Developers have been trying to capture the essence of FromSoftware’s ultra-hard games since the launch of the first Dark Souls, but they never quite seem to get there.
We’ve seen Souls-like games from Deck 13 (creators of The Surge), Souls-like Metroidvanias like Hollow Knight, third-person co-op shooter Souls-likes such as Remnant: From the Ashes, and we’ve even seen long-standing franchises transform into Souls-like games, like 2018’s Darksiders 3.
These games take some inspiration from Dark Souls — borrowing genre conventions like super difficult boss fights, penalties for death, and purposeful combat — and twist them to add some new features, or maybe become a bit more friendly to new players.
But the recently released Hellpoint goes for FromSoftware’s dark tone and obscure lore in a much stronger way, and it nails one of Dark Souls’ least copied features: being a constant, unrelenting asshole.
What is Hellpoint?
Hellpoint takes the horrific, sci-fi style of H.R. Giger and smashes it into the Dark Souls formula.
At the start of the game, my character wakes up on a space station. I’m not human, I don’t think. I can’t tell if I’m an android, a cyborg, or the Space Jockey from Alien. I know this is the future, but this space station could also be the biblical hell, or some form of it. Everywhere I go, the future horror and demon aesthetics continue to clash in a seemingly intentionally dissonant way — similar to Doom (2016), but less cartoony.
I stumble into a room with my first enemy, naked, save for my weapon: a bladed pipe I found on the ground. I swing and take them out from behind. Hostile zombies hide in the corners, take slashes at me from the dark, spawn behind me, and attempt to knock me into dangerously placed pits.
I clear the room, taking a few hits, and use my Health Injector to recover. But the Health Injector only has a limited number of charges, and it’s the only way I can recover my health. I need to either fight or die if I want to get more.
I take an elevator up to the second floor and find a long hallway stretching left and right. Having played games like Hellpoint before, I inch my way into the doorway and use the camera to peer around the corner. To the right, I see a giant, hooded knight. It looks like some kind of angel, but I have a pretty good feeling that it’s hostile — everything wants to kill me in Hellpoint.
The knight doesn’t seem to see me, so I look to my left to check the other direction. Suddenly, a blue swirl of light appears under my feet, a sword stabs up at me from the ground, and I’m dead. The knight has a ranged attack that strikes from below, it seems. And while I was watching my back, I wasn’t watching my feet: a classic mistake.
I respawn — along with all my enemies — and I notice what looks like a clock next to my health, stamina, and mana bars. It’s glowing red, where it had previously been a calm, dark color. Thinking it was odd, I moved forward, into the big zombie room, where I take the elevator to the second floor. But this time I found an eight-foot demon waiting for me.
Naturally, I panic. I sprint to the elevator button, call it, and run around the room waiting for it to arrive. The demon and the zombies follow behind me. When the elevator door slides open, I jump inside. I hold my breath until I hear the door close behind me. When I turn around, I see the demon’s hoof and staff clipping through the door.
Back on the second floor, I don’t make the same mistake again. I loot my body and head left. While I avoid the knight walking around, I see statues that look identical to the knight in the hallway. Dark Souls tricked me like this before, so I slash at a few of them, trying to see if they’re alive. My weapon bounces off the stone. I’m safe.
As I walk down the hall, I see the orange glow of a barrier. This is a boss, I’m sure of it. As I run toward the barrier, I pass by another knight statue. Having tested the others already, I ignore it.
I approach the stairs, and what I thought was a statue turns and kills me in a single blow.
Hellpoint is an absolute jerk
Hellpoint is an asshole; the kind of game that doesn’t really care if you’re having fun. And if you get paranoid enough to start avoiding its traps, you might just survive.
FromSoftware’s titles have a long history of making players want to scream. Being constantly punished whenever you let your guard down isn’t fun, but I beat games like these with a powerful pair of motivators: spite and pride.
Hellpoint relishes in that particular aspect of the Dark Souls formula. Getting knocked into a pit by an enemy in Hellpoint feels bad. Getting killed by a surprise knight twice in a row feels bad. But that’s the point.
Hellpoint seems to want me to hate it so badly that I’ll feel compelled to continue through the end, so I can flip it the double birds as I watch the credits. Souls games offer the same kind of self-satisfaction: the thrill of being able to conquer something that, unlike most video games, doesn’t want to be conquered.
The force that compels me to conquer overly frustrating games like Dark Souls only works because I know I can be better each time I try. FromSoftware and Cradle Games know I can do better too, and that’s why they push me. When I ran through that hall the second time, I avoided the knight that killed me with its bullshit floor swords. And when I went through the third time, I avoided the living statue. Like all video games, Hellpoint asks me to learn from my mistakes — it just doesn’t ask very nicely.
Hellpoint offers the few things you can only get from a Souls-game once: tricks, traps, and a sense of awe. I’ve fallen victim to every Souls-trap in the book, but by virtue of learning how to proceed, I avoid them in subsequent playthroughs. Hellpoint is a new haunted house to trap and trick me.
I’m not sure why I’d ever play through Hellpoint a second time, not when I have a legion of similar, slightly more polished games to play again. But I’m excited to see what the rest of the game has to offer, if only so I can angrily shout at every trick I fall for. And then, if I return, hopefully I’ll be a little smarter, a little angrier, and a little less willing to take what I believe I see for granted.