by Jon Quixote
a.k.a. What If…? The Video Game.
“With great power comes great responsibility. But I didn’t know what power was..”
In 20 words or less: Playable mechanics plus a dark, interesting storyline help overcome this game's many other flaws. Many, many, many other flaws. (19)
Spider-Man video games have come a long way since they had us moving a blocky red wall-crawler up a yellow building to get at a blocky Green Goblin.
At least, they’ve come a long way graphically. That Atari 2600 entry’s legacy of repetition and annoyance lives on. From cheap blocky caveman video games to cheap movie tie-ins, when I pick up a Spider-Man video game I’m usually pretty certain of one thing – it’ll be cool for about 15 minutes, and then I’ll either get frustrated or bored. When the best entry in your franchise was back on the Sega Genesis, your franchise is nothing to write to mom about.
Web of Shadows therefore has a pretty low bar to clear to hit “average” status. It clears it, but its ass gives it a bump. This is a problematic game that falls into the same boring and repetitive action trap that characterize its recent predecessors. However, Shaba Games and Activision have managed to come up with a control system that really makes you feel like Spider-Man in motion without sacrificing knowledge of what the hell is going on. And the storyline is different and compelling enough that I was willing to slog through a number of “find bad guys, punch bad guys” missions just to find out what happens next, and what moral grey areas I could take my Spidey into.
The storyline behind Web of Shadows is 60% Spider-Man and 40% 28 Days Later. Venom has returned, New York is being invaded by symbiotes, the citizens are being transformed, and panic and chaos rule the day. Spider-Man is one of the infected, but because of his previous history with the black-suit, he’s able to control its influence and use its powers to fight the invasion. And throughout the game, with the touch of a button, you're able to switch between the symbiote and the classic red and blues in order to take advantage of different powers and techniques.
The cool conceit behind Web of Shadows is that exactly how well Spidey is able to control its influence is up to you. At regular story intervals, you’re able to choose one of two paths: the light or the dark. This is where the “What If…?” comes into play. Spider-Man can go to some pretty dark places here – alternate universe dark. The game doesn’t really hold back, and takes some creative chances that you don’t usually see in a family-friendly franchise video game.
I’ve played Web of Shadows once through now, consciously picking the dark option at just about every interval. And Spider-Man and I collaborated on some messed-up stuff. Let’s just say that MJ is going to need major counseling, I’m officially off Wolverine’s Christmas card list, and Venom? Let’s just say that when the brain-eating monster trying to destroy the city gets taken out by our hero, my predominant thought was “Wow Spidey, that was a real dick move.”
If you think Wolverine's grotesque now, wait 'til Dark Spidey gets through with him.
The “choose your path” feature is all the rage in video games, and I found it effective here, probably because I already had such a knowledge and affinity for the characters. Choosing to save a little zombie child or to harvest her for her powers isn’t really much of a choice – she’s just some creepy kid designed with that choice in mind. But choosing to blow off Mary Jane to shack up with the Black Cat is (Well, not for me. I’ve always had a thing for platinum blondes; thank you, Mark Holmes). The result was that I was very willing to slog through 20-30 minutes of “jump punch punch punch jump punch punch punch” to get to the next “choice.”
Some of the boss battles are also pretty creative, as far as these things go. Again, the developers make good use of the Spidey-universe. For example, when I was protecting a church from symbiote attack, I was reminded to make good use of the bell in the tower (at least, as long as I wasn’t in my black suit at the time.) And battles against Electro, the Vulture and Wolverine all felt distinct and “in character.”
Unfortunately, the repetition crept into there too. The first fight against the Vulture was a blast. The second fight against Symbiote-Vulture reeked of “this again?” Ditto Electro. Ditto Wolverine (except that Symbiote-Wolverine was pretty cool).
And while the game play managed to play into Spidey’s speed and agility without making me feel like I was just mashing buttons without knowing what was going on until the dust settled, it also could have been better. The idiotic camera A.I. almost sunk the game and meant that I avoided using walls and buildings in my battles whenever I could. And maybe it was just me, but I couldn’t figure out how to use my “allies” in battle. Not that I needed them – another knock on Web of Shadows is that it’s pretty easy. Or maybe I’m just awesome.
So for the most part, Web of Shadows doesn’t fix the problems that have plagued Spider-Man games since the first movie tie-in hit shelves. The simplified, intuitive controls help, but it’s still marked by repetitive, tiring gameplay.
But Web of Shadows pays enough attention to the characters and the plot, and take enough chances with those two things, that it makes the mediocre mechanics tolerable. The bottom line is that this is a playable game that does a pretty good job of putting Spidey in my hands, and once that novelty wore off, the storyline was imaginative enough to keep me playing through ‘til the end.
Grade: B. Rent It. It's no classic, but it delivers a decent and different Spider-Man fix.
by Jon Quixote