Hell Architect review: The devil’s in the details

by Lars
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Hell Architect gives players a taste of hell from a unique perspective – the interior designer. As a junior devil you’ll work your way up the ranks, designing your very own circle of hell complete with ridiculous torture devices, coffee machines and food production chains. But does Woodland Games‘ new base-builder play the devil’s advocate, or is this piece of paradise lost?

If you’ve ever played Oxygen Not Included, you’ll be incredibly familiar with what’s on offer here. It is more or less the same thing with a different skin and a darker sense of humour. You carve out resources from the environment (and your host of sinners, naturally) and put them to use improving your base and the production chains therein. Alongside the usual things like metal, dirt and coal you’ll also need to harvest Suffering, which powers the creation of Hell’s more complex buildings. Suffering is gained from chucking a sinner into a torture device, with bonuses handed out if that sinner is particularly afraid of that method of torture.

Hell Architect tutorial start

It’s not as straightforward as just making your sinners as miserable as possible. To get the most out of your legion of the damned, you’ll have to make sure they can eat, drink and rest after the hours of forced labour you inflict on them. Manufacturing food and water require production chains – you can’t just build a food source, you’ll have to build a place to prepare it and eat it too. If your sinners don’t get enough to eat or drink, they’ll disappear to limbo – robbing you of both their skills and the vital essence you’d get if you’d killed them properly. As Tom Hardy once said in a ridiculous voice, “there can be no true despair without hope”.

This means that quite a lot of your building efforts will have to go towards upkeep if you want to get the most out of your eternally indentured workforce. They’re gonna need the chance to grab a bowl of slop (or, eventually, the finer things like a cup of coffee) and get their head down for some rest after an intense session of eternal damnation. This is Hell Architect‘s paradox. As you research more technologies and refine your approach to building hell, making it arguably better for the sinners, you’re actually creating a gradually worse hell. It’s like you’re gentrifying it.

The weirdest thing about Hell Architect for me was how relaxing it became after a few hours of play. I completed the tutorial and played through a handful of scenarios, building to achieve specific goals – but once I’d gotten the hang of things I moved over to Sandbox Mode and set about forging my own unique vision of hell. As it turned out, that vision involved far more toilets than originally planned, and by the end my little slice of the abyss was better kitted out with facilities than the average UK music festival.

The experience is somewhat underscored by a ton of bugs. I lost count of the times a text window would appear on screen and just hang there until I rebooted the game. Sometimes things just don’t work, like sinners allowing themselves to expire from thirst or hunger unless a station is right next to them. It does feel like an Early Access game, and yet it’s being sold as a 1.0 release, which is probably why it’s currently sitted at “Mixed” on Steam. Fair play to the developers – they’ve been aggressively patching the game since release, but a couple more months in the oven would have presented us with a much more competent version of Hell Architect.

Hell Architect overall thoughts: A fun, flawed sim that’s surprisingly relaxing

Hell Architect isn’t the best game of its kind, but it does bring a welcome suffusion of humour and charm to the genre. Once you’ve established a good base, expanding it is a pleasure, and employing the twisted new technologies you research is always worth a good chuckle. It’s buggy, but the developers are working hard on ironing those out, so if you like the idea of running your own hell, you could do a lot worse than Hell Architect.

Hell Architect is available now on Steam. Why not check out some more of our game reviews here?

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