Okay, so the concept of HellSign pulled me right in as soon as our lovely EIC Matt Heywood mentioned it.
“HellSign is paranormal hunting RPG that mixes in horror elements and pits you against all manner of monstrosities in a small Australian town.”
Sounds like an awesome idea for a game, right? Well… yeah, that’s right, it IS a great idea, but when you have a great idea, you have to pull it off well. Which this game tries really hard to do by breaking the game up into two chunks: Investigations and hunting monsters. Unfortunately, both of these things are either boring or frustrating, and if you don’t pick certain classes to start, the beginning of the game is a DRAG.
For example, when I started the game, I picked a class that had a sawed off double-barreled shotgun and could throw things like bait and grenades.
Sounded well-balanced until I realized that it does you basically no good to start the game because the beginning missions require more investigative gadgets. There are other classes that have those gadgets, OR you can buy them, but you start the game with basically no money at all. You also can’t 100% complete any of the investigations if you don’t have those items so you get a tiny amount of money for doing 2/3s of those missions. You slowly work your way to getting the equipment that you need, and then you unlock the sweeping missions. This presents another roadblock because you go from fighting spiders and centipedes that do minimal damage and die fairly easily, to fighting much faster, deadlier enemies. Whatever weapon you have at that point, unless it’s the Grease Gun, it borderline useless against these faster enemies. You have a dodge that you can use, but the invincibility frames on it seem inconsistent, and extremely narrow at that.
Basically, fighting monsters in this game feels more like you’re fighting crappy progression, and your own sanity. I found myself saying out loud, to myself “I don’t want to play this anymore” in my spacious basement apartment.
My upstairs neighbor asked if I was mentally stable and then for some reason moved out all of a sudden.
Basically, the progression of the game feels broken right now, but it’s early access, they could easily fix that a number of ways. They could give higher rewards for when you don’t finish a whole quest, or make it so that investigations won’t require items that you don’t have. Also, don’t make your character so squishy by default, because in the first real Sweeping missions, some monsters can two-hit you extremely quickly. You can heal yourself, but using a Stem (quick heal) decreases your max health, and using a med kit takes too long while fighting. Trying to trace enemy movements with the mouse to get solid hits on them with your gun is way harder than it needs to be as well. Most monsters pop out and attack you so fast that you have just a split second to (try) to dodge their attack. It’s no fun, it feels like you’re just battling the game.
Oh, and sometimes furniture will become possessed and slam into you at light speed, taking a huge chunk off your health bar. The screen also gets all distorted and shaky, making it really hard to tell which thing is going to slam into you to try to evade it. There’s good difficulty that requires careful planning and thought to make it through a situation in one piece. Then there’s bad difficulty where it just feels like the game is working against you, and it’s not fun in the slightest.
All of these things could be improved upon though in the final game, because like I said, this is Early Access. I don’t rate Early Access because the game (hopefully) isn’t done yet, and will get much better.
The story is nothing to really write home about either, it’s fairly generic, and the dialogue between characters is just nothing. You could easily get rid of the sections between missions and the game would barely feel any different. If anything, it might be better, because half of the characters just swear a lot, the way that a ten year old that just learned a new swear word does. Either that or they prattle on about mystic creatures and cryptids and other nonsense that sounds like it’s ripped right out of a Ghost Hunters episode. Also, if there was nothing between missions, you’d quickly realize that there’s very little in the way of diversity in the levels. Although the houses that you visit are supposed to be different, they feel almost entirely the same, because for some god-awful reason, there’s a filter over everything. This cheap-looking film grain is put over everything unless you’re using a blacklight, and everything looks like it’s the same color. It’s that sickly green color from Fallout 3, you know the one.
This game has the groundwork of something really cool, and a lot of things need to be tweaked or changed completely. I wouldn’t rule it out for something that could make some huge improvements and become a hidden gem in the horror genre.
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