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SummaryA Groan in the Dark
The GoodCzechoslovakia, 1962
When Peter, an agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, goes missing on a routine assignment, it's up to Hellboy and Sara to find him. Well… it's mostly up to Hellboy. Hellboy: Asylum Seeker née Dogs of the Night, begins in a cemetery attached to the grounds of a mental institution, built on the ruins of an ancient monastery—how's that for atmosphere? Here a battle between two brothers takes place every 666 years, in which one prevents the other from opening a portal to Hell. As the dark power builds, the dead rise from their graves, evil twists the inhabitants of the asylum, and the Dogs of the Night return to the earth.
2003’s (2000’s really) Hellboy: Asylum Seeker plays out as a very bare-bones action/adventure game somewhere on the spectrum between 1992's Alone in the Dark and 1996's Resident Evil. HB explores his surroundings, collects inventory items and uses them to solve puzzles. Not puzzles, per say, but environmental obstacles like doors that need the correct key or level of water pressure to open. The majority of Asylum Seeker's puzzles are well thought out and presented. However, most of my playing time was spent figuring out what to do, not how to do it.
Asylum Seeker has a variety of locations and the levels are laid out well, especially the asylum/monastery. There are some really eerie areas, like a hallway crawling with frogs and a ghoulish gauntlet. At its best, Asylum Seeker can be very creepy. However its best graphics are the introductory screens for each of the six episodes comprising the game.
The BadWhere to begin?
Let's start off with HB himself. Any "superhero" game that doesn't let you experience the "superhero's" powers is a failure. Hellboy stands over 7ft tall, weighs at least 350lbs, and has an oversized right hand made out of a rock-hard substance. Modestly, it's known as the "Right Hand of Doom." If Hellboy lets loose with it, it should have an impact.
So let's talk about one combat experience. HB is fighting a nurse. I can press Square a few times and jab with my left, but I want Nurse Ratchet to experience the RHoD. So I hold down Square (the only way to do a left-left-right combo) and nail her. And the fight continues. HB's gun is pretty useless, which is inline with the comics, but I think the programmers expected the player to use it from time to time. Combat actually gets worse during boss battles—HB and the enemy hopeless clip into each other, trapping HB and setting him up for extra, needless damage. Combat is simply appalling and is the one area where the game should be the strongest. HB isn't known as the World's Greatest Paranormal Investigator for his amazing powers of ratiocination.
When HB collects an inventory item there is no inventory display to deal with that item. So other than the brief description of the item HB gets when picking it up, and its representation in the HUD (you can quickly toggle through inventory items to get something ready), there's no real analysis or exploration of any object. The major drawback is that you can't reload your gun (except automatically in combat). But on a lesser scale, not being able to view or search your inventory lessens the immersive experience. For instance, HB finds a "box with a small key." Are the items attached, like a music box or are they part of a larger tool? Is the box significant? Can the key be removed from the box? All valid questions, but it's simply used to unlock a door—like every other key HB finds.
This game is actually worse when you look at the bigger picture. The smaller puzzles are usually innocuous, but when you realize you've just spent the last hour risking life and limb for a wrench, it's a little frustrating. That's the design concept though. Waste the player's time looking for a weapon which isn't that effective anyway. Send the player through a maze, because they're starting to realize that at the five hour mark, they are almost done with the game. Have the player wander aimlessly until they do the magic thing which triggers an event.
I swear I'm not a graphics whore. I appreciate good graphics, but I think other elements are just as important. The graphics here are pigswill. I know the PSX isn’t cutting edge, but parts of this are barely playable. Clipping is abysmal. Textures are severely lacking. Cut scenes are just embarrassing. Even back in its 2000 incarnation, this wouldn't have been acceptable.
For some reason, if HB gets near a staircase, he automatically walks up it. This is very frustrating in narrow corridors acting as Charybdis minus Scylla. There is usually one save point per level, which is fine in-game, but the game is sorely lacking an autosave at the end of each episode. Combat, mentioned above, means holding one button down while orienting HB in the correct direction and the auto-aim provided for the gun usually doesn’t work.
- Does every book need to have a funny title?
- Do supernatural things need to happen every 666 years?
- Is Czechoslovakia a euphemism for generic setting?
- What does setting the game in 1962 accomplish?
- How exactly do Zombies choose their Champion?