HellSign is an incredibly creative take on the horror game genre. Instead of the standard over the shoulder, or first person styled, survival horror game, we have a top-down third person investigative RPG shooter. Ballistic Interactive, the Australian development studio behind the game have crafted an intriguing world involving supernatural horror investigation and it’s well worth looking into.
In HellSign, players will take on the role of an investigative scout or hunter which falls into one of many different character classes. Having woken up from a nightmare involving demons, your character sets off to investigate some paranormal activity at an undisclosed location. The tutorial mission introduces you to the game’s most basic mechanics and over the course of a few other missions you’ll slowly be introduced to the more complex aspects of the title. Overall though it’s simple enough to grasp.
Players will use their investigative equipment to scope out haunted houses for paranormal activity. Using an electromagnetic force detector, clues are sniffed out and investigated resulting in information that can be used to your advantage later. Apart from the EMF detector, a blacklight can be used to follow blood trails and other advanced equipment such as a microphone can be used to find hidden ghostly vocal evidence.
The clues obtained can be sold for money at the local bar to a rather shady individual, or they can be used during a mission to provide special buffs to your character’s attacks or skills. Selling clues is the fastest way to earn money and money is necessary to progress in HellSign. Money can be spent at the gun shop to purchase new weaponry or better investigative equipment and armour.
Additionally, side missions and other story related content takes place when interacting with the NPCs at the bar. Zoe, a paranormal researcher for example is after some clues regarding Shadow Beasts and has a quest line involving the game world’s shady history dating back to 1976.
The gameplay in HellSign is a tad formulaic since it repeatedly involves going to a haunted house and trying to find clues hidden amongst the dangerous creatures and ghosts. While this is formulaic, it just works so well that you’ll keep coming back for more. The in-game combat though is extremely shoddy right now with high movement speed enemies being next to impossible to target easily. More often than not you’ll end up dying because enemies deal a lot of damage and move really fast. The lack of an auto aim system compounds the difficulty level but this will hopefully be fixed later in the game’s life. Buying grenades and better weaponry does mitigate the difficulty issue somewhat later in the game.
HellSign is quite atmospheric with sounds and music that is perfectly on point for the type of game it attempts to be. Spooky haunted house visuals and authentically creepy sound effects instill a sense of fear in you when first venturing through the haunted houses searching for clues. However much of this dissipates due to only one major environment being present. More variation to the haunted house theme is definitely needed in the final version of the game.
Perplexingly, the game features some hit and miss writing with many character’s being excessively vulgar for no real reason. The game thankfully does feature a mature language filter which somewhat alleviates some of this.
The formula of performing scout or sweep missions early on in the game to grind for money to afford better gear becomes rather tedious after a few attempts. HellSign’s current difficulty and lack of a lock-on or auto aim system makes it frustratingly difficult and this may put people off quite quickly. Running through a haunted house frantically searching for clues and fleeing back to safety in your van is surely not the game’s intended playstyle but this is what players will have to resort to.
The game also features additional RPG elements in the form of crafting artifacts and having a skill tree for learning new abilities or allowing the use of new equipment. The menus are simple and easy to understand but piecing together clues needs some further explanation. Opening up your “journal” and being presented with upside down text is not something you’ll get used to seeing at first and you might think it’s a bug.
So far HellSign has the makings of a great investigative horror RPG but the writing needs work, the pacing of the story needs work, the combat needs work and the environments need work. As an early access title, there’s a lot to be done yet the game is still worth purchasing at its current price point because it has potential. HellSign will certainly captivate you while it’s being tweaked into its final form since it has a level of charm to it that not many other games in its genre do.
HellSign’s early access foray proves that Ballistic Interactive are more than capable of delivering a quality gaming experience. They just need time to refine their product into the shining jewel it should be.