Developed by Woodland Games and published by Leonardo Interactive and PlayWay, comes an interesting twist on the resource manager genre: Hell Architect. In it, you will have the responsibility of handling your very own circle of hell and use the suffering of your sinners to fuel your project and expand and create more and more misery ad infinitum.
Or at least that’s as much as you can gather from this first installment, the demo that isn’t an actual demo, Hell Architect: Prologue.
Story – Hell is What You Make of it
The story in Hell Architect: Prologue is quite simple. You are put in charge of a few damned souls in your personal hell and are given tasks to complete using the suffering you can squeeze out of your sinners, which works as currency. While this new job is thrown to your lap in the most corporate-like fashion you can imagine, there is an underlying story in Prologue: Lucifer went to heaven and grew envious of all the good-looking statues that there are in the silver city.
So even though you are “the new guy”, your higher-ups in Hell, named Frank and Lilith, leave it up to you to complete Satan’s latest vanity project of having a statue of himself built. The statue of course looks nothing like the deformed, hunched and wart-ridden reality, but that’s neither here nor there. So with the help of your Assistant Imp, named Bob, you start commanding your sinners to dig up resources that can be found in your hell. The three resources you need for anything are Dirt, Coal, and Metal.
You need one or more of these elements to build anything in your hell. Additionally, the more advanced pieces of torture equipment or amenities require suffering, and therein lies the difficulty of the game. The prologue ends when you can complete Lucifer’s statue, although you may continue playing in your hell after the statue is completed.
Gameplay – To Err is Demonic
Hell Architect: Prologue may seem simple in its gameplay, and while it’s certainly not the most demanding game when it comes to strategy or management, you can dig yourself into a hole fairly quickly if you’re not mindful and think towards the future of your run. While using the resources you can dig up and create, you need to manage to create a somewhat steady supply of suffering from your sinners.
Dig your layout
While there doesn’t appear to be any environmental effects to where you choose to place a structure besides whether or not the area is lit or not, it is entertaining to explore your little hell and map out in your head where you want to set up a Torture Room, a Kitchen, the Bathrooms or the sleeping quarters. Or you also have the option to create something chaotic and have a carboard box for someone to sleep in right next to the latrine, which could be an added torture in your head but doesn’t really seem to affect the sinner at all or create more suffering. So that may be a moot point.
To start the game, digging is key, as your need to reach the more valuable resources (coal and metal) and dirt is somehow used to build the first structures in your hell, such as a simple ladder and platforms for your sinners to walk on. Anything else that is more complex than that will require a combination of dirt, metal and coal, although not always all three. You can click the dig option with your mouse or use the X on your keyboard to enter the dig menu and then click away at the squares you want your sinners to dig through. It was not immediately obvious to me but you can also click and drag to select multiple squares at once.
Not letting your sinners… die?
You need your sinners to do everything, you can simply give out commands for them to follow. This adds a little sadistic tone to the game, with the whole “dig your own grave” vibe, except the sinners are building their own torture devices and are generating their own suffering in a deliciously hellish experience.
All of the sinners have different levels of ability when it comes to cooking the nasty food or brewing the horrible dirty water. As far as I’ve seen, this abilities range from 1 to 3. If you have a sinner with cooking ability level 2, it will generate 10 units of food on every cycle. If you have a sinner with cooking ability level 3, then it will generate 15 units. This is a very exploitable mechanic once you reach a certain point of the game.
Likewise, sinners have a specific sin they’ve been sent to Hell for, that will affect how they can be used more effectively. Some sins will cause sanity to decrease faster on certain conditions or would cause the sinner to work slower. Some sinners are more adequate for torturing than others, just like some will be more useful cooking or brewing than others. There is certainly an strategic element to the game, even if it falls short.
Each sinner also has 5 traits you need to provide relief for: Hunger, Drink, Fatigue, Bladder, and Sanity. The game allows you to build amenities for your sinners to satisfy each of these needs. You will need to use the sinners to operate some of these amenities. One needs to operate the Water Squeezer to generate something to drink (I’ll let you find out what’s being squeezed for this water), and another one will need to cook the foul smelling meat to increase your food supplies, to name a few.
Besides the basic resources you get by digging, you need food and drink for the sinners to not expire or lose their mind. If you lose your sinner you can get them back from Limbo if you have enough suffering to buy them back. Each time you lose one, the price to get it back increases.
Here lies one of the traps of the game. If you do not plan ahead accordingly, these traits will start costing you your sinners and thus your ability to create suffering and continue your expansion.
Resources and Suffering
The end goal of everything you dig and build is to generate suffering, which works as currency. I already mentioned how anything too complex will take more than dirt to create, such as the metal bucket for the sinners to drink from and the latrine and so on. The basic amenities that you can get are not great to satisfy the needs of your sinners, but they make do. You can also get improved amenities in exchange for resources and a certain amount of suffering. These are mores expensive, yes, but they do a better job in raising the stats of the sinners, with more lasting effects.
Hard takeoff for an easy flight. Maybe too easy
Hell Architect: Prologue has a bit of a learning curve, and your first run may be a bust when all your sinners start lacking the same necessity, such as sleep or water. When that happens you may find out that you walked yourself into a corner, since having a sinner on the brink of collapse will make them useless. Thus you cannot create what you’re missing and it’s essentially a vicious circle. If one or more of your sinners “dies” (or goes to Limbo due to the collapse), you can buy them back for a certain amount of suffering and they come back with all their stats and traits as if they were new.
This means that if your sinners start dropping before you’ve managed to build your first torture devices to produce suffering, then your game may be a bust and you’ll have to start over. This is not definitive, though, but it’s a possibility. If you already produced some suffering and your sinners start dying, then it’s not really a big deal.
You start the game with 4 sinners, regardless of whether you are playing the prologue scenario or the sandbox mode. Every 10 minutes, you get a new sinner to your ranks. Every new sinner comes with full stats and bonuses that last for a while and you can exploit if you have the means to do so. The Prologue version of the game is limited to a maximum of 10 sinners, again, regardless of playing the prologue scenario or the sandbox mode.
The fault in the game is that once you have 7 or 8 sinners, then the game stops needing you to be actively involved in it. If you have a sinner with cooking level 3 and a sinner with brewing level 3, enough beds, and enough bathrooms, then you can simply let the game run by itself. Really. I tested it by letting it run while I stepped out for 2 whole hours. When I came back, 5 of my sinners had been lost, but only because I sent them to dig indefinitely without a way to come back for food, water or sleep. The other 5 just kept on going.
The amount of resources that I had before leaving and after coming back had almost doubled or tripled in some cases. I did not run out of any resources, and with tens of thousand of units of suffering, getting my sinners back was not only quick and easy, but the fact that they came back with full stats felt like an exploit. I imagine that with a larger population the logistics get a little more complicated, but I don’t expect to be all that different in full game.
Graphics and Audio – Hell is in the eye of the beholder
This is an area where the game does not try to make a lasting mark. Both graphics and audio are okay, but they’re not something to write home about. Part of the charm of the game is the visual and sound effects of the animations, such as having Emperor Nero burn infinitely in a furnace. The full version of the game will include some other popular characters to be tortured, and I assume all of them would have some irony in their traits, just like Nero has an aversion to fire.
The animations of the sinners being tortured are funny and cute, although they can be disturbing at times. Nothing to lose sleep over, but you may want to grow a darker sense of humor if you don’t have one yet. The cute sounds they make while being tortured or just generally being active reminds me of Happy Tree Friends. The game is mostly humorous and it can be appreciated in how the sinners would calmly step out of their respective torture chambers to go relieve themselves or grab a drink, only to stroll back and submit themselves to the torture once again.
The ambient music is unremarkable; it’s the same short songs over and over again. Not too distracting, but I did end up playing something else on my playlists rather than listen to it all the time. Even the sound effects of the tortures become repetitive. The sound blends well with the cartoon style, though.
Hell Architect: Prologue was reviewed on PC via Steam.