This week, the Critic with a Mouth takes on the Merc with a Mouth.
You don't see a lot of straight comedy in AAA games these days, do you, like your Monkey Islands or your Conker's Bad Fur Day or your Kane & Lynch 2. Oh you'll see a lot of comedy bits in AAA games, but on the whole they treat humour like kids poking at roadkill with a very long stick. None of them want to scrape up the roadkill and try wearing it like a scarf. They'll put on a silly hat while browsing at the shops but then they'll hear a low oscillating drone and go "The mother ship is calling us, we must return to make grey-brown industrial areas and put glowing bits on somebody's armour."
"Comedy?" go the AAA purse-string holders. "Nah, there'll be more money in a game about an already popular character who shoots people a lot." "How about Deadpool? He's a popular comic book character who shoots people a lot." "Great, here's some money." "Ha ha! Fooled you, AAA purse-string holder! Deadpool is also a comedy character!" "D'oh, you wiley sods!"
Course, when I say "comedy", I mean "a mixture of non sequitor and smarmy self-reference often mistaken for comedy by the same sort of people who describes themselves as random." A bunny with a pancake? Yeah that was pretty random, well done. I can be random too, listen: "Fuck off, you perennial shitstain!" Oh sorry, I did that wrong.
Deadpool is a comedy character for superhero comics, and superhero comics do comedy the same way superhero comics do action, drama, costume design and pretty much everything: overdoing it to the point of meaninglessness. So Deadpool underwent your standard comic book unethical lab experiment and acquired your standard comic book suite of superpowers, but it also drove him cuh-razy! So he was sectioned under the mental health act and spent the rest of his life being shifted from care home to care home, mumbling to himself and playing with his own shit. Not really, that wouldn't be funny. Actually he's the fun kind of crazy who acts wildly inappropriately and uses the word "teh" instead of "the."
Deadpool the game is basically a prolonged opportunity for Deadpool to fanny about, channeling Bugs Bunny, infuriating other more sensible characters from the Marvel universe and accidentally getting imbroiled in a token effort to end the token schemes of a token villain called... ugh, Mister Sinister, the kind of ninth grade character Marvel Comics would have been willing to let be humiliated for this kind of project.
You know, perhaps the reason why AAA games don't do comedy is because AAA is all about repetition, and comedy and repetition get along like a quipping cartoon mouse in a tarantula habitat. Deadpool has what I have come to call "the Spider-Man video game syndrome" in that they try to bring across the character's effervescent personality by having him regularly throw out an appropriate quip every now and again in combat, but the trouble with that is that it really doesn't take long to have heard every line from the small pool of quips and then the pool has no more life in it. It is a dead pool! And the lines that were funny once at best go from really flat to excruciatingly annoying.
Being repetitively funny is the lost cause for which Family Guy has constantly fought a losing battle, but I never said that Deadpool is completely unfunny. To go back to an earlier metaphor, Family Guy takes the roadkill of comedy, throws it in the middle of the room and commands us to sit and watch it as it gathers flies and its stench soaks into the carpet, whereas Deadpool understands that the best way to counteract the witlessness of its humour is to keep a fast enough pace that we can't think about it for very long. In the not-repeated cutscenes, Deadpool takes that roadkill and runs from room to room smacking people with it, ruining their formal dresses and making burbling noises with his mouth. So the humour's coming together when the game's sprinting between zany, madcap setpieces but when the pace drops... well, I wouldn't say it falls apart exactly, but, if it were a cake, I wouldn't trust it to cleanly transfer to a serving platter, I'll tell you that.
The environments are mostly sewers, ruined buildings and industrial areas, the Holy Trinity of boring environment design but I suppose this is the point where we start throwing around the word "irony" in blatant disregard for its actual meaning. The excessive violence probably falls under the same banner but the thing about ironic excessive violence in video games is that it's kind of indistinguishable from standard operation procedure. And Deadpool's combat gameplay is about as bog-standard as kitchen-sink hack-'n'-slash gets; light attacks, strong attacks, dodge-counter combo, there's a slower melee weapon and a faster melee weapon in case you're some kind of on-call heart surgeon and your time is really bloody important, and for guns, pistols, shotguns and SMGs. I'm pretty sure the new Microsoft Word will create the design document for this if you press Shift-Control-F5.
I'm not saying it's not functional, even fun, controversially. It tends to go backwards and forwards between cathartically simple and frustratingly hard, a factor that usually comes down to how many "twatting bastardy pancakes, this is random humour, hope everyone's enjoying it," enemies with guns there are in a mostly melee fight, the ones who keep backing up when you're trying to stab them like they don't want chunky-style marmalade instead of reproductive organs. But a standard boss fight is just a normal-sized dude in a stupid outfit, and a final boss fight might go so far as to have 4 normal-sized dudes in stupid outfits.
If there were any game where the ending to Metal Gear Rising might have fit, it would be this one. Where's Deadpool's giant robot spider fight and shirtless wrestling match with Senator Super Saiyan Seven? It just seems like the story's trying to be all self-aware and periodic of video games and tweak the nose of all those righteous stuffed spandex types that run around in superhero comics taking things seriously all over the place, but then the cutscenes end and the mechanics are all like "Alright, you've had your fun. Now stand in a room and fight twenty more guys. Look, if you hit them hard enough, they explode! See, we can be fun!"
Basically if you took out Deadpool the character and everything that comes with it, then what's left is unadventurous at best, but then that explains why they didn't title it "The Marvel Universe Hacky Slashy Ruin Buildings Funtime Hour". So it's possible that Deadpool will carry it for you, there's still a lot of room for comedy games that employ actual wit like Portal, rather than ones that just run up and shout "Banana!" at people. But if you liked Deadpool from the comic books, then you'll be pleased to hear he makes the transition fairly unscathed, which is more than the film industry will do!
Hey comic books, why don't you stop hopping into that big cold film industry bed and come snuggle up by the fire with games on a more permanent basis? You know all he can offer is Green Lanterns and Catwomans and he's just gonna waft you out like a Dutch oven the moment you stop making money. We'll never ask you to change for us. The Arkham games will let you have all the dumb villains you can come up with. Oh don't be like that, baby! Superman 64 was years ago!
Never one to be out-randomed: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Walk your dog by the side of it and let him piss in it and that'll be a fairly dead pool pretty soon
Why don't we just replace full stops with "lol" lol