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Realistic sword fighting is back in Hellish Quart, and we're rubbish at it


Bertie: Oh gosh oh gosh oh gosh, I finally get to tell you I did sword fighting in real-life! I would go to a small school gymnasium each week, cover myself in a mix of cricket padding and fencing equipment, and then hit other people (who were part of the class, obviously!) with a big blade. A longsword, actually. A big metal longsword. Cool, huh! (Sussex Sword Academy, if you're ever interested.)

I didn't go for very long, only a few months, but what developed in that time was an appreciation for the actual art of sword fighting, the fundamentals, and how different it is to what we see in games. The biggest difference, even with a big, heavy sword like a longsword, is there's a lot more feeling the other blade and sliding around on them, rather than wild slicing. And usually attacks are one or two moves strung together around an economical movement, and then you back off, or you get so close you can't swing, so you hilt-strike or unbalance the opponent instead. Oh listen to me! Bertie reckons he's an expert.

The tempo is completely different. It's not hyar-hyar-hyar as you chop up a Hollywood set and kick over some scenery, but circling, probing, and feeling out your opponent before you try an attack. And most importantly of all: you do not expose yourself. Not like that, you filthy people! And Hellish Quart gets this. Hellish Quart is all about this.

Cover image for YouTube videoHellish Quart gameplay - Realistic Swordfighting
Ah, Bertie makes it look effortless!

It's a fighting game built around the concept of realistic swordplay. Usually, one solid hit kills (no one is armoured), so leaving yourself vulnerable is the game's biggest crime. There's no wild flailing. Instead, there's a lot of swords scraping on swords, and what feel like accidental wins as you slice an enemy that moves onto your blade, or vice versa.

But it's not clumsy like a Chivalry-like game. And the secret to it feeling good, and it does feel good, is a kind of auto-block system. Unlike in other realism-focused sword-fighting games, you don't have to try and block entirely by yourself, which is always the clumsiest part of these games. Here, the game handles it for you. It doesn't make you invulnerable of course, but if you're positioned well and have your sword in front of you, it fends off a lot of attacks. And in doing so, it makes you look and feel like a believable fighter even when you've only just picked up the game.

Hellish Quart is nowhere near the finished product - it's in Steam Early Access with the option of a free demo [which seems to have just disappeared! I am trying to contact the developer about this] - nor is it a game with great resources behind it. Outside of the core swordplay, it's clunky as hell. But who cares? The swordplay is the point. And it's refreshingly fun to play.

There are other stages, and other fighters. It's hard to capture while fighting!

Chris: I am completely up for Hellish Quart, because it's just passion innit? Developers going deep on something that I assume they care very deeply about. I load up this game and the commitment is obvious. Somebody is really, really into swordfighting.

I am pretty bad at it. But that doesn't matter. I wobble into battle swinging wildly and against all but the most basic AI I am swiftly despatched. Sometimes I get a hit in, but most of the time I don't. A few minutes ago I started in by pressing the wrong button and watched as my guy held his sword back and sort of presented his empty hand so the opponent could obligingly lob it off.

What I get from this mostly is that sword fighting must have been really painful. This is hardly a surprising insight, but I was still shocked the first time blood flew through the air and sprayed across my character's face. This isn't typical video game violence - in its slicing it feels sort of real. It carries a sting. Hellish Quart really makes me wince.

I hope it takes off. I love the idea of games as little rock pools of interest, little communities of people who are passionate, knowledgeable and committed. I am far too clumsy to ever take something like this up for real, but it's been a delight to fire up the current build and at least get a slight sense of it. For an austere game, this is secretly a bit of a charmer.