Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Buka Entertainment
Release Date: Q1 2005
Show of hands, you in the audience. Who out there likes zombie movies? Y'know, those late-night flicks where some poor folks wind up trapped against impossible odds and massive numbers of the walking undead. Let me count ... okay, more than a few of you. Good. Then get out your pistols, load up on not quite enough bullets, and get ready to run a gauntlet of moldy used-to-be-humans.
Hell Forces is another entry in a sudden bombardment of releases from upstart Russian developer Buka Entertainment. Somewhere, a thuggish bartender sits in the interrogation room at a dirty police station, badgered by police officers who want to know exactly what went down in the city on that horrific night. It's an epic story, told through the gameplay itself, starting with a withdrawal-addled girlfriend into an army of zombies, necromancers, and the army of Hell itself. It seems that a "preacher" and his twisted congregation are causing havoc. The police are entirely unable to keep the peace even after bringing in the heavy weaponry — the city is going to the ghouls at high speed, with the living dropping left and right. What does that leave you to do? Jump over a wall into the secured zone and hope you can sort everything out. Not exactly how most folks spend their evenings, but you can't make much of a game out of "went home, had a beer, watched 'Celebrity Deathmatch.'"
What can you expect from Hellforce? Orion's not wheeling out the creativity for this killfest, instead going with what's worked so far. Starting off with a lowly water pipe and a few rounds of wimpy handgun ammunition, you'll go toe-to-toe with supernatural powers that have managed to take over your city. Gameplay is nothing you haven't seen before, but that doesn't mean it's bad; rock 'em sock 'em gunplay is always fun if it's done well, and that's what seems to be Orion's plan, letting you user bigger and louder guns against weirder and stronger enemies. It isn't easy — not unlike Gordon Freeman, you're not necessarily built for this.
While the gameplay and storyline seem to bring back shades of Blood or Doom, the engine itself needs some overhauling before Hell Forces finds its ways to shelves. In terms of graphics, there's nothing here to write home about yet; the environments are mostly bland, textures don't seem very well detailed, and the models, while not ugly to look at, are very small in number. Even with the massive arsenal available — over 20 weapons, ranging from steel pipes and butcher knives to automatic shotguns, chainguns, and even wilder firearms — it still needs some padding in the enemy variety. I also have to complain about one of the more idiotic enemies — rats, who get under your aiming range and do far too much damage. They're not common, thankfully, but still frustrating.
Map design seems to be good, albeit a bit constrained. The early available levels seem very linear; while I've got nothing against obvious paths, many of these segments take no more than a few minutes to wade through. Later levels may open up, though, as evidenced by the multiplayer test level (more on that below). I'll say this, though: if gore turns you off, then walk away, as these levels are coated in a layer of blood thicker than paint, with bodies and innards everywhere. Death's pretty popular in this town, I guess, not all of it caused by you and your guns. You'll be along the deceased more than once, too — some of these zombies are fast, smart, strong, and even worse, they're well-armed, packing some of the very same guns you have. Don't expect to be thrashing heads with your pipe for very long if you plan to live, since damage flows rapidly and health kits aren't exceedingly prevalent.
What Hell Forces needs now more than anything is some good, hard, bug fighting. There's not many of them, but more than can really be accepted when the release date comes around. Issues with hit detection, clipping, and very high system requirements are the ones that bother me the most right now, but with proper love and attention, these can be quite easily fought down. I've got some issues with the A.I., too, especially the human beings (in this build, if you save one of the living, they'll proceed to shoot you in the chest until you kill them), but this can all be handled. I seriously hope it is.
I had no chance to test multiplayer; only one functioning map is available, and there are no players available at this time. What I could see just from running around solo isn't anything unique — simple one-on-one and deathmatch modes come stock. No note of a "mod" system is made, but hopefully Buka and Orion understand the need for community input. Otherwise, there's not going to be much enthusiasm here.
All in all, there's a lot of possibility laying about in Hell Forces. In the unpolished release I played, it's already a sound but unspectacular shooter with a serviceable (albeit cliché) storyline, a lot of weaponry and fast-and-loose gameplay that I've come to appreciate in the past few years, particularly against a sea of "stealth" games. With a lot of T.L.C., Hell Forces could be the return to horror shooters of the mid-'90s, like Blood and System Shock. Hopefully, the developers feel the same way.