There are so many games that claim realistic physics, but very few execute them in satisfying ways. Getting a weapon hit in a semi-realistic way is incredibly difficult to pull off and getting the enemies to respond in a believable way to the impact is even harder. While Blade and Sorcery has set the blueprint and is undoubtedly the mother of physics-based melee combat games in VR, Hellsplit: Arena is right there as the Father of the genre.
The breakdown of the gameplay is fairly simple in Hellsplit: Arena. You are an undead warrior who is fighting in hell. You progress through different levels and fight various enemies and at the end of each round, you can fight a boss. After each round, you gain money that you can use to buy weapons, armor, shields, potions, and different attack boosters. At the start of each round, an ominous voice announces some background of the area. While this is cool for ambiance, shortly thereafter the voice yells out “Groovy!” or “Oh my, so bloody!” which makes it feel less like a serious fight through the underworld and more like a parody of some kind. Gladius VR had this vibe down correctly with its deep-voiced announcer giving weight to the proceedings, here, I would love the option to put this guy on mute. The start of the game almost insults your ability as a player with how easy it is. Enemies basically walk up to you and welcome your weapon through their heads. I was a bit a soured on the experience because it felt like another Blade and Sorcery which, while fun, is terribly easy and more of a combat simulator than an actual game. Thankfully, once you get past the first stage, things become incredibly challenging. Enemy variety starts switching up, traps become whirling blades of death flying at you from all angles and bosses get more and more difficult. This uptick in difficulty requires you to constantly upgrade your weapons and armor, lest you’ll fall victim to the residents of hell. You’re not the only one with upgrades either, enemies will come at your with evolving gear of their own. The most interesting part of this is their chainmail, which will render your stabs completely useless. That means you’re going to have to use headshots to take them out. Speaking of headshots, decapitations and dismemberments of all kinds are finally fully realized in VR and depending on how hard you swing, you will be to dismember and decapitate your lesser armed enemies. Generally, this would be a bit disturbing to execute in VR, but since we’re not attacking humans, but rather residents of the undead, it adds all the more to an already badass experience. On top of this, you can grab an enemy at enemy time and bash their heads into each other or impale them on the gruesome traps set up all around, it’s brutal but fun stuff. There is only one mode as of now, and the experience only lasts about 3 hours, but the difficulty will have you trying multiple times per level and the challenge is what will keep you coming back for more. Hellsplit: Arena seems like it could be the prototype for a much bigger experience. It feels like a more fully realized version of Blade and Sorcery and should be the blueprint for the melee arena combat game going forward.
You should have the full 5×5 playspace available to you if you want to experience the full thrill of what Hellsplit: Arena has to offer you. Weighted gloves and ankle weights can be used as well to simulate armor and weapon weight too. Make sure your play area is clear of any breakable objects or people as you’re going to be turning a lot and swinging a lot and it’s tough to keep track of where you are while you’re doing it.
For my 30 minute workout with Hellsplit: Arena, I used a Fitbit to track my progress. I did not use any additional weights or gloves for my experience with the game. I played Hellsplit: Arena on a Samsung Odyssey+, Windows Mixed Reality Headset.
Calories burned: 227
Calories burned per minute: 7
Average Heart Rate: 106
Max Heart Rate: 126
Active Minutes: 28
Hellsplit: Arena is one of the most intense experiences in all of VR. While it starts out easy, soon after you’re going to have three enemies attacking you at once, swinging out of your shoes to destroy them. The momentum and physics built into the combat make you work for your kills and considering you’re going to have all manner of undead nightmares coming for your blood, you’re going to have your hands full. I found this to be the most intense melee combat experience in VR to date and the calorie burn is there to support my feeling. You want to fight? Hellsplit: Arena is the place to do it.
Hellsplit: Arena gives you a legitimate arsenal to equip yourself with and if you’re going to use it properly, get ready for your wings to burn. In order to execute the gruesome and satisfying dismemberments and decapitations available for each enemy, you’re going to have to put a lot of force into your attacks and you’re going to have to attack at the correct angles too. I tested this by putting a medium amount of strength into my swings and I was unable to do much damage against these creatures. In order to really lay down the pain, I had to swing full force to stay alive here. By the end of my 30-minute play session, I was exhausted and you want to know the sick thing? I wanted more, and I kept pushing on. The game rewards you for pushing through to the next level.
Enemies and traps that come after you in Hellsplit: Arena come at your from every angle, which means your legs are going to be involved. Enemies will swing for your head constantly and while you can use a weapon or shield to block the attack, you can also duck under it and then counter-attack from a lower angle which will effectively counter an enemy’s attach open them up for an easy kill. As far as the game requiring you to use your legs goes, there isn’t much here. But, the experience becomes far more immersive if you use a 5×5 playspace to engage in combat here, and being able to freely dodge and duck around enemy attacks in VR is an exhilarating experience and it’s no different here.
Core and Balance- 8/10
You’re going to be doing a lot moving around within your playspace during your time with Hellsplit: Arena. If you’re going to survive the onslaught of the undead, a shield is a must-have piece of equipment, and seeing as you’re going to be getting attacked from every direction, those abdominal and core muscles are going to feel it after a while. Although my 30-minute workout within the game didn’t produce a ton of burn in my core muscles, as I kept going, I started to feel it as I was ducking and twisting my body to avoid whirling saw blades and all manner of creatures. Skeletons in particular in this game get you to move your body a ton because they tend to roll all over the place, requiring quick shifts of your feet and body weight to stay with them. It’s pretty much required to use your core muscles in this game and if you don’t feel it from the swords thrusting and ax smashing, the shield blocking as well as grabbing your enemies and smashing their heads together will get those muscles a burn.
Time Perception- 9/10
Does time really matter when you’re inside a gladiator arena in hell? I’m gonna go with no because when you’re armed to teeth getting ready for another hellspawn to appear, time doesn’t seem to register. Hellsplit: Arena is good for just a quick 15-minute play session or if you’re in the mood to watch the calories fly, an hour or longer session will give one wild workout. Each round tends to end pretty quickly, but between your time in the hub area upgrading and trying out your new weapons and armor and the main missions, the minutes will tick off pretty quickly.
Although it’s only a 3-hour experience, there are so many ways to get multiple playthroughs out of Hellsplit: Arena. First off, you can choose different difficulties. Once you’ve experimented with those, your weapon specialization can change from playthrough to playthrough. While you could be a mace wield with a shield one playthrough, maybe you specialize in combat boosting potions that add elements to your attacks or use a two-handed weapon throughout. The amount of money you make through your missions is pretty small, so you’re likely not going to be able to get all of the weapons and armor you want the first go around. Combat also feels very randomized as well, considering no enemy ever follows the same path twice and it seems like the spawns are random as well.
Fitness Scalability- 8/10
In terms of scalability, it really relies on what weapon you’re taking into battle and how much physicality you’re willing to put into your gameplay. If you decide to take on most of the game with the starting weapons, get ready to struggle mightily as enemies take an enormous amount of body shots before going down. This style of play can be tedious, but if you’re creating a workout around the game, it’s an effective way to make sure you’re getting a real burn-in. If you’re going all out for your time with the game, then you’re going to be ducking, jumping into attacks, and turning yourself for all the enemies coming at you and you’re going to feel it much more than if you decide to stand in place.
Dizziness/Naseau – 10/10
I personally did not experience any nausea during my time with Hellsplit: Arena. While the action is fast and frantic, as long as you’re playing within the parameters that your computer can handle, there will be very little to make you feel sick as you’re doing battle.
Social Competition- 0/10
There is no social component or multiplayer involved in Hellsplit: Arena at this point. It is designed solely as a single-player experience.
VR Fit Score- 8.75/10
Hellsplit: Arena is an outstanding arena combat game that challenges your mind as much as your physical abilities. The variety of enemies and weapon types allows for a ton of different combat strategies and boss encounters give some weight and personality to the story as well. The physic system used is among the best in VR and the various finishers you can pull off are reminiscent of a VR Mortal Kombat.
The graphics can be a bit demanding so it might not run smoothly on lower quality systems. It’s only a 3-hour adventure as well, so some might not find the price to be justified. The game is also extremely easy early on and doesn’t give a good vision of the challenges that wait ahead.
Hellsplit: Arena is available for $24.99 on Steam