This week Zero Punctuation reviews Spiderman's latest web swinging adventure, Spiderman: Web of Shadows.
Christ, it's a miserable time to be a game critic! The release schedule is nothing but old titles with incrementally larger numbers on the end. It's like reading the results table posted outside a special school. Street Fighter IV. Killzone 2. My new release options at present are limited to another thrilling opportunity to mash my controller to death or Gears of War versus the British space Nazis. So fuck it, I thought. I am the free-spirited, chaotic neutral rebel of video game journalism. I'm going to review a game from last year that I actually want to talk about. It's a Spider-Man game, which admittedly there have been around thirty of, but I'm validated as long as there's no number on the end, although I may feel the need to cut myself and weep.
Speaking of numbers on the end, I picked up Web of Shadows because 2004's Spider-Man 2: The Movie: The Game exceeded all expectations by being slightly good. It had the usual movie tie-in problems - being shackled to the original plot, mainly. And Tobey Maguire's voice acting sounded like he was reading aloud a school report on his on frontal lobotomy. But web-slinging around the open world was amazingly fun, fast, flowing, ffffintuitive, and the combat was... actually pretty shitty. But that didn't matter because the missions... well, the missions were crap as well. In fact, come to think of it, the web-slinging was the only part I liked. But I liked it so much that I used to speed through the story as fast as possible just to open up the world and spend hours swinging around buildings, doing races, collecting exploration tokens, and purposefully ignoring the people's cries for help. So ever since then, I've tried to keep an eye on Spider-Man as a gaming franchise.
The Marvel universe oozes from every pore of Web of Shadows, like nerdy, contrived toothpaste, and it would be hard to explain the plot to someone who doesn't know the first thing about what I would laughingly call "the history." There's this black alien goo that turns people evil, unless it's the one from the Spider-Man 3 movie, in which case it just turns them into Jarvis Cocker. Anyway, Spider-Man used to own it when he was going through his black metal phase, but when he started listening to Europop it hopped off onto some other guy. Only, in this game it hops back onto Spider-Man, only now it duplicates itself and creates lots more symbiotes, and already we've raised more questions than we've answered. So at this point the games yells: "Fuck it! Let's just have a great, big nerd-off; if people want explanations, that's what Wikipedia's for." Then Wolverine shows up. And I swear this is true: he quizzes you on Spider-Man comic book trivia! That's pretty embarrassing, but not as much as the fact that I got most of the questions right.
Gameplay consists mainly of beating people up, beating bigger people up, following people until they can stop long enough to let you beat them up, protecting people by beating up the people who were trying to beat them up, and some quick-time events. So the game builds itself around the combat, which is a shame, because the combat is top-heavy and insecure, and it wobbles when you lean on it. Oh, it's vary varied, with a great deal of moves you can buy for both the red and black suits, but once you learn the web-strike it's like owning a giant Swiss army knife with five hundred different little blades and one that folds out into a minigun. There's literally no reason to use anything else; I beat every single boss fight by continually web-striking back and forth like an aggressive yo-yo in stripey jim-jams.
Eventually, I ended up avoiding every optional combat mission - after all, when you come across fifteen muggings on your way home through the New York warzone, it's hard to feel like you're making any kind of impact on crime - and stuck to my beloved web-slinging high above the streets. It's fun as always, even if the frame rate chugs a bit when large sections of the city start bumfucking the processor, but once you're up there there's nothing to do but dick around on people's roof gardens and make up pictures in the clouds.
You see, what I liked about Spider-Man 2 was that it treated the web-slinging aspect like an extreme sports game in the irresponsible, public-endangering mold of Skate 2 or Burnout: Paradise, with a host of racing side-missions and stunt challenges to make the most of a unique and entertaining movement system. In Web of Shadows it only exists to connect one fist fight with another, because Spider-Man's too much of a pussy to steal cars.
Incidentally, that reminds me: I know Spider-Man's flaws and humanity are central to his character - great responsibility, Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, clone saga, derpy derpy doo - but I'm sure there's a way to bring that across without making him a whiny little bitch! I don't know who they got to do the voice, but he badly needs to make his balls drop - with pliers, if necessary. Whenever a moral choice came up, I tended to go for the evil one, because it would make him speak in what he probably thinks is a throaty Dirty Harry voice, which was at least slightly bearable to listen to.
The moral choice thing is a tie-in to the whole red and black suit dichotomy bollocks, but its only real purpose is to force us to play the game twice to see both the endings. Oh, and it changes what Marvel comics characters we can call upon to assist us in combat. But as much as the writers would try to convince us otherwise, Spider-Man should not need a friendly hand to hold while kicking arse, and I never needed the help anyway. Which makes it curious that it's trumpeted on the back of the box, along with two other features relating to the combat. And that disappoints me.
Web of Shadows makes the high-speed web-slinging stay in mopping the floors while the combat goes out to beat up faggots. And combats are never going to be unique again: fists; chains; ropes with spikes on the end; guns; swords; guns that are also swords; these are all roads well-traveled. If I want to hurt people, I'll play God of War or prowl the homeless shelters with a knife and garrote wire. But if I want to swing around on webs very fast, I'll play Spider-Man!.
The lesson here, kids, is that we all have something about us that makes us special - unless we're 99% of the Earth's population. But the rest of us have to stand up and let our specialness shine through - then go back to serving coffee to shouty people who look like they smuggle tripe for a living.
- When did purple become interchangeable with black: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- The in-game advertising in WoS is currently showing billboards for Watchmen, which strikes me as a conflict of interest somewhat
- Feel free to debate whether I'm technically chaotic neutral or not