After all these years, a Souls equivalent with a science fiction setting that isn’t unimaginative like The Surge has arrived. Granted, it’s not a “hard” science fiction setting — the scientific elements are overlaid with a quasi-mystical occult theme, resembling stuff like Tsutomu Nihei’s Blame! or E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy perhaps. Nonetheless, it’s this juxtaposition of themes that makes Hellpoint (2020) work as a non-medieval variant of the Souls games better than The Surge does, both in combat and exploration. And it even has co-op, both online and splitscreen. What more could we ask for?
What we could ask for is a game that isn’t so tedious and mediocre. Yes, even with the setting, Hellpoint ends up being another pale derivative of the Souls games that one could easily skip without missing out on anything.
Much like other derivatives (such as the aforementioned The Surge, or Lords of the Fallen, or the second-rate Dark Souls II), Hellpoint does level, environmental, and enemy design worse than its predecessors. Everything is second-rate in comparison to what Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls has to offer. I’m not sure if the map is as disjointed and nonsensical as Dark Souls II’s at an abstract level, but the environments certainly feel just as loosely and sloppily cobbled together during minute-to-minute activity. It possesses a unique theme and aesthetic, but there aren’t really any picturesque or memorable areas in the game. Locations mostly consist of drab, geometric corridors and bridges, and while they are distinct in design, there is nothing visually stunning about any of them. Enemies, meanwhile, are dull and easy to handle, offering no combat challenges we didn’t already see in the Souls games. In sum, Hellpoint essentially offers the same core experience as any Souls game, but in a diluted and uglier form, and it fails to utilize its unique theme to bring something new to the table.
The story is also subdued, just like in the Souls games, so progression is tied entirely to where you are, what bosses you’ve overcome, and what equipment you currently have. When everything in the game causes your eyes to glaze over, and progression is strongly tied to what you see, the result is a rather mediocre and forgettable experience. There are also many repeats of item pickups, which is strange — it seems like for every two routes available, there is a copy of the same sets of items along each route, so if you do any backtracking (which you will, because you will easily get lost in all the bland, samey corridors), you will come across many items more than once. The whole thing feels kind of like a messy dream, similarly to how The Evil Within feels, which I also found to be a boring experience.
And then there’s the co-op. Hellpoint has a splitscreen feature, which was the feature that caught my interest and prompted me to play the game in the first place. There is a distinct lack of true co-op in any of these Souls-inspired exploration-heavy action games, and in those games themselves (inviting players via summons is a very limited system which doesn’t exactly count). Sadly, I discovered that the game is not balanced well for co-op, despite the developers emphasizing the feature, because all of the boss fights became trivialized as a result — the exact same effect which happens when you invite players via summons in the Souls games. One would think that because we have these games already, the developers would already know about this problem and would seek out ways to remedy the issue, but unfortunately not. It was especially easy to aggro bosses in co-op, which made even the biggest bosses a massive disappointment to me. So, while I definitely appreciate the effort to include a true co-op feature in this type of game, it was not implemented well and did not maintain my interest for long.
That said, it’s not all bad. The exploration is decent, with many hidden passages and secrets to uncover in the environment. Some secrets are rather elaborate and compete with even the best in the Souls games. If you die repeatedly in an area, new enemies and events will start to appear, breaking up the monotony of the experience. There are also “ominous monoliths” throughout the game, which clearly resemble the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, serving as a gateway to an alternate dimension where everything is mirrored and sometimes critical items are hidden away in. Like the Souls games, you can salvage what you find for resources in crafting. There are also several NPCs in the game with some peculiar side stories to follow which add to the enjoyment of exploring and reaching new locations.
The experience is a lot like Blame! in some ways. The entire world that was crafted for this game is surreal, time-bending, and a perfect blend of science fiction and occult fantasy. It ties together many different ideas in science fiction, albeit in a paltry fashion, but which nonetheless help create a sense of the mystical. The labyrinthian cyberpunk world design makes venturing deeper in a rather creepy and hypnotic experience, and the backdrop of an unintelligible quantum realm allows the developers to create any mechanics or entities they want, even if they don’t make sense (which isn’t necessarily a good design principle for action, but is a good principle for exploration). There is also an emphasis on both transhumanism and primitivism, and an attempt to blur the two. However, the environments are simply not as well-made or exotic as those in Blame!, and this lack of visual spectacle makes the rather tedious combat difficult to bear.
What I also find a little bothering, and it could just be me, is some of the terminology used in the game. There are “ghosts,” which are replications of the first player that appear upon death and hunt players down after respawn. There are enemies like “Lava Daemon” and “Celestial Beast” and “Uthos the Ashen Born.” There is an NPC named “Blacksmith.” There are weapons like “Glaive” and “Saber.” There are armors like “Warrior Set” and “Depraved Set.” There are items like “Effigy” and “Ingot.” While these words aren’t, on an individual basis, totally out of place in the setting, and science fiction is no stranger to using out of place terminology anyway, all these words clearly bring the Souls games to mind, and that isn’t an effect I really want when trying to immerse myself in a very different setting and theme than those games offer. Mechanics like the ghost or the wall of light that surrounds gateways to bosses also bring the Souls games to mind in a way I would prefer it not to. These seem like unthematic holdovers to me, which only further push the game into mediocrity.
Overall, I can’t recommend Hellpoint. What the game lacks above all else is boldness of character and mechanical ingenuity, and it shows. If you’re looking for a co-op experience that remotely resembles the Souls games, I would first recommend checking out Remnant: From the Ashes. While that game emphasizes action more than exploration, it’s a mechanically stronger and far less tedious game that will give you a similar kind of co-op enjoyment.
Hellpoint is currently available on Steam, GOG.com, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.