High Hell Review
“High Hell hath known no fury like a woman scorned.” or so the saying goes. Vellmann and Doseone, the team behind Heavy Bullets, return with this little game featuring family values, moral lessons and age-appropriate comedy for all the family. High Hell has you tracking down the BO$$, murdering old Mr. Frumpy Henchmen, then killing the BO$$ himself in cold blood in what can be called the second least successful “bring your kids to work day” in recent history.
Now as the cheap box-modelling, AutoCAD levels and basic non-plot might tell you, this is very much a gameplay-focused game, and the gameplay in focus is just okay.
You’ve got a basic moveset of a single weapon; the SOULSHOT, which is a rapid-firing railgun that demands precision but kills most enemies in one hit. you’ve got your Mighty Boot that also makes quick work of most enemies and demands somewhat less precision, and you’ve got a crouch, which doesn’t kill anyone but who knows, enough wishful thinking will get you to all kinds of nowhere. Your movement speed is pretty lackluster, and your accuracy is pinpoint. Completely pinpoint, so endgame score-chasing becomes more about carefully lining up shots rather than just screaming like a demon and shooting at demons. You can still do that, though. No-one is stopping you. Sky’s the limit.
It controls a lot like Heavy Bullets with a kick, go figure. If only there was some kind of common thread between the two games.
Shooting things until hell freezes over is okay, but nothing about it is amazing or truly compelling. You never really build up hell-splitting momentum or have much in the way of movement options unless you’re really fond of inching around with the crouch, the absolutely tiny hitbox on your bullets doesn’t allow for any hectic gameplay, and at the same time you haven’t got any lean options for more tactical play that isn’t abusing enemy sight ranges to take them out from a distance. When push comes to shove, your main way to not get shot in the face is just to strafe in one direction. Don’t change directions, you’ll get shot. Jump for a little extra momentum to avoid that one boss’s attacks. You’ll know the one.
You’re not fast enough to dodge and weave; you might sting like a bee but you float like a grizzly bear that’s carrying an anchor, wearing concrete shoes and they’ve been listening to a lot of obscure emo rock lately because they just “get” them.
As hell-designated punishment for your evil, wanton strafing, boy does your protagonist have a love for just getting stuck on the geometry. Several boss fights are just litanies of this invisible bear-trap triggering, having to spam the jump button to try and climb out of it before you get shot down. Enemies have a startup to their shot, but any reaction to that is going to be purely planned in advance. You can try crouching out aimed shots, but the best defense is a good offense when it comes to taking on enough of the underworld’s population to make Dante’s Inferno look like a tour guide brochure.
You can take three hits in succession to begin with, and as long as you manage to hit an enemy in between getting shot, you won’t die. It’s a system that’s doesn’t mind you taking a hit from the alright enemy variety; you have your trash mook who exists for death, your rushdown dog keen to play fetch with your shinbones, your heavy guy who’s reminiscent of that sad grizzly bear from earlier, and that one enemy type that exists to make you sad. It’s the one that’s just a deathball that’s invincible for like 5 seconds of its startup. Don’t worry, you can wait it out. Momentum is actually for the weak.
Overall, the gameplay just left me fairly lukewarm. So it’s funny that for all the backseat it takes, it’s really the world itself that does the heavy lifting as far as being compelling goes, and it’s the pacing/level design that keeps the game running.
High Hell is a world of corporate demons and has a sense of humour about that – it manages to strike that golden spot in the world of indie games where it’s funny without being referential or obnoxious. Visual gags are the name of the game, with bodies being thrown into ballpits, skewering squirming hotdog worms – in all senses of that terrifying phrase – or a penchant for demonic palettes (redundant, I know), and most of it is delivered like a bored list channel surfer in the interim “loading screens”.
If a game this low-fi doesn’t look like it needs loading screens, you’d be right. You can just skip them. They’re funny to sit through nonetheless.
All that aesthetic you’re seeing everywhere is striking enough, a bunch of highly corporate, but tasteful, skyscrapers with a terrifying hellscape, but tasteful, colour scheme that’s not painful on the eyes. Character models and such are just that super low-body hypergeometric textureless look that’s all the rage, not particularly special, and generally it revels in looking like a low-fi 90s shooter mod haphazardly bisected with a workplace induction video, where they draw all the demons from.
You’ve got a soundtrack and it’s a hard-hitting mix of electronic and bass that follows the current indie vogue of driving the action and remaining at the forefront. We’re really spoiled with audio engineering these days, it’s vogue because it works and it’s come a long way since the idea of “felt, not heard”.
Ever return to like a 2006-2010 XBLA title that just has all the music be this tiny whisper, a suggestion of a sad, pitiful existence that leaves you with a game that would absolutely be improved by either constant blaring music or screaming? Indies have gotten the right idea.
So the gameplay is pretty weak and the humour/world, while decent, takes a backseat. What’s there left for poor old High Hell? Well, the levels themselves, and the pacing between them. This is a 2 hour long game for a first playthrough, and it makes full use of every second.
The levels start off simple and end up ridiculously large, and the levels at their best when they’re trying their thrice damned hardest to be memorable and intricate without sacrificing the obvious routes available. Like a mall santa or booby-trapping serial killer, they’re giving you options, and giving you options to go through those options. The true star of the show, all those reflections of the protagonist you see in the mirrors should really just be replaced with screenshots taken of other levels.
So the story/campaign is 20 levels, takes maybe 90 minutes to 2 hours to go through. That’s a commitment to pacing and to not wearing out its welcome, and what really carries the game, far beyond the gameplay or levels themselves, is just keeping things fresh with the bag of tricks that it has. Without relying on tired staples to try and get you to replay the same content over and over, distilling it into a grey slop. None of that here. It’s taken the opposite approach, where you’ve got your 2 hours of solid content and some fair incentive to just go through it again and try to do it better.
Not like you’re going to lose much in the way of time, you’d be remiss not to try. Now what High Hell wants to say is that the meat of the game is in the optional stuff – chasing the high scores, trying to speedrun levels, and getting collectables.
Now these are pretty effective. Speedrunning takes the lead in jumping off the side of the skyscraping, refusing to use a parachute and slamming into the side of your backlog – the game gets a whole lot more streamlined when you’re just ignoring half the enemies and just going for the shots that count and objectives that count way more. Outright score-chasing, on the other hand – you really do have to choose between trying to go as quickly as possible, or trying to do absolutely everything but doing it accurately for a slight bonus, which turns the game into a sniping, stealthing and otherwise “shoot-them-before-they-notice-you” simulator.
Not the game at its best. Or at least not the game at what I’m best at it. Your mileage will probably vary.
An absolute criticism I do have for the game is that there isn’t nearly enough stats shown on the mission select. I want to see everything from the best run, the accuracy, collectables, side-mission objectives. As it is you’re given best time, best score and rest is in the devil’s hands – you can peer up into High Hell all you want but it may as well be figuring itself out.
There’s also some dolls to collect. Try to get them all. One in each level. Worth chasing, there’s a payoff, believe me, and it’s worth the risk of being caught playing with dolls.
After all, it’s all in the name of seeing the Highest Hell of all.
Disclaimer: PC Aficionado purchased this game for the purpose of this review.
If you liked this High Hell review you can find more PC Aficionado reviews here.
- Nicely Swift Pacing
- Interesting Aesthetic
- Intricate Levels
- Decent Sense of Humour
- Rote Gameplay
- Methodical Playstyle
- Unambitious Enemies