Rare indeed is the game I go into completely blind, this was that game.
I looked up nothing, I knew nothing. I’d seen a brief trailer, but it gave nothing away, could have been a turn based tactical game for all I knew.
And so I plunged onto the pages of a comic book with Hellboy: Web of Wyrd from developer Upstream Arcade.
Hellboy the game looks like Hellboy the comic and that is not a co-incidence.
The art is right from the mind of ‘Dark Horse Comics’ creator Mike Mignola and bloody hell is it gorgeous.
Bold, flat cell shading makes Hellboy’s red skin really red.
Anything that moves is thrown in stark contrast, every shadow is cut in razor sharp lines.
Cutscenes and dialogue are given to us in still frames of evocatively laid out panels. Everything here is a vibe and we are living in the middle of it.
Animations can be a little on the janky side. Hellboy seems notably less stiff than those around him, as if the other characters are operating on a different frame rate than us.
I legitimately couldn’t tell if it was a deliberate artistic choice to capitalise on the comic book aesthetic but on the whole this is one gorgeous looking game.
Voice acting and writing alike are competent across the board.
Once you get over the fact that Hellboy doesn’t sound like Ron Perlman you will learn to appreciate the man doing the filling in.
Having gone into this game eyes shut it wasn’t until I’d been playing an hour or two that I thought to look up the strangely familiar voice Hellboy was crooning to us thinking ‘huh, this sounds like Lance Reddick’.
But of course, that couldn’t be… right?
Wikipedia tells me this game was one of his final performances.
Now I’ve made myself sad, rest in peace king.
Things come uncomfortably close to Marvel-esque snarky protagonist territory at times. Hellboy is an irreverent hero, displaying a trademark lack of fear in all situations. Fortunately he does speak like an adult rather than a kid with a thesaurus in one hand and the script in the other.
Music is a twangy rock track with heavy emphasis on the baseline. It serves, but is nothing spectacular.
The story here is thus…
Psychic events are drawing us towards an abandoned mansion in Spain with a mysterious connection to a sub dimension called ‘the Wyrd’. A place inhabited by strange, powerful entities who seem obsessed with creating stories and making sure you play your part in the one they have for you.
You rescue a friend from the dimension, are declared ‘protagonist’ by a voice that has a habit of speaking from thin air while you are making your way between arenas and from then on make ‘dives’ into the procedurally generated dreamscape of the Wyrd until a boss fight breaks your tether and you are catapulted back into the mansion to upgrade your equipment and try again.
It’s all a solid concept to build on… but gameplay, regrettably, is where this game falls flat on its face.
You wander through samey corridors, as beautiful as they are in this cell shaded style, and fight the samey bad guys who appear in each.
It’s a beat-em-up style of ‘enter a chamber and make sure you’re the only thing that leaves’ game… which is fine for a game that gets its combat gameplay right.
Hellboy does not.
The word awkward jumps to mind and doesn’t leave for the duration of your struggle.
Camera controls and the ‘light-heavy-dodge’ trifecta are clumsy and have poor response.
Hellboy moves like a whale with a leash and while he hits as hard as that would imply, wrestling that big stone fist into the general direction of the enemy is not so delightful.
As for unpicking the interpretive dance each enemy does before making an attack that needs to be ducked, dodged or blocked, forget it.
Field of view is cooked mate. No good at all.
The camera is far too close to Hellboy’s back, making camera controls wonky as you try and wrangle a good view of your battlefield from a view of Hellboy’s trench coat.
It’s a massive pity, after being sucked into the absolutely fantastic artwork, to be let down in the area where it’s most important for a video game.
Like a delicious chocolate doughnut someone has gone and filled with gravel, Hellboy: Web of Wyrd seems mouthwatering until you sink your teeth in and suddenly find yourself wishing you were playing anything else.
Come for the art, worship at the alter of Mike Mignola, then leave when you realise there’s not much else going on.
Released: October 2023
Platforms reviewed: PC
Developer: Upstream Arcade
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment