Since 1993, Hellboy has been a cult favourite in the world of comics, with its alternate history pulp storytelling taking place alongside Mike Mignola’s iconic artwork. While Hellboy’s comic adventures have been a hit, his journey into other media has been a bit scattered.
Upstream Arcade’s Hellboy Web of Wyrd is the latest video game adaptation of the series, and it attempts to capture the essence of the comics. I really liked the Ron Perlman Hellboy movie, and only just started reading the comics for writing this review. The comics I can highly recommend. The game…? Well, let’s dive in and see!
Hellboy Web of Wyrd is set in the 1980s, during the Falklands War. Hellboy is dispatched to investigate paranormal occurrences in a place known as The Butterfly House, now used as the base for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.).
The game introduces new field agents who study psychic phenomena while Hellboy ventures into the Wyrd; a strange dimension full of unpredictable twists. Basically, The Butterfly House is your hub world where you can have limited interactions with other characters between missions.
Hellboy Web of Wyrd is stunning visually. It really captures Mignola’s distinctive style, with shadows and an eerie atmosphere ripped straight from the comic books. Hellboy’s character design is also particularly impressive, capturing his red devil-monkey in a trench coat look and powerful presence.
Lance Reddick’s performance as Hellboy is outstanding here, combining sarcasm and humanity flawlessly; I did feel that he sounded a bit younger than my head canon version, but a great performance nonetheless. The supporting cast of agents, villains, and spirits enhances the game’s narrative, and the moody soundtrack elevates the experience.
Gameplay is where the game encounters its most significant challenges. The promise of a modern roguelike beat ’em up with randomized upgrades and gothic environments is intriguing, but the game doesn’t really pull it off well. The AI is problematic; combat encounters are way too easy, and the levels are a chore to navigate.
Web of Wyrd follows a cycle where you enter biomes, work your way through procedurally generated areas, and defeat a boss. This cycle just repeats until you get to the third chapter in the endgame or get bored with the formula. And you will get bored; even die-hard fans of Hellboy will begin to tire of the mechanics once the novelty of the visuals wears off.
Punching your way through battles and building your special attack is the only way to play this game, as guns and other weapons are just not that great. Weapons remain largely static, lacking creativity and feeling off. Using a weapon is actually the last thing you want to do as they are clunky. And if you miss, you are left wide open for attack.
The Wyrd consists of interconnected arenas with a fixed set of room types, combat encounters and shops. The absence of a map or teleportation feature makes backtracking frustrating, and the addition of random hazards and walls raises questions about their purpose and hindrance to gameplay.
Combat, which makes up a significant portion of the gameplay, feels monotonous. The game’s difficulty is remarkably low, and even boss enemies fail to provide a real challenge. And that’s coming from someone who is far from being a ‘Pro Gamer’.
The close-up, behind-the-back perspective here keeps the camera focused on enemies, but gameplay bugs can disrupt the experience. The combat lacks finesse, with delayed responses to button presses. The lack of challenge and the absence of variety in combat adds to the repetitiveness.
The music in the game isn’t awful, but there are no tracks here that will have you humming along to them in the shower weeks from now. A distinct soundtrack could have really helped out Big Red here, but sadly generic sounding rock playing during combat and noir detective movie tunes elsewhere just kind of fade into the void. In fact, Hellboy might have benefited from more handcrafted and curated levels, pairing with soundtracks ala Devil May Cry; in fact using the entire DMC template rather than this dull roguelike, procedural, shallow experience would have been far better.
Whatever, the Wyrd is divided into four themed levels, where you will find combat encounters, shops and pickups. While the moody environments create a unique atmosphere, they do little to enhance the gameplay. The world map design is dull, and after a few runs, players will have seen everything it has to offer.
Backtracking to open doors with keys becomes tiresome, and the lack of a sense of progression in the levels is disappointing. The same visuals across the board do tend to make playing through Hellboy a chore, even with the procedurally generated landscapes – everything feels like a copy-paste from a generic template.
So what does this mean? Well, Hellboy Web of Wyrd, while visually faithful to the comics and featuring stellar voice acting, falls short in its gameplay. The lack of challenge, repetitiveness, and shallow world exploration are all disappointing.
While the game captures the essence of Hellboy’s world, it doesn’t provide the depth and challenge that would have made it a must-play. Despite its amazing visuals, Hellboy Web of Wyrd ends up as a missed opportunity that will continue to leave fans and newcomers wanting more from a Hellboy gaming experience.
I really wanted to like Hellboy Web of Wyrd, from the announcement trailer reveal, it looked amazing. Technically that is still true – it does looks amazing. Yet sadly it doesn’t have the substance to back up the fantastic style. Maybe hardcore fans will find more joy, but Hellboy Web of Wyrd feels tricky to recommend to even the most dedicated fans.
It’s a real shame that such a visually faithful looking game manages to be so dull.