Game: High Hell
Developer: Terri Vellmann, Doseone
Publisher: Devolver Digital
High Hell is the quintessential arcadey first-person shooter. It’s overflowing with lightning paced action, eases you in with simplistic levels, and delivers just the right amount of weirdness you’d expect from a Devolver Digital game. But don’t go into it expecting the grotesque realism of DOOM or Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, because High Hell‘s graphics are the opposite of a beautifully rendered modern FPS. As such, it’s incredibly easy to dismiss its drab, cel-shaded palette of pink, grey and black and assume it’s not worth your time. Appearances, however, can be deceiving, especially so in the case of High Hell.
Hiding beneath monotonous neon skies and several shades of grey is a superb little thrill ride. High Hell instantly gets the ball rolling with a quick rundown of basic manoeuvres and you’re set for 20 levels. Honestly, the gameplay formula is so distilled I was shocked; there’s no ammo, no upgrades, and health packs are as rare as hen’s teeth.
Your only means of fighting back is the soulshot, a lethal shotgun that typically cleans up enemies (masked assassins serving a higher evil purpose) in one hit. Even more surprisingly, the narrative is negligible. You’re quite literally dumped into a nondescript building and issued objectives with no explanation as to who you are or why you’re there. But what High Hell lacks in narrative complexity and weapon variety it massively makes up for in fun.
Ridiculous, over the top, hell-raising fun that cares less for style than making sure you have a blast. And since the makers of High Hell were responsible for hits like Enter the Gungeon and Heavy Bullets, perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised at its gameplay first approach. Split into short, intense rounds of gunfire and bullet dodging, its quick level structure is perfect for a casual playthrough that doesn’t demand too much much time or familiarity with FPS titles, as well as being a boon for speedrunners.
It’s advertised as a 1-2 hour game, and despite my crudeness in rapid shooting which stretched it to several, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Unlike Space Hulk: Deathwing, the setup of High Hell feels instantly engaging without relying on deep lore. Instead, its unadulterated brand of manic shooting and hyper-aware enemies take over your senses, engaging you on an unearthly level until the final act. There are humorous ‘minigames’ dispersed between levels, but they’re often a gimmicky continuation of an in-level objective and exist to prevent boredom over the loading screen. And it works. That’s the core of High Hell‘s appeal: entertainment.
Ultra-clear level design is taken to the next level thanks to psychotic chimpanzees, laser eyeballs, savage dogs and a gigantic robot, all of who will annihilate you if your reflexes aren’t fast enough. For this, I absolutely and fervently recommend you play on low sensitivity because it makes a tremendous difference in terms of both accuracy and response time. The biggest critique High Hell is likely to receive is for its length, but I’d like to praise it; bigger isn’t always better, shorter isn’t always worse.
As a self-contained, shortish FPS, High Hell nails what it sets out to do. It’s indisputable that the inclusion of more levels would have been exciting, but Terri Vellmann and Doseone seem to have found a happy medium between length and retention of player interest; any longer, and High Hell would have risked being repetitive—a sensation I never felt once during an exciting campaign that’s built for keyboards and controllers. Plus, there’s always room for a sequel.
At $9.99 USD, High Hell is an absolute steal. You can pick up a copy through Steam (PC, Mac) here.
Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for purposes of this review.