Soulsborne games are as famous for their difficulty as they are for how brutally challenging and realistic the heavy combat and gameplay can be. Not only has a new genre been created around games which utilise certain aspects from these unforgiving titles, but gamers also love showing how ‘hardcore’ they are by completing them in various ways. The latest game in the genre which I’ve been playing is Hellpoint, a game which may not be a FromSoftware developed title but it’s as close to a ‘Soulsborne’ as you’re going to get.
Imagine a science-fiction Bloodborne and you’re bang on the money. Hellpoint is a 3rd-person Action-RPG game that has a deep focus on a combat system that is challenging but rewarding. Cradle Games have come to the fore to try their hand at making a rewarding yet painfully difficult action game to rival those that inspired it, but have they pulled it off?
You wake up as someone known only as Spawn – You can name your character whatever you want but you’ll always be known as Spawn throughout the game. You’re dropped in with basically no information and left to fend for yourself and discover your purpose. A mysterious voice known as The Author talks to you periodically and explains that you’re on Irid Nova, a space station orbiting a black hole and a cataclysmic event known as The Merge has left everything teetering on the edge of an abyss.
Much of the story will be drip-fed to you with markings around Irid Novo that you can read, via notes left behind or by data terminals that have information on them. The Author guides you around the station informing you of why you were created but I won’t spoil too much as things get a little more complicated.
What I will say is that I actually preferred the story in this game to Bloodborne (one of the few Soulsborne games I’ve played). I think it’s drip-fed in just the right amount at the right times and I never felt completely confused about what I was doing other than the very beginning of the game, as I did in BB. Sure, the plot wasn’t something I went in expecting to be great, as it’s all about the gameplay, but I was left pleasantly surprised as I progressed throughout the game.
Where it’s not as impressive is within the overall setting. While the sci-fi aesthetic is cool and a fresh take on the genre, Irid Novo was just a little too plain for my liking. There are some very pretty areas, for example, there’s a scene where you look into space and a giant whale-like creature floats past looking majestic and grand, but for the most part the station is comprised of simple narrow passages and largely empty open rooms with a bland grey coating. It’s no Yharnum for sure, but then again, gothic settings are my one of my favourites so it would take something spectacular to be on the same level in my head.
Combat works much the same as it does in Bloodborne, with weak and strong attacks tied to R1 and R2 respectively. As you defeat enemies, you earn axions which is the currency to purchase upgrades. If you die, you have to retrieve them from where you fell, so that’s all very familiar for fans of the genre. I found that an aggressive gameplay style is far more favoured as you can’t parry or block attacks completely, you will always take damage. It’s better to go in for a few attacks then roll out with your remaining stamina to dodge the return attacks from the enemies.
That’s why, despite it not being as pretty or as scary as Bloodborne, I can see fans of that game enjoying Hellpoint too. The combat is tight and very tense, one mistake can be your end, but I feel it leans just on the side of being fair and is definitely the best aspect of the game.
The enemies deal significant damage but the more you hurt them, the more your Healing Methods charge – so you can heal yourself. That’s another reason why it favours being a more offensive player. Combat is methodical and precise and I found it to be incredibly rewarding for the most part. There are various weapons and armour pieces you can find throughout Irid Novo, or parts that you can use to build better ones if you find the blueprints for them. It’s just as deep as BB, if not more.
There are also various items you can discover and use that can help in different situations. For example, there are ‘Omnicubes’ you can use that provide various different benefits and functions. My personal favourite being a little torch you can have above your head for those dark corners where enemies are always lurking.
Of course, we can’t talk about combat in an action RPG without talking about the bosses in a bit more detail. The boss designs in Hellpoint range from fantastic to utterly frustrating. They’re all very varied in both how they look and in the type of attacks they perform – I enjoyed simply finding them and looking at their different forms to figure out the best methods to beat them. Where they become frustrating is when the perform certain attacks that inflict various effects on you.
For example, an early boss, known as the ‘Celestial Beast’, has an attack that stuns you – this would be absolutely fine if it didn’t then continue to stun you repeatedly so you physically can’t do anything until it eventually kills you. This boss took me much longer than many of the others since that single attack rendered me holding the controller completely pointless. I eventually decided to backtrack and grind until my character was over levelled just so I had a fighting chance against them. Frustration aside, the actual designs are really cool and on par in terms of variety with the more AAA games for sure.
There is actually a full co-op mode in the game to help you progress through the toughest sections of the game. Make a second character and you are able to have a player grab a controller and join you through the full game in either local split-screen mode or online. Or, if you’re feeling frustrated at dying over and over again, you can battle each other to the death, once again in either a local split-screen or online PvP mode.
These are both great modes which I’m glad the developers included as they add a layer of replayability and variety to the game which we rarely see within this genre. I personally haven’t tried them out much, only briefly trying co-op so far, but it’s a feature I will definitely use when helping my friends through the game.
The most unique parts of the game come from the accretion storms and Black Hole hours. These storms are, as far as I’m aware, a new addition to the genre that I found to be really interesting if a little terrifying. At specific times in the game world, these events trigger and have different effects on the world. For example, when the station is at its closest point to the black holes, accretion storms happen (twice per orbit) and spawn a hellpoint where a horde of enemies will pour out of. Clear these tough and numerous enemies out and you can earn some great rewards like materials and better armour.
Black Hole hours happen once per in-game day and last around 10 minutes, they’re occurrences that create areas that you have to defeat whilst locked into a room. These are particularly tough but well worth it if you’re up to the challenge. These features are really cool and should be used by future games in the genre to expand on the experience and add some variety to the standard Soulsborne format. I found these refreshing as when you’re sometimes stuck in an area, fighting the same enemies, it’s good to experiencing something new.
While the combat is focused and impressive, the navigation around the game is sadly not as well thought out. Whereas there are secrets to uncover around the world, encouraging you to explore and find better equipment and weapons, the game makes platforming so awkward and fiddly that you get put off from doing so. The jumping is especially very clunky, making trying to land on narrow platforms an absolute pain in the ass.
If the game had no fall damage it wouldn’t be as much of a problem, but knowing where a secret is and dying repeatedly trying to reach it is demoralising and frustrating – Especially when you have to restart the entire area just to even reach that same platforming section. The jumping works when it wants to, not all the time, and the slightest stick movement can send you completely in the wrong direction.
Then there are parts where you attach to rails to climb walls. These things are awful when you’re having to jump off them to a platform and have been genuinely the cause of more deaths than the combat has in my playthrough.
Hellpoint is far from a bad game. In fact, it more than holds its own in the genre and gripped me a lot better than Demon’s Souls (PS3) did when I started playing that. It does the important parts extremely well and despite not being as pretty or as popular as other games out there, it’s a really solid entry. The platforming required adds unnecessary difficulty but the combat, the co-op, story and bosses are all brilliantly implimented. The story is slowly drip-fed, making it not the easiest to follow, but there’s enough there for you to eventually make sense of it – more so than Bloodborne, in my experience anyway. The addition of the timed features in the game is an interesting addition to the genre and one that I think should be used more in the future.
If you’re a fan of ‘Soulsborne’ games, or indeed action-RPG games in general, then definitely give this a try. Just, of course, expect to die a lot so bring a friend along if you can and use the hints that people leave behind because they help a lot, especially when it comes to warnings of being ambushed! Does Hellpoint take the crown off the other games in the genre? Not quite. But, as a first attempt, this is an absolutely brilliant experience from Cradle Games and I wouldn’t ignore this game just because it’s not made by FromSoftware.
Last week tinyBuild and Cradle Games announced the PlayStation 5 and Series S|X edition of Hellpoint. It’s going to launch in 2021 and will support higher resolutions, higher framerates, faster loading times and a choice of two gameplay styles – Dynamic 4k @ 60fps or Native 4k @ 30fps (on the PS5 and Xbox Series X, not S). This next-gen version of the game will be FREE to everyone who owns the PS4 or Xbox One version of the game – which is a nice bonus.
Also, just so you don’t have to wait until the enhanced version arrives, Hellpoint on current-gen consoles is getting an ‘unlocked framerate’ mode so that you can take advantage of the extra power in Backwards Compatability and obtain a higher and more stable framerate once both new consoles launch.
Additionally, the Switch version of Hellpoint is coming later this year (as far as I can see) and you can pick up the physical edition on Switch and PS4 (in standard or limited edition ‘Signature’ format) from Merge Games HERE. However, the physical releases have an estimated ship date of the 29th January 2021. The Signature Edition contains the game, two pins (badges), a certificate, an art book, and the full soundtrack.