometimes the way to find a hard to reach treasure will go through multiple zones to the point where you’d entirely forgotten about it by the time you find it.
Thankfully, there’s the ability to put hints down by secret doors or puzzles, and in general the multiplayer is well integrated. While I played a decent chunk of the game solo, I also did a near full playthrough with a friend. It’s fairly easy to join a game with someone, you don’t need to have completed the same content and once you defeat a boss or change zones you remain with them. If you die you can be rezzed by the host, though the game has a habit of putting your corpse for resurrection or axioms retrieval in the middle of the air if you die to falling which- as mentioned- is generally the only actual threat in the game. If the host dies both of you will return to the nearest breach, limiting the load screens that’d be involved with constantly trying to summon someone in the Souls series, which is a good thing because the game has both a lot of load screens and fairly long ones. More enemies tend to spawn, including bosses getting adds, when you play multiplayer but it is considerably easier to handle the game this way, and far more enjoyable.
Yet, it has its problems. There are exponentially more bugs with multiplayer, including random crashes, difficulty joining games, periods where I had visual bugs covering the screen when I loaded in. We’ve fallen through elevators, he has made falls with no damage that instantly killed me from the same location a moment later, I’ve been sent hurtling through the air into space for no reason.
Enemies won’t register hits or will instantly regenerate to full at times, some foes that can be one shot might take five hits at random, on numerous occasions a room will be filled with enemies that are simply invisible to the summoned player though they can still damage and be damaged by them. Enemies will lag, jumping from the start of an animation to the end, the host will sometimes vanish or look frozen in place. With no map or indicator of where your ally is, as well as the maze like layout of zones and varied visual glitches it can be easy to get separated and since large parts of the game look very similar it can be hard to explain where you are. Perhaps most noticeable is that many bosses straight up ignore the summoned character, which makes basically every boss in the game a joke in multiplayer which is a shame because otherwise the multiplayer is the best part.
That said, when solo I encountered very few issues, and the game is enjoyable enough multi player and despite the sheer number of bugs all over the place they didn’t become too much to bear, making them feel for the most part amusing. Sure, Hellpoint is a bit clunky, but it’s an enjoyable enough soulslike to play solo and being able to go through it with a friend is a major boon. We did sadly encounter near the end of the game an issue where we simply could no longer group together at all, and instead would just freeze if we tried to, and were unable to resolve it- but it looks like they are making a fix soon, they had already fixed a few bugs we encountered in the first days of playing so they are active with this.
This is not the prettiest game, there’s no customization and this could easily pass for an early PS3 title in terms of polish. If this game were a statue, it would be one with a solid base and
craftsmanship that just happens to be covered in nicks. If you come into it expecting AAA quality and visual wowness you will be disappointed, but if one recognizes that all those blemishes are the result of an indie company making a complicated game with a lot of moving parts it is impressive. More importantly, the game itself is enjoyable and I would recommend picking this one up, doubly so if you have someone to play it with. I am grading it with the assumption that they will continue fixing issues and in particular the more punishing bugs will be quickly fixed.