Hellpoint review: Inspired, but full of wasted potential
This is a game that gets in its own way.
A few months ago, I had the chance to check out a preview for Hellpoint, a game that took obvious inspirations from Dead Space and Dark Souls. I came away mostly optimistic since I love the Souls-like genre, sci-fi horror, and indie games.
I even went so far as to say, "it might end up being one of the better titles in this sub-genre." I stand by my assessment at the time; however, I would like to retract that statement as a whole. As fate would have it, I was proven wrong — Hellpoint is not one of the better examples of an excellent Souls-like, and it saddens me to say so.
What happened? The short of it is that I excused a lot of issues due to playing an earlier build of the game. I expected things to be smoothed out, for exploration to be more rewarding, and for combat to have more weight to it. That didn't happen, not really, and while I know some behind-the-scenes changes were made, the build I played contained more bugs this time around than before.
Bottom line: Hellpoint is a sci-fi horror Souls-like, and while the concept of Dark Souls meets Dead Space sounds cool, it definitely doesn't live up to expectations. Not only is there plenty of lost and wasted potential, but the game itself doesn't feel ready for launch. There are plenty of bugs, glitches, and what seems to be cut content. Overall, I think Hellpoint could have used more time in development, because at its core, it has plenty of promise.
- Great atmosphere
- Interesting setting
- Healing system options
- Combat and movement feel weightless
- Plenty of bugs
- Meh bosses
- Exploration isn't well-rewarded
- Challenge is mediocre
What I liked about Hellpoint
Before we get started, I played this on both Windows 10 and Manjaro Linux with the latest Nvidia drivers for my 2080 Ti. All told, with my Ryzen 1700X and 32GB of DDR4 RAM, my system had no trouble with Hellpoint at 1440p, even on Linux. This game can run on very old or very low-powered rigs.
|CPU||4 threads, 2.5GHz+||4 cores, 3GHz+|
|GPU||Nvidia GTX 760||Nvidia GTX 1050|
Hellpoint has a great atmosphere. It's dark, it's foreboding, and it really makes you feel the weight and gravitas of what's going on in the game's world. The gist is this: humans built a space station called Irid Novo that orbits a black hole, but they played with forces they didn't quite understand. From the depths came the Cosmic Gods and their devilish minions, who ended up slaughtering the humans aboard. You are a Spawn, created by the mysterious Author to gather information for him to understand what's going on.
Much like the original Dead Space, you'll be exploring cramped corridors and ruined open areas, all while trying to survive the horrors within both. Though not quite as gruesome as the necromorphs, Irid Novo is littered with corpses and shambling humanoids. There are also cosmic beings who stand in your way, from strange canine/feline beasts to floating fish. Everything on Irid Novo is out to kill you, including time itself.
Twice in its orbit, Irid Novo will cross into what Hellpoint calls accretion storms. These storms change the world in different ways, like spawning hordes that weren't there before, opening up new pathways that were previously locked, and strengthing the foes before you. There's a dial in the top left of your HUD that shows you where in its orbit the space station is so that you can plan or check back through areas you've already cleared for something hidden.
As is typical with Souls-likes, you have more than just challenging enemies to fight. You need to manage your Stamina, your Energy, and your limited healing options. Bonfires in this game are called Breaches, tears in the fabric of space-time, and souls are known as Axions.
Overall, I like the concept of Dead Space meets Dark Souls. Though I didn't find the horror elements to be particularly strong, the setting still nonetheless evoked a primal fear in me. I had the hairs on my arms raise a time or two during my playtime. Oh, and there's co-op and PvP multiplayer, too.
What I didn't like about Hellpoint
Hellpoint seems like it could have used more time in development and playtesting. It feels overall rushed. There are bugs everywhere, to the point where I had to quit several times due to frustration. Cheap deaths were plenty. Also, some assets failed to render, which gave some things a blocky, ugly look, and camera glitches caused innumerable problems with exploration and combat. Even worse, enemies randomly appeared in the middle of attack animations, which were often impossible to dodge or block, and far more than once did I find myself falling through the floor or very high in the air, both of which caused severe fall damage or death.
I thought long and hard about my three or so hours with Hellpoint back in February, and I don't honestly remember any of this happening. Not once did I have a cheap death, or fall through the floor or fly in the air, or have trouble with enemies phasing into existence. I listed a few things that needed fixing back then, and it's like the developers went backward. Bosses didn't get harder (even if the Artillery now has somewhat of a rear defense), and exploration didn't get much more rewarding.
The reason I love Souls-likes is that I love to push myself. I dig the challenge, seeing how far I can go. A good Souls-like does all of this while giving a little reprieve to let you relax a bit before everything spins up again. Hellpoint throws a lot of bosses at you in quick succession, often with long runbacks if you happen to die (and you probably will). Some bosses are pushovers; others will kill you in a single hit — or break your guard then kill you in a single hit.
That brings me to the guard break mechanic. Like in Dark Souls, if you're blocking and you run out of stamina, you'll get stun-locked into a guard break animation. This is meant to punish you for turtling up and instead force you to be a bit more aggressive. Hellpoint borrows this, but whereas the animation lasts just a bit in Souls, it lasts noticeable seconds here. Couple that with a very sharp delay in stamina regeneration, and you'll die a lot while your Spawn just sits there recoiling.
Exploration is honestly a joke. There are vast zones with plenty of nooks, crannies, and ladders. Some lead to treasure, and while I did find some great goodies, I mostly came away profoundly disappointed about my wasted time. Either the reward was unrewarding, or there just wasn't anything there. It's like a bunch of planned content was cut or something, further leading me to assume Hellpoint wasn't ready for launch.
Some bosses are well-done. For example, despite being very easy, the first boss has some good design. Yeah, the attacks hurt since you have no armor, and they cause a freeze build-up, but if you stay in close to the boss, you'll avoid most of the attacks. And if your freeze build-up gets too high, there are heat vents in the boss room for you to warm up. It's neat, and I liked this boss. But that ultimately ended up being fewer and further between than I would have liked, and most of the bosses were just forgettable. What I do remember is that many of them that you face will end up as regular enemies not long after.
Should you buy Hellpoint?
I think in its current state and price, Hellpoint is not worth a purchase. If and when it goes on sale, and you're looking for a new Souls-like, then sure, go right ahead. For now, however, I wouldn't recommend it. I find that hard to say since it's obvious that the team at Cradle Games worked hard, but this game just isn't ready for release. Like I said earlier, it feels unfinished.
There's a lot of potential with Hellpoint, and most of it feels lost. For example, the accretion storms are cool, but I barely ever noticed them. I ran across a few enemies, sure, but I could just wait out the storm and go about my merry way. Perhaps if there were something you had to do, some mini-boss to kill to move the storm forward, it would have worked out better. And there's a lot of lost promise with the parallel universes thing.
In the end, Hellpoint is slightly above average, mostly because it is undoubtedly inspired and has many good concepts. However, it ultimately fails to live up to the expectations laid out for us and to push the Souls-like genre forward. It certainly could have, given its unique setting and premise. Unfortunately, it feels derivative, and while it has shining moments that show what the developers are capable of, I don't think it was ready to come out yet.
Hellpoint is available on July 30, 2020, for PC, Xbox One, and PS4. A planned Nintendo Switch release has been delayed.
Inspired, but not quite up to expectations
Hellpoint is a sci-fi horror Souls-like brimming with promise and potential. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite live up to either due to bugs and core design decisions that kill a lot of the fun and challenge.
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Jordan is a long-time gamer and PC hardware enthusiast. From the mid-90s on, he has constantly tinkered with computers and played every game he could get his hands on. Coming from a varied background, he found his passion in writing about Android in 2016, which also launched his writing career not long after. Now, Jordan is an avid gamer who just loves sitting down with tea or a glass of cold water to play whatever game has his attention (or he's reviewing), and he's lucky enough to make a living out of doing so. You can find him on Twitter if you want to chat: @jccpalmer.