Hellion: The Space Sim You’ve Been Waiting For

For the past few years studios have been steadily pumping out sandbox survival games at a fairly decent pace. It’s easy to see the appeal – you get the challenge that you find in more traditional game while still finding that deep, satisfying emergent gameplay that sandboxes are known for. The actual execution of this genre, however, seems to be scattershot. Some survival sandboxes, like Minecraft, see absolutely insane levels of success and popularity while others, like No Man’s Sky, fall flat on their faces and become something the community at large would rather forget about.

That is the landscape in which we find Hellion (by Zero Gravity): a space survival sandbox that’s due to come out for Early Access February 24th. The premise is simple: Think Rust, but in space. When you begin you’re thrust in to a massively-multiplayer world with nothing but a cramped spaceship and a paltry supply of resources. From there it becomes a mad dash to stay alive, either by salvaging nearby derelicts, mining and refining ores from asteroids, or by raiding the ships of other players. Of course, this is all while trying to ensure that other players don’t raid you.

On the sliding scale of arcade vs. simulator mechanics, Hellion tries to lean more towards the latter. All the ships, stations, moons, and planets orbit around each other with realistic Newtonian physics – anybody who’s ever played Kerbal Space Program will feel instantly at home navigating the various orbital plots and maps in the game world. Likewise, every item in the game functions in what feels like a realistic manner. For example, cycling through an airlock to go EVA requires a lengthy and deliberate process of sealing hatches, pumping air in/out, etc. In another touch of realism – the spacecraft in the game are all comprised of various subsystems which can (and will!) degrade over time and eventually fail, requiring the player to either repair or replace them.

These mechanics aren’t just for the players own spacecraft – gameplay footage from the studio shows a small crew of players coming upon a derelict space station devoid of any power or gravity. While half the players drifted inside to explore, the developer’s commentary made it clear that such an endeavor wasn’t sustainable: their spacesuits only had so much air available, which limited the amount of salvaging they could do. That’s why the other two players were then shown on the station’s exterior, painstakingly making repairs to its solar array so that it could start producing power and other resources on its own again. All of this happened while the captain stayed at the helm of their main ship watching out of the window and providing support as necessary.

I know that this deliberate, plodding pace is not something that all gamers will enjoy. However, I have high hopes for Hellion. Even though it’s rather early in its development, the game already appears to have reached a depth and complexity that brings out the best in the survival sandbox genre. That being said, it IS an Early Access title, and so far all we have to go on is gameplay footage from the studio. There’s no telling how the game will actually turn out once its released in to the wild – whether it can actually live up to the promises its made or whether it will end up a disappointment. But speaking as someone who’s longed for a good, deep, semi-realistic space sim for awhile now, I’m really excited to find out.

(Hellion is available for Windows only, Early Access already launched on Steam since February 24th.)