Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller

Developer/Publisher:  Gametek
Year Released:  1994

Review by Gordon Aplin (February, 1995)
hell.jpg Punks in American gangster idiom tended to be petty criminals who acted tough just up until the moment when Clint Eastwood asked them to make his day. Then in the late seventies Punks sprang up again in the form of aggressive youths who stuck themselves with safety pins and superglued their hair as some form of fashion statement. I don't know any `Cyberpunks' but the term sounds aggressive and vaguely threatening and conjures up an image of loutish, posturing bullies who get their kicks from trying to intimidate people on the Internet.

Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller seems to be aimed at a very narrow market which, in terms of sales alone, is a very shortsighted strategy. Even though it claims starring roles for the likes of Dennis Hopper and Grace Jones, it is not exactly an 'interactive movie' in that sense. Only two 'real-life' actors actually appear in the game, one a hologram and the other on a computer screen. The rest of the characters resemble animated mannequins but without the personality of store window-display dummies.

Another bleak future!
On top of that, the game's scenario is another one of those depressing, bleak future dystopias which provides a vehicle for the writers to populate the world with aggressive, tough-talking 'street-kids' and sundry weirdoes. This 'hard-edged grittiness' is supposed to convince us that the game is 'realistic' when, in reality, it is simply comic book fantasy.

The game world is set one hundred years in the future when a portal to Hell has appeared in Washington D.C. (presumably on the White House lawn) and demons are on the prowl looking for sinners. America is now ruled by the repressive regime of the Hand of God and its androgynous leader Solene Solux. As well as cracking down on 'rampant immorality', new computer technologies have been outlawed, along with the usual prohibitions on free speech, books, etc. Cross the Hand of God and you will be sent straight to the fire and brimstone hell of perpetual torment.

You play the part of either Gideon Eshanti or Rachel Braque a couple of Artificial Reality Containment (ARC) agents whose job is to suppress illegal technologies. One night they suddenly find themselves the target of a 'scrub team' - the Hand's death squad. They manage to escape from their would-be assassins and now, on the run, they must learn why their own government wants them dead.

Actually, although you get to choose whether you will play a male or female character this is really no choice at all as the two of them stay together throughout and all their conversations are in predetermined cut sequences. So your character is basically a double act. This effectively precludes you from playing the game again as the other partner as there is simply no point.

At times you are able to recruit other characters to assist you much like in some role playing games but without the depth of interaction. Usually they have only one or two objects that you can use or a particular skill to help you overcome a problem. Much of the time you forget that they are with you as, once recruited, they never appear on screen except in your inventory, and, of course, they cannot accompany you to Hell.

One of the characters you will meet is a languid mannequin known as 'Electric Sex' who flashes her left breast at you with monotonous regularity. At one point she says, "Any time I want talk I'll get an interactive computer game." She must have been thinking of Hell because you get an awful lot of talking in this game. Far too many conversations seem to go on for ever and the running 'joke' of the 'bitchiness' between Rachel and Cynna was tiresome even before it began, and became more annoying as it cropped up again and again with increasing irrelevance.

Much of the dialogue is simply inane techno-babble which, even if you were 'jacked' in to the nuances of 'cyberpunk speak' would surely make you cringe. Take my advice, switch text on (under options in your game controls) and this will enable you to read it faster than your characters can speak. You can then click through it more quickly.

Besides fleshing out the story all this talk is, presumably, designed to allow the mystery to unfold as you investigate it, which is fine in principle, though the execution of it left much to be desired. Visit a location too soon or out of sequence and you may well find yourself saying and doing things without fully understanding why. For example, I went to hell way too early in the game and found my characters saying things like "Don't worry, General. We'll soon have you out of here!" This was before I had actually met the person who wanted me to go to hell to rescue the general.

Most of the game play revolves around talking to people and learning what they want then getting it or doing something for them before they will help you, so there is quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. Many of the puzzles are of this get-the-object-for-someone variety and are distinctly without challenge. Clues are often signalled with flashing neon lights or are simply staring you in the face. Only a few cryptic puzzles require much thought.

Arcade thrills
The makers of Hell also committed a mortal sin for which they will surely be condemned. That is they included a fiddling arcade sequence guaranteed to raise the ire of dedicated adventurers everywhere. In it you must attempt to dodge intermittent, vertical and horizontal security beams in a corridor. As if this annoying 'feature' is not enough, everytime you fail it takes ages to restore the game even clicking through the boring cut sequences that revel in your ignominious defeat.

The interface takes a little getting used to as it assigns more functions to the right mouse button than we normally get in an adventure game. For example, clicking the right button gives a location description, allows you to skip conversation, use items on other items in your inventory and more. When the cursor is over a character you can talk to, it changes to a skull, left clicking will initiate conversation but right clicking will give you a description of the person.

Move the cursor to the top of the screen and a drop-down menu appears allowing you access to commands such as travel (using a map), use, give and examine as well as your inventory and the game controls. The replay feature is a really useful addition given the huge amount of talking you must sit through. This allows you to review the text of the conversation you have had with a character to sift for clues.

Hell also contains combat sequences which require little more than arming yourself to the teeth then sitting back and watching the predetermined outcome. I doubt if this would satisfy the shoot-em-up fans and will probably leave most adventurers cold. Which brings me to the point I was making at the beginning of this review. Why would anyone make a game of such obviously limited appeal? One for the 'Cyberpunk' fans only, I'm afraid. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1995. All rights reserved.

System Requirements
CD ROM, 386SX/33 (486SX/33 or higher recommended) 3MB RAM, 20MB hard drive space, mouse.