A Good Concept Poorly Executed
HellSign is the perfect example of a game with a solid concept but poor execution. Playing as a ghost hunter, HellSign puts you right in the thick of the action as you make a living battling the paranormal. What begins as simple investigations and combat soon escalates to include a whole myriad of different options including banishing spirits, learning the history of ghosts and more. All of this would be a lot of fun but clunky controls and a frustrating combat system hinder the title and hold it back from being a better game.
Each area is presented with an isometric view, with you controlling your character using the WASD keys while aiming and firing your gun with the mouse. Space bar is used as a dodge roll and you reload with R. If this all sounds a little clunky it is but the opening area does a pretty good job introducing you to the various mechanics as you undertake your first mission.
As you start HellSign you’ll probably know within the first 20 minutes or so whether this is a game for you. Some of the language used here is pretty explicit and it’s not really justified. Within the opening minutes, one character utters the C word twice. Then throughout the game random characters and mission givers pop up to keep the cursing flowing through the game. If you can look past the obscenities though, the game opens up a little with promising signs of a good game hidden behind its problems.
The general ambience and aesthetic of the game are really well constructed
Most of what you’ll do in HellSign is some form of variation on this first house you explore, with the general mission design remaining pretty much the same throughout your play-time. You’re given a task by a mission giver, usually in the form of clearing out a house of infestation or investigating a disturbance and feeding back your findings. You use your scanner to find the affected areas in the house and then proceed to use your UV light to follow trails of blood around to find clues. Once you’re done in the house and eliminated any nasty critters you regroup at your base of operations and piece together the clues to figure out what happened.
Between the playable areas, there’s an extensive map that populates over time with more houses, giving a handy threat level to show how difficult that area is likely to be. There’s also a bar populated with silhouetted characters who you can click on and they subsequently give you missions too. If you ever wanted to play as a freelance ghost hunter, no other game captures this quite as well as HellSign.
The extensive map continues to add extra layers of challenge to the experience
Aesthetically at least, HellSign is competently created. Despite the repetitive textures and assets inside the house, the general mood of the game is suitably grim and this is conveyed perfectly through the graphics. The flashlight is well rendered and dust brushes lazily past the light inside each house. The character models and animation are good too and the general ambience in the game is on point, helped by a deliberate colour palette that predominantly uses greys and sickly greens.
For a game that gets so many elements of its play right, it’s frustrating that the most important is also the weakest. Controlling your character is fiddly at best and while you’re likely to become more accustomed to movement over time, combat is a constant pain and more troublesome than it should be.
Combat is a constant issue in the game and is more troublesome than it should be
Enemies are quick, small and difficult to aim at. They regularly pop up out of nowhere, rush at you, get a cheap shot in and quickly scatter somewhere else. Only to appear in a completely different area whence they disappeared from. This means you’re constantly popping bullets around in the hope of hitting something while slamming the spacebar to roll all over the place. Reloading makes this even worse. If an enemy interrupts the animation mid-reload you have to start again. This means scrambling for refuge and hoping an enemy doesn’t appear to hit you before you can reload. It’s a constant problem and something that makes even the most simplest of combat encounters more frustrating than they should be.
To be fair to HellSign, the game is still in its infancy and only just released for Early Access. There are promising signs for this game and if it can sort out the controls and combat it could be a really solid game. The general ambience is on point and no other game has managed to make you feel like a ghost hunter quite like HellSign. Unfortunately the issues with the gameplay are too deeply embedded in the core enjoyment with the title that it’s hard not to come away disappointed with this one.