Souls-likes are a common genre these days. Ever since FromSoftware created the perfect video game (only slightly sarcastic), it seems that everyone is scrambling to try and capture that particular piece of lightning in a bottle all over again. In most cases, these attempts fall flat. Not for want of trying, mind. Souls-likes can be pretty decent, but most suffer from simply not really being Dark Souls. Hellpoint is one of the latest games out there to try and be Dark Souls. Does it succeed? Well, no, obviously not.
Hellpoint is a Souls-like from Cradle Games and is their first game as a studio. It was also published by tinyBuild, the indie giant behind such games as Hello Neighbor and No Time to Explain. Set in a dark sci-fi universe aboard a dark sci-fi space station orbiting a black hole, you are tasked with controlling a nameless humanoid who must journey around the station and uncover the dark secret of what really went on here. Spoiler alert: It was probably not very good because everyone is dead, and occasionally evil demons will show up to try and pull your intestines out through your kneecaps.
Hellpoint Is 100% Pure Souls-like
If you’re a Souls-like veteran, then the gameplay of Hellpoint should be pretty familiar to you. You have light and heavy attacks, shields, guns, refilling healing items, and enemies that keep respawning no matter how much you try to kill them. The only issue with that last part is there doesn’t seem to be any narrative reason why it all keeps happening, at least not in a way that is immediately apparent. Unlike certain Souls-likes, however, you don’t actually get to create a character at all. Instead, when you start the game, you’re given a generic character with all stats set to 1 and have to just build your character from there.
The level design in Hellpoint is…fine. Just fine. It all takes place on the same space station, so almost everything you see is in some form of gunmetal grey with the occasional splash of other colors. It’s pretty easy to get turned around at first because you don’t have a map when you start. At least there are other player messages to show you the right way, but only after you’ve beaten the first boss though.
Enemy design is also just sort of okay, but once you’ve been playing for a little while, you’ll notice that the developers are repeating themselves a fair amount. You start out facing these weird zombies at the start of the game (totally not Hollows), and they remain a feature throughout, for the most part. There are also strange fish, these tall demons, and carbon copies of the main character. Some of these monsters have variations, but they’re almost always palette swaps with some new moves, it all feels very uninspired, especially when the game starts reusing bosses’ literal rooms after you just killed the aforementioned boss. Sort of uninspired really.
The Bosses in Hellpoint Are Just Okay
Speaking of bosses, Hellpoint is somewhat lackluster in that area too. Most of the bosses are either insanely easy or can be exploited thanks to bad programming. Case-in-point would be ‘Artillery’ (I think. He’s not memorable enough for me to be sure of his name). He’s a big, tanky lad, but his arena is split across two levels. Once you learn that you can keep him on the bottom floor and bait his dash moves so you can keep drop-attacking him, he goes down without almost any trouble. The arenas seem to have almost no thought behind them either. You come across bosses in some insanely tiny spaces for the size of the boss, and while that can work for a late-game challenge, it’s just annoying if it’s too regular.
In a Souls-likes the bosses’ arenas are just as important as the bosses themselves. Ornstein and Smough go from an intense and challenging fight to an unfun slog if you put them in a smaller arena. It just feels like Hellpoint was trying to imitate Dark Souls without understanding what it was that made the series so good in the first place.
Most of these complaints are passable, nothing that’s going to make you want to stop playing the game or anything. No, the thing that made me stop playing is the performance. Every single time I got into combat, no matter the number of enemies, the game’s frame rate would tank. In a game that requires absolute perfection in combat, that is a death sentence. I managed to scrape through most of the game, but I just got fed up lag-spiking myself into the enemies’ weird hitboxes or off the edge of cliffs.
Comparing Hellpoint to Dark Souls (Because I Can)
Whenever I talk about a Souls-like, I try my best to avoid comparing the game to Dark Souls itself too much. That’s not really a fair comparison, and the game is always going to come out on the bottom. However, in the case of Hellpoint, there are a few things that need to be addressed, specifically with how the game was changed to differentiate itself and accidentally made itself a worse game.
When you die in Hellpoint, you drop your XP, as you might expect, which you can then go and collect if you can get back to it without dying. So far, so Souls-like. The issue is that if you die by dropping off a cliff, your XP will spawn at the exact point you died rather than on the ledge you were last standing on. Probably a polish issue more than anything else.
There are also issues with the healing items. The idea of having various styles of healing items is a good one, allowing you to choose between quick healing, which costs more to recharge, or slow healing, which is much cheaper. The problem is that you only recharge your healing items by killing enemies or by dying completely. If you rest at the breaches (bonfires), you will be healed, but your items and attack energy don’t come back. Not only does this mean you have limited control over choosing to restore your healing items, but it also leaves the game open to exploitation.
Into the Breach of Hellpoint
As well as not filling your healing items, resting at a breach in Hellpoint doesn’t bring back enemies. They only respawn on a certain time limit or when you die. So, if you kill a bunch of enemies, you can run back to the breach and heal, then run back to the next enemy and keep going without using your healing items. Breaches contain a lot of issues, actually, like the fact that you need single-use consumables to turn on fast travel at every single breach you come to. Look, Hellpoint, don’t be pretentious. Either have fast travel and keep the world very spread out, or don’t have it and make it easier to get between sections, it’s not rocket science.
The worst part is that I’ve not even covered all the issues that I came across while playing the game, that’s just how many there are. I haven’t gone into the time where the entire world disappeared while I was fighting enemies, or the times I glitched through the floor or into enemies.
Overall, Hellpoint left me feeling particularly unsatisfied. While it had some good moments with the exploration, almost everything else just didn’t work properly. Frame rate dropping during combat isn’t really acceptable in a game like this. Even if the entire frame rate was capped, it would be better than having drops during a fight, it’s very disorienting. All-in-all, it just felt like a smaller, less-polished clone of Dark Souls that tried to distinguish itself in all the wrong ways. Unless you’re a complete masochist, you should probably just skip this one.
Developer: Cradle Games
Publisher: TinyBuild Games
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Release Date: 30th July 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Hellpoint was provided by the publisher.