You awake from cyrosleep, unsure where everyone is, and…wait, that seems like a cliche sci-fi intro.
Hellion, developed by Zero Gravity Games, is a title about a solar system named, Hellion that is found lightyears away from Earth, and is in fact where the first interstellar colonisation mission of the 23rd century can be found. Millions of colonists all ventured to Hellion from Sol. This was a journey that spanned many decades. The journey ends seventy-eight years later and finds the people awaking from cyrosleep to be introduced into a nightmare. Everything has been abandoned or liberated. Deserted stations float amongst the stars, warships sit abandoned, or act as bait for survivors seeking refuge.
Within the Hellion solar system, you find yourself waking up on a small, lonely ship, and it becomes apparent that things aren’t safe. Life support systems are reporting low oxygen levels, power levels are struggling, and it’s clear you’ll need to start getting a plan together to scavenge for supplies. Now this is where the gameplay begins. You’re not introduced to any sort of tutorial, which was a rather surprising twist. I know the in-depth backstory indicates that you are controlling a colonist, who would quite possibly know what they were doing in the 23rd century, but I don’t. I was rather flabbergasted by everything. There are words for systems around the whole ship shown within computer screens, “Vacuum” “Decompression” and various other fancy abbreviations and long, tech words that I read, knew what they must have meant, but was just unable to process what they actually are. It became a confusing mess within my head.
With the lack of tutorial, I found myself just doing what felt natural, picking up random canisters and putting them in things that looked like a canister shaped…area, then I removed something that effected life support, and then I pressed a big red button which turned gravity off; really, I just found myself touching everything. I felt like my Grandad, disassembling and fiddling around with every single part of something to try and learn and understand it. You’re given the option to choose between various starting points.
You can start a fresh new life in “A Fresh Start” where you begin totally fresh, a new colonist to the solar system. “Continue” will just respawn you, all items you’ve used previously will remain how they were left. “Random Outpost” is where you spawn on board an outpost ship, there could be other players, there may not be, but there are more supplies scattered around the ship, but that could mean more danger. There is also an “Invite” choice where you can join a ship of which you’ve been invited too by your Steam friend. It’s a bit of a messy system in regards to the invitee having to respawn and then select to join the server as an invite to the ship.
And yes, servers. Hellion is entirely online based, there are already a good amount of servers available, and while there are players out there, meeting them is a bit of a rarity unless you explore lots. The only experience I had with coming across a stranger was when I chose to spawn on a random outpost. There was some random bloke stood holding a filter of some sort. He must have been AFK as he didn’t move for ages.
The other server I jumped on was empty, and Dann had joined me on board our new little module. It is possible to invite your friends that also own the title by going to the other empty cyropod and interacting with the screen on them, within that you invite a friend and then they have to either join the server or respawn and choose, “Invite” and see their available invites. It’s a bit of a messy idea that could be improved, but it works. Together we set about trying to understand what was meant to go where, what controlled what, and then most of our time was spent trying to figure out how to correctly lower pressure in the corridors leading outside into space. We came to the conclusion that perhaps this is an unfinished feature.
There are access panels around various points of the module that control various things, such as life support node, or the air pressure, and the various other areas. These all require certain parts to function, and each part have three statuses. Green is a-okay. Amber is – You should probably get this replaced soon, and Red is – Awkward, I’m dead, change me. The whole module is linked up to various systems that all perform vital parts of the ships functions and keeps you safe and alive. There’s no denying it, the systems are immutably detailed, thought out, and it is indeed rocket science to figure out. Some errors with the ships internal systems can be linked to an outside fault that needs tending too, but getting there requires mastering the art of using the suit and jetpack.
The suit system allows you to begin carrying items, tools, and ammo. It also brings the inventory system to life which is accessible by hitting TAB. The inventory wheel is separated into sections, and in the centre is what is in your hands and available for interacting with. The helmet allows you to breathe, which is what you’d expect really, and you get the option to flick the visor open or closed. Now while it’s cool to see the jetpack power and oxygen levels displayed inside your helmet, I would advice you keep it shut when you’re outside in space. You end up suffocating. Now jetpacking is weird, and really get the hang of it you need to start getting used to propulsion and learning when to start thrusting in the opposite direction to come to a slow as you approach your target.
Thankfully the jetpack comes with a system built in that can be activated that allows you to stabilise yourself. You can turn jetpack power off and on which switches you between jetpack propulsion and general floaty zero gravity floating. The floating around without a jetpack is incredibly bothersome in regards to turning your body around. When not floating and your feet are on the ground, the mouse sensitivity is whatever you set it, it feels comfortable, once you experience zero gravity you’re mouse sensitivity becomes incredibly sluggish. Turning requires at least nine drags of the mouse to have turned the smallest amount. It’s irritating, yet you keep thinking it’s all part of the realism.
Realism is a huge factor in Hellion. Graphically it’s stunning, audibly it’s incredible, and the physics are wonderfully believable. In fact this would make an incredible VR supported title. The entire ships systems as already stated feel like you’re operating a real ship, engineering a real module, and performing important repairs to the systems. When you’re floating around outside, not only does everything start to become greyscale from lack of oxygen, but if you stare at the huge sun in the distance, your vision grows red, you can see the veins of your eye around the edges of the screen. Then you die. The propulsion from the jetpack does two things for me. One, it shows how powerful the thrusters are, but it also shows how large the open space and ships actually are by taking a while to get around them, or get to point-to-point.
Graphically, Hellion is on par with most AAA releases, and it has some incredible textures and high quality computer screens to view. The ship parts you need to replace fit into the rest of the ships textures and don’t stand out like sore thumbs, they just sit there naturally, and the lighting, while some shadows are a bit jittery still at the moment with some type of shadow striping occurring, looks great. The darker ship areas when lights are disabled are haunting and creepy, then when the lights are flicked on, the ship looks more natural and feels like a working vessel, then when in danger it’ll switch to red lights, causing a sense of panic and distress. Character models are also nicely done, although right now everyone looks the same, but that’s okay, you don’t get to see your own character until you die, then you can see your corpse just lay there. Lifeless. Good times.
Externally, the sense of being in space is certainly there. Everything is dark as expected, there’s a sun in the distance casting harsh light onto everything. Planets look fairly low quality, but the ship details look incredible, and sections of the ship that are important and repairable are indicated by lights. Handy stuff. The GUI is also a nice touch, while not much is displayed when you’re suitless, once you whack your helmet visor down you can see various levels that are vital for you to know. Oxygen, external pressure, jetpack fuel and suit power. They’re all pretty self explanatory so I won’t go into detail, however Oxygen and jetpack fuel are the ones to really keep tabs on. The info is displayed along the helmet and vanishes if the pack is removed, leaving you with no GUI. It feels very filmic almost, and very real at the same time, in fact, immersing would be a better word.
When it comes down to audio quality, attention has been very well thought out. If you pay attention sometimes, you’ll notice there’s not much sound going on unless it’s being interacted with. There’s the gentle hum of the ship or module, and the sound of your breathing, but otherwise it’s mostly silent. Lifeless. Barren. When you and another player interact with things you can hear everything going on, and they sound incredibly high quality, everything sounds important, you can hear the scraping of a door opening and then bolts locking it open/closed. You can hear the sound of CO2 filters being assembled within the ship once you close the container. It’s a fantastic experience and there’s no need for music to increase tensions or invoke emotion because…it’s real. You’re stuck on a ship, the developers want you to feel like you’re physically there and by the stars, they succeed.
Understandably there are going to be bugs, not only because it’s in Early Access but also because a game with this amount of attention to detail is going to have some areas falling apart. There are some issues with the character spawns. When Dann respawned after getting lost in space, he spawned back in his cyropod, but when he left it his body remained “lay down”…outside the pod…facing the wrong direction. He was able to move around on his screen, but to me he was just stood there with randomly appearing bits he was picking up on his screen. There are also parts of the ship that look unfinished, and that’s because they are still in development. Temperature is something coming in a later update, and there are empty “utility access” panels that look like they should be containing something important.
There’s some loading issues at the moment where once I spawn, there’s a second of moving, but then the game freezes for around about 10 seconds before running again. I’m unsure if this is a graphical issue or a server issue, but my latency was sitting pretty at 28ms. There’s also an issue I found where if you pick up an item, I seemed to drop that item and within a few seconds they vanished. Whether this was them falling through the ship or whether it was a timeout thing I’m unsure. Either way, it was annoying because I was due to go outside after topping up my pack with oxygen but couldn’t due to putting my pack down to pick up a canister and then I lost it! Gah! The menus aren’t particularly pretty but that’s not a huge issue, they do seem to take a fair while to load though, and the loading screen is a bit ugly.
All in all, so far, Hellion is looking to be a fantastic title, and I enjoyed it a huge amount. There are some things that would have been helpful to ease players into the game, whether that’s an in-game tutorial system, an info box, or even video tutorials similar to Elite Dangerous’ style. The exploration beyond the module wasn’t achievable as Dann and I spent almost 6-7 hours on the title trying to get our module to become fully functional. It resulted in a lot of deaths, a lot of venting out the air and having to start afresh, and when I joined a server to start on a random outpost, I just ended up getting shot in the face by an unfriendly traveller.
I aim to return to the title at a later date and hopefully by then Dann and I manage to figure out the darned ships system and can begin exploring other stations, but for now this review is mostly restricted to the module. It’s a hugely impressive title, and I like to call it a ship engineering sim in all honesty. Certainly worth the £20 price point on Steam.