There’s a famous line in Philippine cinema from the movie Bituing Walang Ningning. In it, actress Cherie Gil berates Sharon Cuneta by stating, “You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying hard copycat!” That film came out in 1985 and, 35 years later, I can’t help but think that the Dark Souls series would say the same thing about Hellpoint, a sci-fi action title from developer Cradle Games.
Hellpoint: The story so far
Hellpoint begins with a short overview of the Irid Novo, a massive space station that orbits a black hole. Your character, a generic “spawn,” is awakened from slumber and you need to find a means of escape.
As you continue to progress, however, you’ll realize that the Irid Novo has been overrun by zombie-like creatures, malformed humanoids, sentient knight armors, floating specters, chimera-like beasts, demons spawning from rifts, gargantuan bosses, and more. You’re essentially now trapped in a space station that’s opened a gateway to, you guessed it, hell. The remainder of the story is told in a cryptic and confusing manner, often by way of random messages and logs scattered throughout various locations. It’s akin to the Souls games with that “show, don’t tell” mantra.
I happen to think of Hellpoint‘s plot as somewhat similar to Event Horizon‘s while your character looks like the guy from Hellraiser. Of course, I do find those movies infinitely more enjoyable than this.
It’s easy to think of Hellpoint as “Dark Souls in space.” True enough, the game borrows from Souls‘ HUD elements in terms of health or stamina bars, as well as that dose of brutal, melee-focused combat. Regrettably, the action in Hellpoint is what Dark Souls would be if the latter remained sluggish and bland. For starters, you’ve got your usual array of light and heavy attacks, a block, a dodge, and a stamina bar that governs all of that. Next, there are dash and jump attacks to give you more options.
The downside is that combat in Hellpoint, all too often, feels clunky and cumbersome, and your character’s movement and animations don’t do it any favors. Do you want to chain a combo, but also block immediately when needed? Nope, you’ve gotta wait for that slow-as-a-turtle animation to finish. Would you like to lock on an enemy so you can focus easily on your attacks? Sure, but be prepared for wonky moments when your camera starts jiggling in odd angles, or, worse, when the game can’t decide whether it’ll auto-lock on the next enemy or force you to do it manually.
On the flip side, Hellpoint does offer some epic boss fights much like what other Souls-like games attempt to do. What did strike me as odd as I continued to progress was how bosses ended up with “regular mob” copycats (“being a copycat” is indeed a recurring theme). A couple of bosses from the initial areas, later on, had regular-sized variants that populated multiple rooms (and they were still deadly). Conversely, some opponents I faced in earlier levels wound up having giant-sized boss versions too. The concept unintentionally diluted the bestiary since it’s as though you’re fighting the same mobs over and over.
Loot and leveling
Hellpoint additionally promises to offer alternative means of eliminating your foes through its itemization and leveling systems (by using axions or currency/XP). Axions you obtain from enemies you kill will be lost when you die, but you can pick them up if you return to that location. Alternatively, axions can be “banked” if obtained as regular loot (ie press X to pick up the item). These axions will then be placed in a breach portal that acts as a teleporter and save point.
As mentioned, axions are used to level up your stats such as health, stamina, energy, loot/encumbrance, and four other factors that determine gear requirements and customization. Sadly, Hellpoint falls flat in this regard since certain weapons or armor (some of which would remind you of stuff from Warframe) will require a stat value that can’t be reached unless you focus predominantly on that stat. For example, if you go pure-STR at the beginning, then you’re likely to just focus on STR-based weaponry to boost that damage. There are even occasions when the game drops loot early on, yet you won’t be able to equip them without getting penalized due to stat requirements.
If you want, you could be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. Maybe you want to see what the special attacks of different weapons are like or you want to upgrade various gear. Heck, maybe you’re keen on fighting with ranged items/firearms (which require energy that’s regenerated by melee attacks). In my case, I just focused on melee with an STR-based weapon and a shield, since the penalties for other gear pieces were a bit restrictive.
Hellpoint‘s jumping puzzles: Yay or nay?
If there’s one thing that could set Hellpoint apart from other Souls-like titles, it’s the emphasis on verticality and platforming to reach new areas or discover secret passageways and loot. Unfortunately, Hellpoint‘s platforming leaves a lot to be desired.
Remember those classic 8-bit or 16-bit platformers? You know, the ones that let you control your character mid-air after jumping? Imagine an action platformer in 2020 that doesn’t let you do that, and you’ve got Hellpoint. I’ve actually died more often to jumping puzzles than actual combat, including boss fights (which were easy enough). Platforming is the real challenge here, because you can’t control your character mid-air and the controls can sometimes be unresponsive. I would tend to unequip all my weapons and armor (and unequipping everything can’t be hotkeyed) just to ensure that I could sprint faster and jump further.
Speaking of sprinting and more jumping, there were cases when my character got “sprint-locked”—sprinting was delayed for a couple of seconds after changing directions—so, rather than doing a long jump, it became “hop, drop, and die.” Likewise, there were times when, rather than jumping on a platform, I just “slid” down, letting the momentum carry me since jumping was so unreliable. When you add platforming mechanics in your game and “sliding down” sounds like a better idea than “jumping off,” you know that’s bad design.
In space, no one can hear you go: “what?“
Let’s say that you died due to random factors or incidents. You’ll then return to the last breach/save point that you interacted with. Now, those breaches can be used as teleporters or fast-travel points, but this is only possible for those you’ve used “synchronizers” on. If you’re out of synchronizers, then, best of luck to you, since you’ll be doing some backtracking.
The thing is, backtracking in Souls-like games or Metroidvanias is common enough. There’s a sense of wonderment when you reach familiar areas and unlock new passages or shortcuts (kind of like how you discovered secrets in classic FPS titles like Doom or Quake). Hellpoint has these moments too, but they’re bogged down by the aforementioned clunky combat and hilariously bad platforming mechanics.
These flaws are compounded by actual level layouts and structuring. While stages are huge, interconnected, and intricately designed, you’ll realize that you’re seeing samey-looking corridors and samey-looking hallways with no map to guide you. Even one of the game’s tools, an Omnicube that spawns a floating map, isn’t too helpful since it only shows your last location.
The lost and the damned
There were more moments that made me scratch my head. For example, I encountered an NPC who told me to “sit down with him by the fire.” I was notified that I got the “sit” emote, but it never appeared in my emotes list so I couldn’t sit next to the guy. Later, I found out that this character appears in other areas with “spirit flames.” Unfortunately, I’ve never seen him appear again. I can’t help but think it’s because I didn’t have the means to follow his instructions.
Meanwhile, another area has a “Ring Elevator” that requires the “underground generator” to be powered. I reached an underground area with a weird glyph (and something that looked like a generator before that), but nothing happened. Moments later, I spotted an NPC who told me to make a Mass A.I. Patch Conductor which required a specific material. The game never told me where that is, and I’ve looked everywhere to boot.
While “searching for stuff” is a given task in other titles or genres, at least those activities have positives to keep you preoccupied. This game barely has any positives I can think of owing to that “let’s be cryptic” and “show, don’t tell” principle.
Confusion takes its toll
Warning: This section may contain spoilers. Scroll further down to “The final verdict” if you wish to avoid them.
Eventually (in an entirely different area), I was able to converse with some strange alien dudes. Likewise, I found a doorway that let me enter the “underworld,” sort of like a “shadow form/mirror mode.” Then, I fought a boss that was probably not scripted properly. The entity just fired one orb and sat there, allowing me to kill it with ease.
My completion rating suddenly jumped to 90% and the game told me I was close to getting home. I also realized that I could use the breach teleporter to go to other areas while in “underworld form.” It’s just too bad, because I don’t think there was anything left to find. Some regular areas were even closed off and exiting to a new zone completely removed that effect. I’ve genuinely no idea what’s supposed to happen knowing that the previous boss just sat there without doing anything. This “mirror mode” isn’t giving me any clear ideas either.
I played a bit more in the “normal world” finding a few “secret inscriptions” on walls and some randomly scattered loot until I reached 100%. This allowed me to reach a new zone called the High Ateliers. It was there that I eventually battled a different boss. After killing it, it spawned a portal that my character went through followed by a “Thank you for playing” message and the end credits.
Then, the opening cutscene played and I was back in Hellpoint‘s first area. There, a mysterious character goaded me into journeying all over the Irid Novo once more. It’s sort of like a “New Game+ mode” since I carried over my gear and even got 50,000 axions. Then, I thought to myself if I wanted to redo the entire thing and I decided not to. Yes, this game’s final area and New Game+ mode are locked behind the notion that players will try to get 100% data completion.
Hellpoint review: The final verdict
Hellpoint truly is one confounding product. On the one hand, it tries to emulate concepts that made the Souls series (and other action games) very popular. On the other, Cradle Games tried to incorporate their own ideas that not only didn’t mesh well, but they also led to a flabbergasting and frustrating amalgamation of questionable decisions and mechanics. The cryptic information and threadbare narrative are just icings on the sour cake.
As mentioned earlier, Hellpoint is a second-rate, trying hard copycat. Similarly, it feels like a living, breathing example of the famous internet meme where someone asks if they could buy X thing, only for the mother to reply with, “We already have X at home.” Hellpoint is that thing you have at home. Come to think of it, it’s something you don’t want at home or in your game library for that matter.