There’s something about physics-based game mechanics that I can’t help but love. Whether it’s sand, water or a person ragdolling down some stairs, I find it absolutely lovely. So when I heard that Hellion used Newtonian physics, and was set in space, I just had to take a look.
Hellion is a survival game set in the distant future, where humans have been sent to the Hellion system in a generation ship -- only for something to go wrong. Rather than look for food, water and shelter like every other survival game, you literally have more pressing needs because you’re in space. From the moment you wake up in a cryotube, your Lifeboat (starting module) is already in disrepair.
I mentioned Newtonian physics, and what that means is: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you jam on full speed with your jetpack, you’re going to want to start slowing down well before you hit something. It’s entirely possible to die from colliding with your ship.
In your Lifeboat there are a couple of spacesuits, helmets and jetpacks -- everything else is randomly generated. You might have a medkit, your CO2 filters might be installed and there’s a chance your solar panels will be getting optimal coverage from the star. Or not. There are multiple replaceable components in the outpost, and you probably don’t have enough spares to last more than a day -- I regularly found that I had poor quality replacements, if I even had them.
Nearby will be a Mule spaceship, which you can access by opening the Lifeboat door and floating over to it. Bear in mind that you will be catapulted out into space if you’re not holding on to the wall when you hit the door override, due to the sudden decompression. Usually there will also be a module with an airlock on it, which you can dock to your Lifeboat, so as not to run out of oxygen inside the damned thing. Although it’s not been a guarantee in my experience, the game is being updated regularly and it could have just been a bug.
In the Mule will be at least one more space suit, helmet and maybe jetpack, as well as a bunch of components in the cargo hold. There will also be a mining laser or two, and even a rifle. There is no AI, but if you join a server with people there’s no guarantee they will want to work with you to survive. Of course, there probably isn’t any ammunition, so you have decisions to make.
Once everything is activated aboard the ship, you can start scanning the area. You can just fly around Hellion surviving, pirating other players, exploring derelicts for weapons and components, or constructing your own space station. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll need fuel and oxygen, so that’s where the FTL and mining lasers figure into things.
Plotting a faster than light jump is fairly painless, once you’ve mastered the controls. Pick an orbit, hopefully with some objects to check out, and line up correctly before charging a jump. So long as you don’t touch anything once the countdown has begun, and you have sufficient energy in the capacitor it will jump to where you specify. Of course, you only know that there are “objects”, you don’t know what they are until you arrive. Hopefully there’s at least one asteroid to mine, but it might just be derelicts or modules.
When you cycle out through the airlock with your mining laser -- complete with rechargeable battery pack and resource canister -- you need to hope that you’re going to mine the right part of the asteroid. There are different types of ice (normal, heavy and dry) and nitrate materials, so you might want to check what resources you have aboard the Mule before you return with the wrong stuff. If you need fuel for the engine and oxygen, you need ice or heavy ice. If you just need oxygen, go for dry ice. Nitrate materials are literally nitrogen, and Nitro -- aka RCS (Reaction Control System) fuel.
Without fuel, you’re going nowhere. Without nitrogen and oxygen, you’re going to die. With both, you still might be attacked and die so that someone can steal them. All the while, your Mule is falling into disrepair and the pressure regulators are almost completely caput, so you need to find a derelict to get more -- if it has any…
Put simply, Hellion is a juggling act. A very long one, too, since it takes forever to do everything on your own. I played alongside someone, and things happened much faster. Rather than the first parts of a space station being put together in hours, it took about 20 minutes before we were off in search of new modules to bring back.
It’s really unfortunate that our schedules never synched up enough for multiple games in between server wipes. I would have liked to have spent 10 hours on one station, rather than a bunch of stations and failed starts due to the components being crap from the beginning.
Graphically, the game takes on a realistic look, so long as you’re not looking at another person. The faces aren’t great, but you rarely see those so far. The module and ship designs are great, and everything has a functional design. It’s very much a simulation, so much so that if you float into the ship from the airlock, you’re going to land straight on your ugly face. Gravity is a bitch.
The main issue the game has so far is the frame rate. It's nowhere near consistent, and when loading into a new game it appears to lock up for almost a minute before you can open the cryotube to get out. Opening doors cause it to stutter, and moving in space even has the same issue.
The basic blocks for Hellion are in place, there's no doubt about that. If you like space simulators and survival games, you will be in your element. However, given the lack of people online at any one time, and the size of the solar system, there's no guarantee you will meet another player. Once updates can come in without a server wipe, I'm sure there will be more players. Until then, hold onto the airlock. It's cold in space.