In the half century or so that makes up most of video game history, there have been plenty of games which have featured swords and swordfighting. From fantasy games to ultra-realistic combat games, most have not gone for any realism except perhaps graphically, though there have been a handful of notable exceptions such as Bushido Blade and Kengo. Until fairly recently that has not been much of an issue. The average video game player, if there can be said to be such a person, has seemed to be more interested in flashy graphics and action than in realistic swordfighting, or at least that is what the gaming market has mostly provided. Yet the last couple of decades have brought about the popularity of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) with more and more practitioners and proponents joining the leagues every day, along with those who have interests in other martial arts. And these people, the folks who train and compete with swords, they know their swordfighting. Which means when they want to play a swordfighting video game, they want realism not only in how swords look but in how the bladed weapons perform on the screen.
Finally there is a video game for them.
The game’s title is Hellish Quart. Produced by Jakub and Kate Kisiel of the Polish studio Kubold, Hellish Quart is a 3D physics-based, one-on-one swordfighting game in which each fencing move of the characters on screen have been motion captured.
Hellish Quart is currently an Early Access game, which means there is more work yet to be done on it, and so far it is only available for play on a Windows platform. But don’t let any of that fool you. If you are interested in serious, historical fencing, this is a game you will want to look into.
Eventually there is expected to be a single player, 17th Century storyline campaign for Hellish Quart, but right now players are limited to sword duels against AI or sparring in a local multiplayer mode. A wide variety of weapons are available, including longsword, rapier, saber, basket hilted swords, and more. Besides steel blades, wooden weapons are also presented for use. The characters available for players come in a wide variety from the 17th Century, including Tatars, Swedish Reiters, French Musketeers, Cossacks, Hussars, and others. Also, character customization is in the works according to the Hellish Quart page on Facebook.
Yet all of this is really icing on the cake. Yes, graphically Hellish Quart looks good, though perhaps it is not quite perfected as of yet though still pleasing to the eye. It is in the action and the physics where this game really shines.
First of all, you’re not going to find a visible health bar here. You hit an opponent with a fist or boot or pommel or blade, then they take some visible damage, maybe some bleeding, and perhaps they stumble backward. Or perhaps you run them through and they fall back dead. Or you cut off a hand, or a head. There are multiple ways to wound an opponent and to receive wounds, not all of which are fatal. Fights are generally best out of three, though some modes of play differ. Double strikes are possible, and it’s not impossible for both the player’s character and their opponent to be slain, in which case no one wins that particular round.
Distance and footwork are quite important in this game, as is blocking. For a fight to really take place, the opponents must move near enough to one another to land a blow while attempting to not be struck. Most characters have at least two attacks from upon high and two attacks from down low, but special maneuvers and attacks are available. Different characters use different weapons, thus each individual character has their own special moves and attack combinations. It is also possible to feint, parry, and to fake out one’s enemies. The basic controls are easy enough with a keyboard, but I have to admit the special attacks and maneuvers can take a while in which to become familiar. Fortunately blocking is easy, being done automatically when a character moves back a step or two, though blocks can be defeated by a wily enemy. Unfortunately it’s fairly easy to be slain by a single blow from an opponent, though admittedly it can be just as easy to kill one’s foe.
It is impossible with current technology to make a swordfighting video game which feels exactly like the real thing, but I think Hellish Quart comes as close as possible. Sure, you’re not going to be able to feel the touch of your enemy’s steel upon your own blade and you’re not going to be able to look a foe in the eye in an attempt to judge them, but Hellish Quart provides realistic-looking swordfighting that offers players much more than the usual hammering of a sword as if it were … well, a hammer.
But don’t trust me. Go play Hellish Quart for yourself. The game isn’t finished, but it already provides plenty of fun and the ability to study swordplay from a more realistic point of view. Is it perfect? No, at least not yet, but nothing ever is perfect, and Hellish Quart is still in the works and shows plenty of potential.
Ty Johnston is vice president of the Rogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit organization focused upon bringing heroic literature to all readers. A former newspaper editor, he is the author of several fantasy trilogies and novels, including City of Rogues and The God Sword.