Review: Hellpoint

Published: 2021/09/08

Last updated: 2021/09/08

For much of this summer, my major gaming timesink has been a relatively little-known and scarcely-documented sci-fi Souls-like game known as Hellpoint. It certainly helped that there’s a GNU/Linux build, though I spent over half that time in Windows anyway because the GNU/Linux build doesn’t have networking support for reasons that have never been, to my knowledge, publicly revealed. I understand that Unity 3D was used, which I thought would take care of that automatically, but apparently not.

At any rate, I’ve played this thing a ton, using three characters, two of which were multi-player, and thus have had plenty of time to form various Opinions, so let’s get into that. I’ll start out being mostly spoiler-free, but be warned that later on spoilers are necessary in order to discuss the points I’m wanting to make, especially in the section talking about the plot.

Game Synopsis

Hellpoint is, as I stated before, a sci-fi Souls-like game; for those somehow unfamiliar, this implies a number of points:

Exploration:

Combat:

The Player:

Plot:

Mind that these are genre characteristics as a whole; each game always has its own unique take on it, and Hellpoint is no exception.

One thing that immediately differentiates it is the unusual setting: instead of the typical fantasy-styled environments, Hellpoint uses an unsettling sci-fi scenario, being set on Irid Novo, a twisted space station drifting endlessly around a mysterious black hole surrounded by strange energy. Your PC is known simply as “the Spawn”, an artificial life-form organically printed at the start of the game at the behest of a voice calling itself “the Author”; he tasks you with the gathering information about whatever strange tragedy befell the station, wiping it of (most) sentient life.

Game progression is tied heavily into exploration and investigation, with “data” being awarded on hitting various milestones, such as uncovering a new piece of evidence, finding a new Breach (used to heal, respawn on death, level up, imbue oneself with stable Axion packets, teleport, or adjust the difficulty of an area), or defeating bosses. The end-game scenario is available after reaching at least 100% data, and culminates with 0-3 boss fights depending on what choices are made. Upon completion of any ending, the game loops into a “New Game+” mode, which allows one to keep all non-plot items, levels, and Axions while increasing the difficulty of each area by 1 point (which is more significant than it sounds).

At this point, let’s go over each of the genre bullet points and see where Hellpoint fits in.

Exploration and the World

This is an area where Hellpoint really shines. You’re presented with a total of 10 distinct zones (as defined by their unique loading screens), which are all interconnected in various ways. The initial flow requires you go from the initial area, the Embassy, to the Observatory, which serves as the neutral grounds/major crafting station of the game, but from this point it’s possible to branch out in several ways. Skilled players may find a way to jump immediately from the Observatory to Port Issoudun by utilising a secret passkey. Otherwise, you’re able to go to Arcology, a small zone that serves as a launching pad to two other major zones, the Ikari Walkways and the Sohn District. Only one is accessible initially; to visit the one you neglect initially requires a keycard found later on. Once either area is selected, your travel options start to open up dramatically.

As can already be seen, there are a lot of rewards for thorough exploration, including not only alternative game paths but also lots of items and unique equipment. Various secret doors exist, which, similar to Dark Souls 3, can be interacted with to open; there’s also at least two walls that can be smashed through, several that can be opened by visible yet out-of-the-way switches, and even a few hidden elevators that make a noise when you step on them.

Additionally, unique to Hellpoint is the existence of an in-game clock, visible at all times in the upper-left corner of the screen. This clock serves three unique purposes: announcing Red Hours, Eclipses, and governing the offerings of a reclusive NPC who barters various rare crafting items for the rations scattered about the station. Interestingly, used strategically, this NPC can allow one to skip significant segments of the game when going for one of the more complex endings, if the player has sufficient foreknowledge.

As for the “Red Hours”, these are signalled by the clock turning red at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions. During this time, various zone-specific things will happen, such as defeated enemies suddenly re-spawning, out-of-depth enemies appearing, or in at least one case, a unique enemy appearing. Many zones also features a unique combat scenario once per game iteration, signalled by a “fire wall” like the one usually reserved for boss arenas. Completing this scenario grants a reward, sometimes in the form of gifts that show up in your inventory directly and sometimes in the sudden spawning of said gifts on the ground.

Eclipses, on the other hand, occur at a distinct time that is relatively unique to each zone. During this time, defeating certain area bosses results in additional or altered loot and it’s possible to visit certain areas that are otherwise inaccessible, normally covered by a sandy-coloured “fire wall”. Some of these zones will open of their own accord, but many require experimenting with various configuration codes found as orange circles throughout the game world; examining them will yield a configuration name and a number associated with a given device. It is left up to players directly to record these by hand and figure out what combinations do what. The codes can be input in an area at the top of Arcology, but it isn’t accessible until you’ve accessed an offline elevator. Further complicating matters is the fact that one of the needed machines is disabled, and must be manually activated in a distant location.

It should be noted that this hassle is entirely optional, and none of the machine-guarded doors contain entirely unique items, though self-opening ones sometimes do.

Overall, exploration is a constant joy, and each zone is so riddled in secrets that I was constantly finding new things in areas I thought I knew well. This is easily the shining point of the game. The only major thing I would like to see changed here is the lack of clues regarding Eclipse doors – this seems like a massive oversight given how tedious an operation it is.

Combat, Bosses, and Death

If exploration is the meat, combat is the potatoes. You really can’t have one without the other.

Combat in this style of game is handled in real-time, focusing on fast reflexes, observation, and managing your three combat resources: health, stamina, and energy.

Health is pretty much self-explanatory – you have it or you’re dead, which then invokes mechanics I’ll discuss momentarily. Unlike some games, your performance is entirely unaffected by health, so even if you have a single sliver you’re able to continue fighting unabated. Healing is done almost exclusively via specific items. Each one you find starts with 2 charges, and the maximum can be increased per-item by expending very rare “Healing Proficiencies” at a Utility Station (which can also heal a player for a nominal fee, which includes filling all empty and available health charges). The default healing item appears to heal all health instantly, but it takes a moment to use/activate. A major alternative can be found in Ikari Walkways, the nanobots, which activate with no delay but heal over time instead. There’s also medicine to heal radiation damage (which blocks off your max HP, similar to Hollowing in Dark Souls 2), as well as two “rituals” that heal more obscure ailments and can also heal a co-op partner. In order to actually refill charges outside of the very rare Utility Machines, one has to attack enemies in melee. This will slowly power up a charge depending on the “Leech” attribute of a given weapon.

Now, as for the death mechanics, when a player dies, the results depend on whether they’re player 1 or a guest player. Player 1 will drop all loose Axions on their person at the spot of death (or nearest valid location, in the case of infinite pits), which can be recovered post-death unless the player is killed again. It will also cause the area to reload and all non-boss monsters to respawn. Most interestingly, and lastly, it will cause a green phantom of the player to wander the zone, which will attack the player on sight using the readied equipment the player had on death. This can be extremely terrifying depending on what the player was using. As for player 2, it’s a bit simpler: they leave a “soul” in a summoning circle and can be revived by Player 1 at the cost of a ritual blood-letting, which appears to cost about half of his maximum HP – Player 1 can easily die from this. Player 2 otherwise never suffers any ill effects.

Continuing on, stamina is the most important element otherwise, as it dictates everything you are able to do except, unless guard-broken, basic movement and holding up a shield. It is used up in varying amounts when running, jumping, attacking, dodging, and blocking blows, and recovers on its own when not doing any of those things. Using up too much stamina, which mainly occurs when attacking or blocking heavy blows, signalled by the meter flashing on the left side, will invoke a “stamina debt” that must be repaid by a waiting period before stamina actually begins refilling again. This stat should be bumped as often as possible, as running out of stamina is the most dangerous thing that can happen in combat.

Lastly, energy. Energy is a generic substance used for weapon arts, guns, and magical relics. Just like health, it’s recharged via melee combat, following the same mechanics. As such, it’s not possible to have an entirely “pure” ranged character, and it also means that even melee-focused tanks will want to ensure a reasonable supply, as many of the weapon arts are quite powerful and useful.

Now, having said all that, what about the actual enemies?

Your average enemies are quite numerous and take a variety of forms, ranging from zombie-like Victims to flying fish (oh no) to grotesque Shakespeare performers and even fiery demons. There’s even robots and living statues, both of which wield gigantic weapons, one of which can be looted. The enemy variety never fails to impress and gives each Zone a very distinct feel.

Bosses, on the other hand, are a bit of a mixed bag. Many of them are gigantic versions of normal enemies (or the other way around, one could argue), and the main challenge is just dealing with their exaggerated HP pools relative to their diminutive counterparts, who tend to attack in the same fashion.

The exception to this are the battles against the mysterious god-like entities that govern specific segments of the space station. There is nothing in the game like any of them, and they tend to be a good deal more interesting – especially Ozyormy Goija, the Master of Puppets, who is fought in both the freeware demo/pseudo-sequel, Hellpoint: The Thespian Feast, and the main game. This is easily the best (and most frustrating, depending on your levelling at the time) fight in the game, as he’s the most dynamic and tricky boss. He also holds the distinction of being the only one in the game with proper minions (barring an almost coincidental alignment of Preterhumans (techno-soldiers) with the Consumer in Alma Mater Atrium).

Also of note are the optional final bosses, for similar reasons – the uniqueness of the fights, and, in the case of the “best” ending, having to juggle two fairly powerful entities at once, a mechanic used otherwise only for the Arisen Congregators at the end of Sohn District. The primary of the two bosses is also notable for having multiple parts that can be systematically disabled in order to reduce its attack options.

It should also be mentioned that there are four “Archon Knights”, one of which you’ll find playing normally and the other three hidden away; these fights are exceptional not because of anything unique about the arena or strategy, but because of how unbelievably weak they are by the time you get to them, clearly being intended as early-game bosses in terms of scaling. You do, however, get some nice rewards from two of the hidden ones in particular, making it worth the effort of seeking them out.

Overall, the bosses aren’t going to really satisfy anyone looking for a true Souls-like experience on the whole, but treated as road-blocks in an action game, they do their job acceptably.

Equipment, Stats, and Levelling

Equipment in this game is reasonably diverse, and some pieces even feature direct upgrades. What makes it interesting is that not all of those upgrades are unambiguously good. For example, your bread-and-butter Officer’s Glaive is a direct and blatant upgrade to the Antiquated Officer’s Glaive, but its final form, Officer Tule’s Glaive, isn’t so black-and-white – it swaps out some of its outright damage potential (via passive weapon arts) in order to bring in a small amount of light/energy damage. This can be an effective combination against some enemies, but less useful against others.

Armour tends to be a bit less ambiguous, playing the game of trading out various ratios of weight, physical defence, and special defence. Armour is often given in sets, though there’s no mechanical bonuses for wearing one, with one partial exception: the two sets of space suit armour. This functions a bit uniquely, with both helms providing infinite oxygen while in space. However, lack of oxygen is only one problem – the space surrounding the station is also highly irradiated, and you need a full set of any combination of suit parts in order to nullify that.

Both armour and weapons tie into the stats system as well; most pieces have requirements in varying amounts for the combat stats, which encourages a diversified build to some extent; for instance, you must have at least 3 Cognition in order to use the space suits correctly, and my favourite beatin’ stick, the Ferula, is an interesting case study in that it initially has just a simple requirement of 8 Dexterity, but its upgraded occult form, the Ferula of the Prodigal Spawn, requires a whopping 8 Strength, 16 Dexterity, and 12 Foresight, along with notably more stamina per swing.

Overall, the variety and stylistic choices for both weapons and armour are interesting and often quite unique, ranging the gamut from medievalish, like the lizard-like knight armour that feels like a quiet reference to The Elder Scrolls and the accompanying sword and shield, to cultish, like the various robe-like sets or the Sacrificial Dagger, to bizarre futurism, like the outfits that resemble Pepsi Man or the mechanical-looking Heater Spear. Absolutely something for everyone, especially if you’re not too concerned with min-maxing.

I keep referring to the melee weapons, but there’s also ranged weapons that are either mechanical in nature (rifles and cannons), which rely on the Cognition stat, magical (Prophet Hands, Hedrons, and Channelers), which rely on the Foresight stat, and even a couple of hybrids that utilise both. In addition, there are also shields, which are pretty much your primary means of defence, as dodging isn’t quite as big a factor here as in other Souls-likes in general.

It’s also very important to point out that what keeps each type of weapon, melee or ranged, viable and interesting is not only that each weapon has (relatively) unique movesets, but also that each weapon has either 2 or 7 “weapon arts”, skills that are learned by using the weapon over time. Some are passive buffs, and some are unique attacks that use Energy as a fuel source. All melee weapons start with the ability to utilise a unique weapon art based on the Upgrade Chip equipped, and all weapons with 7 arts end up having a total of 3 unique attacks, counting the Upgrade Chip art in the case of melee weapons.

Upgrade Chips are the primary method of upgrading weapons; each one individually can be levelled up by expending Axions at special crafting stations, and they keep these levels even when removed from the item they’re associated with, encouraging experimentation. Each melee variant adds damage based on a relevant statistic, allowing for things like a strength-based dagger or a quality-based greatsword, alongside a special technique; for instance, Dexterity chips allow you to swing a weapon faster, while elemental chips imbue your weapon with the given element. Elemental chips are unique in that they split off damage, similar to elemental imbuing in Dark Souls; this makes some of the odd weapons with minor split damage already (e.g. Officer Tule’s Glaive) a bit more interesting. Upgrade chips also exist for ranged weapons of all varieties, though they don’t provide any techniques and are simply straight damage boosters. There are also chips for shields, though they’re slightly bugged in that the upgrade display doesn’t properly show the effect; in addition to boosting your shield’s resistance to a given element, they also boost the stability, which plays a role in determining how much stamina you lose when blocking.

Other equipment exists as well, in the form of body modules, mind modules, and Omnicube programs. Body and Mind modules are simply equippable items that provide some benefit, sometimes at a cost, and are pretty straightforward, being like rings or other such trinkets in other games. The Omnicube is a little different, being a kind of multi-tool that runs on (generally) minute amounts of energy. Its most common use is providing light or otherwise aiding in secret-finding, though some of the more obscure programs can have minor combat or entertainment value.

Now, as for the stats themselves, I’ve already outlined what they do above. What I’d like to make explicit is the viability of different build types. While it’s possible to go in many directions, players seem to be quietly pushed to diversify, as alluded to before. Moreover, it is my observation that the magical weapons are a good deal superior to the guns in the end, though Hands and Hedrons take a good bit of levelling before that’s obvious, while Channelers start out awesome and only get better. Fully-upgraded hands in particular are exceptionally useful as sniping tools and can steamroll the endgame bosses. On the other hand, the rifles start out immediately useful and quickly gain a handy grenade, but their damage potential doesn’t seem to be as good overall. There are heavy guns in the form of cannons, but while on paper they should be totally awesome, they’re nearly impossible to aim and don’t have the level of splash damage the animation suggests; it’s honestly quite a disappointment.

Stats, naturally enough, are gained by levelling; in this case, that means hoarding enough Axions to purchase a level and a corresponding stat point, and then doing so at any convenient Breach. One thing I would note is that unlike what I’ve seen in e.g. Dark Souls, HP does not seem to get increased whatsoever unless you explicitly bump the corresponding stat. The same is true of stamina and load, as well – essentially, none of the stats influence or interact with each other. It makes good enough sense, though it is a little disappointing compared to the slight yet helpful bleed-over in other games.

I am not presently aware of a level cap, though levels do require dramatically more Axions as one climbs the ranks. Thankfully, this can continue even through the New Game+ cycles, whose Axion drops are adjusted upwards to facilitate this.

In terms of game balance, it starts off very tense, making you feel very weak and vulnerable, but by mid-to-late game you’re feeling more like a warrior of destiny, and depending on when you happen to encounter certain bosses, you may end up entirely steamrolling them, notably the Archon Knights I mentioned before, and, given how tricky it is to figure out how to get there, the boss of Arcology Underside’s space segment. That one in particular is a bit of a shame, as he is clearly meant to be terrifying, but the levelling and the cramped interior work against him a lot.

Storytelling and Lore (Major Spoilers)

As with most Souls-like games (with a notable exception for Darksiders 3), storytelling is pretty minimal, and almost all of the information you glean from the world is done through item descriptions, journals, and vague mentions from NPCs.

As stated previously, the initial infodump when starting a new game essentially informs you that you are some sort of android seeking to investigate a mysterious tragedy and report your findings to the being known as “the Author”. Beyond that, you’re left to your own devices to figure out what is what.

By endgame, you’ll have found enough documentation and books to have figured out that the Author knows a lot more than he’s letting on, and that the information itself isn’t important to him, but merely the existence of the information in the first place. Knowledge is power, and the Author seeks all of it in order to become an artificial god of humanity, no matter the horrific scale of the cost.

In this case, “all” means “all”, including information from other dimensions, which makes it plain the gameplay mechanic of death, which you can manipulate at two specific points in the game to alter history, is actually canon, making you one of only a few beings capable of not only traversing multiple realities without going insane, but also able to retain all of your memories and thoughts. This also, regardless of ending, ties into the New Game+ mechanic, as well, which paints a very dreary picture after you, as the player, finally understand the truth of everything and get the truest ending.

In all, it’s truly quite haunting, knowing that you may have to fight this battle for all time, or at least until you’ve traversed enough realities to drive you beyond the brink of insanity – a fate that may have befallen the so-called Prodigal Spawn, who has turned to dark magics and rogue tactics to try and change things, though towards an unknown end.

While the above summary covers the major points related to the Author and his purpose in creating the player character, there’s a lot of other lore out there too, and several NPCs, one of which you need to help in order to even get a crack at accessing the final encounters. Overall, there’s a lot more questions then answers about pretty much everything. It honestly begs for a more meaningful sequel than that presented in the demo scenario, and manages to be fascinating to think about, especially with the developers being so silent about so much.

Bugs and Oversights (Also Some Spoilers)

While most of the game is very intricately planned out, there are some notable bugs and oversights that cannot be ignored in any honest review. The multiplayer mode in particular has several unique flaws regarding the second/guest player:

Other notable mentions that affect both single and two-player games:

The game is otherwise very workable, and it’s possible to play from start to finish with two players without too much hassle, and of course with only one as well.

As far as oversights go, there are several:

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, despite its bugs and flaws, this is game I spent over a hundred hours in this summer, replaying twice and even going partway into New Game+ just to be able to craft the new toys. I found a lot to like in it, despite being an “off-brand” title with no experience in this genre. I’m blown away with what they managed to accomplish with such a small team and budget, and very much look forward to any potential continuations.

In the meantime, however, I really do hope that they are able to revisit it long enough to correct some of the flaws, especially the inexplicable lack of multiplayer support in the GNU/Linux builds.

If I were to assign it a letter grade in the traditional A-F system, I’d give it a solid B+, with points taken out for the bugs, lack of networking support, and lack of follow-through in some of the plot elements, especially the bit with the Council.

I came here to awoo at you

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