I don’t think it’s especially controversial to suggest that Hellboy hasn’t had the best run when it comes to video game adaptations, which is a shame not least because Hellboy himself is a charismatic sort and his action-packed adventures in the realms of the mysterious and the occult rarely fail to captivate. Sadly, I can report that while the streak of subpar Hellboy video game adaptations remains unbroken with Hellboy Web of Wyrd, it’s also clear that there are the bones of a much better effort present here too.
Hellboy Web Of Wyrd PS5 Review
A Repetitively Sluggish Roguelite Brawler That Shows Promise But Fails To Capitalise
Putting players in charge of the titular brick-fisted demon, Hellboy Web of Wyrd has our misunderstood hero and his motley crew cohorts at the B.P.R.D (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) setting up camp at a magically imbued mansion known as the Butterfly House. Seemingly constructed by a mysterious cultist at a nexus of ley-energies, it turns out that the house is actually a conduit to the Wyrd, a sprawling alternate reality filled with twisted realms that partially evoke different geographical areas from Earth itself.
Where things take a turn for the worse however, is when Hellboy is sent into the Wyrd to rescue a missing member of the B.P.R.D only to discover that a darker unseen presence is twisting and corrupting things within the Wyrd, forcing massive spikes into the real world as a result. With his big red fist clenched. his tail twitching and a quip always hanging off of his tongue, Hellboy ventures into the Wyrd to smash his way through whatever causing all that grief, and so Hellboy Web of Wyrd begins.
First off there is some good news, in Web of Wyrd Hellboy finds himself voiced by the late and great Lance Reddick and he absolutely goes all in with his performance, providing a charismatic, witty and sometimes furious take on ‘Big Red’ that had me excited for what Reddick could have done with the role in a live-action setting had he been given the opportunity to strut his stuff.
Coming from Upstream Arcade, the same folks who developed the highly enjoyable, gothic western shooter West of Dead, it’s obvious to anybody who has played that game, just how much it has common with Hellboy Web of Wyrd. Not only are the thick dark outlines, deep blacks and muted colours pulled straight from the West for Dead asethetic, but so too is this visual style appropriately analogous to Mike Mignola’s Hellboy graphic novels from which Web of Wyrd derives as an original work.
Viewed from an over the shoulder third-person perspective, Hellboy Web of Wyrd is a roaming roguelike brawler that has you progressing through a series of different themed realms, punching up various demons, occultist creations and a range of boss enemies from the deepest, darkest reaches of folklore. The problem is – and it’s a big one – the combat in Hellboy Web of Wyrd, which arguably serves as its foundation, just isn’t that much fun. This is down to a good few reasons.
Firstly, combat in Hellboy Web of Wyrd is almost unforgivably sluggish. Sure, I get the fact that Hellboy isn’t supposed to be Bruce Lee and is instead a 350 pound demon with literal bricks for a fist, but there is a level of unresponsiveness in Web of Wyrd’s fistic pursuits that makes the whole endeavour much less fun than it should be. This is especially notable when you’re dealing with multiple foes at once and you’re trying to block after throwing a strike, or attempting to pull off a back step mid-combo – none of it happens with the sort of rapidity one would expect and so this can often result in an undeserved beating. Not great.
Another issue with the combat lay with how the camera works, or, well, doesn’t. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been scrapping with an especially challenging enemy or boss and have backed myself against a wall, or pillar, only for the camera to basically blind itself (and me, by proxy), because it’s ended up stuck outside the graphics engine. Again, not great.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hellboy Web of Wyrd also has a targeting system that fails on two fronts. First, not only is the targeting system limited exclusively to the larger enemies that you have to scrap with, but more annoyingly, it is set to the L1 button on the controller, rather than one of the analogue sticks as you might expect from a game like this. Making matters worse still is the fact that the block action is set to the R1 button, which due to its closeness with the L1 button means that you can, and will, frequently break target lock on your enemies by accident and end up getting smashed in the grill as a result. Oh, and you cannot redefine the controller mappings either so that’s, you guessed it, not great.
The annoying thing about all of these flaws is that the combat system in Hellboy Web of Wyrd is actually pretty compelling otherwise. Hellboy’s strikes land with a pleasantly satisfying thud and there’s a fair degree of skill required in dodging enemy attacks at the last second, only to unleash a super damaging and satisfying counterattack in return. There’s also the fact that the environment figures directly into your fisticuffs too, since not only can you rack up additional damage by punching enemies into walls, but so too can you crumble towering pillars and throw the remaining blocks at your enemies.
Hellboy Web of Wyrd also rewards players for timing their blocks and parries precisely too, since doing so (in addition to just taking damage in general) will cause Big Red to begin powering up that massive right hand of his, which when fully powered, allows players to unleash a highly devastating attack on his foes with a quick touch of the R2 button.
Beyond just his fists, Hellboy can not only also make short work of his twisted enemies with three different ranged weapons – a massive barrelled pistol, a brutal sawn-off shotgun and a hulking grenade launcher, but so too can he unleash cooldown based charms that can rebuff enemies, create a temporary shield or quickly inflict damage to a single enemy. When all of this comes together and works in tandem, things like the shoddy lock on system, the poor camera and the unresponsiveness do fade a little as a result, but more all too often one or more of those issues conspire to make the combat in Hellboy Web of Wyrd more frustrating than it needs to be.
Complimenting the combat in Hellboy Web of Wyrd is actually a reasonably decent progression system which fulfils the game’s roguelike design mandate pretty comprehensively. Not only will Hellboy encounter the Norns – deities in Norse mythology that can shape the destinies of mortals – but these mysterious creatures can also provide Hellboy with particular blessings unique to each Norn which in turn provides a buff to Hellboy’s melee, ranged or charm abilities.
There’s some level of sophistication to these buffs too, since each one will only stack if it is employed to the same item – meaning if you obtain a buff that causes fear in enemies, apply it to your gun and then get another buff which provides additional environmental damage, applying that second buff to your gun will overwrite the first in turn. As such, there is some strategy here when it comes to tailoring your playstyle – again showing that despite its failings, Hellboy Web of Wyrd’s combat system can be compelling and entertaining when it is allowed to be.
Web of Wyrd’s progression system also reaches into the Butterfly House which acts as the hub area for the game between runs. You see, when Hellboy accrues orbs by defeating enemies and bosses the amount he collects persists after death and in doing so, he can invest those orbs into purchasing new gear, upgrading said gear and also in bolstering his toughness, health, dodging bonuses and more besides. Again, it’s rewarding stuff that makes every run feel worthwhile because if there isn’t an upgrade you can immediately buy, you can always save up the orbs for something that you do desire further down the road.
Where things start to dip again however, is in the exploration side of things. Though each realm that you’ll go to is filled with interconnected rooms linked by corridors or trap filled chambers, each of those rooms also follows a prescribed template – some will be regular combat rooms, others will be a ‘shop’ where you can purchase items from an altar using currency that only applies to that run and finally, you’ll get some rooms that are optional challenge rooms which task you with destroying a number foes to earn a handful of orbs in return. Certainly, anybody who has played Upstream Arcade’s previous game, West of Dead, will recognise how these templates function during each run.
It’s straightforward stuff, but the problem is that because randomised level design is used here, you very often get the same layouts recycled over and over, making Hellboy Web of Wyrd feel more repetitive than it perhaps otherwise would be as a direct result. One other issue with exploration in Hellboy Web of Wyrd is that there is no map (a strange omission considering that West of Dead had one), which can make navigating the various realms of the Wyrd a little more tedious as a result – not least because Hellboy himself doesn’t really run that fast anyway; he’s a somewhat of a unit, lest we forget.
There’s also lore to collect in Hellboy Web of Wyrd, which can be brought back to the Butterfly House and viewed by speaking to Hellboy’s B.P.R.D comrades. The issue with this ‘lore’ however, is that it simply unfurls as fairly flavourless text that pales next to Hellboy’s own interactions with his ‘colleagues’. Because of this, it didn’t matter much to me whether I collected these lore pieces or not because the way the lore is imparted is just not very interesting at all.
Though Hellboy Web of Wyrd certainly looks the part – and especially when compared to Mignola’s source material – it also suffers from a distinct lack of polish too. There’s a weird issue with the animation where when Hellboy or other characters walk around the world, they do so at half the frame rate. Yet when running or in combat, this issue does not occur and the character models operate at the full 60 frames per second like the rest of the game. Whilst an argument could be made that the half frame rate movement is an informed stylish choice, by not fully committing one way or the other, Hellboy Web of Wyrd ends up being harder on the eyes than one would expect.
Elsewhere, not only does Hellboy Web of Wyrd suffer from frequently glitching shadows and transparencies, but the frame rate absolutely plummets from around sixty frames per second down into around twenty frame per second when you reach the ‘corrupted’ levels later in the game. Though still somewhat playable in this state, Hellboy Web of Wyrd becomes a lot less responsive and enjoyable because of this, while long loading times between levels aren’t at all what you would expect from the PS5’s still rapid SSD. Put simply, Hellboy Web of Wyrd needs to have a lot more polish applied to it than it currently does right now. This isn’t something a single update can fix, but rather multiple updates.
Underneath the thick red skin of its unpolished exterior there is an entertaining and surprisingly sophisticated roguelike brawler to be found in Hellboy Web of Wyrd. It’s just a shame that sluggish combat, uninteresting lore and poorly executed exploration all conspire to drag Hellboy Web of Wyrd down into the depths.
Hellboy Web of Wyrd is out now on PS5.
Review code kindly provided by PR.