I love Dark Souls. I’m rubbish at it, but I still weirdly love it. It’s like it subscribes to that old adage “Treat ’em mean and keep ’em keen” – It doesn’t matter how many times I die, or how many souls I lose because I get cocky with a boss, I still keep coming back. What this meandering introduction is leading up to is a new entry in the Souls-like genre, namely Hellpoint by Cradle Games. So, does transporting the Souls action to the future make sense, or does it end up as another also-ran? Join me and my Spawn as we explore the Dark Future!
The story of Hellpoint is largely unknown at the start, as is traditional in these games. We are called a Spawn, and it transpires that we are human, but have been created for a specific purpose, and it’s not to put our feet up and have a Pina Colada. The story is drip fed in, as we interact with some characters or find documents that give us the background to what has happened and where we are. I’m going to avoid spoilers as far as possible (mainly because I’m still not 100% sure what’s going on) but it’s not a spoiler to tell you about where we are. We are aboard the Irid Novo, a space station that was built jointly between the Human race, and an alien race called the Arisen. Obviously, it appears that not all was as it seems, and as we enter the station there are monsters everywhere, the station looks like it’s in a state of disrepair, and there are ominous shadows and sounds all over. So far, so creepy, and it makes me miss Lordran.
One big and immediate difference between this game and its source material is the presence of multiplayer, either online or as couch co-op via split-screen. As you can imagine, having two Spawn smacking a boss with swords is a lot better than having one person trying to bring the hurt. I tested this mode with a colleague and we were smashing everything in our way until we reached a boss, a giant dog-type thing with tentacles. It was here that some difficulties with the netcode reared their ugly heads, as my partner reported having difficulty seeing the boss’ attacks; on his screen it appeared still, while on mine it was going mental. We did attempt to try it the other way round, with me joining his game, but at that point the game refused to connect us, so while its a great idea Hellpoint does need troubleshooting and polishing. Couch co-op does work a lot better, but getting used to playing a Souls-type game on half a screen is a steep learning curve. In a plus point for this game mode however, loot is shared, and if one person picks something up the other person gets it as well. And that is pretty groovy and stops all the arguing, doesn’t it?
So, we begin with only harsh language in our inventory, and as we begin to explore, very tentatively in my case, we start to find weapons and shields, and so can start to feel a little more confident. It would be a mistake to relax completely however, as the monsters here are quite capable of kicking seven bells out of our poor innocent Spawn, and so care has to be taken. This is not news to anyone who’s ever played a Souls game, and to be honest there isn’t much in the way of innovation on the fighting front. Hard attacks, quick attacks and dodging all take stamina, as you’d expect, and running out of stamina is usually a death sentence. You can block if you have a shield equipped, but there doesn’t seem to be a parry function – at least I’ve not found it if there is one – so it’s usually a case of tanking a hit before pressing your own attack.
As is usual in these games, killing baddies grants you currency, in this case Axioms, that can be spent at the “bonfires” of Hellpoint – Rifts. In a nice break from tradition, revisiting a Rift doesn’t repopulate the world with all the enemies you’ve killed, but at the same time what the game gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. The version of the Estus Flask here has a set number of healing charges (there are machines that claim to allow you to increase this number of charges, but I’m buggered if I can make them work), and to refill these charges you have to deal melee damage to enemies. So, if you are at low health and have no healing left, you have two choices: backtrack to a Rift, which refills your health and the enemies stay dead, or keep fighting in the hope that you’ll refill a charge before you are overwhelmed. I have to say, discretion is often the better part of valour for me, and I’ll go scuttling back to a Rift if an enemy looks at me cross-eyed. If you do die, and you will, let me assure you, you drop your Axioms and respawn with all the enemies back, and your maximum number of healing charges refilled.
Another new feature here in Hellpoint is the kind of clock looking thing in the top left of the screen. This represents the Irid Novo’s position as it orbits the black hole it is parked at, and as it orbits, various things happen, none of which are good. When the “hands” of the clock are at the 12 noon position, all the enemies receive a buff, making them much harder to take down. This includes bosses, and could well be the difference between success and failure. As proof of this, when testing out the multiplayer side we tried to beat a boss when it was buffed, and it didn’t go well. When the buff had gone, it went down easily, so although the tougher fights promise better rewards, it may be a little tricky to win them.
The other thing to watch out for is when the hands are about 3:45, or horizontal from side to side. This causes Hordes to appear on the station, and they are walled off behind a fog gate (orange in this game) like a boss, but usually in a corridor you have to go down. Entering these gates causes monsters to spawn from thin air – usually lots of little ones and then a big demon looking thing at the end – if you kill them all you end with a lovely chunk of Axioms for your trouble. Again, doing these trials solo is quite a challenge.
Graphically, Hellpoint is pretty good. The enemies are well-designed, and the bosses especially so, and with the variety of different weapons and armour you can find and equip no two Spawns should look the same. The camera is slightly dim-witted sadly, especially in confined quarters, which is usually when you need it to work its very best. Fighting a boss with the camera stuck in a wall is never good, and the “Our Preying Hostess” battle is a case in point, as while you are fighting in a library, not only can her attacks go through seemingly solid bookshelves, the camera seems to go weird and have a strange kind of “fish eye” effect on it, making it very hard to judge distances. Other than that, the graphics are atmospheric and creepy, and this is helped tremendously by the ambient noises and growl from unseen monsters.
In conclusion, Hellpoint on Xbox One has a lot of good points; certainly enough to recommend it. It’s dark, creepy and brutal – all the things you want from a Souls-type game. On the other hand, a seeming lack of polish does spoil the party somewhat, with camera issues killing me more often than the creatures, and a strange kind of weightlessness to the attacks present. You know how in Souls, when an enemy hits you, you know it? In Hellpoint, quite often the only way I knew I had been tagged was watching the health bar decrease. Still, it’s nothing you can’t adapt to, and if you persevere and play the game on its level, it is very enjoyable indeed. With a friend, it’s great fun, but a warning: only the host unlocks achievements it seems, so be prepared to return the favour if a mate helps you kill a boss.