Overview: Hellsign
Hellsign is an isometric action/RPG developed by Ballistic Interactive.  The game centers around a freelancer who conducts paranormal investigations, or clears them, for money.  It utilizes procedural generation for houses and allows free character development over a broad range of skills.  The dark atmosphere will appeal to anyone loving supernatural themes or any of fan of old-school isometric titles.

Gameplay in Hellsign consists of an isometric investigative adventure supplemented with point and click combat and RPG elements.  At the main hub, you can engage in plot elements, develop your character, shop for new gear, and select jobs.  Conducting investigations to find evidence called hellsigns with a unique array of gear is the chief goal, but you can also elect to clear houses of beasts, or hunt down the primary haunt of the residence such as a poltergeist.  Once a job is selected success is rewarded based on the primary and secondary objective and failure will see you return to the hub empty handed.  You can always choose to retreat however, and keep any of the hellsigns you come across during your investigation.  To tackle more advanced jobs, a combination of levels, guns, armor, and investigative gear is required.  Experience is accrued through various jobs which are constantly being generated and through NPC quests and can also be gained directly via combat.  Each level results in the acquisition of 1 skill point which can be spent in several different trees depending on your preferred play-style.  Hellsign absolutely shines here as it allows the player to grind in the manner in which they are most comfortable and to either continue bolstering their strengths or to fill out their weaknesses.  This allows for specialist, hybrid, or jack-of-all-trade builds.  To assist in your character development, several class models are available at the beginning but you may stray from them at any time as they are only starting guidelines and not restrictions.

Story Synopsis
Hellsign starts the protagonist off as an investigator, specifically a paranormal one, whose job it is to track down supernatural clues in tandem with other specialists called hunters.  These clues allow the hunters to track down and kill the more difficult creatures. As you progress however, these lines blend and you essentially perform all roles.

Early on, it is discovered that the protagonist is the bearer of a Hellsign and the guiding narrative of the game revolves around the discovering the mystery behind his particular sign and symptoms.  You’ll explore these facets as you clear jobs and earn money and at a certain point you’ll also notice that a certain force won’t let you die.  The script all takes place in a grimy and vulgar world which may turn away (or attract) some folks as the language can sometimes be excessive.

The game uses the typical WADS movement scheme with number keys switching active gear.  While this layout will be familiar to most, it can occasionally suffer from some clunkiness in movement, particularly while running.  Additionally, some actions such as opening doors cannot be accomplished with certain equipment out.  It also differs from many other isometric titles in that your character is the central axis for aiming, while this is not an unfamiliar aspect for isometric games, it tends to be standard only when they are shooter-styled games which require linear shooting and not pinpoint mouse targeted shots.

There is no support at this time for controllers.  Hellsign does however support remapping of the keys.  And while combat could become a tad repetitive, trying to dodge monsters in a low light environment while missing shots due to panicked mouse clicks definitely kept the tempo up.

Hellsign looks very well for an isometric action/rpg hybrid.  It is very reminiscent in its art style and setting of Shadowrun in my opinion.  There are a few stiff animations, but they don’t stand out too horribly, especially given your attention to your surroundings.  The flashlight and by extension, the shadows in the game are well done and don’t feel indie grade at all.  Various aspects such as the different blood spatters, hellsigns, and items in the environment look and interact well, even if they do get mildly repetitive.  There may also be other environments further in the game or planned at release but it would have been also nice to see different settings other than houses.  A corporate office or mall would’ve definitely spice it up but with the games procedural generation, at least you avoid repeat layouts.

The sounds in Hellsign are not only apt but they strike right when they need to.  You’ll find yourself shifting more than once as something surprises you while you don’t have the proper gear out. This accounts for a lot of the horror aspect in the game.  You also quickly learn to listen to the specific sounds such as the warning before a poltergeist throws a piece of furniture at you.  There are also a few married sounds and elements within the game that are very interactive and unique.  Take for instance that you are messing around in your journal trying to decipher a clue, if you happen to hear a sound it will startle your character and cancel out the journal screen.  This really helps set the scene and games are always more solid when, art, music, and sound work together.

Music in Hellsign is appropriate in most settings.  It tends to support the grittiness of the game and is both present and missing during apt settings.  I was only able to listen to a few tracks, but the ones that were within the areas I played in were acclimated with the scenes in the same manner as the sound.

Hellsign is a dark, gritty, wired paranormal adventure that for me is hard to put down.  I actually found myself invested in the grind which is rare these days.  The investigative methods are actually active enough and brief so that they are balanced well with the combat aspects.  In my opinion that is hard to pull off and I stand impressed that a two person team accomplished it and struck the acute environmental chords that they did.

Fans of isometric titles, specifically RPGs will find a fair degree of fun here. The open ended leveling system will provide hours of fun and it’s easy to get lost in a litany of paranormal investigations.  As I mentioned earlier, fans of the Shadowrun IP, or any other similar veins, will likely enjoy the atmosphere that Ballistic Interactive has created here. I look forward to the final product and any future creations from this team.

Hellsign is available on PC and via Steam.

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