Hell-o from the other side.
The Devil is having a rather bad couple of years in the realm of video games. From Doom in 2016 to Cuphead this year, the arch-fiend is a recurring antagonist either in person or by his proxies. He’s the source of so many ills, from plain old suffering to gambling to drugs, the latter of which is exemplified by indie FPS High Hell.
High Hell is a stylized, simplistic first-person shooter that places players in the boots of a battery-powered assassin on a holy crusade. Infiltrating an urbanized Hellish landscape, our hero storms a demonic drug cartel and proceeds to lay waste to their operations. It’s an odd little mix of black ops tomfoolery with a distinct occult theme, although it’s mostly played for laughs. You might also recognize one of the developer names as the brains behind another indie FPS Heavy Bullets, so it has to be good. Right?
Come Hell or high- whatever.
Players will navigate a series of rooms, offices, and corridors set on a number of high rise buildings and sky scrapers. You’re armed with a “soul gun”, which functions very much like a classic railgun. A single beam is shot which kills most enemies in one hit, but it requires a high degree of precision and lacks automatic firing. Much of the enemy roster is armed with similar devices, and can usually take out the player in about two to three shots. This can make game play rather frustrating, because it’s not uncommon to have a whole lot of enemies shoot at you from all directions, without any time to react, much less identify the source of the shots. It’s especially complicated in the later levels which feature high platforms and perches for enemies to take pot shots.
The player’s health is indicated by a battery meter, and interestingly, it can be refilled by killing enemies, sort of like a vampire rune. This means that scoring kills is more urgent as your health dwindles, because outside of a rare battery pickup item, this remains the sole way of replenishing your health. It is a rather clever addition, and adds a new mix to the standard formula of finding health packs lying about. Still, it does little to negate the the frustration from the hitscan enemies.
I feel so high, I even touch the sky.
Quick-saving and checkpoints don’t exist, which increase the frustration factor when you have to restart a level because of a stupid mistake. Fortunately, the levels are relatively small, so you won’t quite find yourself wanting to punch in your monitor. But this just demonstrates the inherent flaws in the design. Enemies are pretty dumb, yet annoying enough to make quick work of you. And the maps, while stylish and pretty, are not interesting enough in their design or diversity to raise the experience above the ordinary. There are attempts to make the gameplay more dynamic by giving players objectives, such as killing an enemy or setting an object on fire, but it all still amounts to running and shooting.
One aspect about High Hell that can’t really be faulted is the presentation. It has a very distinct red/hot pink theme throughout, accompanied by cel-shading and liberal doses of blacks, whites, greens, and greys. To make things more interesting, everything has a “detuned” TV effect. The visuals are clean and striking, and there’s not really a sense of confusion about what you’re looking at, although enemies can sometimes blend in with the background if they’re far away. As for the audio, the music is catchy, somewhat 80’s electronic, and the sound effects due their job without being either memorable or obnoxious. There is of course a liberal dose of humor, which is easily the game’s biggest saving grace, pun intended. I found myself smirking at the dry jokes, and you will too.
High Hell seems like it could have a lot going for it. The very distinct art style and the sense of humor certainly makes it stand out. However, it has a number of glaring issues that render it impossible to recommend whole-heartedly. From lack of variety to mixed difficulty to unfair level design, High Hell is a good enough little diversion, but it could do with a lot of work before it could ever become a classic. However, if you found yourself enjoying the likes of Lovely Planet Arcade, Heavy Bullets, and Superhot, then I would suggest giving it a go. For everybody else, I would caution against parting with your cash too hastily. If you find yourself wanting it, then all you need to do is sneak into its official Steam page right now.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One ; Publisher: Devolver Digital ; Developer: Terri Vellmann, Doseone ; Players: single-player ; Released: October the 23rd, 2017.
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Steam key for High Hell given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.