The Retro FPS Renaissance has been in full swing for a few years now. The movement, inadvertently kickstarted by the Rise of the Triad reboot in 2013, garnered enough momentum in the past few years to give us Boomer Shooter fans absolute gems like DUSK, Amid Evil, Ion Fury, Project Warlock, Hedon and many more.
Hellbound, the latest project from the Argentina-based developer Saibot Studios looked like the perfect initiate to join the moment when it first launched its rather basic survival mode back in 2018. Impressed by the gunplay, I had been hoping for the game to get a full release and couldn’t hold my excitement when the devs launched a Kickstarter campaign to implement a proper campaign as well as to attract publishers.
2 years and a successful Kickstarter later, Hellbound is finally releasing on Steam today with a proper campaign and an expanded survival mode. I wouldn’t be much of a Boomer Shooter enthusiast if I failed to put up a day 1 review, now would I?
Story? What story?
In Hellbound, you take on the mantle of Hellgore, a huge ass motherf**ker who loves killing Demons. What else do you need to know?
In all seriousness, there’s barely any story to speak of. Hellgore’s species were wiped out by demon bastards before they went after Earth. Folks from Earth led an expedition to the demon realm to find ways to avert the invasion and found Hellgore – or what was left of him. They patched him up (literally) and sent him on his merry way to hell to do what he does best- killing motherf**kers.
Derivative but super satisfying
The moment-to-moment gameplay in Hellbound is pretty derivative but that’s what the developers are going for. It treads similar ground to other FPS giants and does a pretty damn fine job of making the player feel empowered as they slaughter their way through hundreds of mortally-challenged foes.
Your playgrounds are large, your toys are big and the game itself is pretty fudging fun. Hellbound covers all the basics gracefully. The shooting is meaty and satisfying. The weapons, while basic, are fun to use and have alternate fire modes. The movement is swift and butter-smooth. The gibs are glorious and you can bet your sweet hide that there is plenty of that.
You know the game isn’t messing around when the first pickup is a semi-automatic rifle. Hellbound makes sure that the player has everything they need for a jolly good time. You get 5 weapons (a bigass club, a semi-auto, a shotgun, an assault rifle, a rocket launcher), 3 power-ups, plenty of health and armor pickups, and 8 types of enemies to bully. You then proceed to traverse sizable levels slaughtering foes, finding keystones, and opening doors. Pretty basic stuff but just enough for you to have fun.
While Hellbound‘s tagline is “a 90’s FPS, 20 years later”, the game feels more similar to Painkiller and Vivisector than to Duke 3D or Quake, and that’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s worth a mention. There are also some basic quality-of-life features missing – the ability to quicksave and quickload, more difficulty settings, FOV higher than 90, etc.
So, that’s it?
While the gameplay of Hellbound is extremely fun, my heart was left unfulfilled as the credits rolled around. Hellbound’s campaign is criminally short. By short, I mean really, really short, featuring just 7 levels culminating in a boss fight and clocking in at just around 2 hours. Just when I was getting into the thick of it, the game abruptly came to a halt – leaving me scratching my head and saying ‘what the fuck was that?’. The campaign is nothing more than a glorified shareware episode that you’ll have to pay for (as ironic as that sounds) and I’m unable to express just how disappointed I am. Don’t get me wrong – the survival mode is fun and all, but that’s not people expect from a game advertised as a modern take on Retro FPS.
Speaking of which, the wave-based survival mode has been expanded upon in the full release. You now have access to 4 large survival arenas to test your mettle against a global leaderboard. While I did enjoy the free version of the mode 2 years ago, I just don’t see myself playing it for extended periods of time. It’s suitable for short periods of stressbusting but that’s about it.
Visuals, Performance & Sound
Hellbound looks great and there are no two ways about it. Inspired by the visual design of DOOM 2016, the game has some richly-detailed levels, enemies, and weapons. Although the blood effects look like frozen ketchup and there are some odd textures that occasionally stick out, they can largely be ignored. Some enemies also blend in too well with the environment due to the red color tone and that can get annoying at times.
The game ran at upwards of 60fps maxed out at 1080p for pretty much the entire campaign. The only section in which I had performance issues was the final boss fight where the fps kept tanking to the low 40s. There are some bugs present like doors not opening, a few crashes – nothing a previous save can’t fix. The review copy also had a nasty bug where the game wouldn’t start unless I used the ‘-dx11’ startup command. Thankfully, the devs were able to patch it out after I reported it.
Hellbound features a hard-hitting heavy metal soundtrack that has become somewhat a staple of the genre. There’s nothing like a bit of headbanging accompanying the sound of cocking a shotgun. Sadly, the music is static and gets looped over and over to the point where I just muted the in-game audio in favor of my own playlist. It also wouldn’t be an old-school FPS if the PC didn’t deliver some badass and campy one-liners – Hellgore doesn’t disappoint. As for the general sound design, I felt that the other weapons besides the shotgun could use a bass boost. But hey, that’s just me.
Hellbound is a conflicting game for me. On the one hand, you have this basic but really satisfying no-nonsense gameplay, but on the other, there’s an abrupt and unfulfilling main campaign. Even after two years, it still feels like a prototype pitch or an Early Access title in terms of content. I appreciate the effort put into the survival mode but that’s not a boomer shooter thing at all. If you’re someone who loved the free survival mode and wants more of that, Hellbound might be the thing for you. But if you’re an oldschool gamer who loves a classic multi-episode campaign, the game will surely disappoint.