I am a Hellboy fan at heart. From watching the OG movies from the great Guillermo del Toro as a young lad when I wasn’t supposed to with dad, to all the way later buying the comics written by Mike Mignola. So, when watching Hellboy: Web of Wyrd’s reveal trailer, I was very keen for it – especially when finding out it was a roguelite game. I quite enjoy them with (Gunfire Reborn being one of my favourites) and from the developers Upstream Arcade who are known for West of Dead (another roguelike) which got quite good reviews. After finally playing ‘Hellboy: Web of Wyrd’, though, I have to admit I’m extremely disappointed.
Artistic to a Fault
Let’s start with the obvious: the art style. This was the first main thing that jumped out at me when watching the trailer for this. Imitating Mignola’s work was an interesting and clever approach when developing this game, but I wonder if the reason why Upstream Arcade was chosen for this project was because their previous game I talked about before (West of Dead) has an almost identical art style and vibe that comes with that game.
When playing Hellboy, it was definitely refreshing to myself playing a game with this look and style, really engulfing me into this world it was set in and making me feel like I just stepped through one of the pages in the comic books. From how Hellboy himself looked to all the enemies and monsters, it was great at first but unfortunately, despite the art style being very effective, it’s too dark to actually play. This was mainly a problem for me when I was walking around the HUB (which, in itself, is another problem we’ll get to later on) but when trying to explore the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) most of it was hard to fully see and explore. Because of how they use the blacks as the shadows, it felt very chaotic when trying to find where to upgrade my weapons or a particular NPC to talk to. This isn’t nearly as bad when you’re in the actual game moving around and fighting enemies, but this really put a damper on my excitement for the game – and it was one of the reasons I was looking forward to it!
A Few Panels Short of a Comic
Cutscenes are incredibly still and static with only very small movement, with the camera moving around the characters. I’m assuming this is mainly because Upstream Arcade is only a small independent team of 16 developers, and most likely didn’t have enough time or resources to fully animate cutscenes. In actuality, this is fine, and I quite like it. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but this cleverly imitates comic pages as if we were reading them. If this is the reason, I onnly wish they took the concept further, stylising it and cutting the camera around a little bit more to imitate the panels of the pages of a comic more when dialogue is happening.
Now, onto the main reason I’m unfortunately disappointed in the game: the gameplay. When Hellboy moves around, he is animated in a way that seems to be on 2’s to imitate the comic book style. But in a game, this makes it feel very laggy and annoying to move around, especially the reloading animation for his gun, The Samaritan. Note: an enable/disable toggle for Hellboy’s stylized walk cycle animation has been added in the newest 1.0.4 Patch that came out at the time of this review.
The combat is incredibly dull and very, very repetitive. When fighting, you have a light attack, a heavy attack, a special attack that uses Hellboy’s ‘Right Hand of Doom’, as well as your gun that you can use to stun the large enemies. The animations for these attacks are very basic and tedios, but the animation for your special attack that you can use when you build up by successfully timing your blocks right, is very visually impressive with a large red flash when Hellboy leaps up and impacts the ground. It also sends enemies flying back, adding even more damage if they fly into a wall or column. I should mention that the soundtrack is great in combat situations, and I hope over time Upstream Arcade expand upon these stellar tracks.
I feel I should also mention the game’s targeting system, where you press the Shift key to select enemies to attack, but I found this very annoying and clunky in application.
A Handful of Grunts and a Boss
For each map, there are basically only 3 enemy types: the small and weaker enemies who are basically useless – they really don’t do anything other than just standing there and really only attack you when told to by a larger enemy. Plus, these smaller enemies all disappear when you defeat all of the larger Boss type enemies in that combat area – so there really isn’t any point for them to be there. Then you have the larger Boss type enemies who only have 2-3 attack types which it gets boring extremely fast. Combat boils down to dodge, attack, block, attack, dodge, attack ad nauseum.
Should you manage to survive this mindnumbing process, you finally arrive at a final boss at the end of a map’s arc. In stark contrast, these are incredibly difficult due to the problematic elements of the game’s combat.
Even after all this, I understand that Upstream Arcade is only a very small dev team and Hellboy: Web of Wyrd is only a mid-tier game. At the time of this review, Hellboy: Web of Wyrd currently has a “Mostly positive” review on Steam and a 6/10 on IGN.
I’m not sure if Upstream are going to patch and refine the Hellboy experience post-launch, but despite its shortcomings, the game is full of potential – it just needs to be improved. Add some swift combat animations, more music, and improve the A.I. so it isn’t just standing there getting pummeled in the face with Hellboy’s clunky fighting.