We are well into the summer of 2020, during a time of global pandemic where many of us are stuck inside for most of the day. If you’re a fan of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, etc., then you may be anxiously awaiting Elden Ring’s release. Developer Cradle Games is hoping to quench your Souls-like thirst with their sci-fi take on the genre with Hellpoint. Time to find out if they’ve innovated enough on the genre to warrant a purchase in our Hellpoint PS4 review.
Hellpoint Review – A New Location
Hellpoint takes place in an all but abandoned space station christened the Irid Novo. The player controls some sort of synthetic humanoid lifeform, which answers to someone (or something) called the Author. The player is tasked with acquiring information, which is accrued by defeating enemies, exploring the station, and other actions. This is a unique setting that has not been explored in Souls-like games, and also includes space whales. Space whales are firmly in the “pro” column of any review in this humble reviewer’s opinion.
If you’re familiar with the way leveling works in a Souls or Bloodborne game, then Hellpoint’s system will sound mighty familiar. Defeated enemies drop something called Axions, which are automatically transferred to the player. These axions can be spent at breaches, which appear to be tears in the fabric of spacetime and are parallels for the bonfires you’re probably familiar with in FromSoftware’s games. Axions can also be spent to craft and upgrade weapons at certain locations throughout the space station. Incidentally, and likely a geeky inclusion on the part of Cradle Games, axions are a hypothetical subatomic elementary particle in quantum chromodynamics, which might be a component of cold dark matter. That’s a nice touch in a sci-fi game such as Hellpoint.
There are a few other nice additions in Hellpoint beyond the label of experience currency. Players can acquire expertise on most weapons by using them, and once a progress bar fills up for that weapon, a new ability can be used while holding it, which varies depending upon the weapon type. Some of these abilities use energy, and are fired by pressing Triangle, something the game does not tell the player but must be learned. Weapons and gear can also be outfitted with upgrade chips. These chips improve the stats of the item they are attached to, and can be swapped into another item without penalty. The chips can also be upgraded for a price.
Hellpoint Review – Trusty, Non-Weighted Companion
Hellpoint features upgrades for the player such as mind modules for passive enhancements and, fittingly for the sci-fi setting, a companion cube! These little guys hover behind the player, and can perform tasks such as leaving floating orbs of light that act as breadcrumbs to guide the player back where they started in the labyrinth-like design of the space station, acting as a flashlight, or teleporting the player back to the last-used breach (provided the player is not currently fighting a boss). So it seems Hellpoint’s companion cubes are more useful than the famous one from Portal, which mostly acted as a weight (though it did bring me good luck). The cubes use the same energy pool as weapon abilities, and this energy recharges over time as well as by dealing damage to enemies.
Another interesting addition in Hellpoint is its time-based events. A clock in the upper-left corner of the screen updates at regular intervals, based on where the space station is in relation to a black hole that it orbits. At certain points, an Accretion Storm spawns in extra enemies, including some tougher units, which of course bring the promise of extra loot. This actually occurred during my first time in the game’s introductory area, which made my first hour of Hellpoint considerably tougher than it was for the rest of my time with the game. Some areas of the space station are also locked during certain times, which is a neat concept but can result in the player simply waiting around until the area unlocks itself.
Like many games in this genre, Hellpoint leaves a lot of the nuances of its various systems for the player to discover and exploit. Some gamers will enjoy this challenge of figuring things out on their own, while others may be annoyed by not even having the controls explained very well. An explanation of the orbit clock would have been appreciated, for instance. But you get out what you put into most Souls-like games, so this is par for the course.
Hellpoint Review – Grab a Friend, In-Person or Online
Co-op is nothing new to the Souls-like genre, as any player will tell you, and an online co-op using help tags is available in Hellpoint. But local, split-screen co-op without mods is not present in the genre on console. Yet not only did Cradle Games include this feature, they made it work without too much hassle. An odd requirement is that player 2 needs to have started their campaign on the same console, meaning they need to have a saved game under their profile before they can join. This wasn’t clear from the in-game hints about how to play co-op. However, this requirement ensures that player 2’s progress is carried over to their own game. In fact, player 2 suffers no penalty from dying as all their Axions remain intact when they are killed, so joining as the second player could be a way to quickly grind a character to higher levels. Co-op is drop-in/drop out, though oddly the level cannot be changed at all if player 2 is dead. This can result in the occasional awkward situation where player 2 falls to their death, thus placing their revive orb out of reach of player 1. There are only two solutions in this scenario: player 1 commits suicide, forfeiting earned Axions to this point, or player 2 quits the game and re-joins, thus respawning at the last-visited breach.
Exploration is a pillar of Souls-like games, and to that end Hellpoint does a fine job of offering up things for the player to see. Space stations are tightly-packed and full of nooks and crannies in real life, and the Irid Novo is no exception. Though some areas feel more like a laboratory, church, or other building, a quick peek outside any window confirms you are, in fact, still in space. There are hidden doors which don’t even have a giveaway prompt of pressing Square to interact with, meaning they are truly hidden (except for the occasional note left by another player that hints at the door’s location). These often lead to entirely new and large areas that hold good loot and tougher enemies than the rest of the level. Some areas even let the player venture outside and into space, though without a proper space suit (which can be built) death is all but assured after a few minutes.
An intriguing setting, time-based events, and split-screen co-op all add up to a fun take on the Souls-like genre, to be sure. But one major caveat is in the inconsistent performance seen throughout the adventure. Evident almost immediately upon starting the game, Hellpoint does not seem to be very optimized, even when running on a PS4 Pro. The frame rate can reach as high as 60, but averages under 30 in most sections. Only the tighter levels run well, and even then only when few enemies are in the area. In a genre where frame-level accuracy can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, this kind of performance is a major buzzkill. Surprisingly, split screen does not cause much of a performance dip, though areas with many enemies can cause the frame rate to dip into the single figures.
Hellpoint Review – A Rough Finish
Unfortunately, even when the game is running well, trouble remains with things as elementary as animations. Attacks that clearly hit the enemy will often fail to register, leaving the player wide open to being hit. Jumping is an appreciated feature, but there is no subtlety to the jumps as the player always seems to leap much further than might be expected. Regular enemies also seem to be deaf and unaware of their surroundings, as killing one enemy rarely triggers others in the area to venture towards the player, or even leave their idle animations. Enemies that line the outer edges of a room can easily be dispatched one by one, leaving any semblance of challenge strictly to the higher-level enemies.
Hellpoint is a sci-fi Souls-like with one killer feature: local split screen co-op. The rest of the game lacks the polish of its obvious sources of inspiration, and ultimately the technical issues including a wildly inconsistent frame rate, hit detection problems, and interface glitches hold Hellpoint back from achieving more. But if you’re looking for a Souls-like hit that you can take with a friend, you may want to check out Hellpoint, albeit with tempered expectations.
Hellpoint review code provided by publisher. Version 1.02 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.