Hellbound is a game that is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over $40,000 with over 546 backers. Developer Saibot Studios describes the game as a "90s shooter made 20 years later," and I have to agree. The nostalgia that comes along with making a game inspired by Doom, Quake, Duke3D, Blood, and UT is also accompanied by some of the flaws of that era of FPS design. But with a 2020 coat of paint, Hellbound still may surprise hardcore players.
Those demon bastards are going to pay for shooting up my planet
This game has a story similar to how Duke Nukem 3D or the original Doom have stories. The player controls the main character Hellgore, and you are tasked with ridding the world of demons. That's it. This didn't stop the developers from giving Hellgore some witty one liners to spout off from time to time. Every time you die, Hellgore says, "I'm taking back this planet, one motherfucker at a time." He wonders aloud about why he has to find keys instead of shooting at doors, and has some other pretty funny things to say. There were times where Hellgore would say exactly what I was thinking, just making him even more charming of a character. Hellgore does a perfect job of providing some context for levels while not getting in the way of gameplay with too many one-liners.
Quite a bit of Quake experience
A lot of the things found in 1990s FPS games are present in Hellbound. The game's level design is dependent on players finding different colored keys to open their respective doors, and there are also items that mimic heatlh pickups, armor shards, and Quad Damage from id Software's Quake franchise. It is very apparent that Hellbound is a love letter to this era of the FPS from the moment you drop into the first level. The enemies in Hellbound are also heavily inspired by those found in the Doom series, with similar AI powering their movements. Bunny hopping and rocket jumps are also viable gameplay mechanics. Hellbound will spark some nostalgic feelings for 90s FPS fans, also invoking some references to Blood, Duke Nukem 3D, and Wolfenstein 3D.
Reaching for new heights in 2020
While Hellbound stays true to its 1990s roots in many ways, the game was built for PCs in 2020. As such, there are some things about the game that simply could not be done in 1996. One of my favorite parts of Hellbound is how most of the final battles in each level don't involve just one big dude, but instead feature an onslaught of enemies. The final battle in the game may feature a big demon, but there are also a ton of bad guys that Hellgore must destroy in order to take down the final boss.
Various maps in the game will end with massive waves of enemies that flood the environment. Hellbound does a great job of giving players the right weapons for the moment, and there was one such situation where dozens of enemies swarmed me as I picked up the Rocket Launcher for the first time. The weapons in the game have secondary fire options, and some of them are just straight up over the top funny. The Triple Barrel Shotgun comes to mind.
"Some people may find it too difficult"
The game has a warning when it boots up that reminds players that the game was "made like it was the '90s." Hellbound is certainly challenging, and I am happy to say that the challenge is mostly rewarding, but there are elements of the game's design that irked me. The checkpoint system in the game can be frustrating. There were several times in the game where I would acquire a key or kill a bunch of bad guys, and the game would not save my progress. There were other times where the checkpoint saved me in a situation with very low health and my back to several enemies. This was easily fixed by the game's quicksave option, but I found myself wondering if the game stayed too true to some of the design decisions of early FPS games. Once I began spamming my local saves, this became less of an issue, but it is certainly a negative worth bringing up.
Another thing that I noticed about the game is that the enemy AI can be downright dumb at times. I was able to funnel enemies into corridors or doorways very easily at times. This is certainly balanced out by how squishy Hellgore is. You will die in Hellbound. A lot. But there are times when the game plays easier than the developers probably intended due to some issues with the enemy AI.
Helluva ride, Hellgore
Hellbound is not the longest game in the world, as it took me about 8 hours to play it all the way through, but the game does feature a Survival Mode that allows players to replay levels in a wave-based manner. One glaring omission in the game has to be the lack of Deathmatch. I understand that it is hard to program netcode into a shooter, and servers aren't cheap, but you can't compare yourself to classic 1990s shooters and not include such a key part of what made those FPS games special. I still feel like Hellbound lays a great groundwork as a single player campaign, and I hope we get to see Hellgore get into more trouble in the future.
The team at Saibot Studios have made exactly what they promised to their Kickstarter backers, but I was left wanting more. This doesn't make Hellbound a bad game, but it certainly feels like there were a few things left on the cutting room floor as I finished the game. After a somewhat slow start in the campaign, I was happy to finish the fight, and any fan of 1990s FPS fans could do worse than slaying demons in Hellbound.
This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. Hellbound is available in retail and digital stores now, for $14.99.
- Hellgore is the hero we need
- Stays true to 1990s FPS formula
- Solid music
- Survival Mode
- Some clever level design
- No Deathmatch
- Checkpoint system was not reliable
- Enemy AI is not the brightest
- No cloud saves