Review: Hellbound

The road to Hell may be paved with good intentions but that leaves open the question of just how grippy that surface is.  It’d better be as slip-resistant as the mats used in restaurant cooking stations because by now the road to Hell is so coated in demon gore that there’s no standing on it otherwise.  Give a space-marine any kind of weapon and they’ll be sauntering down to the depths of Hell whistling a perky tune when not swearing up a storm, happy in their psychotic way to finally be able to embark on the unrestrained killing spree of their dreams.  Revenge or duty may be the excuse they use to justify it, but there’s no doubt that Nameless Warrior would have covered the road in gore-soaked carnage just for the fun of it if they couldn’t find a good reason.

The latest antisocial demonslayer is Hellgore, a giant lump of muscle who couldn’t beat the minions of Hell the first time he tried but has been given a second chance by the Humans who cloned him.  Hellgore’s people were decimated long before Hell’s minions came to Earth, and while it might be too late for his ancestors, humanity still has a little hope left.  And that’s it, the whole story from start to finish.  Hellbound isn’t about story so much as blasting through levels with as much force as possible, killing fast and hard while the metal soundtrack pumps the action along.

Hellbound is a pure-action FPS that’s more than happy to play with the original Doom‘s legacy, barring a blatant reference and fun Easter egg for Serious Sam.  You start off with a rifle that fires slow but strong and find four other weapons along the way.  Shotgun is a triple-barreled blast of devastation, the club is actually useful if you somehow run out of ammo, the chaingun is fast and becomes the default weapon when it finally shows up, and the rocket launcher launches rockets.  Each weapon has an alt-fire, nothing fancy but still useful when you think to use it such as the chaingun and rifle’s zoomed aiming.  For the most part, though, you run and gun at high speed, tearing through the hordes while trying not to accidentally strafe into a wall.

The trick to staying alive is movement, which turns the enemies from major damage-dealing threats into meat-pinatas.  While there aren’t many enemy types, with the bulk being the five varieties of humanoid goons differentiated by armor and weapon type and the remaining two being demons who either attack by throwing fireballs or running and slashing, they’re still a good amount of fun to play with when they swarm in decent numbers.  Plus an exploded body leaves behind a small health or armor pickup, and if they don’t die from excessive force you can always plug a few bullets into the corpse for the same effect.

While the enemy variety is small, Hellbound isn’t a particularly large game so they don’t wear out before the action ends.  There are seven main levels to explore, each one a satisfying size and distinct from the others, filled with encounters and more than a few optional areas where the occasional health, armor or ammo pickup waits to be found.  There’s a nice variety in level design too, ranging from corridors to twisty areas that circle back to each other, and even a giant open arena level that ends with the best fight in the game.  I caught myself a couple of times wandering about to look at the scenery between one murder-fest and the next, enjoying the many different styles of terrain despite all the decor being apocalypse-demon.

While Hellbound is a fun and bloody bite-sized FPS, there are clear hints that it wants to become more than it turned out to be.  First and most obvious is the complete lack of ending, with the action coming to a dead stop after the first and only boss encounter on level seven.  And while the game does a lot with the enemies it has, there’s just no ignoring that there are only two of them dressed up in different outfits.  Hellbound is a game held back by its budget, but the action feels solid enough that I’d love to see what it could become in future installments.

Closing Comments:

Hellbound may not be great but it’s a short, sweet thrill ride while it lasts.  The action is nice and fast with the guns packing a solid punch, and all the weapons earn their place in the arsenal.  The length of the game means its limits don’t have a chance to feel grating and the sameness of the enemies is nicely offset by the personality of the levels.  Even after the game is over there are still a handful of arena levels to play in, trying to survive as long as possible to claim a spot on its leaderboards.  Hellbound may be restrained by its limits but there’s no question it does a lot within them and it’s good bloody fun while the ride lasts.