Monday, November 3, 2008

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows Reviews

Sorry for the lack of posts lately; there really hasn't been much going on for me aside from Castlevania, which I did finish but I'm too lazy to review, as my early impressions are pretty much spot on. Expect some impressions posts soon, though, as I've got Far Cry 2, Fallout 3, and Dead Space to check out over the next week or so, and I might even sneak in a Lego Batman review.

But for now, I'm going to talk about Spider-Man: Web of Shadows.

Now, I've played all the modern console Spideys of late. Aside from some stupid sneaking missions, I liked Spider-Man (the one based on the first movie). Spider-Man 2 was okay, although I didn't seem to like it as much as everyone else did at the time. I thought the controls were kinda shoddy, and I never got farther than the Mysterio fight where you had to swing out to the Statue of Liberty. I loved Ultimate Spider-Man, although in retrospect the game was mostly do a race, fight a boss, chase a boss, fight that boss, then chase a new one, etc. It was also ridiculously hard for a game that was supposed to appeal to the E10+ crowd. As for Spider-Man 3, I picked it up on clearance, wasn't thrilled with it, and sold it for more than I paid without fighting a single boss. Finally, there was Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, which I didn't play, but it kinda looked like Marvel Ultimate Alliance lite, so I did pick up the PC version at a used book store dirt cheap. I'll get around to it. I even played the Spider-Man game loosely based on the 90's animated series for the Dreamcast, which I liked.

Now, in an effort for Activision/Treyarch to keep milking the Spider-Man license when there isn't a new movie to tie-in, we get Web of Shadows. And right off the bat, I'm intrigued. I mean, the best Spidey previously was the one that wasn't a movie tie-in. Venom seemed to play a major role, and while some people seem to hate him, he was actually my sole reason for reading Spider-Man comics back in the day. The symbiote invasion plot's a little overdone (see the PSX/DC Spider-Man game, or the Planet of the Symbiotes storyline in the comics), but Cloverfield-esque commercial with the symbiote on the Statue of Liberty got my attention. So, I wanted to give it a go, but not a $60 Xbox 360 or PS3 go. I went with the PC version at half the price (further convincing me that charging more for 360/PS3 games is less about recovering rising development costs and more about milking the consumers for "next-gen"). And what I found is something of a mixed bag.

First the good stuff. Combat's been tweaked from other Spider-Man games. Although it does get a bit repetitive, for the most part it's a very good thing. Combat is fast, fluid, and for the first time really captures the acrobatic nature for Spidey's fighting style. In fact, one move you'll use A LOT is a move where, once airborne, you fire a web at an enemy and use it to launch yourself at him, flipping around and kicking him into the air, where you can either juggle him by doing it again, or use the move to go after his buddies. You do have to be on your toes, though, since improper timing will result in Spidey landing dumbly in front of the guy, or worse, a stronger foe may counter the move.

Another thing I really like so far is the flow of the game. Previous games, Spider-Man 2 being the worst offender, carved the story up into little nuggets, and before you could play those parts, you had to run around and do a bunch of stupid stuff designed to make use of the open-world sandbox-style gameplay and to artificially lengthen the game. WoS doesn't entirely do away with it, but it makes better use of it in two ways. First, the ones required to advance the story are usually "defeat X amount of Y baddies," which is less of a chore than saving balloons for retarded children over and over because the combat is fun. Second, instead of dividing the story with them, they're part of the story. For example, the early part of the game, essentially a tutorial, plays out as Luke Cage teaches Spidey some new moves as they work to put a stop to an upswing in gang violence.

I like that they give you the black costume. And it's not just cosmetic like Ultimate Spider-Man or a tease like Spider-Man 3, either. From the moment you take control of ol' Web Head you can switch back and forth between the costumes. Red Spidey is a little more acrobatic and uses web balls to immobilize foes; Black Spidey hits a little more forcefully, grabs enemies with symbiote tendrils, and throws cars. Depending on whether you play the red and blue hero or crush enemies with cars (that have passengers in them when you throw them) in black, some dialog changes in the game. At some points, you'll even get a direct choice in cut scenes to play the boyscout or give in to the symbiote.

But mostly, I liked the story. The movie games sort of got away with the disjointed flow because people playing the games were likely to have seen the movies. And if you saw the movie, you knew the story. Sure, maybe they added some mission where you got to fight a boss like Shocker that wasn't in the movie, but it didn't change the fact that the plot of the game was a movie. Web of Shadows, on the other hand, not only makes all the missions part of the story, it ties them into Spider-Man story more epic and enjoyable than the junk they've been pushing in the actual comic books. Spider-Man nerds (like me) will probably find some issues with the plot that don't quite make sense (for no reason apparent reason, Venom starts spawning a butt-ton of new symbiotes and decides to take over the world?), but if you skip the nitpicking and enjoy the ride, you've got a story that starts with sheer chaos, cuts to four days earlier and the relative calm of a gang war, and slowly descends into the chaos you're teased with. Along the way, you'll run into such characters as Luke Cage, the Black Cat, Wolverine, the Kingpin, the Rhino, the Vulture, and many more. And as I mentioned earlier, at points during the game, you're given a choice to make. You can either play the hero, or give in to the black costume. While the difference in choices don't seem to affect the missions (I went all black costume), they make subtle differences in the story and lead to some pretty awesome cutscenes (it's worth it to go black).

Boss fights, by the way, are mostly memorable. The most basic fights might be a simple pummeling, but usually with a memorable character. Fights with more, shall we say, lame characters have something else going for them. For example, the entire battle with the Vulture is fought mid-air, and you keep your altitude by web slinging off the goons that fight along with him.

It's not all rainbows and roses, though. As I mentioned before, the combat can get a little repetitive. By the end of the game, you're pretty much ready for it to be over. The mini-map isn't always clear about where you need to go. The target lock doesn't quite work the way it should. The camera, as always, it a little goofy. The voice actor who plays Peter Parker is horrible. Plus, the PC version seems to have it's own stupid quirks (apparently from being a shoddy Xbox 360 port). For one thing, the only gamepad that seems to work with the game is the Xbox 360 controller. Another controller I have that is almost identical in terms of button layout did absolutely nothing. Also, the video does this strange stuttering and the framerate drops for no discernible reason, especially during cutscenes. Aside from changing the resolution or toggling V-sync, there are no video options to play with either... not that it matters. I've got a 3.0GHz Core 2 Duo (E8400), 3GB of Kingston Hyper-X PC6400 RAM, and an overclocked GeForce 9800GTX+. I might not have a quad-core or a pair of GTX 280s in SLI, but I run Crysis at high settings, so my computer should be able to chew Web of Shadows up without really needing to spin up the cooling fans.

It'd also be nice to have some cool unlockables. Remember that DC/PSX Spider-Man I mentioned earlier? That game had something like nine different unlockable costumes. It would have been nice to have had at least Tony Stark Spider-Man suit, or at least a Ben Reilly mode where you alternated between his version of the Spider-Man costume and the Scarlet Spider costume.

All in all, even though it seems to be getting some pretty harsh reviews, I'd say it's the best Spider-Man game to be released since Tobey McGuire donned the tights. It's a solid game with solid missions integrated into an excellent story, with a refined version of the sandbox-style that Spider-Man 2 introduced into the series, with tighter combat mechanics. The best Spider-Man game, though, is still fairly average in an era of excellent action platformers like God of War, and if you didn't like the previous Spider-Man games, there might not be enough in Web of Shadows to change your mind.

Final Score: B-

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