Hellboy First Look

We get an exclusive look at the first playable version of Konami's upcoming game starring Dark Horse Comics' poster boy of the weird.

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Though Konami's Hellboy was announced at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, the Krome Studios-developed title hasn't seen the light of day since its initial unveiling. To date, all that has been known is that the game will feature an original story and that it's being developed by the Australian developer for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PSP. The ensuing months since its debut have found Krome hard at work on the game, which is now ready for some time in the spotlight. We had the chance to spend some early hands-on time with the game on the 360 and PSP.

The playable demo featured two areas to roam around in--a village and a castle--which were taken from different parts of the chapters that will make up the adventure. The game's original storyline has Hellboy uncovering a Nazi plot to take over the world and than attempting to thwart the plans of the evil Hermann Von Klempt. Over the course of the adventure you'll encounter plenty of familiar faces, if you're a fan of the comics. Two characters, Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman, will also be playable characters in the game's cooperative mode, which we weren't able to see.

The village area is a slice of the third level in the game and is a basic run through the streets of a small town around nightfall. Your primary foes are bambini, which are tiny critters that bring to mind Oompa-Loompas from hell with a penchant for throwing their explosive, regenerating heads at you and jumping on your back. The small menaces come at you in mobs and try to overwhelm you with their sheer numbers. The level ends rather abruptly once you reach a certain point and encounter a larger variety of menace. The castle area is a section of the last level of the game. It sends you racing along the ramparts of a castle and facing new, more-formidable foes, including cybernetic apes and gun-wielding soldiers. Besides showcasing new enemies, the level also shows off a bit more of the game's fighting system.

The overall gameplay system falls into the brawler category. Your focus is on dealing with enemies and making your way to the end of each level. Along the way you'll find helpful items and will have to do some puzzle-solving to advance. The game's combat system is pretty straightforward and seems to be treading the line between being a deliberate fighting system that requires some thought and being the more hectic action experience you'll find in most 3D brawlers. The guiding factor behind this design appears to be Krome's desire to stay true to the character.

Who better to save the day than everyone's favorite surly hellspawn?
Who better to save the day than everyone's favorite surly hellspawn?

While it might seem like a natural thing for the game to follow Devil May Cry's gold standard of over-the-top action and crazy combos, the reality is that Hellboy is an old-school kind of demon who's not quite as limber as DMC's pretty boy, Dante. Therefore, you'll be able to take advantage of Hellboy's inherent demon abilities, such as his superstrength and his demonically charged arm that collects rage as you defeat enemies. Though in the comic books Hellboy's not a huge fan of using his gun , you'll be able to use that as well in the game, and it can be enhanced with different types of bullets. In addition, there's a two-button combo system that lets you chain and charge moves for maximum damage and make use of whatever's handy to beat enemies with. The levels are chock-full of breakable items that you can make creative use of. Outside of those core mechanics, the two levels showcased some minigame elements. In the village, you'll find cracked walls you can smash through via button mashing. The castle level featured God of War-style battles against the robot apes, which required timed button pushing. Though the game is in the early stages of development, the action was coming along fine.

The game is looking good on the 360 thanks to a stylized look that blends the aesthetics of the comic and the movie. The character models are detailed and have the beginnings of smooth animation, although things are a bit rough in spots, given the game's early state. Hellboy is the best-looking model we've seen so far. His appearance leans more toward the film and less toward the barrel-chested "avocado seed on toothpicks" look of Mignola's art, which works great in the comic books but would be a touch too goofy in a game.

The enemies we've seen so far run a pretty wide range of the weird. The dollies have a functional design--they use their heads as a weapon--though you will also be doing your fair share of head-ripping. The soldiers in the castle level are more conventional and eerie. They're essentially humanoid, but their outfits and movement add a dose of creepy. The machine-gun-toting apes are nicely designed freaks of nature with an unsettling amount of detail in the chest area (check out our direct feed of them to see what we mean, because a picture is worth a thousand words for this one).

The two environments were cool areas to explore and offered a respectable amount of interactivity that complements the game's combat system. As we mentioned earlier, just about anything you can pick up can be used as a weapon, and the destructible areas give you a varied arsenal to draw on while fighting. The game has a nice sheen to it thanks to heavy use of lighting, various shaders, and assorted special effects. The subtle effects around Hellboy's arm as it powers up are especially nice. But since the game isn't done, there's some room for improvement. The rough elements we saw were in line with an early game, so the frame rate wasn't always stable, and the camera got weird in spots.

Hellboy prepares to lay waste as only he can.
Hellboy prepares to lay waste as only he can.

Though the audio was nascent in our build, representatives were on hand to help us fill in the blanks. The game will feature voice in places where it makes sense, though given that Hellboy isn't the chattiest demon on the planet, that won't be too often. However, Ron Perlman will be the one to bring him to life, which is good news. The soundtrack will also be worked in. Finally, the effects you'll hear during battle are still being worked on but will hip you to all the destruction you're doing with smashes, crashes, and the like.

Based on what we've played, Hellboy is showing some promise. It's hard to gauge exactly how much promise from the brief demo, but we like what we've seen so far. The combat is coming along--it just needs a bit of tightening up--and the visuals need a bit more polish in the camera and performance departments. We're curious to see how the multiplayer winds up panning out and how the Xbox Live support shapes up, but so far we're intrigued by what the game is offering. Hellboy is slated to ship later this year for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PSP. Look for more on the game soon, and be sure to check out our impressions of the PSP version too.

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