GamingReview: Hell Architect

Review: Hell Architect

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They say first impressions are everything, and while that’s an unhelpful perspective when deciding if you want to keep your slimy screaming newborn, I think it’s generally conducive to determining if a video game is worth your time. Despite its charmingly playful depiction of Lucifer’s domain and the myriad torture techniques it employs, Woodland Games’ Hell Architect does not make a good first impression. Even its title screen immediately confuses, with over a half-dozen options to click, among which “New Game” or “Begin” are perplexingly absent. Once I overcame the main menu and found myself in the game proper, this inexplicable obfuscation of user interface elements persisted, with illegibly small text and a comically cluttered assortment of buttons and labels. Indeed, the singularly stressful experience of playing Hell Architect is largely similar – I’d imagine – to the devil’s punishment for sinners with particular aversions to feeling overwhelmed.          

I should preface this review by stating I am not, nor have I ever been a fan of simulation or management games. Certainly, I enjoy watching ants scurry around on the sidewalk, but that sort of organic fun loses something when I’m entrusted with ensuring each ant arrives at its destination on time, and that it’s carrying the correct bread crumb. I suppose this type of game occupies an unpleasant gray area of interactivity. There’s enjoyment to be had in overseeing a team of gormless construction workers as they occasionally injure themselves horribly, but that visceral amusement always tends to dwindle with each second I spend watching a tiny man on my screen hack away at his fiftieth pile of rocks. Granted, I have no intention of disparaging this genre or its fans. I’m sure there’s plenty of entertainment to be found here, which I’ve simply been unable to tap into as of yet, and I hoped that Hell Architect’s sense of humor might ease me into a style of gameplay I’ve otherwise considered cold and clinical in its approach to player engagement. Unfortunately, even Hell’s interpretation of these mechanics seems to be icy as ever. 

Given my aforementioned relationship with building and management sims, I don’t feel my opinion of Hell Architect’s quality would be particularly helpful or insightful, so I’ll instead use this space to discuss the ways in which the game failed to engage me as a newcomer to its genre. When beginning any piece of entertainment, I have an instinctive reaction to the tone or atmosphere the work is attempting to exude. Here, it’s apparent Hell Architect draws inspiration from a breadth of influences, from modern television shows that liken the underworld’s bureaucracy to the mundanity of the American desk job, to games and movies which attempt to humanize myth’s most legendary figures. Unfortunately, Woodland Games largely fails to synthesize these seemingly discordant thematic elements into something original, or at the very least engaging. There is a distinct creative direction on display here to be sure, exemplified by Hell Architect’s ever-present satirical self-commentary, but in lampooning well-trodden illustrations of Satan’s great beyond, the game’s writers neglect to inject life into their concept beyond what the likes of Adult Swim and Grim Fandango already offer.        

As for what exactly you’re supposed to be doing in Hell Architect, I’m not entirely sure. Or I should say, I’m not entirely sure why its developers expected me to care. Upon starting the game’s “easy” mode, I was bewildered within seconds by the sheer volume of icons and unintelligible descriptions of gameplay principles I’d yet to be exposed to. When asking players to understand and employ a series of complex systems in conjunction with one another, it is imperative that players be introduced to those systems gradually, like a probing toe dipped into a jacuzzi. Not only does Hell Architect grab its players by their swim trunks and throw them headlong into the hot tub, but it ensures, too, that the water is spiked with Ayahuasca for optimal disorientation. This refusal to educate those attempting to interface with its mechanics makes Hell Architect exceedingly taxing to get into, and alienates those of us unwilling to make flashcards to remember every tool in the game’s expansive shed.

If you’ve devoted your life to management sims and simply adore every entry the genre has to offer, Hell Architect’s light-heartedly morose setting and character-ful voice work might make it a worthy addition to your collection. But if, like me, you’ve been waiting an eternity for this sort of game to unravel, exposing to you its glowing gelatinous core of fun, I’m afraid you’ll likely have to wait a bit longer.

SUMMARY

+ Distinct setting and style
- Overly complex for genre newcomers
- Lackluster writing
- Thematically derivative

(Reviewed on PC, also on Mac OS)
Ethan Goldreyer
Ethan Goldreyer
I love playing games, making games, writing about games, and shattering the fabric of reality by writing about playing games that I’ve made. At the moment, I own a PS5 and a PC, as well as a Switch depending on how generous my girlfriend is feeling.

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Review: Hell Architect+ Distinct setting and style <br /> - Overly complex for genre newcomers <br /> - Lackluster writing <br /> - Thematically derivative <br /> <br /> (Reviewed on PC, also on Mac OS)