I didn't realize how large my appetite for an authentic Hellboy game had grown until I had Web of Wyrd in my hands. This isn't the only title to star the titular hero – Dogs of the Night and The Science of Evil were serviceable, albeit entirely forgettable experiences – but it is the first to accurately replicate the stark stylings of creator Mike Mignola. A world of evocative color contrasting against unknowingly black shadows, with demonic definition of characters and environments carved out by harsh pencil outlines. Hellboy Web of Wyrd is a Mignola spread brought to life, and it's a thing of beauty.
Walking the halls of The Butterfly House – an office for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, and staging ground ahead of embarking on missions – I remark to Upstream Arcade co-founder Patrick Martin that I can't believe nobody has rendered this world in this way before, and he gives me a small insight into the challenge of bringing motion to Mike Mignola's artwork. "Mike loves to use shadow, so we decided to really go for that. We pushed to have lots of black shadows everywhere. Suddenly, people were saying that they couldn't see where the walls were, so we had to dial that back quite a bit."
Belly of the beast
Bringing Hellboy to life is fraught with challenges, then. Not only is there a distinctive visual style and world tone to contend with, but there's also the question of the play itself. Many of the best Hellboy stories aren't centered around set-piece moments, with action typically acting as a contrast to some stark existential consideration or introspective thought exercise.
For Web of Wyrd, Upstream has opted to leverage two of Hellboy's best qualities: his inherent vulnerability as a character, and his Right Hand of Doom. The former informing a roguelite structure, and the latter allowing Hellboy to smash and tumble his way through challenging combat encounters.
From the B.P.R.D. outpost, you're able to speak with fellow agents, equip yourself with a firearm and protective talisman, and spend any resources that you're able to successfully recover from missions on upgrades. Once you're ready to embark, Hellboy is transported to procedurally-generated labyrinths, twisting levels which fold back in on themselves. Enemies stalk the supernatural abyss, willing you into slow and purposeful battles – brawls which require a smart leveraging of Hellboy's limited range of movement and weighted bombardments with the Right Hand of Doom.
Combat is rough by design, as the half-demon and demonic enemies loosely trade blows. Something I came to admire is the limitation on health regeneration, where any damage-taken is effectively permanent. There's peril in every encounter as a result, particularly once Web of Wyrd starts funneling you into arenas packed with expendable enemies and towering foes with an ax to grind. Managing the dispatch of these targets is key, as the smaller monsters will help regenerate Toughness – a shield of sorts which helps protect your precious pips of lifeforce. The larger enemies require more attention, the balance of melee-combos and the use of your weapon – less a force for ranged damage, and more a short-sharp shock wave in close proximity, something to be used sparing due to the lengthy manual reload that's required once ammunition is expended.
There are other wrinkles to combat too, such as a Payback ability which allows for devastating finishers should Hellboy. Succumb to the barrage of blows coming your way and you'll be sent back to The Butterfly House to reconsider your options and try it all over again. It's a nice structure and well-suited to the strange world of Hellboy, but there are areas I'd like to see tightened up ahead of launch.
There's a single-enemy lock-on system which is designed to help center combat, but I found that the camera was overall a little unwieldy, and that it was difficult to truly judge Hellboy's reach. Still, the foundations outlined by Upstream Arcade are undoubtedly impressive, so I'm keen to see how this authentic adaptation of the Hellboy universe fares when Web of Wyrd launches later this year.
Hellboy Web of Wyrd is set to launch on October 4, 2023 for PC, PS5, PS4, Switch, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One.