A Hellsign of things to come?
We’ve all been there 一 waking up with next to no recollection of the previous night only to find you’ve managed to get a new tattoo across your back. It’s a little different when that tattoo makes you a magnet to occult creatures from other dimensions. This is the set up for Hellsign, an Early Access survival horror RPG in which you investigate and confront horrors from beyond the veil.
Beginning by creating your character, you are presented with a beautifully drawn comic strip that informs you of your new body art and the fact that you are expected at a job. It turns out that your job is investigating the paranormal, and you arrive at an abandoned house containing more than its fair share of corpses. The tutorial here introduces you to your EMF gadget that allows you to find signs of supernatural activity, and a blacklight for following blood trails. You’ll find mysterious artifacts that allow you to piece together what sort of supernatural creature is infesting the property before sending in the experts to deal with it.
This investigation element is quite interesting as your occult journal (called the Cryptonomicon) is filled with all sorts of information on the creatures hiding in the shadows, but there’s more to the game than this once the training wheels are off. After the tutorial, you are free to take on jobs from the world map as you wish to earn money for new weapons and equipment. Most missions will involve combat in some way. You’ll be exploring buildings to find occult signs and objects whilst having to fight off various creatures. Starting off with giant spiders, things escalate and eventually have you facing far more threatening enemies.
That isn’t to say that the early enemies aren’t tough. Hellsign is incredibly difficult at this early stage, to the point of being frustrating right now. I’ve failed missions after being chewed to death by a couple of spiders or a giant millipede simply because they are so hard to hit without an automatic weapon (which only one class starts with). Death doesn’t set you back much beyond the items you used, but the loss of time and progression is annoying. Hopefully, once the game is fully released they will have rebalanced the enemies in the early stages.
The current release contains the first of three chapters, and includes a good variety of enemies and even a couple of bosses. In this regard, there is a lot of content, but it’s clear that there is still a lot to be done. Whilst there are a lot of character classes, there are only three portraits, and no option for female characters yet, and those classes aren’t terribly well explained or balanced. The randomly generated maps all look the same, and sometimes it can be hard to work out what you’re supposed to do. There are a lot of items available that aren’t really explained, although you can work things out with enough experimentation.
With that said, there is so much potential here. Hellsign feels like a horror-themed Monster Hunter in which you track down paranormal entities, prepare your traps and weapons, and then finally confront them. Whilst some of the mechanics need polishing, the sound and visuals appear excellent already, at least in the isometric missions. The lighting, in particular, is wonderful and really sets the mood as you move through the environment. Add to that the excellent sound design and you’ve got a very atmospheric game that could be something very impressive in the long run. There’s some polishing to be done with the visuals in the ‘overworld’, but everything in the missions looks and sounds great.
I’m very interested in seeing how Hellsign develops over the twelve months Ballistic Interactive are currently projecting. With crafting, character development, and ghost hunting elements, there’s a lot to look forward to in the final product. If the combat gets rebalanced to either make causing or avoiding damage a little easier than this is something I could see myself putting a lot of time into. Silent Hill meets Monster Hunter? I don’t think there’s anything I don’t like about that combination.
Hellsign is available now on PC through Steam Early Access.