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It’s no secret to my viewers that I am a fan of space games. It is also no secret that I am a fan of survival games. So when someone tells me there is a space survival game coming out Soon™, my ears perk up. And, being a fan and backer of Star Citizen, when they tell me the release has been delayed, I sigh knowingly.

I’m not sure when Hellion’s first tentative Early Access release date was, but I know the latest one that it missed was January. This caused me some consternation as I had been relying on this new game to inject new excitement into my stream. Nonetheless, the delay was only for a month and it seems as if the creators of the game are confident on the new date of February 24, 2017.

There has been a deluge of new and potentially exciting space games in the past five years or so. So why am I excited about this one, say, and not concerned that it becomes a new “No Man’s Sky” in terms of failed launch or an “Elite: Dangerous” in terms of stagnation? Or even a “Star Citizen” in that it seems doomed to perpetual developmental hell?

Well, I am concerned. I’m always concerned about independent game studios and whether or not they can deliver on their promises. But I choose to take the route of being cautiously optimistic in this case. First of all, the overall attitude of the team of two dozen or so Serbian developers at Zero Gravity games is infectious. They are jovial, open about their development process, and what they have shown off so far shows something one could consider “AAA” quality in terms of graphics and gameplay. Granted, these may just be tech demos, but they are compelling demos.


 


So, what is Hellion? As Zero Gravity says on their website, “Hellion is a first-person multiplayer space survival game.” The game is being developed for release on Steam using the Unity Engine. Now, this is one of my first issues with the game, and a primary concern. Unity is a great engine when properly used. However, there are many games released on Unity, especially in Early Access, that suffer from a lot of problems that seem endemic to the engine itself. For example: don’t you dare have a controller plugged in if you aren’t using it. Because you will often find yourself spinning out of control.

Unity can also have issues when it comes to streaming and game capture. But that’s not a problem for the average user and it’s one streamers can overcome if we know about it ahead of time. Simply put, sometimes we have to force it into Borderless Windowed Mode to get a good capture. The tool Borderless Gaming, also found on Steam, is pivotal in this.

But enough of that. I’m waxing about technical issues that the game may not even have. Let’s talk about the game.


 

 

The premise behind Hellion is one of disaster and survival. After a century-long journey to the Hellion System, in cryogenic sleep, the player awakens to find him or herself alone in an uncivilized frontier. Something went wrong during the one hundred year journey and instead of arriving at an already settled and prepared civilization, they find half-finished stations, derelict ships, no government or economy to speak of, and the only other humans are in the same figurative boat as they are.

Therefore, the player must survive. And they must do whatever it takes to survive. That means scavenging, trading, raiding, piracy, whatever. It is possible for one to go it alone but it sounds like the intent of Zero Gravity is that players will band together in almost tribal units in space.

This isn’t a pure survival game, however, in the way that many survival games are designed around entirely player-generated content. This game has a story that can be uncovered should the player choose to do so. And, as development proceeds, the developers plan on adding to and fleshing out this story. You can choose to simply focus on carving out your own little niche in this hellish post-Earth world. Or, you can try to unravel the mystery of the greatest disaster in human history.


Zero Gravity Games Devs Talk About the Story


As my viewers know, I love a good story. I need a good story to get me involved in a game. And I love Ernest Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” or the “Theory of Omission” when it comes to storytelling. The concept behind this is you don’t shove everything in the face of the reader. Instead, the real story is what is between the lines. The reader has to discover the minutia by applying their own life experiences and by seeing the story through the eyes of the character.

So games that have complex lore, like Hellion, but don’t force it down your throat are right up my alley. I can spend hours reading those dusty lore books in Skyrim, for example. I can assure you that I am looking forward to many hours of scouring ship logs and abandoned tablets for every little detail on why the Hellion System is the dark frontier it is.

But a good story is nothing without good gameplay. And this is where those demos I mentioned earlier really shine. Zero Gravity games has shown they are committed to getting the details right in both realism and playability. The video of the player spacewalking around his lifepod in low gravity, for example, with full Newtonian physics is pure sex for a space game nut like me. Not only did it look highly realistic (if you’ve watched “Gravity” or “The Expanse”, you know what I mean) but it was so fluid and natural that frankly, as a space game junkie, I found it disgusting. Not because they did it – but because I haven’t seen anyone else do it to that level yet.


Low Gravity EVA (Space Walking) in Hellion


The realistic physics don’t stop with Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA), though. Zero Gravity promises a realistically scaled solar system, with true orbital mechanics and seamless transitions, on launch. According to their website these basic systems are functional and in-game right now. That’s a feat in and of itself as we have seen the two other major multiplayer, first-person space games, Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen, struggle to fully implement similar features over the past five years.

Speaking of realism, watching one of the developers accidentally evacuate all the air within his lifepod into the vacuum of space and come to the realization that he was doomed was both sobering and glorious. I foresee many a multistream with my fellow TEST Gaming streamers where we come up with creative and hilarious ways to sabotage our own efforts.

So we have fluid gameplay, beautiful graphics, and a story to back up the basic survival mechanics. But what about the meat and potatoes of any game, especially a space game? Asteroid mining? Check – scheduled for launch. Scavenging and harvesting parts, station modules, and basic resources will be part of launch. As will refining resources. Crafting is planned, but not scheduled for the EA release. Same with ships. I believe you have a ship on launch – and the ability to scavenge/steal others will come along with subsequent updates.

A list of some of the other planned features on launch:

  • Piloting and Navigation
  • Scanning
  • Different propulsion systems
  • Base building
  • Complex resource management
  • Stations
  • Ships
  • FPS Combat/Boarding
  • Multicrew Ships

And planned features for future updates include:

  • Addition survival mechanics such as radiation temperature management
  • Mining via ships
  • Harvesting from gas giants
  • Crafting of parts, weapons, and equipment
  • Ship and equipment modification
  • Ship to ship combat, including:
    • Subsystem targeting and destruction
    • Damage propagation
    • Damage control
    • Electronic warfare
  • Hacking and security
  • Realistic wound mechanics
  • Suit damage/degradation
  • Voice chat
  • Radio mechanics
  • FTL Comms

“But Erik,” you say, “many of these features are planned for this other game or already in that other game.”

“Shut up,” says I, “I’m the one writing the damned article.”

But no, this game is not as ambitious as Star Citizen or Elite: Dangerous. And that’s precisely why I am excited for it. It has some of the same mechanics those games promise but in a more compact offering. That will make it more accessible to gamers at large and allows for the developers to really focus in on the details of some of these mechanics and really drive home the overall gameplay experience.

So, to sum up: Hellion is not the next Star Citizen. It is less than that, and yet it is more. It is not Elite: Dangerous. Those games are primarily space combat and exploration games. They both want to have, or have, elements that Hellion has – but the primary focus of those games will always be your spaceship. Even in the “First Person Universe” of Star Citizen. But the focus in Hellion is you – your survival. It is a game tailored for the multiplayer experience. A game of survival against all odds. When I watch Hellion I think, “If you like Dark Matter or The Expanse…if Europa Report made your heart pound…you probably will want to play this game.”

This isn’t a review. I haven’t played the game yet. I can’t tell you to buy it when it launches on Early Access. If anything, you know my policy on EA games is to wait until someone like me bites the bullet and spends a few hours playing it before making your decision.

But I will tell you that the moment it launches I will be playing it. And, hopefully, streaming it for you to decide – and joining my fellow TEST Gaming streamers in our laughably inept attempts to survive the hostile vacuum of this new solar system.


Hellion:

Erik McKetten: