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Hellboy: The Science of Evil

(Konami; US: 24 Jun 2008)

Writing the start of a review can at times be the trickiest part. As a reviewer, I’m constantly thinking up witty punch lines, catchy headlines, you know, something clever, funny and attention-grabbing which will hopefully stop you, my dear reader, from just scrolling to the bottom and reading the score.


Countless lecturers from my university have advised me to write the middle and conclusion of essays first, and I’ll find that the beginning usually ends up writing itself. But I can be quite pedantic, feeling that everything must be done in a structured order. So I look for inspiration, something that moves me, enables me to capture the moment and convey it in words, which will ideally rock your world in some meaningful way, be it a smile of joy, a cry of laughter, or a tear of sorrow.


But what the hell can I possibly draw from Hellboy: The Science of Evil, the blandest, most unimaginative, dullest game in existence? It gives new meaning to the term lacklustre, void of any redeemable features, bringing this reviewer nothing but pain and anguish.


Yes, this is a movie tie in, so there’s a strong suspicion that it’s going to turn out to be crap, but just how crap is unbelievable. The PSP version walks a different path to its console counterparts, in that it has an original script (as opposed to the PS3/360 versions which replicate the upcoming flick). Allegedly, if the PR blurb on the back cover is to be believed, input from Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and film director Guillermo del Toro were taken into consideration in the creation of this game. Well, sorry fellers, in your respected fields you’re undoubtedly masters of your craft, but for your own sakes, don’t give up the day jobs.


If they really did have input, then it proves that people outside of the field (such as Mignola, who has admitted to not being a gamer) know bugger all about making games, so why involve them in the first place?


I can understand having him around for narrative purposes, or for the sake of nailing the cosmetics of the game, but actual development? It’s like asking me to perform open heart surgery on a newborn baby; that I’ve watched a few episodes of Casualty doesn’t make it any less dangerous and incomprehensible. Still, it is apparently a selling point, which will try to convince you that the crap you just paid for is the real deal, a labor of love, expertly crafted by the people who created the franchise that millions love so passionately, but will probably end up despising uncontrollably after experiencing this garbage.


It is also a sad reflection on the desperate state of mind of certain people in the industry who seem to revere the movie business and feel that associating with it will instantly give their craft some form of credibility in the eyes of the public. Newsflash: The gaming industry is a creatively/financially rich and diverse medium with many talented individuals and developers. In fact, one could argue that there are far more so than Hollywood, and there is no need to kiss up to an industry that has proven time and again that it can be just as creatively deficient.


The game is basically (emphasis on the “basic”) a 3rd-person action game, which uses the now familiar fixed camera angles and four button layout, i.e. light attack, heavy attack, interaction button and jump button, popularized by games like Onimusha, Devil May Cry, and their ilk.

Things don’t start off so badly, though the art design is as repulsive as I’ve seen, the movement of Hellboy feels, well, more or less how you would expect a big hulking demon thing to move. The environment is surprisingly interactive, with plenty of bits and bobs to pick up and use as melee weapons or just break, which is always fun. It’s when the bargain basement enemies attack that the game really begins to struggle, and Hellboy slows down to the point that you feel he’s just ran the London and New York marathons back to back. The combat feels wooly and lacks the physical element that makes you feel the impact of dishing out a beat down or receiving a kick in the nuts.


Though some attempt at variation has been made in the aforementioned interactive environment and providing Hellboy with a decent-ish selection for his arsenal, as mentioned, none of it ever feels substantial enough to warrant any satisfaction, or for that matter any sense of fluidity or impact. It’s like something’s happening, something that you have apparently done, but you never feel like you did it. Even the super damage mode, which makes Hellboy’s attacks more powerful for a limited time (once you’ve collected enough rage runes), feels impotent.


The design decisions don’t just fail at the broken hand-to-hand combat; Hellboy has a gun, with limited ammo. Why? Guns in games like this are supposed to add a further element of diversity, encouraging you to mix it up between fisticuffs and gunplay. When ammo is limited, capped, scarce, and handicapped by a redundant lock-on system, you just end up using the same moves over and over on the ever forgettable enemies anyway.

Boss fights usually involve an avoid attack, wait till boss exposes himself and attack its weak point for massive damage, rinse, repeat, and avoid falling asleep, though to be fair, at times you probably could be half asleep and still finish this. If the linear, narrow corridor-like level design didn’t ooze indolence, then the budget presentation sure does. The nonsensical story, the cutscenes which fail miserably at imitating the comic book style, the lack of voice acting, and the flat dialogue void of any of the charm or humor associated with the character scream “rush job”, and to be quite frank, Mignola could have had far more meaningful an impact if he had just focused on the sights and sounds.             


I’ve been writing about games for close to four years now and it’s still hard to believe that a game can get so many things wrong. The cheap platforming, brain-grating repetition, the instant deaths that come about due to the flawed level design, the camera which restricts your depth perception, and the fights that require no strategy, skill, or thought (yet are both unfair and frustrating). At times like this I feel at a loss for words. There is enough here to put both fans and non fans off the brand forever, in fact there’s probably enough to put you off games forever. You know what? Hellboy: the Science of Evil might just put you off everything and anything forever. It is just that poor.

Rating:

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Hellboy: The Science of Evil PSP Gameplay
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