Hellpoint | First Impressions

Let me first start with a disclaimer. Even though this review is coming out on the 26th of February, the release date for Hellpoint on the Nintendo Switch, that's simply a happy coincidence because that's not the version of the game I will be reviewing. Over the past few weeks, I've played a little over six hours of Hellpoint on the Xbox One and Xbox Series S. So everything I say here will be my thoughts based on that experience. However, other than performance, much of what I say will apply to the game as a whole and isn't system-specific. I also want to mention that I am not a Souls-like player. The first game in this "genre" that I beat was Chronos: Before the Ashes, which I played and reviewed in December of 2020. Keep that in mind as we move forward. With that said, let's dive into my first impressions.

Hellpoint is a Souls-like sci-fi RPG that has you playing as a 3D printed clone who wakes up on a massive space vessel known as the Irid Novo. All you have are instructions from the disembodied voice of The Author to uncover the mystery of what happened to the once glorious ship. After that, it is up to you to navigate the often dark and crimson halls of the Novo to find answers, all while floating uncomfortably close to supermassive black hole. If you're looking for any more of a narrative structure you will be disappointed as the story of Hellpoint remains vague and ambiguous throughout. Though, if we're being honest, vague and ambiguous narratives are quite a staple of the Souls-like genre. So, in that case, what really matters here are mechanics, game design, and, most importantly, gameplay.

When it comes to mechanics Hellpoint has a pretty solid foundation. It manages to take the ideas that it borrows from other Souls games and make them it's own. Rooting them deeply in its own sci-fi world. Unfortunately, each of those mechanics has a crutch that prevents them from being entirely enjoyable. Hellpoint's version of bonfires are Breaches, which is where you go to save your game, upgrade your character, and fast travel to other Breaches. But this is where the problems with the game's design crop up because the labyrinthian halls of the Irid Novo don't lend themselves well to being mapped out mentally. Even for someone like me, who, if you watch our lives streams on Twitch, has a great sense of direction. This means that more often than not I ended up either using the Breaches just to upgrade and save or I jumped around from Breach to Breach until I figured out where I needed to go. 

Then there's the black hole that often looms in the distance, offering some of the game's most beautiful vistas.  An interesting mechanic that is born from the black hole is that depending on what part of the ship you are on and its proximity to the black hole, stronger and more powerful enemies will spawn. As a byproduct of the increased gravity. However, the black hole as a whole isn't entirely explained or elaborated upon and it seems it was added on for the look more so than out of necessity. The one mechanic in Hellpoint that I don't have a problem with though is its post-death surprises. What I mean is, after your character dies the Axioms they carry will be dropped and it is your goal once you respawn to make your way back to that death spot to retrieve them. If you die on the way, they're gone forever. Which would suck because Axioms are how you upgrade your character at Breaches. However, the curveball is that as you work to get back the Axioms, you not only have to worry about enemies but also yourself. A ghost of your former self walks around after your death and hunts for you. And when it does, it will put up a more challenging fight than some of the bosses in the game.

Speaking of bosses, let's talk about difficulty. Even after taking what I said in the opening paragraph into account, I still didn't find Hellpoint too difficult. At least not in the time I spent with it. I did die a few times, and there were some frustrating moments, but those moments weren't born from the difficulty of the encounters. It was more so from bugs or glitches that made me die undeservedly and took me out of the experience. The gameplay of Hellpoint has its ups and downs. On one hand, the combat is surprisingly fun and responsive, which was a big part of what brought me back into the game after my initial few hours. There is also a jump mechanic which adds platforming puzzles to the game, but it's forced and not nearly as responsive as the melee combat with enemies. Even without too much weapon variety, which often resulted in me using the same weapon over and over again until I leveled up to be able to use another similar weapon of a higher class, the minute-to-minute combat leaves enough room for different combo variations to be engaging.

Before I wrap it up I want to touch on visuals and sound. Firstly, while I noticed no problems in the sound department, none of it really stuck with me. It's just ominous ambient music that when not paired with striking visuals or key story moments remains forgettable. As for visuals, Hellpoint sufferers pretty similar issues. There are some moments, mostly with the aforementioned black hole, that look pretty stunning, but too much of the game is unremarkable with not enough detail to ever truly immerse me. And this goes for the few bosses I've faced as well. most of their designs are uninspired, with the first boss especially being entirely unimpressive, and since they aren't given much narrative support they just fade into obscurity despite being backed by some strong musical segments. While I am sure some players will found the game immersive, perhaps those playing the game on PC with headphones, for me personally, playing on my couch with the sound turned up did not make for an atmospheric playthrough. And I know I said this is not a review of the Switch version of the game, but it makes me wonder how muddy the visuals will look on Switch if this is how they are on the Xbox One and Xbox Series S.

In the end, Hellpoint from Cradle Games has lots of good ideas but not enough polish to back it up. I would love to see more from this developer and if they return to the Hellpoint universe, I hope they learn from this game and give it more time in production before releasing it. Because Hellpoint with a stronger narrative backbone and more detailed textures could have been great. And that's not to say that I don't recommend Hellpoint altogether either because if you're an avid Souls-like player that is starved for some satisfying gameplay, Hellpoint's combat is more than enough to hold you over for 20+ hours. But for the average player who plays games more casually or isn't a fan of this niche, I cannot recommend this game for any other reason than the fact that it has split-screen co-op. Hellpoint is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch. Though if you plan on getting the game on the Switch, good luck. A review code for the Xbox One was provided by the publisher.

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