Hellboy fans are not a demanding group. All they ask for is a chance to see the big red guy pummel his way through a Lovecraftian rogues’ gallery and spew the occasional one-liner. So when the Hellboy game came out for the original Playstation back in the day, it seemed like it resulted from gathering the world’s greatest underachieving game developers. Thankfully, Krome Studios and Konami seem to be bringing out something much more worthwhile with Hellboy: Science of Evil for the Xbox 360.
I had about half an hour with the game, which gave me enough time to play through the first level and part of the second. It opens up with a stylish intro of Hellboy running through the woods, intercut with typical white-on-black opening credits that showed the game’s cinematic influences. While the Comic Con convention center was too loud to hear most of the dialogue, it was obvious the cutscenes were shot with care. I was assured by the Konami rep at the show that Ron Perlman and Selma Blair handled voice acting duties for their characters and Mike Mignola and Guillermo Del Toro oversaw the whole project. Ron Perlman? Voice acting in a video game!? Who knew? Though I have to say he’s much better looking as Hellboy than the face-melt monstrosity Lord Hood from the Halo series.
From the initial cutscene I was thrown into a brief combat tutorial in the game’s opening graveyard level. Your combat repertoire consists of light and hard punches, grabs, and a gun. It’s typical fare for a game clearly influenced by God of War and Ninja Gaiden, however the pace is completely different. Unlike the lightning speed of Ryu Hayabusa, or the flashy combo-extravaganzas of Kratos, Hellboy is more of a lumbering powerhouse. The pace and destructable environments actually reminded me of Otogi, which is a wonderful thing.
Hellboy can take quite a beating. I never came close to dying in combat, which is kind of accurate considering the pummelings he takes in the comics, as well as a little worrisome. I’m assuming that was because it was the first level, but it was easy enough to border on repetitive. At the same time, I’m not entirely sure how well the combat will hold up if the difficulty ramps up. As far as I could tell from my demo time, which was with a 95% complete version of the game, there is little in the way of defensive options. It’s entirely possible that I’m an idiot and missed them, but any evasive maneuvers aside from running away were absent. I can understand the motivation here; making Hellboy blindly aggressive is certainly not out of character. However, when I was surrounded and really had to avoid attacks, I ended up running away with my tail between my legs to recover.
In most cases, though, defense wasn’t necessary, and I had a lot of fun tossing all the different enemies around. The grab attack was a key aspect of the gameplay, allowing you to pick up random items as weapons, toss small or stunned enemies around and smash open doorways. Some of the best moments from the demo included beating down a werewolf with a cross and tossing all the little Gollum-esque goblins around. At the same time, some of these actions, like opening doors by smashing them open, became horribly repetitive within the span of the demo. It makes me think there’s some kind of conspiracy to include mundane recurring actions in licensed games. Breaking doors is to Hellboy what casting “Reparo” is to Harry Potter and saving that same guy who keeps falling off of buildings is to Spider-man 2.
I don’t want to dwell too much on problems in an unreleased title, but I do have a few concerns that I hope get cleaned up in the final product. For one, the aiming controls were incredibly clunky. Aiming is generally auto-targetted, and it worked for the most part, but as soon as I had a specific target in mind it became a wrestling match with the right thumbstick. I nearly lost control and suplexed the girl playing next to me because of it. My other issue is related to the graphics, which, for the most part, are quite beautiful, but reminded me of 1996 during a few moments. Throughout the first level, you are pursuing a witch who can transform into a billowing flock of crows, or bats, or something; I wasn’t quite sure because they were sprites who when they got close enough to see looked more like Space Invaders.
Issues like the ones I mentioned are potentially enough to drag this game down, but keep in mind that I’m just speculating. Once the final game is released, I hope to check out its most compelling feature: co-op. According to the Konami representative at the show the game allows two-player campaign co-op with the second player controlling Abe or Liz. It’ll be interesting to see how differently the two of them play. Any game that carries the old school torch of sitting on the couch with a buddy and playing on a single screen is probably at least worth a rental. If what I played is any indication, Hellboy may just stand out from the rest of the summer-game-movie pack.