PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X,
October 18, 2023
Good Shepherd Entertainment
Every so often, I wish my job as a games journalist were as simple as reviewing a game on concept alone. Hellboy Web of Wyrd, a roguelike brawler adventure game that sees you taking on the undead in different locations around the world is an immediately intriguing and refreshing pitch. Unfortunately, like many of the red demon’s adaptations over the years, the game falls short on quality and remaining exciting, even though there’s charm to be found. Our boy just can’t catch a break.
Catastrophic events known as ‘Spikes,’ have popped up around the world. The inciting incident was the disappearance of one of Hellboy’s peer B.P.R.D (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) members, falling into this web of hellish locations within the real world known as the Wyrd. From here, you learn of the catastrophic implications of the Spikes and must journey out as the demon spawn himself, putting a stop to it all.
The four biomes that Hellboy visits are inspired by Scotland, Russia, Italy and Brooklyn. Each has been transformed in very paranormal means; purple skies with dense forests, cities in ruin overrun by possessed and animated marble statues, man-bat hybrids flocking to you in sewers and so on. These environments are all crafted with that textbook Hellboy comic art style from the franchise writer, artist and creator Mike Mignola. Deep and detailed shadowing, very pulpy scenes. All that good stuff.
However, flaws appear when you notice how samey the design of these areas is. You’re always running through very bland corridors free of enemies. You’re often in very familiar arenas all designed the same. Web of Wyrd fails to invigorate and you see most of what it has to offer within twenty minutes. Though I was engaged enough to see through all four of these biomes, I was never wowed or reeling for more. Before long, you feel like you’re going through the motions. To fully run through the 7-10 hours it’ll take to beat the game, you’ll need to visit and complete each biome twice, then one final run of all of the four together in one go. There are some visual changes that occur after your first run-through due to narrative reasons, but your runs will largely remain the same.
If all else, it is good to be living in that charming, but grim fairy tale setting that is the Hellboy universe. Your home away from the Spikes is a HUB by the name of the Butterfly House, an abandoned mansion that the B.P.R.D uses for researching paranormal ongoings and monitoring the catastrophic events around them. Here, you can purchase permanent upgrades to your weapons and Hellboy himself (more firearm damage, higher max health, etc), chat with key cast members and fall more down the rabbit hole that is the lore and world. It’s an original and true story to the franchise, thanks to Mike Mignola also penning the narrative. The problem is, it just still feels mostly neither here nor there and a backdrop void of meaning.
The biggest adjustment is the fact that Hellboy doesn’t have the usual gruff voice we’ve come to hear from previous actors taking up the mantle like Ron Perlman and David Harbour. It’s a cool, suaver version still with some of that beloved deadpan. Only soon after starting the game did I learn that he’s voiced by the late and wonderful Lance Reddick. This change actually works out really well for itself. It’s hard to turn down a performance by Reddick and it offers something we haven’t seen before for the hallmark character.
Even though it is incredibly repetitive, it’s still undeniable how well Hellboy fits into the roguelike scene. Let alone that of a brawler. In any given combat scenario, you’ll have your fists, a choice of firearm and a charm to help see fights through to the bitter end. A majority of enemies have a defence that must be whittled down to well and truly capitalise on the fight. Dodges and blocks are the name of the game in making it out alive, having to study and read the attacks of the big bads of each room to minimise or avoid damage entirely. Emphasis is given on the direction you dodge, with a forward tilt of the left analogue stick plus A on an Xbox controller having you duck while other inputs have you ducking and weaving. It reminds me of how accurate one’s inputs must be in games like Sifu, taking a bit to master but worth it for the long haul.
Boss fights and the long stretches without heals are what will test the player’s skills, but there are plenty of tools at their disposal to make it out of the jaunt through the Spikes alive. Depending on the firearm you equip, you can dole out some real damage in between blows. I opted for the grenade launcher which provided a good AoE to do a good chunk of damage to the big bads while quickly dispatching the cannon fodder mooks that are downed in one hit.
It’s when you both use your environment and mix and match the temporary upgrades limited to a specific run that the meta and the combat get more exciting. There are a series of different ethereal figures that gift Hellboy abilities on his journey through the Spikes. These get bound to one of your different types of attacks. One of my most successful combinations was that I bound an ability that let me freeze enemies in place whenever they were hit with my grenade launcher. I could then break that freeze with my valuable knife charm to cut through defense and then in turn allow a doubled amount of damage, finishing them off with my fists.
I can’t emphasise enough how good and fun it feels to engage in combat in Web of Wyrd. Timing a dodge just right to get an opening to lay a meaty knock into an enemy and therefore breaking their defence is always satisfying. There are also environmental attacks where following an enemy being knocked into a pillar, that pillar will be broken off into chunks of stone that you can use to throw and deal extra damage. A more devastating charged attack with Hellboy’s fists following building up a meter, slamming onto the ground from above and sending enemies flying, knocking baddies into walls… the game’s punchiness and cool factor goes on and on.
The problem is that whenever Hellboy Web of Wyrd is trying to maintain its cool premise and ideas, it all gets boiled down to a milquetoast experience by how often you’re doing the same stuff in the pursuit of little that’s interesting. Perhaps the benchmark for the genre at this point, Hades was always changing its meta with every run. You were always chasing intriguing narrative threads, bettering yourself and learning every second you played. Though there’s room for some of that here, it’s never enough. The story is serviceable, runs change up a bit but never all that much. What’s left is you are stuck with a rinse-and-repeat loop that gets old quickly despite its modest runtime.
- Punchy combat with real build potential and satisfying environmental kills
- Lance Reddick delivers a refreshing performance of the red devil
- Mike Mignola art-style
- Narrative is neither here nor there
- Incredibly repetitive level design and gameplay loop
- Never reinvents itself and you've seen all there is to see early on
Hellboy Web of Wyrd isn’t the worst video game adapted from comics I’ve played, but it certainly could’ve been better. Lance Reddick delivers a wonderful performance in what is one of his final roles. Similarly, the Hellboy universe is as tantalising in its grim dark fantasy as ever before. It too has some fun brawler combat with upgrades that will make or break your run. This should be a roguelike foray made in harmony with one of the punchiest and most unique adaptation spins we’ve ever seen. Instead, Web of Wyrd is never in pursuit of anything all that meaningful. Narrative threads aren’t all that engaging. The Mike Mignola art-style charm only lingers, ruined by the repetitive level design and jaunts through the same narrow hallways and combat scenarios. Never invigorating itself, Web of Wyrd is another in a long line of IPs adapted into video games that is, at most, a damn shame.