Hellboy Web of Wyrd PC Review: Hellishly Frustrating
Hellboy, the gorgeously illustrated comicbook series by Mike Mignola about paranormal investigations, Nazis, folklore come to life, and of course, the gruff titular cambion himself is kind of awesome. Even with my cursory glance into the series (I’ve read Seed of Darkness and seen the films), I can appreciate just how demonstrably and irrefutably ingenious it is. Unfortunately, the series has simply not had the recognition it deserves, with its other projects extending to two rather excellent movies by the effortlessly talented Guillermo Del Toro and one rather awful reboot film that did little to beckon in new fans.
So, with the announcement of a Hellboy game titled Web of Wyrd (pronounced Word), starring the late and truly brilliant Lance Reddick as Hellboy himself, I was excited beyond words. Unfortunately, I am genuinely saddened to say that Hellboy Web of Wyrd is one of the most frustrating games I have ever played, not simply because of its clunky gameplay and confoundingly squandered narrative but because its moments of sheer excellence and dedication to its source material speak to a far better game that perhaps got lost in the chaotic Wyrd.
“Much of Hellboy Web of Wyrd’s context is left ambiguous, its worldbuilding lackluster and oblique, and its characters one note.”
Hellboy Web of Wyrd’s narrative starts off strong. You play as Hellboy, sent in by the B.P.R.D to investigate the Wyrd, a realm between realms full of folklore and fairy tale creatures brought to life in nightmarishly haunting ways. Perplexingly, the game does little with its narrative set-up, instead dragging the few strands of intriguing paranormal potential through a cavalcade of references, buzzwords, and dreamlike babbling to the point where none of it makes any sense, and the original concept feels as lost in the chaos as Hellboy does in the Wyrd itself.
You’ll meet a procession of god-like figures who tease and tantalize you with captivating tidbits, hinting at a much larger and more ambitious narrative that seems to rear its head only when the game remembers it exists. Characters will refer to each other as old friends, discuss matters as if any of it makes any tangible sense, and react to unfolding events with as much enthusiasm as I suspect the player will have toward the story. Much of Hellboy Web of Wyrd’s context is left ambiguous, its worldbuilding lackluster and oblique, and its characters one note.
For a newcomer to the Hellboy universe, much of Web of Wyrd will feel compelling yet confusing, a mystery waiting to be cracked so long as you can puzzle together all of the pieces. Unfortunately, rarely are you presented with any meaningful information to expand upon this puzzle, leaving you as bewildered and uninformed about Hellboy’s larger universe as you were before you started playing.
“The story is delivered in a piecemeal fashion, the central plot rarely explained to you, with even Hellboy himself infuriatingly kept in the dark.”
Of course, all of this is inconsequential if you’ve read the comics or have a remote understanding of Hellboy and its gloriously haunting universe. I suspect many of the people picking up Hellboy Web of Wyrd will have read the comics, but even as a fan myself, I can’t see many people being particularly grabbed by the narrative as a whole.
For a start, its presentation is lifeless and dull, a series of static back-and-forth conversations between Hellboy and the main cast in the gloomy corridors and fading libraries of the Butterfly House. However, beyond that, the story is delivered in a piecemeal fashion, the central plot rarely explained to you, with even Hellboy infuriatingly kept in the dark on most matters. The man you’re sent to locate, Deneveaux, is as much a mystery to me after completing the game as he was when I started. Twists and turns are handled exceptionally poorly, with little to no emotional weight or meaningful setup to give them the necessary emphasis and impact they should have. Even the Wyrd and its compelling cast of god-like entities felt too vague and unfulfilling outside of its striking visual identity.
It’s a shame, as not only is this an original story within the Hellboy universe, but Mike Mignola is credited as having worked on the narrative. Frustratingly, the excellent themes of existentialism and masterful writing typically found in a Hellboy comic do occasionally shine through, with much of the banter between Hellboy and the B.P.R.D that meander about the Butterfly House being genuinely terrific and, at times, rather endearing. The cast is fun to be around, and had they been in a more interesting story, perhaps I’d remember them a little more fondly.
“The game wants you to put yourself through punishing gauntlet after punishing gauntlet all in the name of a story that makes no sense.”
Unfortunately, the issues with Hellboy Web of Wyrd don’t end with its convoluted narrative. Rather, they infect every aspect of its core gameplay design, from its roguelite nature to its broken combat. Hellboy Web of Wyrd’s gameplay loop sees you enter one of its small handful of biomes and attempt to clear its various levels without dying. Should you die, you’ll be sent back to the Butterfly House and forced to do it all over again. For most players, this sounds like a standard roguelite experience, and initially, that’s how it seems.
Each biome is a randomly generated series of linear corridors and arenas that you must progress through to reach the boss. At first, you just need to clear each biome once; however, once you’ve beaten them all, you’re asked to do it all over again, only this time, you need to clear a third and even harder level as well. Your reward for managing to slog through repeating the same narrow corridors and engaging in the same broken combat a second time is to do the incredibly tough and overly long third level of each biome one after another without dying.
The sheer level of repetition in Hellboy Web of Wyrd is insulting. It goes beyond the inherent repetitious nature of roguelites, not least because of its punishing difficulty that ensures no amount of skill will save you from death, but because there’s no real reward to be found in persevering. The game wants you to put yourself through punishing gauntlet after punishing gauntlet, rigged from the start thanks to poor RNG pitting you against waves of the toughest enemies from the get-go, in the same environments, not once, not twice, but several times all in the name of a story that makes no sense.
“I felt significantly underpowered, and at no point did I feel as if I was any more prepared for the game’s horrendously unfair gauntlets.”
It wouldn’t matter so much if Hellboy Web of Wyrd’s roguelite elements felt polished or enjoyable, but they fail at nailing the basic tropes so inherent to the genre. For example, healing items are found once per level or as purchasable items. However, not every level is guaranteed to have one, and even if it does, you often have to fight your way through enemies to get to it, only for it to restore a small amount of health. Worse still, the healing item occasionally requires a key to get to, forcing you to fight even more enemies to find that and potentially lose more health than you would have regained.
You can increase your health through upgrades, but it never feels like a meaningful improvement until you’ve done so multiple times. Even then, to get to that point requires a staggering amount of upgrade points, which you’re also expected to put into enhancing your other weapons and abilities. In my many hours of playing, I gained enough upgrade points to improve my gun once, my health and toughness three times, and my revive skill twice. Even then, I still felt significantly underpowered, and at no point did I feel as if I was any more prepared for the game’s horrendously unfair gauntlets.
You’re also beholden to the RNG gods when you enter any of these biomes. For example, the final boss in each level is two waves of enemies followed by a robot. Those first two waves may consist of the easiest enemies in the game, or you may get multiple boss-like enemies with unpredictable attack patterns that deal huge amounts of damage. There are also wave-based encounters outside of the boss that can see you deal with as many as three waves of relentlessly difficult enemies.
“The main issue with Hellboy Web of Wyrd’s combat stems from its dodge mechanic.”
Of course, the punishing difficulty wouldn’t matter if the game’s combat felt intuitive. Unfortunately, it requires such a startling degree of patience to master and a willingness to overlook a myriad of issues plaguing it that it makes the game infinitely more challenging. As Hellboy, you have a number of tools at your disposal. There’s a light and heavy attack, a special ability that deals a significant amount of damage, a choice of one of three guns, and one of three charms. There is also a directional dodge mechanic that sees you needing to dodge forward, back, left, or right depending on which direction the enemy’s attack is coming from.
The main issue with Hellboy Web of Wyrd’s combat stems from this dodge mechanic. While enemies telegraph their attacks well, the dodge frequently doesn’t work. For starters, even if you dodge out of the way of an enemy swiping at you from a specific direction, they’ll often track your movements and hit you anyway. The only way to avoid this is by dodging at the very last second, which poses its own set of risks. Additionally, dodging backward is supposed to avoid any attacks targeting your front, but frequently, the enemy’s hitboxes will unexpectedly expand, hitting you regardless of whether you dodged in time.
To make matters worse, the game’s lock-on system is far too tight, restricting your directional awareness and preventing you from dodging attacks from enemies other than the one you’re targeting. Should you be blessed with the inconsistent enemy AI deciding not to attack you, the lock-on will bounce wildly between enemies, forcing Hellboy to lunge at a different enemy entirely. Additionally, you’re also battling the game’s camera, which will get obscured on terrain or become uncontrollable the second you’re backed into a wall.
“Hellboy Web of Wyrd would have absolutely been a better game had it not been a roguelite.”
The great shame of it all is that once you get the hang of it, Hellboy’s combat is actually a lot of fun. It has a gloriously gory cinematic quality to it, with animations being rather impressive for a game of this size. Its sound design feels crunchy and weighty, giving a significant amount of emphasis to each attack. The developers at Upstream Arcade clearly understood how to capture the brutish nature of Hellboy and did their best to translate that. It just takes a very long time to get the hang of it, and I think the developers were aware of this.
Tutorial pop-ups absolutely never go away, or at least they didn’t in my playthrough. Every time I entered the Wyrd, I was instructed on how to dodge, how to reload, and how to activate my charms. It’s a clear indication that the developers knew, at least to some degree, that the combat is flawed but gets good after a while. That or my game was bugged. Either way, no matter how good you get or how enjoyable you find it, it’s worn down by a repetitive and oftentimes unfair framework that it doesn’t belong in.
I don’t often talk about what I wish a game would be or state that something could have been better had it gone in another direction. But Hellboy Web of Wyrd would have absolutely been a better game had it not been a roguelite. Not only would a more linear and handcrafted framework allow for a more coherent narrative, but it also would have given the combat a greater opportunity to shine, as the scenarios in which Hellboy would find himself could have been more innovative than simply wandering into another circular arena and fighting a handful of enemies.
“Everything from the character designs to the thick, gloomy shadows cast across practically every surface perfectly encapsulates the moody noir tone of the comics.”
One area of the game that I do have unadulterated praise for is the visuals. Hellboy Web of Wyrd has miraculously translated the comicbook series’ iconic and distinctive art styles to create one of the best-looking games of the year. Its dedication to the source material is unequivocally felt here, as everything from the character designs to the thick, gloomy shadows cast across practically every surface perfectly encapsulates the moody noir tone of the comics. The best example of this is the Butterfly House itself, a gorgeous space oozing with atmosphere, drenched in somber oscillating shadows, while smooth jazz echoes hauntingly in the background. It’s a beautifully realized hub world and easily one of the best elements of Hellboy Web of Wyrd.
Similarly, the various biomes you explore look jaw-droppingly beautiful. From the ethereal underwater ruins to the nightmarish rendition of the New York subway, each biome feels visually distinct. Of course, they’re all structured the same, featuring the same corridors lined with thematically different obstructions and arenas with staircases leading to nowhere. Nevertheless, their visual identity is not only in theme with the other-worldly elements from the comics but also makes revisiting them a little bit less painful.
It is also worth noting that the music is rather incredible, too. The aforementioned mellow jazz tracks of the Butterfly House feel suitably eerie, an almost incomprehensible yet beautiful mix of notes and rhythm, much like the Wyrd itself. Combat tracks are explosively bombastic, heightening the tension of every fight and making fighting as Hellboy feel undeniably incredible.
“I am saddened to say that Hellboy Web of Wyrd is simply not worth your time.”
I honestly wish I could have been as praising of the whole game as I am of the visuals, but Hellboy Web of Wyrd consistently let me down. Whether it was the sinking feeling I got when I realized the game hadn’t ended but instead wanted me to replay the same levels again or the excruciating amount of time it took to get to grips with the combat only for the game’s inherent jank to get in the way of my enjoyment of it, Hellboy Web of Wyrd found plenty of ways to ruin the experience.
I sincerely wish I could recommend Hellboy Web of Wyrd, as I, too, have been craving a video game befitting the legendary character. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can recommend this one. To Hellboy aficionados and super fans, it might be worth it as the dedication to the game’s visuals and mostly successful attempt at capturing his brutish fighting style is admittedly brilliant at times. However, to almost everyone else, I am saddened to say that Hellboy Web of Wyrd is simply not worth your time.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC; code was provided by publisher.
Hellboy Web of Wyrd Review
Hellboy Web of Wyrd is a frustrating mess, owing largely to its janky gameplay, squandered narrative and disappointingly misused potential. Its gameplay is far too repetitive, requiring players to slog through the same levels over and over with little to no reward. The story is lacking any real intrigue and its presentation leaves a lot to be desired. But by far its greatest sin is wasting the little that the game gets perfect: its gorgeous visuals and occasionally brilliant combat.