Released early in 2003 for the original Playstation console, Hellboy: Asylum Seeker
is based on Mike Mignola’s popular comic book series. As a long time comic collector, I’ve always enjoyed Hellboy’s sculptural, Kirby-esque artwork paired with story lines that are equal parts HP Lovecraft and folk tale. Needless to say, when I learned that a licensed video game was released, I hunted down a copy that very day. Alas, the unadulterated gaming bliss I was hoping for would prove to be as mythical as the stone hand of Hellboy himself…
As the red-skinned, cloven-hoofed paranormal investigator, you’re sent on a routine assignment in search of a missing comrade. In typical Hellboy fashion, events quickly become anything but
routine—the missing agent turns up dead as Dillinger, a giant bird woman attacks you, and your partner is kidnapped. Your main goal now is to rescue Sarah, but in the course of this mission a larger story unfolds, one with much more dire ramifications than even the possible death of a friend.
Controls are fairly straightforward: using the D-pad, maneuver through the 3D environment picking up items you find along the way. You will face some unfriendly characters in your quest, such as shambling zombies and a pistol-wielding hospital orderly. You can attack with your fist, or pull your gun if you have it. Combat takes a backseat to problem solving however, with many of the fights being avoidable simply by fleeing. The real bread and butter of the game is on figuring out the ample puzzles you will encounter. They are elementary at the beginning (pushing an oddly positioned block to unlock a door) but become more challenging (and rewarding) later on. All the classics are here: pushing blocks, pulling a certain tome from the book case, reflecting light with a shiny object, moving statues, etc. There are also plenty of unique obstacles that are sure to give even veterans of Shadowgate
or the Legend of Zelda
games a reason to scratch their heads. Since the emphasis is on problem solving and not more reflex-oriented tasks, I’m willing to overlook the awkwardness of Hellboy’s controls, but trust me, they’re plenty awkward. The camera is the worst offender in this department, especially since there’s no way to reorient your view point manually. Running to the end of a certain area may cause you to become unacceptably small, while in other areas you won’t even be able to see the room you’re in because your standing too close to the camera position. A major component of the camera’s shoddiness is that you may have a hard time seeing what’s important in any given area. There was one particular room which contained a puzzle I just could not
figure out, despite multiple attempts. After somewhat shamefully consulting a walkthrough, I discovered that there was a small stone I needed in the room. Had I not read that it was there, there’s no chance I would’ve found it on my own.
Outside of the nicely drawn menu screen and the episode title screens, this game is just plain mediocre. It’s hard to believe this game was just released this year—I think Goldeneye
had better graphics than this ten years ago. The subpar art is probably the biggest disappointment in this title. The backgrounds are fairly well designed and evocative, but overall you can’t help but be struck by the squandered potential of Hellboy’s rich universe. Stand too close to a wall and you might see the illusion of your arm sticking out the other side. In one scene I broke the blades off of a spinning fan that was emitting a shower of sparks; the fan blades disappeared yet the spark effect remained. Sloppiness like this abounds. Coming late in the life of the Playstation and at a very modest price ($9.99 new), perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at the careless programming which is so ubiquitous throughout this game. I can only hope the developers are saving their full energies for an eventual PS2 title that will actually utilize the full potential of the hardware.
The music is well done and complements the eerie atmosphere of your surroundings. The chanting monks in the 3rd episode was particularly effective and appropriate in my opinion. Sound effects are merely average, and again, an opportunity is wasted. Sound can be one of best ways to establish mood, especially in the horror genre, but here they’ve foregone any atmospheric effects in favor of simply descriptive sounds at the proper moment. The voice talent is dreadful. Sarah’s scream when she is kidnapped is so anemic you’ll wonder if she hasn’t just dropped her ice cream cone instead of coming face to face with some hideous supernatural menace. Hellboy’s voice isn’t bad, but the way the actor reads them is laughable. Witness the ludicrous: “Giant bird women. I hate them” line. Hellboy is known for his dry cool one-liners, but how
the line is delivered is just as important as the line itself.
I had quite a lot of complaints about this game, but I have to admit I still enjoyed it a lot. There must be some reason I keep playing it, right? It’s really all going to come down to whether you enjoy this style of gameplay or not. Certain extremely pretty games can make you forget how shallow and pointless they are; Hellboy doesn’t have that luxury. If you’re a fan of the comics or want something a bit more mentally challenging than a Doom
clone, Hellboy is well worth picking up for the low price. I give it a 5 out of 10