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The solo developer behind this wave shooter is trying to resurrect that old time CoD Zombies magic

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When solo developer Ashley Ellis told me that he wanted Hellbreach: Vegas to be a throwback, a celebration of the arcade simplicity of Call of Duty’s beloved zombies mode, that’s when it really clicked for me. Hellbreach is all about the simple pleasure of looking down iron sights at a zombie-adjacent demon-type dude and deleting it. If you find yourself doing so on a Discord call with three friends from high school, all the better.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it when I first took an early build of Hellbreach for a spin, but it absolutely nails the feel of an Xbox 360-era CoD Zombies mode. The starting character has the same doofy, Duke Nukemy, Russian-accented one liners as Black Ops standby Nikolai Belinsk. The maps have that same feel as CoD Zombies, with these tight rings of rooms with little room to maneuver, helping to distinguish Hellbreach from fellow wave survival shooter Killing Floor. 

Each map opens up gradually as you invest money into tearing down barriers, drawing from the same resource pool you use to purchase weapons, ammo, and perks. They start out hemming you in, with branching options for expanding the play field, but eventually you’ll have your loop through the map opened up, hustling away from chokepoints and shaving down the herd of demons. I find the slot machines comfortingly reminiscent of those CoD Zombies randomizer chests, and the pick-ups have that same goopy, low-poly look as the series’ classic power ups. The movement and weapon handling is very old-school CoD as well, and now I can’t help but associate it with happy memories of couch co-op split screen on Nacht Der Untoten in Black Ops 2.

Ellis said he hopes this will be a similarly social experience, a game you can use to catch up with friends over Discord. He doesn’t want to make something overly complex or bogged down with progression systems. It feels similar to other indie genre throwbacks: the Quake-like games lovingly called “boomer shooters” or the low-fi, PS1-esque horror games that became so popular a few years ago. Black Ops 2 is a younger subject for a nostalgic throwback, but it’s what Ellis wants to play. If no one out there is making the game you want anymore, why don’t you give it a shot?

I’m also quite a big fan of how Ellis settled on the game’s Las Vegas setting. He’s never been, but with all the CSIs, Rainbow Six Vegases, and Fallout: New Vegases out there, you can kinda get a good idea of what it’s like anyway, right? The setting followed the game’s mechanics, as it were. Ellis was inclined to use slot machines as a visual alternative to CoD Zombies’ “chest with floating gun over it,” and what modern city seems more ripe for a demon invasion out in the middle of the desert? With all that natural synergy, it had to be Vegas.

If I want some kind of meditation on the moral decay of the Southwest, I’ll watch No Country For Old Men⁠—this is Goofy Vegas. My favorite map in the build I checked out was a chintzy wedding chapel, but it also included a police precinct and a level set on the Strip, with an additional three more maps set to appear in the final game.

Hellbreach: Vegas has been in the works since 2020, when Ellis turned to game development after finding a new abundance of free time in the pandemic. Ellis and publisher Iceberg Interactive hope to release Hellbreach: Vegas some time in the third quarter of 2023, though that date depends on the pace of development and Hellbreach will see some multiplayer beta testing before it comes out. If you’d like to follow and support Hellbreach: Vegas, you can wishlist it on Steam.

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