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Written by  :  Nick Drew (412)
Written on  :  Feb 24, 2007
Rating  :  3.14 Stars3.14 Stars3.14 Stars3.14 Stars3.14 Stars

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Highly entertaining old-school horror sci-fi FPS with modern styling and touches.

The Good

Hell Forces is an unusual, though, wildly stylish old-school fashioned first person shooter, sort of a throwback to the halcyon days of Doom, peppered with choice conventions and innovations from past and present titles, from a relative newcomer Russian development team, Orion.

In recent years, Serious Sam and subsequent like-minded games have gone to some lengths in rejuvenating the FPS mold of yesteryear. While I think, the aforementioned game has in the process of recreating the past style of play created a new template, which in turn has created a sub-genre in its own right. Hell Forces doesn’t fit into this category of fast and frantic run and gun fodder, however, and is more a traditional Doom clone with a contemporary styling, which moreover makes it rather unique.

The back story is told in an interesting retrospective fashion, during intermission points, at the beginning and throughout the game, which sees the game’s protagonist, Steven Geist (looks sort of like a mock Keanu Reeves with a pony tail and wearing leather jacket and trousers), being interrogated by an Interpol agent, about the events leading up to the current point in time. These sequences are done quite effectively using in-game models and environments.

The initial prelude introductory scenario, however, is played out in an entertaining comic book style (sort of akin to Max Payne) with both black and white and some times partially colourised panels, and the voice-over audio track play over the top as the story unfolds. The basic premise concerns Steven, A former tactical response team member, who has since resigned himself to a life of a simple bartender, when one day his former girlfriend, a junkie, comes back into his life asking for cash, and speaking of strange goings on where she resides, regarding peoples souls being taken from their bodies. Steven writes her story off as BS, and lets her go. Later he sees something on the news that rings some truth to her tale, and he sets off to find her, and get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

When the first level loads, you’ll notice is that it takes several moments to pre cache everything, textures, light maps etc., but this happens to be a good thing, because loading in-game is instantaneous, that’s right, no wait whatsoever. This might not sound that spectacular, but it improves the flow of the game play no end.

The first setting is a city slum at night, and it is quite lavish with gritty detail, and the game engine seemed to me like something between half-life 2 and Painkiller, in terms of general looks, physics, and world complexity. My first thoughts when the game actually starts out, were of Monolith’s Blood, where Steven grabs a lead pipe, and then dispenses some wisecrack, and then a screaming flaming zombie comes running toward you and finally collapses into a heap. Nearby a trash dispenser you find a slain cop, and proceed to pinch his hand gun, now you’re ready to rock and roll.

On your travels you encounter some curious zombies, including hopping mad hookers, balding grotesque red necks, and shuffling street punks. They advance on you, growling, and snarling and occasionally speaking a few words of evil intent. Some of them move in a quite surreal fashion, like one second they are in the distance, then the next moment they are in your face clawing at you, making it easy to be caught off guard.

One design element I was quite taken by, was that the monsters have some specific damage spots, for example, you can strike a zombie on the noggin, and a chunk of the head will come off, or aim at the body and part of the thorax will fall out revealing underlying rib cages. I always remember thinking this sort of stuff was cool in the House of the dead games, and wondered why nobody imitated it in horror FPS games. Rag doll type physics is also employed here, and the model’s limbs here kind of bend and twists like a marionette cut from it’s strings, and the enemies often flails into inelegant final rest. When explosive weapons are used, bodies get some serious hang-time when flying across the large environs. Another interesting inclusion is ‘tumbling death’ from the players’ point of view. Just say you were snuffed out on the foot of a staircase, the camera would follow your roll all the way down the stairs from your eye level axis, before finishing on the ground with a final thud, and a decidedly lopsided camera angle.

Concerning controls, something a bit different here is the jump button is assigned to the right mouse button. When Steven jumps, it like a little hop, but you can sort of crudely climb by strings of button presses, and it makes jumping puzzles much less frustrating.

Much like Doom, Duke Nukem 3D and the like, Hell Forces has a simple toggle inventory system, which works in much the same way as the aforementioned games. You collect various artefacts during the course of the game, e.g., special sun glasses which when used, illuminate the whole display in a bright glowing green with Matrix style characters flowing down the screen, this works for a limited time, and then you have to wait for it to recharge, like the torch on half-life. Other items include Dracula’s teeth, which will gradually replenish your health when activated, or a Barbie voodoo doll, which takes about a third of the health away from enemies in your vicinity. There are a lot of weird things to collect here, some greatly useful, some not so.

In terms of arsenal, you are spoiled for choice with an overkill of automatic weapons, from pistols to machine guns, and also a Gatling gun, rocket launcher and plasma gun. There really aren’t specific weapons for specific enemies, it just a case of “which weapons do I feel like using” at any given instance, and usually the more powerful the better. Some of the weapons boast some really out there designs, with intricate interweaving details, cool glowing effects and animations. All of the orthodox type weapons look authentic, and also sport realistic accompanying sound effects. Half-life favourites like the assault shotgun and Colt Python has been included in the mix, and also the weapons’ HUD on the top of the display is also done as for HL, and it brings a familiar feel to the proceedings.

As for enemy AI, well, they do have some behaviourial patterns, such as hanging back to force you into making the first move, rolling from one direction to the other to evade your shots, or sneaking up on you from the darkness, but generally speaking essentially serves strictly as cannon fodder. There is the occasional boss battle, though, and some times a strategy must be employed.

There is some extra interest added to the level designs, with some genuinely non linear progression, making for some devious puzzling, giving this side of things an added edge, so it’s not always reduced to find key to open door scenarios.

The Bad

I don’t want to go on and on about this, but the overall writing, including dialogue and narrative, is largely poorly written and badly constructed. This does NOT detract from the great game play, however, and is really just a shame, as some of the more heavy story developing moments while potentially intriguing, lose impact from poor English writing, and lapses of gibberish. The voice acting is also largely sub-par.

Melee combat is a bit disappointingly catered for during the course of the game. There is a handful of hand to hand weapons to collect, but once you gain the meat cleaver, (this is very early) it cancels out all the other alternatives because it is so much more powerful.

The Bottom Line

Hell Forces is really something quite different, though at the same time fits like a glove given all the games it evokes. Its one of those games that is really easy to pick up at any time, and I found myself whiling away the afternoons blasting evil creatures, exploring the lavishly detailed set pieces, and working out the vexing puzzle spots into the wee hours of the night. The classic style of play just works a treat, and there is plenty of fodder here to keep you going for a good stretch of time, and there is enough variety in atmospheric contrasting environment design here for about three games! If you are burnt out on all the standard bread and butter types of shooters out today, and are looking for an interesting change of pace, indulge your curiosity, I think you’ll get a kick out of this one.