GameCentral’s favourite comic book gets a new video game adaptation that combines roguelike exploration with stunning visuals.
It’s been quite the week for big name reviews, with both Spider-Man 2 and Super Mario Bros. Wonder turning out better than expected. But as major fans of the Hellboy comic books, there was a third game we were looking forward too as well; one that seemed to recreate the exquisite artwork of Mike Mignola but which, in gameplay terms, we knew very little about. Now that we’ve played the game, we think we were happier in our ignorance.
Hellboy is a character that’s been around since the early 90s and has spawned three live action movies, with a fourth on the way, as well as animated films and two previous games – Dogs Of The Night from 2000 and Konami’s The Science Of Evil in 2008. However, they range from terrible to okay-ish (we’re not fans of the Guillermo del Toro movies) and none them even try to replicate Mignola’s beautiful, expressionistic art style.
Web Of Wyrd is different though, as its cel-shaded visuals manage to recreate the look of the comics almost exactly. The stilted animation and complete lack of facial animation is off-putting but other than that the game is perfect from a visual standpoint. It’s just everything else that is completely awful.
Our primary issue with the del Toro movies is that the characterisation of the characters is all wrong and the films don’t have the same mix of pulp adventure and melancholic horror as the comics; they’re essentially Hellboy in name only. British developer Upstream Arcade clearly share our love for the source material and worked closely with Mignola on the plot of this new game, but sadly it hasn’t helped with Web Of Wyrd’s storytelling.
The game starts off with possibly the most off-putting intro we’ve ever seen in a modern game, with a series of static comic book panels and what at first seems like it’s going to be expository dialogue. Confusingly though, it fails to explain anything about what’s going on. The game feels like it’s missing an animated intro that never got made, or perhaps a tie-in comic book, but instead you’re left to piece together clues about what your mission to the interdimensional realm of the Wyrd (pronounced word) actually is.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter because all you do in the game is punch monsters. That’s not necessarily a problem though, as you could argue that’s true of the comics too. Except they’re filled with wonderfully evocative dialogue, that mixes hard-boiled bluntness with poetic grandeur, while their stories explore folklore from around the world in new and interesting ways.
We’re not even sure Web Of Wyrd realises it hasn’t explained the setting, as it’s not portrayed as a secret but as something everyone else in the game already knows about. What you eventually realise is that the game is a very basic third person brawler, where you explore a series of randomly-generated mazes, fighting enemies and collecting tokens to unlock new weapons and magic spells back at base.
The game is a roguelike, where the maze layouts are randomised every time you re-enter them and if you die or leave ahead of time you have to start them from scratch. That’s fine in something like Dead Cells, where the randomisation can throw up some very different designs, but in Web Of Wyrd everything still looks exactly the same and all the changing layouts do is waste time.
There’s no puzzle-solving and little additional storytelling, so you just end up wandering around identical looking corridors, which link small gated areas filled with the same three or four monsters for each stage. These look the part – we really can’t praise the game enough for how well it mimics Mignola’s artwork – but the combat is very simplistic and there’s little variation in how the enemies fight, no matter what they look like.
Hellboy is best with his fists (or rather his giant Right Hand of Doom) but he can also use a range of weapons, once you unlock them, and charms that perform spells like an area of effect attack. There’s little sense of contact between you and the monsters though and they very clearly telegraph all their moves, as you quickly learn which has to be dodged and which needs to be blocked.
It’s vaguely similar to a heavily simplified, ground level (Hellboy’s not much of a jumper) Devil May Cry, with attempts to add depth through what amounts to a posture bar, that once emptied allows you to stun enemies, and a slowly charging Payback meter that grants you an extra powerful move. There are environmental attacks too, and the ability to throw destroyed architecture, but it’s all very clunky and slow, not to mention highly repetitive.
Everything is so basic and uninteresting we quickly ended up looking for a shortcut, before realising that you can just run through most of the areas and completely ignore the enemies, thereby bypassing most of the game. This is essential once you beat each of the five bosses the first time, as then you have to fight them again, and then complete all five locations in one run.
Web Of Wyrd is not really a role-playing game, so there’s much less reason to fight enemies than there might have been, although you do need the tokens they drop to unlock and upgrade weapons and magic. Most of the ordinary enemies are pretty easy, but the bosses are tougher and so you have to essentially level grind to get powerful enough to take them on.
There are randomly appearing perks to pick up, as you explore, but that is the grand sum of the game. We realise it’s not full price, and clearly has a very low budget, but the whole things is a complete waste of some beautiful visuals. If we didn’t have an inherent interest in the subject matter, it would probably seem even worse, so if you don’t know who Hellboy is don’t try and find out via this.
If there’s £20 burning a hole in your pocket then try and pick up a couple of the collected edition of the comic, but whatever you do don’t even consider Web Of Wyrd, as it’s undoubtedly one of the worst games of 2023.
Hellboy Web Of Wyrd review summary
In Short: The best visual representation of Hellboy outside of the comic books, but an absolutely terrible video game, whose shallowness and lack of variety is matched only by its constant repetition.
Pros: The visuals are amazing, although the weak animation and awkward cut scenes often don’t present them in the best manner.
Cons: Combat is almost the only thing in the game and it’s awful, with too little variety in enemies and unengaging action. Roguelike structure makes everything worse and the storytelling is totally incoherent.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Developer: Upstream Arcade
Release Date: 18th October 2023
Age Rating: 12
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