Those hordes of Hell are at it again, spewing forth onto the surface of Earth. You can’t leave them alone for five minutes.
They are invading as zombies and, confusingly, SWAT teams, in HellGunner, this budget twin-stick shooter from Ratalaika. Your job, as a one-man army, is to take them down so that you can reach an extraction point.
As twin-stick shooters go, it’s incredibly simple. Movement is on the left-stick, and aiming is on the right, with firing pulled off on RT. So far, so 90% of twin-stick shooters. There’s no dodge, grenade or even different guns: it’s straight down the middle.
What is there is decent. The enemies die with a single shot, more or less, so there’s a satisfying pop as each one falls. Movement is fast – faster than the enemies, so you can always react, kite them or run away, should you feel the need. But the zombies won’t give up on you, so there’s no running to the end of the level without generating a bit of a swarm.
A fat red arrow unmistakably points to the next supply drop, which forms your sequence of waypoints in a level before extraction. But there’s reward if you come off the path, as health crates are tucked in corners. It’s a nice compromise between linearity and openness.
Where it falls down is that HellGunner is extremely poor at communicating where you can go and where you can’t. A small gap between trees might freely allow you to pass, while a wide, open field might – for reasons that aren’t explained – block you completely. Too often, HellGunner is a guessing game of dead-ends.
An option to play cooperatively is a welcome addition. You’re stuck to the same screen so some of that HellGunner freedom gets lost, but generally it adds something to the experience. Plus you get to share the price of the game between you, which is nice.
This might all seem too vanilla, even for a £4.99 Ratalaika game, so it’s chuffing to find that variety is introduced via the levels and objectives. There are twenty levels here, split into five worlds of four levels each. The first level per world is invariably a spot of supply crate chasing, but other levels have more fun. There’s some horde mode survival, as you hold a single point against zombies. There’s an escort mission, which doesn’t appear again, probably because escort missions are tosh. And there’s a vehicle mission, as you gun down enemies from the back of a train.
But the game-changers are the bosses, popping up at the end of each world. There are trains, giant zombies and mirror-images of you, all offering their own challenges. You could argue that they are all variants of the same ‘strafe in a circle’ tactics, but they add some needed spice to a meal that threatens to get bland without them.
At risk of damning HellGunner with faint praise, we quite liked it. There’s a refreshing lack of infuriation here, outside of the odd bit of map blocking. Even on harder difficulties (there are three here, and we breezed through on Normal with only one death on the final ‘epilogue’ boss), we sprinted through the campaign in about an hour. But that hour was tense, and HellGunner does a fine job of making you feel a bit of a gun-toting Schwarzenegger. The world relies on you, and they’ve chosen the right guy. You can mow down hundreds with a flick of your analogue sticks.
If you’re in the mood for some twin-sticking and have £4.99 burning a hole in your camo trousers, then HellGunners will do a dumb job. It’s got no depth and would have been repetitious if it lasted any longer than an hour. But we had a stupid grin on our face for most of it, and we believe that’s a recommendation.
You can buy HellGunner from the Xbox Store