Welcome to Coverage Club, the weekly series where we shift our critical eye towards smaller games that deserve some attention. Each week, our review editors select two titles and provide honest first impressions in the style of our full reviews. Games can range from brand new titles hitting Early Access to older hidden gems that never got their due. No matter your preferences, you're sure to find something off the beaten path here. This week, Alex scales the rooftops and commits devil murder in High Hell from Devolver Digital. After that, Sam punches his ticket on the Subsurface Circular, a graphical text adventure featuring robot murder. So yes, either way, there's going to be murder.
Covered by Alex Santa Maria
AGDQ continues to break records in raising money for charity and spread awareness of speedrunning. From that, we’ve seen a few developers create experiences that seemed geared specifically to the speed-centric crowd. It's clear that a run of the mill FPS enthusiast will probably still enjoy High Hell. However, it does feel like it takes a certain mindset to fully unlock this hazy twitch shooter’s full potential.
Published by Devolver Digital and masterminded by the developer of Heavy Bullets, High Hell is a game that imparts an experience rather than a story. You’re a lone gunman who grapples his way up to the top of buildings where devil-faced men are doing terrible things. You must shoot them with your Quake-style railgun, mostly on the assumption that anyone with a devil face is probably not your friend. You can make more assumptions about what’s going on if you like via the game’s loading screen cutscenes, but I feel like it’s ultimately folly.
High Hell just wants you to sit back and relax while assuming you find frying evil businessmen and saving chimpanzees relaxing. A washed out filter coats the entire game, with graphics that feel aged on VHS in a digital locker for twenty years. The music is appropriately thumping and pairs well with the pew pew of everyone’s high octane laser cannons. If you go to High Hell for one thing, it should be the presentation.
Not to say that the gameplay lacks in any department, but it does focus in tightly and demand your attention. Enemies can shoot you from across the map as long as you reach their line of sight, but you can do the same while taking advantage of an unlimited clip of ammo. You can take a few shots before you die, but there always seems to be a perfect run you can work towards for each of the game’s 20 levels.
You generally have a single objective to go for, along with a slew of out of the way collectibles to grab if you so choose. Once you get the rhythm of combat down, burning stacks of money and grabbing plush toys becomes just another part of your run as you inch closer to 100%. If you don’t feel that drive for completion, the game will only take you a couple of hours to complete, which will be short but satisfying.
The default look sensitivity is through the roof, and controller support is not built into the game by default. Thankfully, controller support is workable via Steam’s Big Picture options and playing the game in this way after some tweaking was a fine experience for anyone who is unable to play with mouse and keyboard. You’re not going to be breaking any records this way, but the aesthetics are still worth drinking in.
High Hell is small in scope but delivers what it promises. For a certain type of completionist, the speedrun challenge of blasting every foe in seconds will prove to be a delight. For everyone else, the game is a dispensable novelty that’s fun for a while without a lot of substance. Just like its player character, High Hell hits its high notes and then jumps out a window, never to be seen again.
High Hell was played on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.
Covered by Samuel Guglielmo
Mike Bithell rose to some fame among independent developers thanks to his breakout debut game Thomas Was Alone and his follow-up stealth game Volume. After that, Bithell has chosen to turn his direction towards creating “shorts." These are games that are quick to make, quick to play, and focus on simple ideas. The first of these is Subsurface Circular, and if this is the tone being set, then I hope Bithell has many more shorts to come.
The basic idea is that you play as a detective riding an underground subway in a futuristic world. Here, humans coexist with a race of robots known as Tek. Over the past few months, Tek have been going missing, and you now have to figure out why. The catch: your detective's programming restricts him from leaving the subway car. Therefore, all of your investigative work needs to take place there.
You won’t actually be getting up and investigating things. Rather you’ll be talking to the various Tek that get on and off of the subway. Each level sees you chatting with Tek and trying to solve another part of the puzzle. You’ll need to rule out suspects, ask about suspicious activities, and work your way closer to the missing Tek. With the story being so important, I don’t want to go out of my way and spoil much. What I've seen so far in my incomplete playthrough was extremely interesting.
Each level sees a new group of Tek to talk to, and as you do you’ll earn focus points. At times during your conversation, you can use these focus points to ask unique questions or give specific answers. During one level I needed to work with a librarian, an athlete, and an old Tek to get some information. I ended up getting a joke from the old Tek to get an access code from the librarian. After that, I could shut down the athlete’s overeager advertisement routines and cross-reference the old Tek’s story with the athlete’s.
It helps that every character seems well-written. The world of Subsurface Circular feels fleshed-out and creative. Learning about Britain's crumbling dictatorship, or how Teks have taken over Mumbai, proved to be highlights during my playthrough. There are debates over the morality of private citizens owning Tek compared to the state owning Tek. All of this wraps around weird and interesting characters. Who could forget the accountant promising he had nothing to do with that financial disaster? Or the librarian who just wants to feel surprised for once in her life?
If you're looking for a short sci-fi story that leans into text adventure gameplay, Subsurface Circular is your perfect match. If not, the cheap asking price and short runtime make it easy to make a judgment call. I, however, have a robot thief to capture, and I plan to dive right back in upon finishing this sentence.
Subsurface Circular was played on PC via Steam using a copy purchased by the player.
What do you think of this week's Coverage Club selections? Do you know of an overlooked game that deserves another look? Let us know in the comments below, and don't forget to follow our Steam Curator to keep up to date with all our reviews.