Feature Art

Preview – Hell Architect: Prologue PC

I was shocked to find out that Hell Architect is not made by the same team that brought us Oxygen Not Included. I found myself comparing the two a lot when playing through the Prologue but it’s hard to draw links to any other titles when there are simply so few popular games like this out there, which is to say a 2D management ‘city’ building simulation. That goes doubly for 2D management ‘city’ building sims that take place in the nine circles of Hell. As a newbie demon who wants to work their way up Jacob’s the corporate ladder, you must impress your superiors with your management skills and show off just how much suffering (a powerful currency in the underworld) you can generate with your limited resources. Put your sinners to work by having them mine resources and labour on machines that provide them the nourishment they’ll need to be as healthy as possible for when they’re thrown into torture devices. Which, by the way, are a source of wonderfully dark and comical animations of your people being boiled in lava and smushed in an iron maiden, and so on.

By separating the game into free mode and a campaign broken into separate scenarios, each with a unique layout and set of objectives, the player is eased into the complexities that a game like this demands. First you need to know about how sinners behave and what commands you can give them, then the different things you need to build and the resources required, and eventually even the different passive abilities its possible to take advantage such as a certain person being a better digger or, better still, suffering more from a particular type of torture. This was a lot of fun to play around with. Building my own version of a perfectly ordered, self-running, and endlessly tormenting Room 101 was not something I’d ever imagined doing but here we are, and I’m cackling like the big boss-man Satan himself as it all comes together.

Where it started to fall apart a little for me, however, was in the theming. It still feels weird to have to build nicer toilet stalls and beds for my little group of miscreants, even if it’s so they’ll work harder for me. Surely a servant of Beelzebub should know that depriving them of sleep with a good sharp stab of a pitchfork is what really needs to be done. Instead of just having suffering as a currency, make everything part of the punishment! I should want them to be as miserable as possible. The worse they feel the more suffering they should create but, alas, that’s just not how the game works. Instead you’re forced to constantly satisfy the needs of the worms you’re supposed to be causing agony for. That felt anti-thematic. This was made even worse when I hit a death spiral and all my group started popping out of existence because they were all afflicted with being too thirsty or hungry and couldn’t be forced into pulling a single lever that would have solved everything.

In spite of that, I had a great time with Hell Architect and I’m excited to play more in the future, if I ever get the chance. I’ve seen from some of the Steam images that there are devils walking around the stages and I’m very curious what they do and how they’ll interact with the damned evildoers. There are also a bunch of painful-looking instruments I’m giddy to try on whichever poor souls should be sent my way. Normally games like this are driven almost entirely by the player’s compulsive need to have everything organised and running smoothly but here you’re free to do exactly the opposite. What kind of messed up nightmare builds can you come up with? How can you cause the most chaos possible for your victims? And that’s just fantastic fun…if a little mean.