Spider-Man has faced off against many a foe in his long and storied career, but none quite as sinister as the last two video games based on his adventures. After two excellent video game outings, the movie-based Spider-Man 3 was a bug-filled mess rushed to release, and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe grounded our favourite hero in favour of action of a more kid-friendly kind.
Now Activision, aided by developers Treyarch and Shaba, seek to rescue Spidey from bad video game hell with the release of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, a decidedly darker take on the classic tale of irradiated spider-infected man versus evil alien symbiote. Will they save the day, or is it too late for the webbed wonder?
Spider Combat: The innovative combat system was a big focus of Web of Shadows, and it shows. This is probably the closest any game has gotten to capturing the essence of the ol' webhead in battle. While you could simply use the same attacks over and over again to beat the game, experimenting with different combinations and unlocked moves greatly enhances the experience. This is the first Spider-Man game where I've actively sought out aerial battles - that's how much they've nailed it.
The Choice Is Yours: The battle between Peter Parker and the alien symbiote inside him plays out nicely through a series of choices that effect how the game plays out. Using the black suit as an excuse to explore the darker decisions Spider-Man could make is an intriguing mechanic. Being able to finally choose the Black Cat over Mary Jane gave me happy little comic fan chills.
Fan Service: It's quite obvious that Spider-Man: Web of Shadows was lovingly crafted by fans of Marvel comics. It shines through not only in the dialog between characters, but in actual gameplay. One boss battle has the enemy you are fighting stopping throughout the battle to ask you trivia questions, trying to ascertain if you are the real Spider-Man. Bonus points awarded for Spidey calling out Luke Cage on his 70's tiara.
Epic Boss Battles: While the meat of the game is spent completing missions (see below), there are several extremely entertaining boss fights to be had in WoS. With one exception, most fights offer something beyond simply beating your enemy into submission, be it conditions to meet, civilians to protect while the battle rages, or the aforementioned trivia challenge.
Mission, Rinse, Repeat: The vast majority of missions in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows fall into the standard "defeat X number of Y" format. While there are some protect and escort missions, for the most part it's all about beating up a large amount of foes, and once you're done, optional missions open up requiring you defeat even more. The combat is highly enjoyable, but not so enjoyable I want to spend all day pointlessly doing it.
Camera Sense Disorienting: One of the major issues I ran into as I played the game involved the camera. Running up buildings would often lock my camera in a position where the action was obscured, and trying to reposition it would simply move it about wildly until I managed to reset the damn thing. I got used to it as I played, but I shouldn't have had to.
Hello, Extras?: One constant in the 3D Spider-Man titles from Activision has been the sheer number of unlockables, from comic book pages to alternate costumes to concept art. You'll find none of these in Web of Shadows. There are collectibles, but they are more akin to the agility pickups in Crackdown than anything really interesting.
Blackbolt Sounds Less Painful: With such big names on the voice cast for the game, it boggles the mind how a relative unknown got cast in the titular role. When players begin yearning for Tobey McGuire, you know you've made a mistake casting Spider-Man. He comes off like a totally unlikeable, obnoxious, whiny little punk. Pretty sure we were supposed to like our main characters.
Swinging From What Now?: Ah, so we've regressed back to the early days of Spider-Man, when his web line can attach to the very clouds themselves. Developers may call it a design decision. I call it a crutch.
I just cannot fathom why developers find it so hard to make a good Spider-Man title these days. They were really on to something with the first Spider-Man movie title, did an amazing job with Spider-Man 2, and since then they seem to have forgotten what made those two titles great. Treyarch and Shaba have accomplished something amazing with the combat system for Web of Shadows, but by focusing so much on that one aspect they seemed to have omitted a great deal of what made the previous titles fun. It's almost as if there is just half of a game here, just waiting to be filled in with more Spider-Man goodness.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is an interesting exploration of Spider-Man's darker side for fans of the comic books, but less fanatical gamers might want to spin their web somewhere else.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows was developed by Treyarch and Shaba Games, published by Activision. Released on Oct. 21 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii & PC. Retails for $59.99 on PS3 and 360, $49.99 on Wii, and $29.99 on PC. Alternative versions available on PSP and DS. Reviewed on Xbox 360. Completed game.
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