Hellboy: Dogs of the Night

I bet you didn’t know there was a European only, PC exclusive Hellboy game did you? Hellboy: Dogs of the Night is a 2000 third-person action game, developed and published by Cryo Interactive. Released exclusively in Europe, exclusively on PC.

Paris-based Cryo Interactive are probably most famous for their 90s point and click adventure games. Dark Horse Comics were interested in entering the interactive space and commissioned Cryo to make an adventure game based on the Aliens comic book, soon followed by a shooter based on Frank Miller’s Hard Boiled. After the success of these two games, the idea was soon floated to start a small studio in the US. Cryo and Dark Horse together founded Dark Horse Interactive and agreed that an adaptation of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy would be the first game developed under the DHI banner.

The Franco-style adventure games which Cryo were known for were a perfect fit for the Hellboy IP. A bit slower, with more of a focus on storytelling, puzzle solving and atmosphere. Exploring fantastical locations and the like, but still with a mix of combat and survival. On paper, the marriage of Cryo & Dark Horse was the perfect combination.

Hellboy Dogs of the Night Story

Hellboy: Dogs of the Night would be Cryo’s most ambitious game to date. A moody, atmospheric action adventure, taking inspiration from contemporary 3D adventures like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil.

The game is set in what was then called Czechoslovakia, sometime during the 1960s. Hellboy and his parter Sara are investigating a missing BPRD agent when Sara is kidnapped by mysterious forces. It’s then up to HB to find who took her, where they took her, and why. He winds up in an insane asylum and I can’t remember why, but it turns out that the fella who runs the asylum is using the inmates to open up a portal to Hell. Every 666 years (nice) the barrier between Hell and Earth wears thin, which is why this place was built in the first place. An evil cult have been trying to open the portal, and for some reason HB gets sent back 666 years into the past. He has to retrieve a sacred amulet which will prevent the cult from doing stuff in the present day. Then there’s something about sewers and a dragon, but I think you can figure out the rest. 

It’s not exactly Hugo award-winning writing, but without borrowing anything from the comics the story is pretty decent. It pulls from the pulpy roots that inspired Hellboy in the first place. It’s got underground cults, mystical amulets, gateways to hell. Dark Horse doubled down on this and forked out for some pretty top-tier voice acting, which honestly elevates the writing quite a bit more. 

HB is voiced by David Gasman. Gasman has a long history of working on Franco games – his most famous role is probably Rayman, that or Pey’j in Beyond Good and Evil. He’s lent his voice to roles from Twinsen in LBA2 to Ed Carnby in Alone in the Dark, you honestly couldn’t find a better fit for the lead. And he’s a pretty good Hellboy! I’m not sure how much direction he was given but he nails the blasé, blue-collar vibe that’s essential to HB’s character. He’s the first person ever to voice Hellboy, and he hits it bang-on it with nothing to base his performance off. Let’s be honest, he’s not as good as Ron Perlman but who could hope to be? Did you know Ron Perlman was the voice of Orion in Justice League?

The rest of the supporting cast is all done by Gasman and Allan Wenger. Both Gasman and Wenger are consistent presences in Franco adventure games like Outcast, Syberia, Dark Earth, Omikron, Farenheit all the way up to the recent David Cage games. There are two female characters in the game. HB’s partner Sara, and this demented nurse who Hellboy chucks out of a window. Both are voiced by Sharon Mann. Like Gasman and Wenger, Mann has lent her voice to a whole ton of Franco adventure games. She’s best known to me as playing Kate Walker in the Syberia franchise. There’s not a lot to go on with her performance here, as she has about 12 lines, but I think she does a good job. 

Considering the great writing and voice acting which was emerging in PC games at the time, I take this as a sign that Dark Horse were following Cryo’s lead, letting them create the game they wanted to make. 

Dogs of the Night PC gameplay

Cryo were off to a strong start with their Hellboy adventure game and Dark Horse were right behind them. The puzzles are also good. Very good. There’s plenty of puzzles to solve, they’re all different and they’re really quite smart. Cryo were clearly flexing their adventure game experience here. Some are your Monkey Island style peter-to-paul item quests, others are great little head-scratchers. This puzzle right at the beginning of the game sets the bar for the rest of the game. To raise the bridge, HB needs to weigh each pillar down with a stone of the appropriate mass. You’re given just enough to figure it out and solving it doesn’t take all day. None of the puzzles here are massively obtuse, you just need a little bit of logic. And you can’t have a gothic horror game without block moving puzzles. If anything, I’d like to have seen more puzzles in Hellboy. The puzzle sections were some of the best parts of the game and I would have liked to see DHI dig further into the expertise Cryo were bringing to the table here.

The combat is where Hellboy: Dogs of the Night takes a bit of a nosedive. The puzzles and dialogue could have been invested into more. But the combat is horrible, even for your favourite always-positive PC game reviewer. Collision detection is awful, meaning at least half of your hits automatically miss. I’ve never hit anything at all with the gun, so I played the whole game just by punching everything. In fairness, none of the enemies are so tough that you’ll be stuck for long, which is good. But what could be short, punchy little spats feel pretty dull. It feels like this was something Cryo were working on, but it never ended up getting the attention it required. After a while I found myself running around enemies because it just wasn’t very fun fighting them.

I’ve watched and read reviews about this game which lament the slow, plodding tank controls. If you’re an old fogey like me you’ll remember fixed camera angles and tank controls being a staple of this type of game. Actually, I like the slow controls. Classic 3D adventures like Alone in the Dark and Dark Earth used fixed camera angles not just to get around the limitations of the time’s technology, but also to give a cinematic feel. Pre-rendered backgrounds might actually have helped this game age better, but the slow pace to the gameplay puts the onus on exploration and atmosphere which is exactly the right approach for a Hellboy game.

Tonally I think Hellboy: Dogs of the Night is spot on. The slower pace, the focus on exploring these old ruins and churches and that is really right out of the comic pages. I’m going to go there and say that the sound and music in this game were the standout items for me. Gilles Sivilotto created a wicked atmospheric soundscape for this game, and it fits the mood tremendously. Considering he hadn’t done a lot before, Hellboy has a real knockout soundtrack.

The art direction is a bit of a deviation from the source material, but the colour palettes gives off a similar vibe to the comic book. The blocky graphics aren’t pretty, but as if that’s a big deal around these parts. Being objective, these would have been ropey even in the day, so we can say without a doubt that Hellboy was an ugly game on release. But honestly everything else could have made up for that, and there’s no reason this game couldn’t have been really good.

The PC version of Hellboy: Dogs of the Night was released in Europe in Christmas 2000. PC Gamer UK gave it 14/100. The PC version has a score of 11.50% at GameRankings. DHI North America never recovered from Hellboy’s failure.

Hellboy Dogs of the Night isn’t a bad PC game. It is a bad PC game for its release year. If Dogs of the Night had come out in 1997, it might have stood a chance. It’s very easy to heap scorn onto games like this. To just do a Nelson Muntz and go “HAHA THIS GAME BAD”. But nobody sets out to make a bad game. Behind every failure is a story of brave creators, putting their heart and soul and years of effort into the thing. I really enjoyed this game and it certainly doesn’t deserve the scorn it receives online.

If you want to play it, there’s just about zero chance of this appearing on any digital platforms in the future. I’ve been wrong about that before though! However if you can get hold of a disc, Hellboy works really well on modern PCs. The game loads up absolutely fine and supports a crazy range of resolutions straight off the disc. If you’re used to using DGVoodoo to get old games working, you can get texture filtering, antialiasing and more working. If you’re curious about weird old PC games or a die-hard Hellboy fan then give this one a shot.