Review

Hellboy: Web Of Wyrd Review - A Way With Wyrds

  • First Released Oct 18, 2023
    released
  • PC

Hellboy's Right Hand of Doom is the star of Hellboy: Web of Wyrd, but this melee-focused roguelite lacks substance outside of pummeling mythical creatures to dust.

With his giant red fist, oversized pistol, iconic character design, and a menagerie of mythical foes, it's surprising there haven't been more Hellboy games. The two that exist aren't remembered fondly (and that's putting it lightly,) but it's still somewhat shocking that it's taken 15 years for a new game starring Big Red to show up. Enter Hellboy: Web of Wyrd, a game that's surprising even beyond its mere existence. Rather than taking what might be considered the "safe" route and developing a simple action-adventure game, British studio Upstream Arcade has instead created a roguelite built on a foundation of weighty, methodical combat. The risk doesn't entirely pay off, resulting in a slightly uneven experience. Yet for anyone clamoring for a decent Hellboy at the very least, Web of Wyrd ticks most of the right boxes.

This all begins with the game's visuals, which successfully emulate Mike Mignola's art style in stunning cel-shaded 3D. It's so faithful to the original comics, in fact, that each frame could be a panel in itself. Striking colors contrast against deep black shadows, where characters and environments appear as though they've been boldly sculpted by thickly painted outlines, achieving the comic book's signature look. When squaring up against a salivating werewolf, it's as if Hellboy's battle with William Grenier in The Wolves of Saint August has leapt off the page. Every moment of Web of Wyrd is a Mignola art piece brought to life, and it's evident Upstream Arcade has a lot of reverence for the source material--a feeling that also extends to the rest of the game.

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Take Web of Wyrd's roguelite structure as an example--a decision informed by Hellboy's near-invulnerability. It takes an awful lot to kill Hellboy, so when your health reaches zero, rather than dying and resetting at the start of the game for some contrived reason, this snaps the tether connecting you to the Wyrd, sending Hellboy hurtling back into the real world. The Wyrd is a nightmarish dimension that can only be accessed via the mysterious Butterfly House. When this titular dimension starts impacting our reality in locations across the globe, Hellboy and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence utilize the Butterfly House as a staging ground before embarking on missions within the procedurally generated realms of the Wyrd. From this outpost, you're able to talk to other B.P.R.D. agents, gear up for your next descent, and spend resources on various upgrades to either improve your equipment or Hellboy's physical attributes.

So far this is all par for the course when it comes to your usual roguelite. Web of Wyrd is decidedly unusual, though, which quickly becomes clear within the game's first couple of hours. Instead of being tasked with completing the whole game in a single run--after many deaths and upgrades--it's actually split into distinct chapters that break up the traditional roguelite formula. The Wryd is separated into five biomes, each one featuring a unique aesthetic and assortment of deadly creatures, which prevents the journey from becoming stale. The first biome's ancient ruins are home to armored knights wielding swords and shields, for instance, while a sunken city is beset by all manner of amphibious monstrosities. Not only do these enemy types look vastly different from one another, but their disparate attack patterns present a constant and rewarding challenge.

Initially, your goal is to delve into each biome one by one and kill the boss within. Once all five have been defeated, you have to venture back into each biome, defeat each boss again, and then journey a tad farther to destroy a structure guarded by three waves of enemies. When you've completed this step, you're challenged with repeating this process--minus overcoming the bosses again--only this time, instead of traveling to each biome one by one, you have to hit them all in a single run.

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On their own, none of these scenarios are unique, but by gradually building to the final, prolonged run with smaller, bite-sized missions, it freshens up the roguelite formula to create a sense of progression that exists beyond just upgrading your character. This is vital, too, because Web of Wyrd's gameplay loop consists of very few parts. Outside of combat, which eats up the bulk of your time, you're essentially just running down corridors from one combat arena to the next. Traversal is mind-numbingly shallow, so the onus is on the game's action to carry the load.

Fortunately, it's up to the task. Web of Wyrd's hand-to-hand combat emphasizes considered play by leaning into Hellboy's bulky frame and powerful Right Hand of Doom. There's palpable heft behind each crunching blow that's inherently satisfying, and the scarcity of healing options makes every encounter fraught with peril. The camera does run into issues when you're fighting near walls, sometimes blocking your view, and it's frustrating that there isn't an indicator for attacks coming from off-screen. Still, the main challenge comes from being able to learn each enemy's attacks and then recognize what's coming. Web of Wyrd is comparable to a game like For Honor in this regard, as the only way to avoid incoming blows is by evading in the right direction, whether you're weaving to the left or right, backing away, or ducking underneath an incoming sword swipe. Additionally, last-second dodges are rewarded with a slow-motion flourish, allowing you to hit back with a counter attack that deals extra stun damage.

Once you've broken through an enemy's Toughness meter--a kind of posture bar--Hellboy's handy pistol can inflict the same stun damage, eventually leaving enemies wide open for a devastating heavy attack. You can aim these strikes, too, sending your hapless foe careening into a wall or rickety pillar to deal extra damage. If you don't fancy the pistol, you can opt to equip either a shotgun or grenade launcher. These are reserved for heavy attacks and, much like the pistol, are to be used sparingly due to their lengthy reload animations. Environmental elements like rubble can also be thrown at enemies, and you're able to enter battle with one of three cooldown-limited charms equipped, letting you repel enemies with a shockwave or create a barrier that negates the next incoming attack.

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Blocking mitigates damage but doesn't prevent it outright, yet blocking at the last possible moment nullifies more damage than usual and also builds up Hellboy's Payback meter. Once this is full, you're able to unleash a Payback Finisher, launching into a cinematic combo that inflicts oodles of pain. Each time you return to the Butterfly House you can spend any currency you've accrued on various upgrades. All of the weapons and charms in your arsenal can be improved multiple times, and you can bump up Hellboy's Toughness and health or gain the ability to survive fatal damage during a run.

When inside the Wyrd, you'll also attain different modifiers called Blessings. These power-ups vary from providing you with a health boost to applying a freeze effect to your fists that occasionally locks enemies in place. Blessings are useful, but they never feel essential and don't alter combat in a significant way. You still fight with the same moveset and cadence, only now your pistol might afflict enemies with a status effect that makes them suffer extra environmental damage. The same is true of both weapons and charms, so build variety is practically non-existent. This is a problem in an 11-hour game, yet combat is demanding enough to remain consistently engaging. Tedium can creep in at times when roaming the same biome multiple times in a row, but going mano-e-mano with a 10-foot-tall vampire bat and pounding it into dust with weighty, tactile strikes remains thrilling until the credits roll.

There is a story tying all of this together, predominantly told by speaking to the various NPCs spread throughout the Butterfly House. This alludes to Web of Wyrd taking a similar approach to Hades, but these conversations usually have little substance. The late Lance Reddick is unsurprisingly excellent as Hellboy, infusing the character with a different vibe compared to Ron Perlman, but he also doesn't have much to work with. The story isn't bad; it's just unimaginative and predictable to the point where it just sort of exists in the periphery.

While the narrative is disappointing, Hellboy: Web of Wyrd's recreation of Mike Mignola's signature art style is mightily impressive, while its twist on the usual roguelite structure establishes a potent sense of progression that drives the journey forward. Its punchy and calculated combat is forced to carry the load of what is otherwise a fairly barebones experience, and it falters here at times, too, with a dodgy camera and lack of variation outside of its multitude of enemy types. Yet it's also the challenging toe-to-toe action that makes Web of Wyrd worth playing. Donning the crown (of the apocalypse) as the best Hellboy game ever made might not sound like an extraordinary achievement, but this is a character that has been starved of games, let alone good ones. Web of Wyrd is exactly that, which is maybe enough.

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The Good

  • Emulates the comic book art style in cel-shaded 3D with aplomb
  • Its unusual structure adds a sense of progression to the roguelite formula
  • Combat is engaging, both offensively and defensively
  • Each encounter is perilous and attacks connect with bone-breaking ferocity

The Bad

  • There's very little outside of combat beyond traversing identical-looking corridors
  • Lacks build variety
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About the Author

Richard completed Hellboy: Web of Wyrd in 11 hours before trying a few post-game runs. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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