Hellbound Hands-on Preview

We’ve had a lot of old school-inspired shooters over the past few years, and the upcoming Hellbound by Sailbot Studios is yet another game attempting to recapture ’90s PC gaming nostalgia.

The developers had previously released a free Survival Mode demo to give players a taste of what to expect, but have now finally released a demo showcasing an early level from the game’s campaign. You can try it yourself on the game’s Steam page, but I thought I’d also give my own impressions of what I think about the game so far.

The demo doesn’t waste time trying to drown you in any sort of exposition or story, though apparently there will be a story of some sort in the final game. Instead, you are simply dropped into a blasted hellscape full of demons that need to be taught a harsh lesson from the business end of your high caliber assault rifle.

There’s nothing complicated or unique about the mechanics of Hellbound. It’s pure, mindless slaughter, all about circle strafing and kitting enemies, just like the old days of the genre. The level is littered with health, armor, and ammo pick-ups, and there’s some secret areas to uncover. Most of the health pickups are only +1 or +5, but the secrets tend to contain more substantial upgrades. There’s even a rocket launcher hidden in the demo.

One thing the game doesn’t tell you is that you can smash corpses to make them drop health pickups. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, as it does kind of interfere with the pace of the game. On the bright side, overkilling an enemy makes them drop the health automatically, overriding the need to beat their corpse to collect their delicious hearts.

The demo has fairly decent weapon variety. You start with a club and a rifle, and can find a shotgun, minigun, and rocket launcher. The most satisfying of the weapons is the shotgun, which has a tendency to make enemies explode into a fine mist of giblets at close range.

The club feels a bit useless though, due to its short reach and finicky charged attack. The others are all decent enough, though I think the rifle and minigun could use some better feedback since they just cause enemies to stagger a little when shot, and can take a few rounds to score an actual kill.

The weapons feature alternate fire modes, but sadly they all feel very uninspired. The minigun and rifle are the laziest because they just get a crappy iron sights zoom, something that feels very out-of-place in a ’90s-inspired shooter. Meanwhile, the shotgun just fires a larger and more powerful blast that uses five ammo. I really hope the devs revisit the alternate fire modes, because right now they are very underwhelming.

Another thing that could be revisited is the overall FOV. The game claims it goes up to 100, but the large weapon models makes it feel like less. I don’t really tend to get motion sickness from low FOV, but I’ve seen some people complaining in the forums, so its probably worth addressing before the full game comes out.

The enemy variety is hard to gauge since this is clearly an early level, with only three types of demons on display. There’s big mutant guys with clubs, big mutant guys with guns, and tall, slender demons that lob fireballs.

The mutants are fairly straightforward and tend to just charge at you, even the ones with the guns. The larger demons at least try to keep their distance, preferring to bombard you with fireballs from long range.

I’d also like to see a manual save system eventually. In its current state, you have to beat the level in a single setting, and if you die then you’ll just have to start from the beginning again. The demo can be moderately challenging in some places, due in no small part to the low effectiveness of health pickups and the number of enemies that comprise a few specific encounters.

I’m fine with the current level of challenge, I just wish there was some sort of way to save mid-level. Then again, the game looks like it will be focused on map memorization and speedrunning since the demo level isn’t actually that long. You can easily beat it in just a few minutes once you have the layout down.

Based on the demo so far, Hellbound could use some tweaks here and there, but its shaping up to be a welcome new addition to the growing library of retro-inspired shooters made with modern technology. It doesn’t currently have a release date, but presumably it will be out sometime next year.



Frank was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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