Review: Hellboy: The Science of Evil (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Hellboy: The Science of Evil
Genre: Action-Adventure
Developer: Krome Studios
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 06/24/08


Hellboy: The Science of Evil is a very odd and confusing game, not because of how it plays, but because one never really understands what the game is trying to do with itself. It could possibly be trying to emulate titles like Devil May Cry, God of War and Ninja Gaiden, but it lacks upgradable characters and combination attack depth and offers two-player co-op play, something most games in this genre do not. It might be attempting to fit into the beat “Ëœem up genre, though games like Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance and Yakuza have long evolved past what this game is trying to do, and the odd platform jumping segments, gunplay, and and puzzle solving sequences tend to take the experience away from what is commonly associated with the genre. The game takes great pains to associate itself with the film adaptations of the character, but the storyline and character designs are more readily reminiscent of the comic character than the film version. It could be based in the comic book world, except that hey, here’s the movie cast to provide voice acting for the characters. Oh, and speaking of the movie characters, the game also takes great pride in its multiplayer mechanics and even goes so far as to have Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien on the front of the box, and yet their characters don’t actually play into the story in any meaningful way (read as: they aren’t even mentioned), aren’t playable in any mode other than multiplayer, and aren’t as useful or functional as the main character himself.

So, yes, Hellboy: SoE is a very confusing experience. Unfortunately, it’s also not a very enjoyable one.

The story of Hellboy: SoE finds the titular hero hunting down a witch who’s apparently been robbing various occult collections for unspecified reasons, but this quickly turns out to be only the surface of the problem. Herman von Klempt, a long-standing Hellboy nemesis who seeks to use genetically modified soldiers and apes in his attempts to take over the world, has apparently taken up shop in the town, and appears to be trying to manipulate the evil beings below the town to his own ends, and once again it falls to Hellboy to put a stop to his plans. The core plot is also interrupted at two points to tell various side stories of Hellboy’s encounters with said villain and his troops through history, with the first story meant to set the stage for the remainder of the game, while the second deals more with the folly of trying weild uncontrollable power and such. As comic book stories go, the story here isn’t bad, but the story boils down, more or less, to Hellboy hashing it out with a bunch of villains, unimportant side characters, or dead folks, and while the concept is pretty novel, the actual execution is bland through all but one chapter of the game, leaving the overall experience feeling pretty flat.

Visually, Hellboy himself looks pretty good, but the enemies and stages are hit or miss. Most of the opposing forces look okay, with a few (the Japanese monsters in the second stage) who look great and others (the various monsters from the first and third stages) who are boring and sloppy to balance things out, one supposes. The levels are mostly okay, visually speaking, but most are nothing special and several parts are generally very confusing in the way they are laid out, largely because they’re done in a very repetitive fashion. Aurally, well, you’ve got voice work from three of the start from the Hellboy movies, with Ron Perlman having the most overall dialogue to work with, and generally their voice work is good, though Perlman’s work is kinda spotty at times (with some samples sounding very flat or bored and others sounding spot-on fabulous). The remaining voice actors are generally okay to good across the board, though no one is really delivering any sort of standout performance here. The music is generally solid, all in all, though it’s not anything outstanding, and the sound effects largely work as intended and sound as you’d expect them to, though, again, they’re nothing really outstanding (though the pistol effects are pretty nice).

Playing Hellboy: SoE is exceptionally easy, as the controls and their mechanics are easy to pick up and learn; you have a light and heavy strike that can be chained into basic combos, a jump, and a grab, which are all mapped to the face buttons, and the triggers can shoot your gun/projectile attack at enemies or throw grappled foes. Hellboy himself also has several different bullets to choose from, each with different abilities (some explode, some stun enemies, some have level-specific purposes), making each useful in different circumstances as needed. Generally speaking, most levels come down to you facing off against a multitude of bad guys you need to beat the unmerciful crap out of, with a few random jumping sections or puzzles to solve as the stage merits, as well as a few boss battles to go through. Fortunately, you’ve got a few other basic abilities at your disposal. For one, your two attack buttons can be chained into various combos which, while rudimentary and not heavy on variety, get the job done nicely. For another, you can grapple weakened enemies and either toss them around into other foes, beat then down, or toss them into the air and slam them for a boost in life. You also have a power meter inside your life bar that fills as you break objects and beat enemies, and you can use this by pressing both analog sticks in to give yourself a power boost in battle. Various objects can also be used as weapons by picking them up and either swinging them or tossing them at foes.

You’re given six chapters to navigate your way through, which should take you around five to seven hours to complete. You can play the game in single or multiplayer, on or offline, meaning you can grab a friend to smash and bash through the game with you. The second player can play through the game as either Abe Sapien or Liz Sherman, who lack the brute strength of Hellboy but make up for this by having more varied attacks, making them roughly about as fun to play around with as Hellboy himself.

And, um, that’s about it.

Seriously, that’s it. That’s the game. Beat things up for about seven hours, jump around a bit, solve a few puzzles, the end. Now, the game WANTS to be a bit more than all of that, and indeed, you can (if you play long enough) see where they might have succeeded sometime during Chapter Five. Chapter five starts with a long monologue from Hellboy, followed by some reasonably acceptable stage navigation and enemy battling before you’re provided with a bullet case that makes bullets from the orange crystals you find lying around. At this point, the stage basically becomes a bit frantic, as you’re breaking the crystals to make these special bullets (of which you can only carry a small amount) in order to kill the zombified bad guys who are running around, because fighting them hand-to-hand is time consuming and ends up being a losing battle, which is a nice diversion from the past four stages of pummeling things ad infinitum. This ends up being surprisingly fun in comparison to the remainder of the game, and had the game managed to balance out mechanics like this with the combat and puzzle-solving, the whole game might have been a lot more enjoyable across the board.

This did not happen, however, leaving the game feeling overly long despite its short play time, as the entire game comes down to mashing the same two buttons forever.

Now, here’s the thing: the game is trying VERY hard to be some sort of God of War clone with a more beat “Ëœem up mindset, but it can’t really emulate either gameplay style properly. A game like Yakuza makes beating things up fun because the gameplay is complex, the enemies are reasonably tough, and the action feels visceral and hard-hitting; Hellboy: SoE instead provides you little challenge beyond spamming the two attack buttons, meaning the gameplay is both shallow and unsatisfying. The enemies are never particularly difficult to defeat, either, meaning the experience feels tedious instead of tense, and apathy-inducing instead of action-packed. A game like God of War often makes a habit of asking you to spam buttons as well, to be fair, but it rewards you with impressive, enemy-obliterating combat that looks very cool and feels painful, as well as increased combos and varied weaponry. Hellboy: SoE features the same few combos forever, none of which look particularly impressive, as well as finishing grapples that are cute the first few times but repeat way too frequently and are only terribly useful against giant mid-boss monsters, as you can throw something at them to stun them and instant-kill them with the combo in about five seconds, thus removing them from battle as soon as they show up.

Here’s a prime example of what could have been: in Chapter Four, Hellboy finds himself inside of a giant battle coliseum, where he has to face down a huge lizard monstrosity that looks like it’s made to rip things up. Ninja Gaiden 2 did something similar, only you were facing a giant werewolf. In NG2, you fought the boss monster for a bit until you defeated him, which caused his troops to get bent and attack you en masse, leading to one of the greatest “you versus a billion monsters where you’re outnumbered and totally screwed” battles ever, with you fighting from the bottom, and winning, until the cinematics took over and saved the day. In Hellboy: SoE, you pretty much slay the giant lizard instantly with an auto-combo finishing grapple after stunning it with a rock almost instantly. You then fight off two or three smaller lizards… and leave. That’s it. There’s no tension, no real danger, no nothing, just a monster you finish off as soon as you confront him and a few goons you’ve faced a million times in this stage alone.

So, yes, the game is lazy and boring, but that’s only the beginning of the problems here. For one, you can’t convert a multiplayer game into a single player game and vice-versa, meaning there’s no benefit to doing one over the other, since if you start playing the game one way, you might as well complete it that one way and move on with your day. For two, you can’t skip cinematics, meaning if you fall off a cliff (which happens a not insignificant amount) after a cinema but before a checkpoint, you have to watch the same cinema over again. You also have to watch the same cinemas in single and multiplayer, meaning if you’ve seen the movie once, too bad, you’re still watching it again. For three, there’s no real reason to use anything but your fists to get things done; weaponry is mostly fragile and doesn’t make a convincing argument to use it except in rare occasions (the giant stone sledgehammers, for instance), bullets rarely do any significant damage and are in sporadic supply throughout the game, and your ability to power up your damage lasts about ten or fifteen seconds, which is useless most of the time. Boss fights aren’t really enjoyable either; the first major boss fight, against a giant gorilla with metal extending arms, is generally tedious, especially since the game doesn’t bother to explain how you’re supposed to beat him (by bringing the temple you’re in down on top of him), and the next boss fight, against a flying witch, is no better, because you have to throw things at her to stun her… because shooting doesn’t work. How does throwing slow moving large projectiles at a monster work when shooting them doesn’t? How does it occur to a monster to dodge a fast-moving bullet but not a giant stone cross? The battle ends up being exceptionally tedious because of this, and the two following it aren’t much better.

Further, levels are overly long and boring, and you often get lost figuring out where you need to go because some sections look virtually identical to others. The gameplay is often glitchy, as enemies and Hellboy can get stuck in the environment and do so with alarming regularity, visuals glitch and broken items fall or float around in odd ways, and pressing the grapple button six times produces no result when on top of the enemy because you’re somehow in the wrong position to grapple them even though YOU’RE RIGHT ON TOP OF THEM. The tutorial assistance is spotty as well; the same tutorial will pop up a million times about grappling foes and such, but the first time you encounter flaming bullets or when you fight the gorilla at the end of Chapter 2, the game gives you nothing to work with and says “hey, YOU figure it out”, which would be fine except that the game has given you no indication that this thing you are expected to do actually WOULD work, leaving you to guess your way through the section and hope you’re right. Finally, there’s no reason to play the game more than one time through to completion, as the various “Making Of” videos aren’t a motivator to pop the game back in, and the game features no additional content otherwise, meaning playing the game a second time involves playing through the exact same thing over again, which isn’t any more entertaining than it is the first time.

If you’re a huge Hellboy fan, then maybe Hellboy: The Science of Evil might be worth a rental for you, as it’s probably the best Hellboy game available at this point, the multiplayer might be fun to goof around with, and the gameplay and difficulty of the game are accessible to just about anyone. It’s a fairly straightforward experience that doesn’t require anything special from the player, and if you like the character, it could make for some decent casual entertainment. However, anyone expecting anything a little more diverse or complex from the game will be sorely disappointed; almost all of the game revolves around spamming the same two buttons forever to do the same few combos over and over against uninteresting enemies in uninteresting stages, with the monotony broken up by a few incredibly simple puzzles and the odd puzzle or boss fight that would be simple if only the game actually told you what was expected of you in the tiniest way. The game is also functionally problematic, with glitchy battles and wonky collision detection, and it really offers no reason to play through the game more than once, leaving it in the category of being, at best, a rental for just about anyone. Even at a bargain price there’s no reason to buy Hellboy: The Science of Evil, because one playthrough will pretty much show you everything you need to see, and you’ll have no reason to return after that.

The Scores:
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: BAD
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: BAD
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: DREADFUL

Final Score: BELOW AVERAGE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Hellboy: The Science of Evil is really only going to appeal only to fans of the franchise, and even then only temporarily, as it’s generally nothing special and does nothing new, exciting or different, and what it does has been done better a million times over. Fans might find the combat system acceptable for a while, and with on or offline multiplayer and six stages to go through, there’s enough to do to keep you occupied for a while. But between the complete lack of originality, the general tediousness of the experience, the lack of any reason to play the game more than once and the fact that the mechanics of the game are occasionally obtuse or not designed to function properly, the ONLY person who is going to get anything from the game is someone who is a fan of the franchise, and even then they can get everything they need to from it in a rental period. The bottom line is that even if you’re interested in Hellboy: The Science of Evil, you can safely rent it and see everything you need to, and never need to play it again beyond that.

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