"You are a huge-ass motherfucker killing demons in Hell," reads the matter-of-fact Steam page for Hellbound, a new shooter inspired by the likes of Doom, Blood, and Quake. It's clear Argentinian developer Saibot has a firm tone in mind for the game, which is impossibly fast, unashamedly action-focused, and splattered with gore.
I ask Tobias Rusjan, director, game designer, and programmer, what he thinks makes a great first-person shooter. "Solid gameplay, tight controls, and interesting level design," he says. "Of course, this needs to be combined with good graphics and sound, not only in terms of quality, but also in terms of holistic coherence in general."
Hellbound joins Dusk, Ion Maiden, and Devil Daggers in revering the hellish shooters of the 1990s. But why is there such powerful nostalgia for this particular brand of FPS? I ask Rusjan.
"In our opinion, people are nostalgic about '90s shooters because they miss the focus on gameplay instead of narrative," he says. "In those days games always prioritised level design in order to create the most interesting gameplay situations. When creating a narrative focused game there is always a tension between level flow and plausibility or realism, which is needed to deliver a believable story. And in some cases this can end up hurting the game experience."
But what does Hellbound offer that the recent Doom reboots do not? "The new Doom games are excellent," says Rusjan. "They have a lot of content and an amazing amount of detail and polish. That said, they lack a certain feel that the original shooters from the '90s had."
"Hellbound is focused more on non-stop action and gameplay without interruptions. The only things you can do are shoot, kill, move fast, and perform minimal interactions with the environment such as opening doors, pressing buttons, and finding secret locations."
See Hellbound in action above.
In most classic shooters, story takes a back seat to the action, and that's something Rusjan wants to reflect in the similarly narrative-light Hellbound. "We just don't think that the narrative is a big driver for fans of old school shooters," he says. "Of course, we are aware that for some players, having a story adds something extra to the final experience and their feeling of completion. We have that covered."
I ask Rusjan how, in such a relentlessly fast-paced, chaotic game, the designers at Saibot will stop players feeling exhausted or overwhelmed. "Our job as game designers is to achieve a certain balance for each of the challenges in the game," he says. "These games have a specific cadence of events and situations: moments of tension and exploration and rushes of adrenaline-pumping combat.
"These peaks and valleys are usually interconnected by presenting new weapons, enemies, and mechanics to keep you interested at all times. In any case, fans of the genre, like us, are true warriors. As long as they are immersed in the experience and there's blood flowing through their veins they'll never rest until they beat every level."
I ask Rusjan which of Hellbound's large arsenal of absurd, over-the-top weapons he loves the most. "I'd say the Triple Shotgun. It's so gratifying to use it against multiple enemies at once. The primary fire shoots one cartridge at close range allowing you to kill two or three enemies at the same time. The secondary fire, on the other hand, shoots three cartridges at once, firing a powerful volley that can shred bigger enemies or take down four or five grunts simultaneously."
"This is, of course, accompanied by a feast of gore, including dismemberment, as taught by classic shooters like Blood, Duke Nukem, and Quake—all presented in a glorious next-gen package featuring 30 years of real-time rendering improvements."
And, of course, a '90s-style shooter wouldn't complete without a ridiculous thrash metal soundtrack, which Hellbound thankfully has. "Music and audio in general play a very important role in these kinds of games," says Rusjan. "In our opinion, it's on a par with the visual elements. This is why we turned to our oldest team member, David Levill, to create the soundscape. Without a doubt he is the best composer and sound designer in our local scene. He always knows how to add a unique style and creative details to every task."
"After several iterations David managed to define a music style for Hellbound that is perfectly aligned to what we had in mind for the game. It's a combination of thrash metal and hardcore, mixed with electronic music and hellish creature sounds. The final result is an impactful music experience with touches of dark science fiction."
"We want you to feel immersed in this hell we've created," says Rusjan about what emotions he wants Hellbound to stir in players. "To feel as powerful as our hero Hellgore, but also to be always on the edge in a truly challenging adventure. One of the best things about the old school games is that the progression system exists within the mind of the player. The more they play, the better they become."
If you want to experience Hellbound's breakneck FPS action for yourself, a demo is available on Steam.