At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Richard Pilot PC/Mac Techland Techland 2015 (Early Access from Autumn 2014)

Hellraid preview

Out of the many appointments I went to at Gamescom, there were few that I actually got to hand pick. The Witcher 3 preview that went up recently was one of them, and Hellraid was another. I had heard and seen very little before showing up to see the game at their booth, with the exception that I knew it was a dungeon hack-and-slash, similar to the PC classic Hexen or the the more recent Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. The latter game was my motivation for booking the appointment and whilst it didn't set the world on fire, I loved the interactions you had with environment and your enemies. I have fond memories of that game, particularly when I was right up in the enemy stronghold and could simply kick creatures off the top. My expectations here were high.

As the game is being created by a team at Techland, Hellraid is build using the company's own Chrome Engine 6, which is notable for its use in Dying Light. Previous versions of the tech have been used in other Techland ventures, such as Dead Island and the Call of Juarez games. Given this new iteration of their engine, the team were very keen to show it off. The gameplay I saw came right from the prologue section, where our hero is returning home. As we hiked through the mountains we stopped to take in the view, the game did look really nice and we got a breathtaking view of the valley from our position. Unfortunately, ruining that slightly was the burning village below which also marked our destination. We set off at a run through the mountain path. Soon after as we scrambled through mountaintop ruins we came across a group of skeletons.

They don't look pleased to see you

They don't look pleased to see you

Hellraid's combat falls perfectly in line with what I expected for this genre, that is to say, very physical. Initially armed with a sword, we could take a few stabs at the minions or alternatively perform heavy power attacks. The skeleton would stagger back after each blow and would crumple into pieces as a killing stroke was delivered. The simple act of swinging the weapon or making contact with our opponent's blade, disrupting both attacks, would elicit a response in the game. The important part was that there was very much a reaction to attacks, it really felt like there was a great deal of force going into them. This goes both ways and as the player got hit, the camera shook and our vision blurred, distorting colour to monochrome momentarily. Combat over, we managed to have a brief respite where we picked up a mace and equipped it. The weapon would cause less damage to those with flesh but would be perfect against these skeleton warriors. As we proceeded further into the ruins more skeletons descended upon us, evoking memories of those wonderful stop motion sequences from "Jason and the Argonauts". Once again, we dispatched them with ease and switched to yet another tactic, magic. Staff in hand, we were able to control the power of ice, either directing a beam of frost out in front of us or firing icy shards. Combat will require picking the right tool for the job, as some weapons are more effective than others; these skeletons, for example, were more susceptible to blunt attacks such as from our mace. The systems don't force you down a particular class though, so you're free to adapt to your playstyle if you prefer.

Past the ruins we continued to head down into the valley where more minions awaited us. We were introduced to another member of the undead, a slightly more fleshy creature that threw blobs of red mist at us. We deftly avoided the chunks of blood, disposing of them easily, and very soon we found our way to the village proper. The place was in complete disarray, fires burning everywhere and not a single soul in sight. There were more undead waiting, though, and this time we faced more protected skeletons than before, armed with shields to take the weight out of many of the blows you try and deal against them. Luckily for us, another type of monster was also in the fight, suicidal undead that explode when they get close enough. The trick here was to wait until they began to detonate and then kick them back, the resulting explosion taking out the approaching skeletons rather than yourself.

This does not look like an inviting route

This does not look like an inviting route

We weaved through the village, taking out skeletons and other creatures of the undead left and right. Our final encounter of the session saw us take on a huge beast, who was clearly not looking to talk. This larger encounter still had the same physicality to it, and we had to escape out of its charge before running in for a few swipes of our blade then seeking shelter as it swung round to meet us.

This was but a small taste of the full game which will offer not only the single player campaign I saw, but also an arcade mode and an arena system that can be played online with friends. We didn't get to explore every system either as there's a randomly generated loot system in place and an RPG style skill tree to fill up. That said, I couldn't help but feel disappointed by the lack of environmental interactions; whilst crates could be smashed up for goodies, I had been hoping for more opportunities to kill enemies using the placement of objects in the world. There were no cliff tops to exploit or traps to set off. What we saw was only a glimpse though, at an early stage at that, and so there are plenty of places where these elements could be introduced, such as the dungeon areas that make up the majority of Hellraid's released media so far. I'm therefore cautiously optimistic for this game and I'll be keeping my eye on how it shapes up. Hellraid is due to go into Steam Early Access this autumn, which is the perfect opportunity to investigate more, particularly if it's going to take the top spot away from awesome hack 'n' slash greats.

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