Australian developer Ballistic Interactive's promising supernatural investigation RPG HellSign is now available on Steam Early Access, and it's expected to remain there, being appropriately spooky, for the next 12 months.
HellSign casts players as a freelance ghost hunter, then lets them run amok around a improbably haunted Australian town. The experience is split into numerous hauntings, each set in a procedurally generated homestead and with its own specific cash-paying goal. The general idea, however, is to use your various investigatory paraphernalia - EMF scanners, UV torchlight, movement detectors, and so on - to study, identify, and, in some cases, eliminate, the paranormal threat and toddle on back to your safehouse.
Between missions, you can hop to different locations on the map, collecting new jobs for cash, stocking up on supplies, buying handy new ghost-busting equipment for your next investigation, or just shooting the breeze with HellSign's colourful cast. And as your proficiency improves, you can take on more complex challenges, and delve deeper into the ghastly phenomenon plaguing the town.
It's a wonderful premise, certainly, and, from my admittedly brisk hour or so with the game, it delivers big on the spooky atmospherics as you poke and probe through haunted homes - and there's a real thrill as you track eerie noises on your EMF scanner, follow bloody trails through the darkness with your UV light, and encounter all manner of ghostly manifestations like you're a proper Yvette Fielding. I wasn't quite as taken with the skittish gunplay, but it's still early days.
Pleasingly, HellSign has a lot more personality than I was expecting based on previous trailers, albeit one that won't be to everyone's tastes. It's bawdy and crude (expect half a dozen C-words and a vivid story about a nightclub handjob in the first ten minute alone), but that's certainly no bad thing in itself - and it's fun to see Ballistic investing so much effort into its world to create something that feels significantly richer than just a bunch of paranormally-themed RPG mechanics. I just haven't spent sufficient time with the game yet to tell if there's enough nuance in the writing to keep its spirited tone the right side of obnoxious.
If you opt to get involved with HellSign's Early Access right now, you'll get a version of the game that's said to be "a complete and immersive experience of the first chapter", with three story chapters planned in total. It also contains three bosses, 13 creatures to hunt, and around 10-12 hours of play. Ballistic says the full game will feature 12+ bosses and 25+ creatures, three or more job locations, refined mechanics, and over 40 hours of play.
HellSign is available on Steam Early Access now and costs Ł11.39/$14.99 USD.