HellSign – The Deadly Horrors of Australia

HellSign hit Steam in early November made by ballistic interactive and although, many voices were lost in the view of giant spiders, we finally mustered enough courage and common sense to convince ourselves it was all just a dream, that was until HellSign turned on by itself…

It’s Halloween every night at my horror stricken apartment and after marathoning, supernaturals first few seasons and pretending. I was good at Hunt Showdown for more than about 5 seconds before a bullet passed through my 50th character’s brain.

I decided it was time to Boot up HellSign, lured by the chance to endure a horror experience in my own backyard of Australia, I‘ve got to give ballistic interactive credit they nailed it. Drudging through the streets of Brisbane feels remarkably like home, while still being dangerously different, what’s not different however is the character language, it actually feels Australian and not that fake Australian for once, excellent.

Having mild acrophobia and a tendency to drink too much coffee, meant that half an hour of slowly and methodically creeping through a house at 10 pm to find nothing, made me feel like I could take on the world of HellSign easily. Until I turned a corner and was smacked in the head with a two by four, thrown of course by a poltergeist.

That promptly leads us to HellSign’s tension building environment, being in early access it’s clunky controls and unpredictable audio tracks seem unpolished, but it reminds me fondly of the old horror days, times where you had a good old panic attack because you couldn’t turn a corner quick enough, to escape the monster on your tail.

That’s not a chair…

While we’re breaking down HellSign let’s take the time to talk about each stage of the average playthrough. The beginning of the game must be host to some of HellSigns strongest moments, it makes you feel alot like a supernatural armature, such as the Winchester brothers in season 1, you feel like at any moment, you’ll be thrust into a dangerous situation that will spell your death.

You start out very powerless, the leveling system giving you options but not necessarily solutions, to the first level investigations your sent on. Each a possible poltergeist lurking around every corner of the house, having to deal with death traps such as the over grown Australia red back spider, face eating banshee’s or other over-sized creepy crawlies, causes a constant sense of anxiety as you creep around the house gun in hand.

After learning through guess work, trial and deadly error, you start to get a sense of control on these endeavors, putting together a small insurance policy of shotguns, med kits and ghost hunting equipment to name a few assets. Your skills however will be fiercely tested upon reaching the games late game, each unique monster taking individual planning, setup, research and execution to slay the beasts.

It’s hard not to congratulate Ballistic interactive for their progress as a two man team on this project, at this stage of early access though, Hellsign is not without its share of cracks and bugs. The game tends to suffer a little from déjà vu when grinding through levels, to work towards more interesting hunts. Because of the limited resources, the team no doubt has to make these buildings we constantly raid interesting but they become forgettable.

But the biggest problem Hellsign suffers from is the massive learning curve, it’s frustratingly easy to miss a key objective in the chaos of hunting. Until you start to understand how to find clues and search houses carefully without dying, things can feel unbearably grindy as you frustratingly miss the mark, you’ll constantly stumbling in the dark on what you’re supposed to do in each house. Once you clear that hurdle though the game does start to pick up drastically.

While you might grow weary of the houses ever shifting layout I’d be surprised if you grow weary of the music. It’s always a high point of my day to lounge at the local bar, after a night of hunting. It’s hair-raising tracks keep me nervous on those late-night gun fights.
It goes without saying for the best experience play this late at night with headphones you won’t regret it.

Hellsign is an intriguing mix of game genre’s that somehow manages to mash together into a messy but ultimately enjoyable cake. Although it’s rough around the edges, if you can wade into its dark murky waters, you’ll find an in-depth horror experience lurking just below the surface.

For those of you who’d like to know more Ballistic interactive and their stories creating Hellsign, they happily took some time out of their currently busy schedule, to have a chat with us.
Our interview with them will be featured below.

Our screams of thanks go to Ballistic interactive for sending us a copy for this review

Hellsign is available for $21 Australian or your regional equivalent on steam here.


+ Atmosphere, tension and genuine horror

+ Sound Design

+ Proper Australian representation

Sharp Learning curve

Limited environmental textures

Score: 8.3/10

My interview with Ballistic interactive’s Technical Director SkyKing:

What made you want to make Hellsign?
Being avid hardcore gamers ourselves, we have certainly taken from the hardcore gaming genre. We believe that games should be challenging and rewarding, so we wanted to create the most immersive experience we could, and just allow the player to dive in and hunt the supernatural how they wish.

Did you face many challenges during the making of Hellsign? If so what was the greatest hurdle?
Time would have to be the biggest challenge we had to overcome. As a small 2 man team, there is nothing that has been particularly more challenging than expected, but we seem to always be fighting the clock as we strive to make every aspect of the game as good as humanly possible. Hopefully the time machine we’ve been building ends up working, so we don’t run into this issue again!

What was Hellsign’s greatest inspiration?
Definitely Supernatural the TV show, and The Conjuring movie, as well as countless others.
We also drew inspiration from a plethora of games, some of the more notable ones would have to be Resident Evil, Dark Souls and LA Noir. As well as some oldies like Fallout 1, Jagged Alliance 2, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Silent Hill, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid.

Do you have a favourite monster, NPC or Quest in the game and why?
Most definitely the cursed tv, after watching Ringu back in the day, that static tv brings back the worst of my childhood nightmares!
Regarding NPC, probably Banjo, he might seem like a total jerk at first (and on purpose), but deep down he’s a real sensitive guy, as some players might have picked so far.

What was the average work week like for ballistic interactive?
Exactly how you would imagine, hectic 24/7… but no in all seriousness, about 12-14 hours a day for 3 years straight including weekends, so wasn’t that bad :)

Did the game take longer than you anticipated to make? Were there any major setbacks?
Most certainly yes! When you make your own game, you want it to be the best possible experience for the players, even if it means pushing yourself to your limits. And beyond the game, the massive reality sets in with logistics, legal stuff, etc… but no complaints, such is life when pursuing your dreams ;)

What’s next for Hellsign?
We’re working together with the community to iron out critical issues on release.
Coincidentally we actually just released our latest big update featuring a bridging mission to ease the difficulty curve mid-game, spooky ghast presence from the very first mission, and did we mention spiderlings hide under beds ;)
You can read more here at the official Steam announcement.

What’s next for ballistic interactive?
Taking a break! After 3 years of non-stop work, any longer and we will end up in the shadow dimension :P
Having said that we are still trying to figure out how to prevent ourselves working over the ‘break’.

~Aaron Nicholls

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