E3 2014: Hellraid Makes Fighting Demons Seem Really Dull

Blandelzebub.

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Hellraid is all about combat. It's about bashing huge monsters with axes, smashing skeletons with swords, and shedding the blood of the creepiest creeps who ever did creep. Such a game sounds like a lot of bloody fun. A dark medieval atmosphere. Gruesome creatures ready to crush your skull. Giant hammers that you wield as if you are made only of muscle. These are the ingredients of a successful melee action game.

But boy does Hellraid look boring.

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I spent 20 minutes or so at E3 2014 watching developer Techland demo the game to a room filled with increasingly impatient members of the press. The demonstration focused on story mode in which you try to stop an infernal invasion. The level in question was a gothic monastery--the sort you would find in a number of classic video games, and in fact, Techland has hired the services of an architect versed in the kind of structures Hellraid has you exploring. There's a bit of Diablo at work in Hellraid; you pick up loot and gold, and level up your abilities as you progress. But the focus is on the combat, which looked to have some initial appeal in the way you could hear the clash of steel on steel, and in the way you need to dodge about to avoid taking damage, as well as to maximize damage by stabbing meanies in their hindquarters.

You aren't limited to melee weapons, though they were the focus of the presentation. Occasionally, however, the player would switch to a magical staff that spewed forth lightning, which came in handy when dealing with skeletal archers. Techland says that weapons provide a lot of variety and that you can customize your loadout to best suit your play style. Additionally, you can enchant your weapons to make them more effective in combat. There was a lot of groaning during the demo as hellish creatures moaned and growled, particularly during the few boss fights I saw, which feature grotesque demons filling the screen.

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There are other ways to deal with foes, such as smashing a chain and causing a hanging light fixture to fall on the fiend beneath. And Techland promises a variety of locations, including outdoor arenas and labyrinthine castles. But what I saw during the demo was wholly uninspired, a string of one smashing encounter after another until my eyes were tired of the bland gothicness of the setting, and my brain was aggravated by the tedium of seeing and hearing the same combat moves used again and again against the usual suspects. There just wasn't a lot to it, to the point where one mission objective simply stated "defeat evil." Hellraid felt tired, and the promise of visiting hell in the final levels of the game isn't enough to spark my enthusiasm.

Some better narrative context, some imaginative settings, and more interesting enemies could help bring some life to Hellraid, however, and the combat system looks like a solid foundation upon which to build a game. It's up to Techland, then, to put that combat to use in a game that inspires the fear and awe a game called Hellraid deserves. Here's hoping the developer does just that.

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