Throw a fit about it if you want, but Souls-like is pretty much a genre now. The Souls series have spawned dozens of games. Some are lovingly inspired, while others are bargain bin knock offs.
Score – 8/10
I wouldn’t put Hellpoint in either category. It aims for the former but calling it an inspired game is underselling it. Hellpoint succeeds where most others entering the genre fail, and truly captures the intricacies of what makes the soul’s games so compelling; while also inserting its own ideas into the mixture.
You play as a Spawn on the space station Irid Novo, and it’s up to you to explore and figure out what that means. Along the way, you will fight all manner of creatures from ghastly specters, celestine beasts, and robotic guards.
You collect Axions as you slay your foes, and these can be spent to level up your character and improve your gear. If you die, you drop them and need to fight your way back to collect them, but beware, your own ghost will also stand in your way.
Meanwhile, the station orbits a black hole in real-time that can cause disruptions and events on the station. If you are feeling overwhelmed you can play the entire game in co-op online or in split-screen.
The Fun of Failure
A powerful challenge is at the very heart of the genre, and Hellpoint delivers it in spades. Most importantly, it offers a fair one. Anyone coming from a souls game will feel instantly familiar with the controls. You can dodge, or evade. You can make light, and heavy attacks that vary depending on your weapon type and you have a limited amount of healing items that get refilled.
Your checkpoints, so to speak, are called breaches, tears in reality, and it is here that you can spend your Axions. Unlike similar games, your health items do not refill when touching it, nor do enemies respawn. Enemies reappear after you leave and return to a location or die. Be prepared to do both of those things frequently.
Guns, magic, and some other abilities are also on the table, and they all consume energy. Both your healing items and energy slowly recharge by attacking enemies. The combat is weighty, and it’s all about timing, evasion, and pattern recognition.
Hellpoint features a very satisfying range of monsters and bosses that not only have awesome visual designs but are animated well and are expertly crafted from a gameplay standpoint. They have a variety of attacks that you need to learn to predict and react to all with the proper wind-ups, telegraphs, and feedback.
I love the variety. You have standard zombies, creepy ethereal monsters, alien tiger beasts with tentacle claws, and so much more. Each one poses a new and exciting threat to the player. Each enemy is a puzzle within itself, and there are a lot of different foes to fight. The boss fights also stand out as challenging and well-designed encounters. Cradle Games really put a lot of effort into the creature design and it shows.
The combat is incredibly polished, which is really impressive given the fact that it is an indie title with such a massive scale. It feels and controls quite well, the weapons are varied, and it gives the player the proper feedback required to succeed. There is the occasional slip of jankiness, but it’s rarely apparent enough to impact the experience.
I rarely, if ever felt that a death was the game’s fault. That is a very important aspect to get right in a game that punishes you so deeply for dying. If you die you drop your Axions and have to retrieve them, fighting through the monsters once again, but your own ghost will also be nearby and looking to fight.
Your ghost uses the same gear you have and fights as the player does. It is an interesting spin on what would be an invasion mechanic from other souls-like games. Invasions exist technically, but they are consensual.
Rising to the Challenge
You can spend your Axions to level up various aspects of your character. The statistics of your character runs pretty deep, each attribute affects a bunch of underlying statistics. Having a certain number of points in some attributes will allow you to wield different weapons and armor without penalty.
I opted to go for slow heavy-hitting weapons with a gun in my other. But you could also wield a shield, or an occult magic item.
The weapons themselves are diverse and split into types. Each type has it’s own attack animations. I also enjoyed the thematic feel. Early on I was swinging around a massive concrete column. Each weapon feels good, and they give the player decent feedback. Enemies can be made to flinch buying you time for another attack or a hasty retreat, and I loved swinging that stupid chunk of concrete around.
Guns feel impactful as well, and the energy system works great. Ranged weapons seemed to be balanced, but I was never afraid of using them because I could refill the energy used to fuel them simply by fighting.
You can add mods to your weapons and level them up with Axions. You can also craft brand new gear from model blueprints. Most fascinating was that the weapons themselves leveled up. The weapons gain a kind of XP of their own as you use them and, at certain thresholds grants new passive and active abilities you can use.
It’s an interesting system that makes each weapon a bundle of small surprises. When I discovered it, it lead me to try different weapons out to see what potential I could unlock in them. It’s also how I came to sit aside my shield and put my gun in my offhand for awhile in the early game.
You can switch between a few weapons on the fly, but keeping my gun on hand allowed me to fire it fluidity. I also constantly benefited from its passive bonus to energy and health. It’s a fun system with a lot of potential character building.
The Labyrinth of Irid Novo
The semi-open world of Irid Novo is full of secrets containing loot, lore, alternative pathways, and short cuts. The Station itself invokes a great feeling of mystery with science fiction flair. You don’t really know what is happening when you first start, and you have to piece it together as you go.
Though the game takes place on a Space Station, the different areas of the Station are varied. From the walkways, parks, skyscrapers, and labs. Each new area you unlock is interesting and full of hidden secrets. Your progress throughout the Station is mostly non-linear, and you usually have a few different choices of where to go at any one time.
You will, of course, have to backtrack often as you obtain access to one area from another, but it always feels good and each step of progress is satisfying. I usually detest backtracking, but it works in souls-like games.
There is a lot of secrets to be uncovered and loot to acquire. There is still a ton of stuff I haven’t figured out how to access. The game even features a fair amount of platforming putting your third person jumping skills to the test with dire consequences for failure.
The station itself orbits a black hole in real-time. It can periodically hit a storm that adds horde areas to the map and can alter enemy spawns. This can add fearsome foes to areas they were not in before. Then there is a the black hole hour that grants passage to otherwise inaccessible areas. It’s a neat concept that you always have to keep an eye on and helps shake up the otherwise static nature of the games spawns.
The Hell of Hellpoint
Sadly the game isn’t flawless. I reviewed the game on a standard Xbox One, and the framerate was unstable. It didn’t impact my ability to play, but it was noticeable.
That is, until you try to play the games split-screen co-op. The framerate goes from unstable to unplayable, and I mean that literally. It becomes so choppy the game is impossible to play.
The online is equally bad. The frame rate drops worse than it does in single-player, but not as bad as it does in split-screen. Yet, I was met with constant disconnections and desynchronization issues. This ranged from enemies not animating properly, to weapons not dealing any damage.
My partner and I play together in the same household, side by side. I was able to experiment with these issues by looking at both of our screens.
These issue made the game impossible to play together. Given the harsh difficulty and precise nature of the combat, even slight problems have a massive effect. At the time of writing, Hellpoint is not playable in co-op on a standard Xbox One, offline or online. I’m hoping these issues can be resolved in the future. If they are addressed, I will update my review accordingly.
For whatever reason, I could never get the shield bash to actually work either. The game teaches it to you, but it seemed completely nonfunctional. The loading screens are also somewhat lengthy.
Hellpoint nails most souls-like concepts exceptionally well, from the responsive combat to the well-designed enemies and deep leveling system. The world is full of shortcuts, secrets, loot, and pathways begging to be explored with a phenomenal atmosphere.
It’s almost entirely technical issues holding it back, from the unstable framerate to the completely unplayable co-op. One of Hellpoint’s selling points is the ability to play the entire game with a friend, so it’s a big deal.
Aside from that, Hellpoint is a stellar souls-like, so much, in fact, that I don’t believe it to be an inspired child of its parent games. It can stand alongside titles like Dark Souls as an equal, matching its quality pound for pound. If the technical issues can be put to bed in a post-release patch, that fact will be cemented within the game’s legacy.