Digital Review

Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller

Dennis Hopper is living proof that evil knows no bounds. Fresh from his turn as the mad bomber in Speed, Hollywood's devil incarnate brings his psychotic bad guy act to the small screen — the really small screen — in Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller.

Is he out of his mind? Well, he is Dennis Hopper. But in this case he may be crazy like a fox. Think about it. While his previous foray into the world of video games was a starring role in the train wreck of a film Super Mario Bros., this latest move pays off handsomely for two reasons: His participation lends legitimacy to a new medium whose previous ''stars'' include such luminaries as Kirk Cameron, Brian Keith, and Margot Kidder, and, second, the game's a mind-bending blast.

Hopper's voice and digitally rendered image star as Mr. Beautiful, a horned, underworld sleaze kingpin who, 100 years in the future, trades in drugs, porn, you name it, and who also controls the portal between Washington, D.C., and the fiery depths of Hell. Up on the surface, the government is being run by a corrupt, ultra-right-wing dictatorship given power by a constituency of frightened, technophobic voters. You are an ex-government agent (male or female — your choice) who's just discovered that the new regime has issued a contract to ''scrub'' you out. Your mission: to figure out why you're being hunted by following leads and clues as you wander around D.C. and the blazing netherworld.

Sure, the plot smacks of standard sci- paranoia, but it's abetted by a supporting cast of familiar faces who've decided to take the same digital leap of faith as Hopper, including Victoria's Secret model Stephanie Seymour (as a holographic demolitions expert), androgynous disco diva Grace Jones (as America's nasty iron fisted leader, Solene Solux), and erstwhile 7UP huckster and Live and Let Die voodoo priest Geoffrey Holder (as obsessive federal agent Jean St. Mouchoir).

Of course, all of this Hollywood razzmatazz wouldn't be worth a damn if the game itself didn't serve up something new. Fortunately, it does, but there is one major caveat. You have your first hellish encounter before you even start playing, because the game takes up so much space on a PC (560K of core memory, 2.5Mb of free memory) that most people will have to do some pretty acrobatic memory juggling just to get the thing installed.

As soon as you get Hell up and running, however, the haunting moaning of the undead lets you know exactly what sort of good, demonic fun awaits. The game's slew of misfts, lowlifes, and gargoyle-like hellspawn are all brought to life by fluid 3-D animation that renders them a bit like Max Headroom crossed with Davey and Goliath. And the moody shadows and blazing pyres give Hell a striking future-gone-awry, Blade Runner vibe. Topping it all off, the game lets you navigate Washington's sleek subway system between encounters, which — in what may be a CD-ROM game first — emphasizes the use of both sides of your brain, requiring intricate problem solving (such as cracking cryptic riddles for passwords) and less-intellectual, out-and-out brawling.

But the real attraction here is Hopper, who's all badass attitude as Mr. Beautiful, warning players to back off with such bons mots as ''You got rocks as big as church bells, but I'm gonna make 'em ring if you don't watch your step.'' You'd be surprised how terrifyingly effective it is when Dennis Hopper threatens your family jewels — on any size screen. A-

Originally posted Jan 20, 1995 Published in issue #258 Jan 20, 1995 Order article reprints
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