As a love letter to 90s first person shooters, Hellbound succeeds. Unfortunately, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve played this exact game before – because I have. Hellbound is an almost carbon copy of Doom, right down to the font used in the key art, and as such it may scratch an itch here and there, but fails to do anything in the slightest bit new.
The graphics are improved over the original Doom, obviously, though they’re markedly less impressive than in this year’s Doom Eternal. And while it likes to shout about its difficulty (“This game was made like it’s the 90s,” it proclaims), I found it more infuriating than fun, eeking forward a little at a time before getting shot down, again, with little damage feedback.
But then, that’s what it was built to be and so Hellbound at least achieves that. It’s a loud, brash shooter that wastes little time on things like “story”, and instead fills you in on the plot in a single loading screen before dropping you into the fight. “Enough backstory!” shouts Hellgore, the subtle-as-a-shotgun-blast protagonist. “Let’s get to it!”
And from here on Hellbound is a deliberate assault on the senses that I couldn’t help feeling was just a little bit try-hard. If you’re going to emulate something as iconic as Doom, you’d expect something new thrown in, something to maintain an identity beyond Hellbound’s almost fetishistic homage. Some of the weapons are interesting enough, but they’re not much different to the standard blasters we’ve seen before.
I wish I could pinpoint exactly what it is about Hellbound that failed to resonate with me and, ultimately, I think it’s simply that I don’t “need” it. I played and conquered Doom Eternal earlier this year; I played all the others at the time; I experienced Project Warlock a while ago, something that does largely the same as Hellbound but less obnoxiously.
It’s similar in many ways to Painkiller, too, something else it riffs heavily off, in that most of its action takes place in enclosed areas disguised as open ones, where you’ll mostly be blasting enemies into bloody pulps in order to move on to the next area. Again, it is fun, it is satisfying, and it is well-made. It’s just not fresh.
Maybe that doesn’t matter. If what you’re after is a hardcore shooter experience then Hellbound is going to deliver that with zero time-wasting. The no-frills approach is enough to keep you running and gunning, looping through retries with barely a pause thanks to the fast loading times – although the check-pointing is a little uneven, sometimes spreading checkpoints too thinly and at other times going a little too generously the other way.
I will give Hellbound props for how incredibly fluid it is, and how satisfyingly punchy each weapon feels. Watching enemies pop in a fountain of squibby red giblets is hard to get tired of. The soundtrack, too, is unashamedly over the top, beginning to grate after a while but certainly successful at raising your adrenaline. Playing this in the dark with your headphones on is highly recommended.
At present there’s no controller support, although you can navigate the menus with one, which indicates that it may be something that comes later. It’s not a major issue, as the high-speed twitch shooting certainly seems a better fit for mouse and keyboard, and there aren’t any complex systems to get your head around.
If you’re hankering for more of that simple, unfettered Doom action, Hellbound may well scratch your itch. It’s not deep or particularly clever, but it is about as close to a 90s FPS as you can get without just playing one. It’s deliberately challenging, knowingly over the top, and as loud as you want it to be. Just don’t be surprised if it all feels very familiar from the get-go.
Slick, unashamaed fun
Simple and entertaining
Doesn't have its own identity
Checkpointing is iffy