Occasionally here at Player2.net.au, we will play something that deserves your attention but probably doesn’t need a full review written for it. Be it DLC for the latest AAA title, a little indie game or even an Android/iOS title. We play these titles for a blockbusting amount of time (2 – 5 hours) and report back to you the reader on what we found. So grab your popcorn and settle in for the latest episode of Blockbuster Gaming.
Blockbuster Gaming – High Hell
This is an awkward one. As a title for review, High Hell got a mite lost in the mess of trying to get another review title to actually run on my PC without crashing – it’s probably testament to that other title (Wolfenstein) that I wasted far too much time trying to get it back to good after it punished me for running it on an under-spec video card, to the sacrifice of a game that blazed along with ease.
It’s probably also a testament to my own tastes; the storytelling and creative shooting scenarios of Wolfenstein’s first hour had me desperate to get it working. High Hell, by comparison, is a race-against time, die-and-try again score attack shooter. Atmosphere isn’t really a priority: the press release describes it as neon-soaked, but that has more to do with the world being coloured in with fluorescent textas than it does with lightsabers being used as the primary lighting source.
The music is off, too, but only a bit. It gels with the gameplay focus, but never properly cuddles up to the visuals. As a whole, the aesthetic succeeds in that it’s manic, but as I once learned about a friend who had a fashion look that implied that he just fell out of bed and landed in his clothes each morning, there’s an amount of nuance to this art that is easily missed.
Granted, this would matter a lot more if High Hell were more like, well, like Wolfenstein. It’s not. Playing the role of a robot that looks a bit like a nightmarish sex doll, you’re armed with a laser gun and a mission. Mission’s vary, but they all amount to the same thing: get to a thing and press a button to either kill/steal/destroy it and then jump off of the edge of the stage.
Jumping off the edge of the stage is the best. Seriously, it is such a pure distillation of High Hell’s focus that I’m almost in awe. High Hell thrives on bite-sized blasts of intensive action, daring players to do better. Finish the main goal faster and maybe complete a side quest and feel better about yourself. Oh, but dying is also super easy, so maybe now you’re done maybe just jump over this railing? It’s cool – they’re all over the place. Jump off anytime.
That temptation is always there, meaning that there’s never really any need to open a menu to retry a stage if you get off to a bad start (health is a limited premium that is only restored very slightly by taking out baddies; restorative pick-ups are about as common as good coffee in Los Angeles). And yes, it’s rad, but as the game feels a need to ramp up the challenge, the inevitable price is stages that are bigger, that take longer, and that are more aggravating to fail at. Adding checkpoints to a game like this would miss the point, and it seems to have wisely resisted.
At its best, this is jump in jump out stuff. It’s openly ludicrous and predominantly twitch. Doors exist only to be kicked to splinters, and you’ll quickly get in the habit of firing a laser blast the moment the wood chips are flying for fear of one being fired at you first. You’ll start off against just one type of enemy, but soon enough you’ll have dogs and brain-controlled monkeys to contend with.
And then there are the bosses, which kind of suck. High Hell’s stages offer limited feedback, and enemies ragdoll with intentionally cheap expressiveness. What this results in are boss encounters that offer limited information, and information that isn’t particularly satisfying to exploit once figured out. The game would probably be better off without them.
Overall, High Hell is a pretty good game for… I’m not really sure. The quick, die-and-try again loop would make it perfect for Vita or Switch, but the laser-shape pinpoint targeting of your only firearm practically demands the precision of a mouse. It’s not really something you boot up a gaming PC for and barely demands enough time to justify digging out a mouse to plug into a laptop. Maybe it’s the type of game that boss keys were invented for back in the 80’s, a low-demand slick of quick action that would likely run just fine of low-grade office hardware.