With the success of the Windows '95 launch title Fury3, a sequel to the MicroSoft published space shooter was not far behind. Hellbender (1996, Terminal Reality) sees very little changed from the DOS days of Terminal Velocity but what it lacks in originality, it certainly makes up for it with sheer bombast.
1996 was a strong year for PC games. It was the year of Quake, Descent II and Wing Commander IV after all. Released in October of that year, Hellbender did its best to make a name for itself but despite a strong start, its shelf life wasn't long. That could in part be because nothing much has changed in the year since Fury3 hit our shelves. There are the expected additions to the arsenal and enemy roster but beyond a bump in graphical fidelity, it's the same game.
And that's fine with me. Fury3 was a game I frequently revisited in the mid-90s with its frenetic action and exploration over massively open levels just begging me to come back for more. Hellbender did that, improving on many of the core mechanics along the way. Targets were not so far apart this time with more varied locations and structures breaking up a lot of the landscape. Underground areas make a comeback too, but this time they're Descent-inspired labyrinths with cavernous rooms and secret passages.
Some elements in drastic need of an overhaul were ignored, though. Dogfights will most often turn into a confusing game of spot-the-enemy whose AI tactics consist of bum-rushing, swarming and sneaky well-aimed shots before hiding out in the depressingly short draw distance. They can all too easily become overwhelming as scores can attack you at once with nothing visible to shoot back at. Each level is also so massive, it can become a detriment. It won't be uncommon to spend 30 minutes on one level - longer if you have a penchant for destroying everything. It's commendable in a way but in reality, it means that a deadly encounter on your way to the final target will see you doing the whole thing all over again.
The engine is an improved version of the one that's been used since the series' first game. Granted, that first game was little over a year old (Terminal Velocity was released in April 1995), but even so it was showing its age compared to the likes of Quake. What's worse is that it needed a beast of a machine to run smoothly. Terminal Reality appeared to have piled on the polygons to an engine that couldn't optimise them all that well, resulting in a lower frame rate for most gamers at the time. Some reviewers even pointed this out as the singular reason for scoring it so low. It's not so much a problem now, but it does go some way in explaining the game's relative obscurity.
What Hellbender does have over its predecessors is a greater variety between worlds. No longer are each planet a simple pallet swap or change in texture, but most require a change of tactics too. From a land of lush-green floating islands to a crimson planet populated by ominous dragons or a dense asteroid belt that requires a more traditional space-sim approach, the variety is impressive.
Even so, I'd be hard pushed to say that Hellbender was a huge step up from Fury3, though I can't say it wasn't an enjoyable experience. In the rapidly changing environment of the mid-90s where every major title was looking to be a genre-defining masterpiece, the more-of-the-same approach Terminal Reality took with Hellbender didn't hold much water back then. For me residing in the technically advanced nostalgia glow of 2017, I couldn't ask for more.
To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses the DOSBox Daum build of DOSBox 0.74 running Windows '95. Manual and Strategy Guide included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 448 Mb. Install Size: 684 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting DOSBox. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Press Ctrl-F9 when it is safe to do so.
Hellbender is © Terminal Reality
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me