Hellraid preview: dungeons, demons, and déjà vu

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Written by Matt Cabral

Hellraid, Techland’s forthcoming first-person action title set in a dark fantasy world, boasts plenty of potentially interesting bullet points—2-4 player co-op, Story, Arena, and Mission modes, character customization, randomly-generated loot, and some RPG-flavored depth. Sadly, my hands-off demo barely scratched the surface of these promised features.

The first half of my 20 minute preview showed the player hacking and slashing through various types of skeletal soldiers. The action was well-animated and the setting—the bowels of a medieval monastery—was appropriately unsettling, but everything felt a bit too familiar; as someone who’s carved through his fair share of dungeon-dwelling freaks from behind light and heavy attacks,  I felt more déjà vu than excitement. Environmental kills—like dropping chandeliers on unsuspecting foes—injected some variety, but not enough to separate Hellraid from the been-there-hacked-that pack.

Things got more interesting, however, when the “Hircus” literally stomped onto the scene. Described by Techland producer Marcin Kruczkiewicz as “an infernal beast from the third circle of hell”, the demon-man-goat lived up to its billing. Light attacks did little to slow down the towering monster, and it often evaded more powerful strikes—an agile skill apparently not possessed by lower-level threats. Unlike the earlier, button-mashy battles, this one required more strategic elements, such as the liberal use of a “dodge” move.

Based on the genuinely strained look on the player’s face, the next encounter appeared to feature a Dark Souls-rivaling level of difficulty. It was its disturbing character model—more than the encounter itself—however, that hit me as hard as the creature’s double-bladed axe. Prior to meeting this menace, dubbed the “Blinded”, Hellraid’s visual presentation (powered by Techland’s proprietary Chrome Engine 6) struck me as pretty, but very familiar. But the Blinded—a former paladin who can’t see because his king nailed his helmet to his skull—stood out as something that could possibly pop-up in my future nightmares; sporting a detail-drenched suit of armor and an ugly mug penetrated by spikes, its inspired design struck a disturbing contrast between his once regal reputation and the grotesque creature he’s become.

There’s still lots to learn about Hellraid. In addition to the aforementioned features that weren’t shown, Kruczkiewicz promises the ability to shape the protagonist without being restricted to a traditional character class; the demo player’s ability to swap between magic-spitting staves and more melee-focused weapons on-the-fly gave me a taste of this, but I would’ve liked to see the presentation delve much deeper into this character-molding mechanic.

Outside of its impressive visuals and handful of strategic encounters with more imaginative enemy types, Hellraid looked like yet another opportunity to slay re-animated skeletons in creepy gothic settings. It doesn’t land until next year, though, so hopefully my next date with its underworld baddies will put me behind the gamepad and allow me to test out its co-op play, varied modes, and other potentially differentiating features.