Hellboy May Cry.
The new Hellboy movie, The Golden Army, opens in theaters today and has been getting generally favorable reviews. And would you know it, a free movie ticket comes with the game! However, while timed to coincide with the theatrical release, Hellboy: The Science of Evil is not based on the movie, which means it escapes The Curse of the Movie License... barely.
Good thing it's not based on the movie either, because the story behind The Science of Evil could have only come out of the brain of a mad scientist trying to out-crazy an insane witch doctor. With no preamble whatsoever, Hellboy finds himself immediately chasing an evil flying crone through a Romanian city, because... she's evil, I guess. However, any clear sense of plot soon disappears once you discover that under the city, undead Nazis are fighting a Cthulhu-esque race of frog people.
The formula for the plot truly is bewildering: Grab a series of (playable) flashbacks and some time travel as a premise. Toss in aliens, zombies, a giant plant, talking skeletons, robo-nazis, Japanese warrior spirits, and a giant-robo-gorilla-nazi. Mix thoroughly and pour into a chilled martini glass. Now drop acid and drink six more martinis.
While the plot may not be straightforward, the gameplay sure is. Essentially, Hellboy is a Devil May Cry clone, except the main character isn't emo-gay, and he doesn't use different fighting styles or upgrades. If something moves, your goal is usually to punch it with your giant fist. If something doesn't move, your goal is usually to punch it with your giant fist. Hellboy packs a pistol as well, but it's so slow to fire, you'll seldom use it except when enemies can only be disposed by a couple of hard-steel bullets.
Hellboy can use a few alternate weapons picked up in the environment, from sticks of bamboo to wheelbarrows, but not for long since they break after just a few swings. And aside from a couple alien swords (that also break after just a few swings), they're really not any more powerful than just a standard punch.
Hellboy also steals a page from Kratos with some button-matching quick-time events that finish downed opponents. However for Hellboy, it's the same two buttons every time, which makes it pretty easy.
And so is the rest of the game. With big powerful combos, Hellboy makes short work of enemies until the final levels where they all turn into damage sponges. Still, Hellboy can instantly recharge his health meter with one of his slam combos, and if that doesn't work, just staying out of a combat for a while will recharge his health.
The most difficult parts of the game are actually figuring out where to go next: finding that cracked wall you can punch through, seeing that hallway you didn't spot, or deciphering puzzles that range from the very simple to the completely non-intuitive. The second-most difficult parts are the boss battles, which if you fail, will force you to watch the un-skippable pre-boss cut-scene every time.
There are some good parts to Hellboy, and the best is that they captured the attitude of the comics just right. The voice acting is superb, as it should be since they're done by Ron Perlman from the movies. The grumpy, wise-cracking, reluctant hero comes through perfectly, although his cigar had to be sacrificed on the altar of the Teen rating.
They also captured the look of Hellboy and pals just right, and while the title is not a graphical marvel, the framerate stays nice and smooth even during furious battles - just as you want in an action game. Plus, well heck, it's just fun being the hard-hitting Hellboy. Whereas Dante is always shouting "Woo!", "Showtime!", "Awesome!", and "Rockin!" like he's snowboarding or possibly disco-dancing, the mostly silent Hellboy just wades into the fray and punches things. He's that badass.
The only multiplayer is a co-op mode where a second player can take control of one of two sidekicks: Abe Sapien or Liz Sherman. While they have their own abilities, they simply are not as badass as Hellboy, who, frankly, doesn't need any help. It feels tacked-on, probably because it is.
Good characters can only go so far to help a devilishly mediocre Devil May Cry knockoff - it even has those exact same screaming ghost-face walls that won't let you into the next area until you've killed all the enemies. And I never thought another game could make DMC's plot actually look less confusing. All attitude and little substance, Hellboy has his charms, but I can't recommend you do more than rent it.