Hellpoint – In the darkness of space, there is only Dark Souls – Review

Gare – Monday, August 10, 2020 3:54 PM
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If you only know one thing about developer Cradle Games’ sci-fi action-RPG Hellpoint, it’s probably that it’s essentially Dark Souls in space. And honestly, I can’t even argue with that. Hellpoint has done a meticulous job of emulating From Software’s hugely successful franchise, and although it does add its own spin to certain mechanics, at its core, the game feels almost indistinguishable from some of the most popular titles in what is now referred to as the Soulslike genre. The question, then, is not whether or not Hellpoint is Dark Souls (because it very clearly is), it’s this: how good is it at being Dark Souls?

Welcome to Irid Novo

The moment-to-moment gameplay of Hellpoint will feel like familiar territory to From Software enthusiasts: you’re a lone adventurer thrown into a large and indifferent world that’s devoid of civilization, but very much teeming with things that simply cannot wait to kill you. In terms of directions, you’re not given much to work with, but those familiar with the Soulslike formula should know what to expect – explore an area, kill its boss, find the key to the next area, explore that area as well, kill its boss, and so on. The space station of Irid Novo, which serves as the primary location for Hellpoint, is delightfully labyrinthine and will test your mental map-drawing skills to their utmost limit; there are countless side alleys, alternate pathways, secret doors and useful shortcuts to discover, all of which should make any self-respecting exploraholic salivate with joy.

Sadly, Hellpoint’s art style cannot always keep up with the ambitious nature of its map design – although there are indeed a handful of genuinely atmospheric locations scattered around the station, the majority of Irid Novo still ends up feeling woefully samey in terms of aesthetics, with dull hallways and empty rooms filled with little to no furniture making up the majority of each stage. Similarly disappointing is the game’s repertoire of regular enemies, as it severely lacks the kind of creatively designed, fear-inducing abominations I would have otherwise expected from an RPG toying with elements of cosmic horror. Instead, what you’ll usually encounter are plain old zombies, space demons, and not much else; I couldn’t help but heave a resigned sigh every time I entered a brand-new area ripe for exploration, only to be greeted by the exact same monsters I had already killed dozens of in other parts of Irid Novo. The game’s lineup of bosses fares a touch better – whether you’re fighting a tentacled space leopard, a mechanical warrior with a fearsome artillery cannon, or a transcendent cosmic god hurling astral projections at you, Hellpoint does its best to keep its boss monsters reasonably interesting, both mechanically and visually. There is a bit of a catch, though: bite-sized versions of some of the earlier bosses will later return as recycled regular enemies in other sectors of Irid Novo, making you realize that they’re not nearly as unique as you thought they were, further reinforcing the idea that Hellpoint’s roster of enemies could’ve desperately used a bit – or rather, a lot – more variety. In terms of challenge, a lot of the bosses are roughly in the middle of the difficulty scale, I’d say. They are by no means complete pushovers, and you’ll likely die to them at least a couple of times, but they aren’t quite as relentlessly aggressive or cunning as one might expect given the genre, and once you’ve got their move sets more or less memorized, they’ll usually do very little to surprise you.

Swords? On my space station?

Hellpoint’s combat system is solid enough, primarily because – and get ready for this – it’s almost exactly like Dark Souls’. I’m not even kidding. If you’ve seen how Dark Souls works, this is pretty much a carbon copy of that. You’ve got your dodge rolls, your health/mana/stamina bars, your sprint attacks and so on – even the way your character swings certain weapons feels like it belongs in a Souls title. Sure, your stats are named differently, your Estus Flask is now a high-tech healing injector, and you spend Axions instead of Souls to level up at various checkpoints called Breaches (which are basically Hellpoint’s take on Bonfires), but in practice, everything more or less works the way you expect it to. There are some minor tweaks, though. For example, activating a Breach won’t respawn enemies in a given area, nor will it restore your healing items. Instead, the way you replenish the charges of your healing injector (other than dying) is by dealing damage to enemies, which may sound a little awkward at first, but it definitely puts an interesting spin on the genre’s risk vs. reward mentality. Online functionality is also present: co-operative play and PvP are both available, and much like in Dark Souls, you’re also able to place down messages in the game world to be read by other players. Interestingly enough, this comes with a twist I found particularly endearing: instead of being able to leave text-based messages to other players in the world, you only get to communicate using a series of symbols, which is honestly kind of great – it amplifies the constant feeling of isolation and mystery already present on Irid Novo, and besides, it’s just plain fun trying to puzzle out what each player was hoping to convey. Other little bits I enjoyed include the addition of death-ghosts – if you die and return to the scene of your demise, your own past self will show up and challenge you to a duel, which was not only pretty neat, but it added some extra weight to each and every death. I mean, if losing all your Axions wasn’t enough of a punishment on its own.

Not-so-fast travel

A design choice that may elicit a more mixed reaction from prospective players concerns fast travel, and to be perfectly honest, this alone caused me more frustration than any of the game’s boss fights. As mentioned earlier, the game’s “Bonfires” are called Breaches – they are found at various locations of Irid Novo and essentially function as your checkpoints/level up stations. They can also moonlight as fast travel points, but only if you activate them by using an extremely rare consumable item called a Breach Synchronizer. What this means is that you basically have to pick and choose which Breaches to promote to fast travel points, but this becomes rather difficult when you’re playing for the first time – and especially if you’re jumping into Hellpoint without consulting any online guides. Think about it – how can you tell which Breaches will become important key locations later on, and which ones can be safely ignored? Either way, if you happen to be unlucky with your distribution of Synchronizers (or if you simply don’t have any on you at a given moment; remember, they’re pretty rare), you’ll have no choice but to backtrack on foot whenever you need to get from point A to point B.

Final thoughts

If you need a game to scratch that Soulslike itch, Hellpoint has you covered – but anyone looking for a completely fresh take on the genre likely won’t find it here. There are some intriguing mechanical changes and the sci-fi setting mixed with splashes of cosmic horror do make for a delightfully spooky combination, but one can’t help but feel like a bit more could’ve been done with it, especially in terms of visual design and enemy variety. Having said that, I can still more or less recommend Hellpoint if you’re a diehard fan of this genre – it may not reinvent the wheel, but it certainly hits all the notes needed to be a sufficiently solid and worthwhile addition to the ever-growing Soulslike family.

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