When a big summer blockbuster is released in theaters, it frequently comes with a video game adaptation in tow, especially when the film in question is based on a comic book. So, when Hellboy: Science of Evil was announced to come out at roughly the same time as Hellboy 2: The Golden Army’s theatrical release, no one was really surprised by the news. However, the surprise came with the realization that the game didn’t really have anything to do with the upcoming film besides the fact that they both involved Hellboy. Although this may be considered an unconventional approach when compared to the industry standard, I still applaud the choice.
Instead of just playing through the upcoming movie in video game form, players are given an entirely different storyline and experience. Hellboy somehow discovers an evil Nazi plot involving Hermann von Klempt and is tasked with stopping it. Unfortunately, even with the creative direction given by both Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and movie director Guillermo del Toro, the story is still a bit of a mess. You are actually given very little explanation of what is transpiring and perhaps more importantly, why. Science of Evil plays out both in the present and past, with the segments taking place in the past being seemingly unrelated to what is occurring in the present. The result is an incoherent experience that has you battling absurd enemies, such as mechanical apes, with no clear purpose.
Furthermore, Science of Evil’s level design is transparent to a fault. The majority of the game boils down to walking from one enemy-filled arena to the next, destroying all your foes, and then repeating this process countless times. A few very basic puzzles will appear from time to time but require little more than finding and interacting with the only dissimilar object located nearby. Exploration is mildly rewarded with some hidden Spirit Shards that will unlock extras such as concept art and interviews, but is certainly not required. Most levels are actually quite linear, with a few involving multiple paths that all seem to lead to the same place.
Platform jumping is also a mainstay in Hellboy’s new title. Players will frequently be required to jump over bottomless pits, resulting in instant death if you do happen to fail. Sadly, since the game often gives you a poor view of your surroundings, expect to retry many jumps as the result of numerous cheap falling deaths. Thankfully, Science of Evil employs incredibly frequent checkpoints that help reduce the frustration that otherwise would have been caused by having to replay through longer sections of the game multiple times.
Although the game does lightly sprinkle some puzzles and platforming into the experience, Science of Evil is, first and foremost, a straightforward brawler. As a character who is well known for his strength and durability, Hellboy and melee combat should be a natural fit. While the game’s combat isn’t exactly terrible, it does very little to keep the player interested. Hand to hand combat is managed with the square and triangle buttons, with a few basic combos present. Players also have the option of picking up and throwing enemies with the circle button. This often proves to be your most effective attack, allowing you to simply throw foes over cliffs to their doom.
The biggest problem with combat comes in just how unresponsive the controls feel. Sluggish and clumsy really are the best two words to describe Hellboy’s battles. Instead of pressing a button and watching Hellboy respond, it feels more like you are writing him a note, sending it through the mail, and waiting for him to receive and read it before he actually executes the desired attack. This becomes especially problematic when trying to string together combos. There is frequently enough of a delay that it is often difficult to judge when you should be pressing the next button in the series. This issue is further accentuated when enemies attack you during these combo attempts. Any time you are struck during a combo you will have to try it again from the beginning.
Gunplay, inventory items, and objects that can be picked up and used as weapons attempt to add some much needed variety to this game’s otherwise straightforward brawling experience. Hellboy’s trusty Samaritan and a few obtainable items provide players with some much needed ranged attacks.
Although these aren’t always incredibly useful, they do allow you to slow down distant enemies. Random objects such as rocks, boards, pickaxes, swords, hammers, and even tombstones can be picked up and used to deal considerably more damage than a standard attack. The only real downside of these objects is they are only good for one attack. Fortunately, since there is an overabundance of makeshift weapons littering this game’s environments, when one weapon breaks it is incredibly easy to find another.
Visually, Science of Evil is also a departure from the upcoming Hellboy movie. With a decidedly more cartoony and bright appearance, this game has an authentic comic book look to it. The characters in the game look good for what they are, especially Hellboy, and are fairly well animated. Backgrounds and environments are much brighter than I would have expected from a Hellboy title but are adequately polished and fit in well with the cartoony visuals.
Hellboy’s cinematics, however, are borderline terrible. The game includes two kinds of cutscenes, one being in-engine and the other playing out like a slideshow. The in-engine cinematics do an admirable job, and look fairly good. Unfortunately, the other included type of cutscene is fairly horrific. These involve static pictures of Hellboy and other characters sporadically changing to represent motion with lame sound effects filling in the missing pieces. However, the real travesty of these cutscenes, and the game in general, is there is no voice work from Ron Pearlman or the rest of the gang included. With storage limitations likely not playing a factor in this decision, it is incredibly unfortunate this game lacks these authentic voices.
Even with its many problems, Science of Evil manages to be a somewhat entertaining experience. Fans of Hellboy likely won’t find this game to be a complete disappointment, although it honestly could have been much better. With its repetitive and sluggish gameplay, fairly short completion time, bad camera, lackluster cinematics, and complete lack of voice work, I would definitely caution eager fans to play the game before purchasing it. As it stands, when looking for a PSP brawler you could do better than Hellboy but you could also, unfortunately, do much worse.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
While not being the prettiest game I’ve ever seen, Hellboy’s cartoony visuals do a pretty good job. 2.2 Control
Controlling Hellboy isn’t necessarily a problem, that is, unless you actually expect him to respond quickly to your button presses. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
With no voice work present, players are left with frequently annoying sound effects to round out their audio experience. 2.7 Play Value
Although it feels somewhat clunky, shallow, and doesn’t take an incredible amount of time to complete, brawling with Hellboy is still moderately enjoyable. 2.6 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.