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Hellboy Web of Wyrd review - a stylish but stale roguelike

Our Hellboy Web of Wyrd review finds that myriad problems combine to stop this action roguelike from ever taking off, despite its stylistic flourishes.

Hellboy Web of Wyrd review: Hellboy standing with his fists raised as a living statue attacks him.

Our Verdict

Hellboy Web of Wyrd's sharp art direction, warm voice performances, and goofy if basic combat struggle to shine through in a roguelike that is otherwise too messy in too many ways.

Hellboy Web of Wyrd‘s most obvious selling point is that it was developed, reportedly, in close partnership with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. The over-the-shoulder action roguelike from developer Upstream Arcade is meant to be a faithful interpretation of the series’ style, and while the Mignola-advised story is often impenetrably lore-heavy, the game’s art direction evokes the Hellboy comics remarkably well.

The high contrast, cell-shaded visuals are reminiscent of Upstream’s previous release, the undead cowboy roguelike game West of Dead. Although Hellboy Web of Wyrd‘s closer perspective reveals a touch of graphical crudeness, the dramatic, pitch-black shadows, saturated splashes of color, and crisp yet rough outlines look great in motion, especially in the ever-shifting home base, The Butterfly House. The voice performances also deserve special mention. The departed Lance Reddick’s sarcastic, likable Hellboy gets top billing, but the rest of the performances lend the game much-needed elements of warmth and personality.

Hellboy Web of Wyrd review: Hellboy, in profile, facing a hunched monster with and exposed skull and bony tusks.

Web of Wyrd’s presentation is faithful and effective. Its commitment to the conventional roguelike structure, however, comes with decidedly more mixed results. There just isn’t enough variety here, from arenas to enemy types, to justify replaying large sections of the game. The run-centric upgrades in particular – the kind that usually lend unpredictability and magnetism to roguelikes – are neither diverse nor interesting (let alone exciting).

Lackluster early examples, like a boost to dropped currency and a bit of damage reflection, are disappointingly representative of the entire system. And not only are the upgrades themselves uninspired, but the way you choose them is baffling. Take the aforementioned damage reflection upgrade, for example. Instead of having the option to choose this particular upgrade over two other, different upgrades, your choice is simply which of your three slots (fist, firearm, or charm) to apply it to. It isn’t clear what difference this choice makes, if any.

Hellboy Web of Wyrd review: Hellboy standing on a bridge with his back facing a cloudy horizon.

Just as aimless are the procedurally generated levels, which, despite a smattering of different color schemes, quickly grow familiar to the point of tedium. Web of Wyrd’s levels are clearly inspired by Hades, with each zone comprising a series of arenas connected by doors, many of which are marked with icons denoting their room’s contents, whether that be a quick health refill, an upgrade, or a shop.

Unlike in Hades, though, your path through these rooms isn’t a one-way affair, as you can backtrack through them after you clear them of enemies. And you’ll be backtracking a lot, since you’ll frequently hit dead ends or locked doors that require frustratingly missable keys to unlock. It doesn’t help that Hellboy lollygags around at a light jog so lazy his hardass boss back at the base should make him do a few pushups as punishment. It also doesn’t help that there’s no map to guide you through these nearly identical rooms.

Hellboy Web of Wyrd review: Hellboy, pictured from behind, against a background of a red and black explosion, landing a powerful right hook on a faerie sorceress.

By comparison, Web of Wyrd’s brawler-style combat is a relative bright spot, but just barely. It’s far from polished, with unclear enemy attack telegraphs and a stiff dodge that feels a bit like if Kratos (of the God of War reboot, not the original run) was recovering from a recent hip replacement. It’s also not particularly deep or varied, with your most effective attacks being either a long press of the melee button or four short presses of the melee button. But there is at least a discernable, if only partially realized, vision here. It’s a simple, combo-based beat-’em-up lite, punctuated by critical hits that wash the screen entirely in bright red to show off a few pro-wrestler finishing moves – silly, yes, but sometimes fun.

It’s not nearly enough to redeem Web of Wyrd, though, which is built on a roguelike foundation that fundamentally doesn’t work here. The game is also filled with too many annoyances to list (you’re often barred from even selecting the ‘Quit’ option in the pause menu, for instance). The missteps and deficiencies are particularly frustrating because it’s clear there were talented people working on Web of Wyrd, people who deserve to be showcased in a better game than this.