Overview

Hellpoint is a souls-like multiplayer (PVE/PVP) adventure game with a sci-fi setting.   It is developed by Cradle Games and published by tinyBuild. Released on 30 Jul 20, it is currently available on PS4, XBox One, and PC via Steam, GOG, and Epic with a Switch released planned for the future.  It does not support cross-play as of the time of this writing.  For the purpose of this review, I played on PC using a PS4 dual shock controller.  If you’re looking for the next souls-like game to fill the void from all those missing err…souls, then this might be for you!


Gameplay

My best description of Hellpoint is pretty much a child spawned from the torrid love affair of Dark Souls, Hellraiser, and Event Horizon.  The sci-fi and horror elements blend very well together and help create an atmosphere that is truly worthy of the souls-like gameplay environment.  The gameplay can be summed up into exploration, character growth , combat, and crafting.

 


Exploration

A dark and dreary slow paced exploration is hallmark of the souls-like genre.  Hellpoint certainly emulates that well enough in its own way with a few differences.  Enemies will ambush and pursue you in the traditional fashion and as usual, you will have to watch your proximity to other creatures as well lest you be overwhelmed.  Hellpoint makes one important addition that adds a new dimension to the mix, and that is the jump button.

The jump isn’t just an action RPG styled hop either, it’s full on platforming style with all the height and problems that accompany one.  I found a sense of verticality, however, to add a nice depth to the exploration and it opened the game up for better secrets and a fuller sense of discovery.  Irid Novo, the space station on which the game takes place, really takes all 3 dimensions into account for exploration in the most commendable way possible without being over gratuitous or treating it as a novelty.

Speaking of secrets, there are many to discover here. Walls can be searched and shattered to reveal hidden paths and treasure. There are many shortcuts to be found as well if you’re savvy enough . The developers are also not shy about throwing in shout-outs to their inspirations such as a faded bonfire with a very familiar sword stuck in it.

Jumping will of course be the cause of many, if not the majority of your deaths.  Many items are placed strategically at areas requiring some old fashioned platforming skills.  Until you acclimate to the controls and get used to how far you can fall, you will spend many deaths experimenting with it.

As the game progresses you begin to find that the small area you started in is merely an introduction, and that the game’s pathways will truly start to wreck your head after a while.  In one hour you can easily change zones four or five times without having fully explored the ones you left.  Sometimes, you may not even be able to travel backwards until you complete certain conditions.  This adds a true sense of being lost and while it can be frustrating at times, I found that it added to the charm of the crafted world.

Irid Novo is truly interconnected and the scale of it will either overwhelm or excite you.  The savvy player will eventually find and utilize the game’s many shortcuts.  Go to fast and you can absolutely bypass many of these as they tend not to stand out much.  You may also come across anomalies, or gateways to other areas which are yours to tackle if you’re brave enough.

There are however, areas of respite and way points to take advantage of.  There is a central hub called the Observatory where you can find most of the crafting stations that you’ll need to increase the odds of survival.  You will also discover breaches, which serve the same purpose as bonfires but with a twist.

Accessing a breach will not recover any health whatsoever, this can only be done through combat (discussed later).  But breaches can, once synchronized, allow you to travel between them.  The items that allow this are limited in nature, but can also be acquired from the worlds of other players.  You can also increase or decrease the difficulty of specific areas at breaches which adds to the value of the game for veterans and filthy casuals alike.  It’s important to note that enemies do not respawn when you touch a breach either, only upon death or their own respawn timers.

 

Character Growth & Crafting

The primary purpose of breaches is of course to spend your axions, which are synonymous with souls.  Leveling up will feel familiar to any veteran of the genre and the in game interface does a fair job at explaining the majority of the stats and their effects.  Some things, such as resistances, are a little more difficult to ascertain and many people will likely complete the game without giving them much thought.

Axions are gained by defeating enemies and can also be picked up as items.  Any axions gained as items are not added to your pool directly, but are stored in your inventory.  These can be opened and accessed at any breach to spend as you please.  Axions are also used for upgrades so you’ll have to decide how best to improve your character based on your individual strengths and weaknesses.

Many enemies also drop blueprints for more advanced weapons, armor, and other craftables.  These blueprints will require materials that are both found and dropped by enemies.  Your arsenal can also be enhanced with special conductors found throughout Irid Novo. It can take some time to track all the components down but you shouldn’t feel like these are necessary as it’s very possible to beat the game using found and dropped equipment.

Aside from the primary objective of the game, there are also a few quests which aren’t really spelled out but are easy enough to follow.  I won’t spoil any of them but they, along with their quest givers, play major parts in how the world is shaped and can change your surroundings.

Combat

Ahh, the bread and butter.  Is this not why you are here!?  Well good because Hellpoint’s combat was extremely enjoyable.  Initially, it did feel a little on the light side, and many hits felt like they lacked weight.  But after giving it some time and experimenting with different weapon and armor configurations against various opponents, I really started to love the way Hellpoint was balanced.

The core of the game is driven by the health, energy, and stamina bars.  Health represents you capacity to survive.  The energy bar, discussed below, governs magic, guns, and special techniques.  Stamina is your capacity for defense via blocking, dodging, running and jumping.  Efficient management of all three is required to be successful at Hellpoint though you can favor some over others depending on your personal style.

Basic combat consists of a series of light and heavy attacks with both having their benefits and drawbacks depending on the weapon.  Heavy attacks are typically slow and more risky but usually have wider coverage and more damage.  The jump button is also utilized in combat, allowing you to take quick jumping swipes or a more powerful thrust downward.  Running and dodging attacks are also present and actually make for the most strategic maneuvers when using heavier weaponry.

Shields are also available and have a range of defenses depending on the players preferred style.  They have a range of resistances depending on what you are trying to defend against.  I did note that many enemies do more than just physical damage, so if you’re just after a 100% physical block shield you’ll have to stay more on your toes with evasion or just suck up the bleed-through damage.  There is also a shield charge used to break the defenses of other shielded enemies, but it isn’t explained very well within the game.

In addition to the medieval inspired weaponry, the other common staple in Hellpoint are firearms.  Guns come in several forms and have multiple options for delivering their payloads.  Each one fires in a unique manner with differing damage types so it really just boils down to what you like.

Magic is also in with a very hellish and cool spin on it.  Items like magic staves, hands, and cubes (referred to as catalysts) are available and like the guns, all have a different play-style.  Just like other weapons the attacks, speed, and delivery will vary.  You can either pick for style or for efficacy but finding them will be the chore as they are not readily available from the start of the game.

Regardless of how you choose to fight, sticking with a chosen weapon, be it melee, staff, or gun, will lead to growth with that weapon.  As it levels up, you will unlock both passive and active abilities.  Active abilities are special attacks for melee weapons, or different attacks in the case of firearms and catalysts.

This brings us to the energy aspect of the game.  Alternative or special attacks all utilize your energy pool which you can increase via stats.  The most fun part of this is that energy isn’t limited to between resting or from using recovery items.  It recovers in by attacking your enemy and is governed by the leech stat on your weapon.  The leech stat also recovers charges on your chosen method of healing.

My absolute favorite part of the combat is the capacity to form combos with your various attacks.  It can absolutely increase your odds of survival to throw out effect swings followed by a gunshot or special attack from your weapon.  I also found a point blank cube blast to be a great follow up to a heavy weapon attack that didn’t finish an enemy.  There are also cancels, used by evading within the threshold of an attack so there’s plenty to discover and play with.

Virtually, the only way to survive combat, is well to have more combat.  Actually the game simply rewards efficient and patient combat and discourages hastiness.  Since resting at a breach does nothing to recover you, it is in your best interests to handle combat with that aspect in mind.  I found that aspect of Hellpoint to actually be very enjoyable.

At the end of the day you’ll really have to experiment with the different weaponry to see what feels right to you.  I preferred mixing a slow heavy melee weapon with fast magic and guns.  It requires more stats to spread out as you level, but as long as you meet the minimum requirements for using the item you should be okay.  During my play-through, I never found myself really suffering for my choices due to the balance of the energy system.

Additional Features

Hellpoint has much more to offer outside of the traditional elements described above.  There are things like Omnicubes which allow you to run programs meant to aid in exploration, and to a lesser degree combat.  There are Mind and Body Modules which change the way your character behaves passively.  Accretion storms cause special events on the station to appear.  Ghosts of your former self appear to challenge you where you die.  To describe every aspect would be daunting and to their credit there is a lot going on here.

 

Multiplayer

One thing I simultaneously and liked and disliked about Hellpoint was the approach to multiplayer.  Things didn’t really feel more challenging in multiplayer and it led me to be bored with it at times as the challenge seemed to disappear.  On the other hand, it is super fun to play games like these with another person.  The solution for me was to increase the difficulty to make things more enjoyable whenever I could find an effigy.

Technically speaking the design behind multiplayer was usually very smooth once it was up and running.  Havinga  password match with no restrictions was easy to execute and was a great idea.  PVP was fun as well, but suffered from the same maladies as other souls game’s PVP matches in that latency between you and an opponent could sometimes be a tad on ridiculous side when they have subpar internet.  This latency could extend to multiplayer PVE as well at times making things frustrating.  And of course the traditional methods of putting your mark down still function here but with a twist; now if you need help, you put your mark down and other people will see it and join.  The most lauded implementation goes to the addition of split screen multiplayer, which is seldom included these days.

Additionally, there are also messages from other players that can be asynchronous between worlds.  You can’t use any words, but you can utilize symbols.  Most of the ones you’ll find will indicate a secret or some path to take.  Others of course, are from the more humorous individuals and I saw a lot of creativity in a short amount of time.

Gameplay Praise

I truly loved the combat, exploration, and atmosphere of Hellpoint.  Combat mix-ups and cancels made me feel like I was playing a fighting game or high end action platformer.  Exploring the world created here and observing the various influences was extremely awesome.  Anyone around the age of 40 will get most if not all of them but age is no requirement to enjoy this title.  Multiplayer was simple and fun and easy to get into once it was up and running.

Gameplay Criticism

I think we all fondly remember when we first played a Dark Souls, with little to no instruction, and died a bunch while we all learned the basics.  I think most of can agree it worked there and only there and that it’s something that should die.  Hellpoint does suffer from a misplaced tutorial, as the vast majority of the information is only available after the first boss.  Some of those aspects, such as the shield ram (called shield bash) are explained poorly.  There were also several instances of buggy combat which mostly had to do with projectiles/magic clipping through solid walls where you should be safe.

Finally I think parrying was balanced poorly for characters with heavier weapons.  Since there were no critical stabs, you just attack again after a successful parry.  Heavy weapon users can not use basic attacks after that without being hit as the recovery from being parried is too fast and the weapon is too slow.  There are work around such as dash attacks but that just felt…wrong.


Story Synopsis

You character is the creation of an entity known only as the author.  He is one of many enigmatic and powerful individuals you will learn about on the space station Irid Novo.  You’ve been created as a means of recording the events that have taken place before the creator succumbs to the same incident as everyone else known as The Merge.

Irid Novo itself is in orbit around a black hole.  Their proximity to the singularity causes certain events to take place.  Some of this is outlined in the lore, others such as the events, manifest inside the game creating barriers and strong enemy encounters.  Enemies in an area can also be altered by the storms or cease to exist altogether only to be replaced by different ones because of a path you’ve chosen.

There’s no set way to progression in Hellpoint.  Do it however you see fit.  Be linear, backtrack yourself to death, go in a giant circle, there are no true barriers with only a few exceptions.  I think this is one of Hellpoint’s strongest attributes; A true potential to get lost in a world until you become overly familiar with it.  Now there are alternate end game paths, some of which have quests tied to them.  It will be up to you how to play through the game as you discover the secrets of Irid Novo.


Controls

The controls very quick and responsive and they need to be as combat takes place at a faster pace.  If anything, it is closer to Bloodborne in terms of speed and execution.  Switching between loadouts is as simple as tapping the d-pad and I found no issues whatsoever with the combat inputs that weren’t ever my own fault.  Once you get the hang of it, platforming is smooth as well though this will likely be the area that most people struggle in.  Since your not continuously jumping, when you do need to make a life or death leap it makes it all the scarier.

One extra note of praise goes to the implementation of insanity.  Having the camera perspective change the way it did made for an interesting fight.  I wish more developers looked at confounding the player in these ways while under the influence of detrimental effects.

The camera system worked very smoothly and I never had issues with line of sight with one exception.  On some larger enemies and when using lock-on, it could really restrict your field of view so much so that you cannot see some enemies attacking or approaching you, especially if there are adds.  This wasn’t consistent, but I did die more than one time to this.


Graphics

The graphics here do the job of telling the story well.  I really enjoyed the vast majority of the game’s textures and many effects such as the singularity and the breaches were gorgeous.  There were some effects which didn’t shine as well such as breakable objects, but given the scope of the game and the size of the development team, there is definitely more positive than negative to report.

The animations could at times be on the jerky side and were not quite as smooth as the effects.  I think this has more to do with the speed and implementation of some attacks but it was not horrible by any means.  Deaths can sometimes result in some of the most ridiculous rag doll you’ve ever seen in your life on par with the movement a school of small fish swimming in an aquarium.  I did find that occasionally some whole objects such as walls, floors, etc would fail to render or disappear completely to a blank slate of gray.  This happened to me on both PC and PS4 but only a handful of times.

Ultimately though, I tend to judge graphics on whether they convey the spirit of the game properly or not.  In this metric, Hellpoint definitely accomplishes that objective.  Mixing as many conceptual elements as they did combined with a small team usually does not usually make for a winning combination, but here I would say that they did a praiseworthy job.  I had no issues believing the world or the story and the graphics aided in telling it.


Sound

The sound is a mixed bag.  On one hand I absolutely praise the effects, and the quality of them.  The myriad grunts, effects, hellish sounds, and the ambiance and terror of space were all translated well into the game.  Heavy armor and the dragging of a metal spear on the ground were music to my ears and there were many times I would hear a sound and search for what was producing it because I enjoyed it that much.  You could even flesh out some of the game’s secrets by local sounds.  And to whomever made that pulsing sound after you start or load a game, bravo!  It was truly the bass from space!

On the other hand, some effects would cut themselves short, or die out abruptly at times.  It felt to me that it would happen randomly some times, and others when there were simply a lot of sound being played.  It was a pity really because while the quality of these elements were high, their execution seemed to hold them back.


Music

Music here took the route of Dark Souls in that you only hear it once engaged with a boss.  There are exceptions however, such as programs for the omnicubes.  The soundtrack as it is, is fitting and often horror inspired.  It would fit in right along with any other horror inspired OST and utilized mostly classical instrumentality.  The track, The Consumer, was one of my favorites as it just fit the boss so well that it felt like it was made specifically for it.  Archon Slaver gave me the same impressions.

The rest of the tracks were largely ambient and more on the atmospheric side of things.  They often took a dreary compositional aspect which fit the vast majority of the zones really well.  Overall I do feel like the music team was either really involved with the development, or that the developers conveyed their wishes and/or implemented the soundtrack very well.  This is extremely refreshing as it is not super common in developmental standards today.

 


Summary

Somehow, this game just finds a beautiful blend of gritty medieval combat, and sprinkles in the right amount occult, mysticism, trans-humanism, gun-play, sci-fi, and hell to create a winning recipe.  While it has its flaws, as does any small or new development team production, the result is still an undeniably fun game.  This easily takes its place in the group of successful souls-like games in an ever expanding genre.  I also think the price point of $35.00 at launch is fair and you will get that much entertainment and more out of it for sure.  I do think it has some room to expand and grow so I would really love to experience an expansion or sequel in the future.

Rating

I am an objective-styled reviewer who tends to complete games to provide a more in depth and factual reporting of the titles I write about.  I spent roughly 60+ hours playing, over half of which were spent in multiplayer.  Our Alpha Nerds Guild uses a terrible-bad-good-great-amazing rating system, and within that system this game easily falls within the Great category rated both on its own merits, and against other titles in the genre.  I really hope to see more from this team!

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