Review: Hellboy: The Science of Evil (Sony PSP)

Hellboy: The Science of Evil
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Krome Studios
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: 06/24/2008

Krome studios is probably known for two franchises: Ty the Tasmanian Tiger and their revamp of Spyro. Needless to say as both are platformers, I’ve never bothered with them. They also did one of the Viva Pinata games, but that’s another series I’ve never touched.

So why did I choose to review this game? Three reasons.

1. I really like Hellboy. The comics and the movies at least. But I’ve never been a fan of any of the video games.

2. The new Hellboy movie is coming out soon and it’s good tie-in coverage

3. The game came with free movie cash to the movie.

Now I admit those are pretty bad reasons to review a game, but with the PSP nearly dead in terms of new games and content, I wanted to get as much use out of my little portable as I can before it becomes a retro system ala my Game Gear or Neo*Geo Pocket Colour.

The PSP version of Science of Evil promised to be a different experience from the PS3 and 360 versions of the game, while incorporating the same plot and voice actors from the console games (who of course, are also the actors in the movie). So was Hellboy: Science of Evil worth the money or is the Hellboy franchise 0-3 for quality video gaming?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Okay, bear with me as the game’s plot is so nonsensical that I’m still trying to make heads or tails of it.

Hellboy starts off chasing after a witch who has been stealing artifacts of mystical power. So you chase her around for the first level which ends abruptly and without a boss fight of any kind. Without warning you are then having a flash back to the 70’s, which you are only made aware of by a fleeting bit of text in the lower right corner of your screen. Beat that level and you bring an artifact back from the 70’s without. Weird I know. Miss that and the game makes even less sense, if that’s possible. Level 3 involves you going back to modern times, where you fight and kill the witch. Then you fall into sewers which just happen to be the home of a Great Old One which is level 4. Level 5 is a flashback to a desert where the heat somehow is getting to Hellboy even though he’s a freaking demon that isn’t affected by fire or heat. Level 6 is back to modern times where somehow the same evil floating Nazi head you chased in the flashbacks is in the same town as the witch and the Great Old One where he is putting together a cross between a giant ape and a cephalopod. Personally I’m a bit miffed Frankenstein’s monkey is considered worse then a Great Old One.

The chapters are strung together by a flimsy story with easily the worst writing I’ve ever seen connected to Hellboy. I mean, there’s no explanation as to why the Nazis, a GOO and an evil super powerful supernatural being are ALL IN THE SAME TOWN. The game doesn’t even try to explain this. It’s just rubbish and it would be better served if the game had tried to simply make 6 separate mini stories for the game. Instead SoE plays like a truly awful fan fic.

Every character is two dimensional including Hellboy himself, who has maybe two dozen lines in the game. None of the villains ever have their motives or personality explained. They’re just evil for evil’s sake, so let’s do some smashing. I’m still unsure why Hellboy was after any the witch or the floating Nazi head, How there could have been a GOO active and Hellboy not have known about it, and there wasn’t even any resolution. You beat the last boss, and there’s an abrupt ending!

Bottom line, this was easily the worst plot I’ve had to sit through this year. Hell, games like Crazy Taxi or Super Monkey Ball have deeper and better written plots. This game is basically an insult to the Hellboy Franchise and one has to hope the PS3 and 360 versions of the game make more sense.

Story Rating: Worthless

2. Graphics

The game’s not bad looking but it definitely feels like a late gen PSX or very early PS2 title. Enemies aside from the main boss are fairly generic once you get past the first level, and they tend to be nondescript. The one exception to this are the Deep One ripoffs, which are quite well done.

Boss or hit or miss. The witch is a fairly generic Baba Yaga wanna-be, but she’s the best designed of the bosses. Considering 3 of the 5 level bosses are ape based, you’re probably not surprised to hear that there is little variance in any one them. Even the Demon Ape who is the end game character is pretty anti-climatic visually.

Oddly enough the worst part of the game are the cut scenes. The problem here is that the game uses both CGI and cell shaded cut scenes. If the game had just stuck to a single type, it would have been a lot better. Instead, the cut scenes are pretty jarring and take you out of the game because of how different they are. I honestly think two different teams worked on the scenes, because sometimes (especially at the end of the game), you receive one cut scene right after the other in the two different styles, both of which show the same scene, but with very different bits. I hate to be a spoiler, but I have to give the “ending” of the game away to best make my point.

When you kill the Demon Ape, you are given a pretty good cut scene of Hellboy catching the evil Nazi and slam dunking him inside the demon ape’s power supply. Neat right? but then you’re given a cell shaded scene that has Hellboy fighting the Demon Ape, killing it and then stuff explodes and Hellboy falls into a lake. What the hell, right? No Nazi in sight with that one. It just goes from one scene into the other and then the game ends. Like I said, the two different styles, just make the game impossible to get into and enjoy. I still can’t fathom the logic behind this choice on their part.

The backgrounds of the game are quite nice, but they are the only enjoyable visuals in the game. The villains are boring, the bosses are ESPECIALLY boring, and the cut scenes are okay, but they’re brought down simply due to how the two styles clash so much it makes it hard to enjoy either.

Graphics Rating: Pretty Poor

3. Sound

What I think is hilarious is that the game has multiple interviews with Selma Blair, Ron Perlman, et al as unlockables, but guess what? THERE’S NO VOICE ACTING IN THE PSP VERSION OF THE GAME! Thanks a lot Krome for that horrible taunting. This is yet another aspect of the game I don’t understand. They had the MOVIE actors, at great cost no doubt, record lines of dialog for the game, but then it doesn’t show up at all. Trust me, the game is not such a technical or graphical masterpiece that they had to cut the voice acting out. It’s just simply bad.

Let’s talk sound effects now. Oh guess what, there aren’t any of those either. Well, so little they can barely be noticed. One would think when you smashed and/or killed a bad guy they would at least MAKE NOISE. Not in Hellboy: SoE though! It’s just the occasional fist noise, the same smashing noise for everything Hellboy breaks and the rare shot of gunfire. I don’t know whether it is just laziness or that the designers were simply half-assing it for the PSP version of the game.

The music is the best part of the sound category, and even then it is generic at best, to insipid at worst. Each level has a single track that just loops over and over again. Unless of course combat starts. Then you get a second looping track to designate it’s time to beat things up. There’s just so little variance to these tracks that hearing them over and over again makes you mute the game and use your MP3 player or a DVD for the background noise.

If I was just scoring the music, it would be something akin to “Below Average,” but with the lack of voice acting combined with the cast talking about their experiences recording lines for this game and the awful sound effects, this drops things down accordingly.

Sound Rating: Very Bad

4. Control and Gameplay

Instead of getting into a heated profanity laden tirade, I’m simply going to list five things about this game that make it terrible to play.

1. If you are going to have a fixed camera, make sure that you make it clear that there are PITS off to side.

2. If you establish that every pit in the game will kill you, don’t have there be a single pit you HAVE to jump down in order to advance the game.

3. Don’t EVER force a person to use the D pad and analog stick at the same time. ESPECIALLY the down button on the D pad while you are cranking up on the stick. This is easily the stupidest thing I have ever seen in a PSP game. Thank you so much for basically making the special weapons in the game nigh impossible to select in the heat of the moment Krome.

4. Do not make 3 out of the five boss battles revolve around running away while said boss chases you and then having to hit it while it recovers from its missed attack attempt. This is boring and was played out back in the days of the NES.

5. Do not have those other two boss battles simply revolve around throwing things at the boss while dodging their attacks. Thanks for only giving two types of boss fights.

Other then those five AWFUL issues, the game plays like your standard 3-D button mashing beat ’em up, You just beat the tar out of your opponents while trying not to get hit. Sadly I generally love beat ’em ups. Hell, my favorite game of all time, Guardian Heroes is one of these. I own an arcade cabinet of Captain America & the Avengers, but Hellboy: Science of Evil somehow manages to fail at the simplest of tasks. Seriously, how can you mess up a beat ’em up THIS BADLY?

Oh, there are also a lot of arena fights where the game scores you on how fast you kill a wave of enemies, how much damage you did to them, and how you killed them. Then the games rewards you with shards of crystals. Collect enough shards and you unlock new moves, more powerful versions of old moves, and movies or concept art. You can tel Krome generally makes platformers with this bit.

The button mashing controls of the game are basic. One button for light attacks, and one button for heavy attacks. Hit the buttons in the right sequence and you do a special combo. Yay, right? Well, not really. See, each punch you do, regardless of style causes hellboy to take a few steps. Sometimes this leads to his death as he punches an enemy…and then walks off a cliff. As well, sometimes Hellboy will take a step or two after a jump which in the stupid platformer-esque bits where you must jump perfectly or die, guess what happens? You jump just fine, then start walking and plummet. SO ANNOYING.

Hellboy has three gauges. One for his health, one for rage, and one for magic. Rage slowly fills up when you hit stuff and when you release it you do extra damage and your fist glows. Magic lets you use a disc that controls evil plants and the other lets you a cross that lets you heal yourself completely. There are a few other magic items but you never have to use those in the game. Both magic and rage are pretty much tacked on for show for then any real value.

Last bit of anger. The x button is for jumping, right? Well it would be nice if the game actually responded to said jump command more that a third of the time. Holy hell, how did that escape playtesting? I thought it was my PS3 at first so I put in Darkstalkers. Nope. Works just fine. It’s the awfulness that is H:SOE.

So yeah. Hellboy: SoE? It’s boring, shallow, there are control issues up the wazoo, an annoying camera, and a lot of crap thrown together. Somewhere under all the issues and terrible gameplay is a core engine that is probably a mediocre beat ’em up. With all the crap bogging it down, it’s nearly, but not quite, unplayable.

Control and Gameplay: Dreadful

5. Replayability

How sad is it that I would come back to look at the concept art or the interviews before I played this game again? I still have two pieces of unlocked material left, but in order to get them, I’d have to play through the game a second time, and do better in battle ratings or find a hidden trove of crystals I might have missed somewhere. But you know what? NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

The game does offer a co-op mode, but you have to be online. I found a single person ONCE in all the times I tried to go online with H:SOE. Co-op is only slightly better then the normal game, and that’s because the levels are different, giving you something new to explore and do. You can also play as Abe or Liz in this version, although it’s kind of sad that the programmers put in two other playable characters, but only 5% of the people who play this game will ever get to try them out. Seriously, considering how little story there is, and how it doesn’t make any sense anyway, why the hell wouldn’t you let people play as either of the other two characters in the main game. it’s like they tried to make every aspect of this game a kick in the nuts to the people who purchased it.

It’s nice that the game dangles little treats like video interviews and a co-op mode in front of you to get you to keep playing the game, but trust me – neither are worse it, and both have their own issues which makes them worthless to all but the most rabid Hellboy fanboy. Even then, just three flavours of ass instead of one.

Replayability Rating: Worthless10

6. Balance

I died 18 times in the game. I know this, because the game keeps track of your stats. I also know not one of those deaths were by an enemy. They all involved me going “Can I go this way? Oh. I just instantly died. I guess not. Thanks for the Camera letting me know I can’t make that jump or that a pit was there.” Truly awful.

Enemies have no AI, are exceptionally easy to kill, and do little to no damage. Once you find the cross on level 3, you can heal whenever you want as long as you have enough magic energy. As magic is always regenerating, this is never a problem.

Oh, the best is the gun. You can kill any boss save the last simply by emptying your clip into it. Wow. That was hard. Even weirder is that your gun holds ten bullets, but each clip you find int he game has six shots. Shouldn’t it be five shots in a clip or twelve bullets max that you can hold? Again, weird ass decisions.

So the game is so easy, even a toddler could play and beat it. The only challenge comes from the camera angles combined with a lack of where to go, or rather where NOT to go. If you’re looking for a super easy beat ’em up here it is. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the massive amount of flaws.

Balance Rating: Dreadful

7. Originality

This is only the third Hellboy game, but it’s still a utterly awful beat ’em up. Villains are cribbed from other writers or legends, gameplay is totally generic, and the only thing I can honestly say is original about the game are the interviews with the actors…who don’t have anything to do with the PSP version of the game in the first place. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen people talking about voice acting in a game where there isn’t any.

Completely devoid of even the slightest bit of creativity or ingenuity. Seriously, what was this dev team thinking?

Originality Rating: Worthless

8. Addictiveness
This is probably the high point of the game. I really enjoyed the first level up until the point where it just ended without any rhyme or reason. From then on it was simply awful. I liked the first level and the boss fight against the witch. The rest of the game was mindless button mashing without any of the fun that is usually found in this genre. I’m just glad the game was only about 5 hours long. After I hit the 50% mark, I really just wanted to put the game down and leave it down.

I won’t deny that there were times when I had fun, but those times were rare and fleeting. if the game made the slightest bit of sense in either story or gameplay, I could have really liked it. Instead it was a great first impression and a horrible descent into madness from there.

Addictiveness Rating: Below Average

9. Appeal Factor

Lunatics, masochists, Hellboy fanboys, people who play every beat ’em up ever made, and the family and friends of the people who made the game. That is the target audience, and even then half the people in those categories will still think this game is bad.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

Here’s the thing. Even the extras are done poorly. Like the interview;. let’s take those. You are given the answers to the questions asked by the interviewer, but not the questions themselves, so you have to sit there with an eyebrow cocked for the first few seconds as you try to decipher what was asked. How stupid and short-sighted is that. Honestly, I can not begin to figure out how someone came to the decision to cut out the questions being asked. It’s stupid, pure and simple. The design team behind this game is just flat out soddingly retarded. This game had potential. I can see the potential, but it doesn’t absolutely nothing right, and damn near everything wrong I could think of save for the game crashing and causing your PSP to spontaneously combust.

It’s also stupid that you have to replay the entire game to get those last few crystals to unlock everything. If you’re going to mimic the platformer’s need to have you get 100% of everything, then allow a simple level replay on the same save. Again, this is total bollocks and I would love to hear how the developers came up with these asinine ideas

I wanted to like this game. I’m actually feeling bad about giving this a lower score than Turok or Riddle of the Tomb. The sad truth is the game has no actual positive qualities. It’s a blight on beat ’em ups, the PSP, and the Hellboy franchise. For the love of Cthulhu, I hope the console versions are as different from the PSP version as Krome said, because thye might have a chance at not sucking then.

At least there are unlockables and a half-assed co-op mode, right? The eternal optimist, that’s me.

Miscellaneous Rating: Very bad

The Scores
Story: Worthless
Graphics: Pretty Poor
Sound: Very Bad
Control and Gameplay: Dreadful
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Dreadful
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Very Bad

Short Attention Span Summary

Congratulations Hellboy: Science of Evil, you have the lowest score I have given out this year. I haven’t rated a game this poorly since Wrestlemania XXI by Studio Gigante and that was 3 years and 3 months ago. I love Hellboy and I love beat ’em ups, but my god there is nothing to like, much less love about this game. Stay far away from this game. As far as you can. When the nicest thing I can say about a title is “You get a free ticket to see Hellboy II in theaters,” that is an omen of ill portent indeed.

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