Hellboy: The Science of Evil Review
Games based on popular movie licenses generally fall into one of two categories; there are those like the recent Iron Man, tightly tied to a current film release, as well as the movie’s narrative. And then there's those, like last month’s Bourne Conspiracy, heavily based on a big screen property but not directly tied to a new film. Those in the former category often deliver mediocre experiences due to truncated development schedules and limited creative control, where the latter efforts, not restricted by these obstacles, often yield better results. Hellboy: The Science of Evil falls somewhere in between; while its handlers at Konami have been quick to point out that the red demon’s gaming debut offers an original tale not based on this summer’s big budget Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, one can’t help but think the project—especially its near simultaneously release with the film—has been creatively crippled by the movie marketing powers that be. After punching and pummeling through six chapters of beasts and baddies with Hellboy’s Right Hand of Doom, we can say Science of Evil definitely reflects its place in this middle category. It’s not nearly as awful as, say, Ghost Rider, yet it never achieves the excellence of something like Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.
How much you enjoy Hellboy’s gaming adventure will largely be shaped by how much you like the cigar-chomping demon in other mediums. If you love the comic books and movies, then you’ll have a blast getting behind his unstoppable fist and over-sized pistol. However, if you don’t know Hellboy from that little red devil on the Deviled Ham cans, then we suggest you stick to a superior action title like the recently released Ninja Gaiden II. There’s nothing groundbreaking going on here in terms of game design, but Hellboy, himself (with the help of Ron Perlman’s likeness and voiceover) make this game worth a spin for fans of the franchise.
The actual gameplay formula is very old school; enter an area, kill lots of bad guys, unlock the next area and repeat for 8 hours or so. But tackling the dated design isn’t so bad when you’re constantly punching things with Hellboy’s enormous, rock-hard fist. It’s extremely satisfying to unleash a bevy of cool combos and finishers—all delivered relatively simply by hammering on the X and Y buttons and grappling with the right trigger—destroying everything in your path and leaving some nice destructive effects in your wake. In fact, as fun as it is doling out fist-to-face kills on Nazi zombies, mythological beasts and the occasional boss, it’s just as cool to break non-threatening objects and witness the slick effects. Whether you’re busting through a wooden door, reducing it to a pile of toothpicks, or venting your frustrations on an ancient sarcophagus, the destructive results are half the ride. This method of killing and crumbling does get a tad repetitive, though (again, especially if you’re not a Hellboy fan), but the option to change things up using Hellboy’s Samaritan pistol, or popping off imp heads and using them as projectiles, help break the fist-focused monotony.
Despite the near-non-stop combat, Hellboy does move a little slow for our liking. Sure, he’s a hulking presence, and moving like molasses might score some realism points. But c’mon, who’s concerned about realism in a game starring a demon spawned by occultist Nazis? It just would have been nice if Hellboy’s feet were as fast as his fists. It doesn’t help that a fixed camera aggravates the situation; the shuffling protagonist coupled with some stubborn angles of the action, will occasionally have you experiencing frustration over fun, as cheap deaths and unreachable areas taunt you.
The visuals, like everything else in this package, are best served by its star; his darting demon tail, flowing trench coat, glowing eyes and filed horns all look fantastic. Enemies also look good, packing plenty of detail and menacing touches, like cybernetic gorillas with mechanical enhancements. Unfortunately, levels don’t fare quite as well; they look okay and even succeed at representing there varying themes—graveyards, castles, crypts—but there’s an obvious absence of detail. After traversing a few of Hellboy’s bland landscapes, you’ll realize you’ve been taking next-gen detail in other games for granted. Further sullying the visual presentation are occasional clipping issues that’ll see Hellboy’s ass-kicking appendage going through things rather than crushing them.
Like the visuals, sound effects in Hellboy fall a little flat. There not bad, mind you, but when you’ve got something as cool as the Right Hand of Doom, you want to compliment its onscreen antics with some ear-cracking audio, and Hellboy’s effect’s land a few notches short. Other sound work, especially the voices, get the job done; Ron Perlman’s lines are often limited to “Crap!” and “Oh crap!” but his gruff delivery will be instantly familiar to fans of the film, and are undoubtedly 100% Hellboy. Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) also do good work, nicely duplicating their big screen personas.
Hellboy’s partners in the paranormal are actually playable in an online or local cooperative mode. Playing offline just plain sucks due to the action being split on two screens, but the online is worth a playthrough with a demon-loving buddy. Admittedly, everyone will want to play as the red-skinned hero, as Abe and Liz—although they control and play similarly to Hellboy—aren’t nearly as cool to control, mostly because they’re simply not Hellboy (sorta like if only one Master Chief/Spartan was playable in co-op Halo 3 and everyone else was stuck playing as simple marines). Additionally, the secondary characters are made to feel even more inferior by not appearing in the cutscenes. It's not a big deal, but it's a little disappointing to see omissions like this in the current generation of gaming.
Hellboy gets more wrong than right. Everything, aside from the main character and his fighting skills are unremarkable, and there’s definitely a last-gen feel to the overall presentation. Still, if you’ve been following the demon do-gooder since day one, you’ll likely be able to overlook the shortcomings in favor of the rush provided by controlling the pummel-happy protagonist. Despite some poor design choices and a formula that feels a bit dated, as fans of the franchise, we still had a pretty decent time with this one.