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Hellion follow-up: “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream ‘WTF?!?’”

Full Disclosure: I received Hellion for free from Zero Gravity Games.

Three weeks ago I wrote an article on the upcoming Early Access release of “Hellion” by Zero Gravity Games. Hellion, for those who missed it, is a first-person, realistic, space survival game. The premise is simple: you are an average, every-day citizen of Earth who is on a colonization mission to the new star system called “Hellion.” Along the way, while in cryogenic sleep, something goes wrong. When you awaken you find yourself alone in a lifepod in the Hellion system. Nothing of what you were expecting is there: no infrastructure, no government, no big stations with a robust economy and community. Just scattered pieces of the ark ships, some partially-constructed stations that were never finished, and roving groups of other survivors willing to do anything and everything to stay alive.

As I wrote in my preview of the game, it’s exactly what I look for in a game. I love space. I love survival. And I love stories and lore. Hellion either has all of these or will in a very short time.

But Hellion, in Early Access, pre-Alpha, form, has been out now for over two weeks. So what is my take on the game?

Eighty-two hours. That is the current amount of time I have spent playing and testing. One of my basic requirements for a game to be “worth the money” is if I get at least one hour of good playtime for every dollar spent. Meaning, a $60 AAA game better give me at least 60 hours of good play. Granted, I didn’t spend anything on Hellion, but at the $25 Early Access price-point it is definitely meeting my basic requirements for value.

Let’s look at why I have turned playing this Early Access game into an unpaid, full-time job.

Pros of Hellion:

  • Developer interaction
    • Zero Gravity Games opened a Discord on release day to allow those of us playing the game to communicate directly with the developers. They answered our questions, we troubleshot problems together, and play the game together. They are active in streams of their game. They answer questions about the game and give insight to its future. They also take suggestions seriously and are genuinely grateful for the help the players have been giving.
  • Great graphics
    • Graphics is often the only major selling point for AAA games. And often it isn’t good enough. Great graphics does not a good game make. So I don’t usually focus on them too much. But Hellion has a stark beauty that really brings home the sensation of being alone in the most hostile environment known to man.
  • Fluid gameplay
    • When it works right – and that is the key here – a Hellion game is very fluid and smooth. Especially so for an Early Access offering. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work right – as you will see in the list of “Cons”.
  • A frustrating sense of realism
    • Hellion doesn’t use “video game” or “Star Wars” space in its simulation of flight. When you warp from one location to another, for example, part of the warp calculation puts you in orbit of something – the star, a planet, a moon, etc. This means you simply cannot jump willy-nilly from one place to another. This can be frustrating as what appears to be a simple jump from two points can be almost impossible as the two orbits are wildly different.
  • Designed around multiplayer
    • Specifically, cooperative play. Hellion has PVP elements of course, but what makes it stand out is the very nature of the game world – a devastating world that has enough dangers without fighting each other. Because of this people naturally try to work together when they encounter others. Your odds of survival go up quite a bit if you have help.

Cons of Hellion:

  • Early Access
    • As with all Early Access games, Hellion has its problems. The official servers can get very laggy. Trolls abound. The game can crash and framerates can drop to the single-digits for even powerful gaming rigs.
  • No persistence
    • The game is designed to be persistent, yes. But, due to the nature of bugs, updates, and other pre-Alpha issues, server restarts and even complete wipes are common and necessary. This makes building large bases a chore as you know they will eventually be destroyed.
  • Lag and Stutters
    • Hellion requires an online connection. This also means that anything goes wrong with the server, and it goes wrong with your client. You see reduced framerates – sometimes down to the single digits – when a server is “getting old.” You will see a lot of stutters and objects jumping around. Server owners, when you hear reports of this you need to restart your server at the very least.
  • Memory leak
    • Many users have observed and reported a continuous, slow, memory leak. This is common with pre-Alpha and Alpha games, but it is also annoying. After an 8 hour marathon, for example, my computer was chugging. Even after I quit the game it required a reboot to get it back to normal.
  • No Goal
    • Right now the game has no point save to play it and test it. That isn’t the ultimate design philosophy, mind you, but right now that does make the game repetitive and pointless to many players. I prefer to treat it as a “rogue-like” in this aspect: every death, every reboot, is just another chance to get better.

With all that being said, what do I think of the game? I think Hellion has potential to be played for years to come. The solar system is big enough that I could see the maximum number of players expanding beyond the goal of 100 per server and you would still have trouble running into each other. With the addition of the story elements, more construction, more ships, etc., that is coming “Soon™”, there is no end to amount of gameplay coming.

Yet even in the current incarnation Hellion is strangely addictive. “Space Crack”, my friend Paul Shelley, of TheAstroPub, calls it.

So, in short, after 82 hours of playing Hellion I can safely say that I am still excited and will continue to play it for a long time. And I look forward to meeting you on the TESTGaming.TV server!


Erik McKetten: