From side-scrolling beat-em ups to cabinet fighters, Peter Parker’s alter-ego has seen his fair share of adventures in video-games. Treyarch and Shaba Games’ Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is the second Spidey game to hit consoles this year. Although it may seem like an attempt to tie in with the latest film, Web of Shadows clearly demonstrates that it is not any sort of licensed product. Instead, the developers explore their own symbiote saga. This return to the comic universe is subtle and doesn’t alienate any of the new-age Wall-Crawler fans; unfortunately, all of the fast-paced action, classic characters and open-world web-slinging can’t save the game from technical issues.
Kicking off about three-quarters of the way through the game’s story, a cutscene sets the stage for what is evidently a New York City in chaos and a Spider-Man who has conceded to the very same alien life-form which created Venom from Eddy Brock. Apparently something is different with the black, alien goo this time around, as it not only takes over Peter Parker, giving him darker and stronger powers, but it also manifests itself in within a slew of the universe’s villains and heroes—and, not to mention, New York City en masse, bustling pedestrians and all.
A lack of backstory or explanation of the symbiote’s take-over make this a Spider-Man game where you essentially have to fill in the gaps—there’s just not very much holding the story together, or explaining much of anything. While it would be completely possible to play through the game ignorant to many of the easter-eggs moments throughout the single-player only experience, those who’ve been long-time fans of comics will get the most from references like Wolverine’s ‘orange suit,’ or Felicia Hardy’s (Black Cat) struggled affection for Peter Parker—then again, not much of it makes sense in the games’ contexts.
Exploring this symbiote dynamic, however, also opens up the game for some really creative opportunities. The experience starts a bit slow with Spider-Man taking out common criminals, helping Luke Cage rid the streets of petty crime, but as you progress through the story, the digital boroughs of New York City open up into a darker metropolis where the symbiote has turned regular pedestrians into zombie-like mini-Venoms, and the city a gloomy hive.
As the goo spreads its influence, it also takes over Spider-Man’s friends and villains. The key mechanic in the game is one where you can switch between his classic red and blues, or his darker black suit. Not only does each costume carry different move-sets with their own strengths, but two storylines are developed based on good (red suit) or evil (black suit) decisions make at key points. Ultimately, depending on how you play the game, your choices influence which heroes or villains will come to your defense as you flail through the urban environment. While the bulk of these decisions fit together pretty well, the experience gets muddled by some convoluted transitions: main characters sometimes appear for no reason, and it feels like you just have to accept it.
Ultimately, the story is a bare-boned one—also a bit on the short side, relative to other open-world titles—that allows for some entertaining fisticuffs with some major Spider-Man characters mutated by the symbiote—not to mention mild-mannered NYC denizens turned evil. The battles themselves aren’t always a show of brute force, but can involve a small amount of ingenuity and timing. Things can get a bit frustrating since these main battles tend to be more difficult than the various, repetitive side-missions scattered throughout the game, but the challenge is welcomed. It is too bad, however, that the buddy system isn’t in play during key battles, especially when there is a horde of minions at your enemies’ disposal.
Fighting in and of itself may not be much more than strategic button mashing, however. Throughout the story, completing various missions, as well as other pithy objectives, awards you with experience points, which you use to upgrade your abilities for both costumes. The action generated by these moves becomes more satisfying and visceral as you gain experience—it’s even possible to string together combos between the different costumes—but what’s amazing-yet-boring is the simplicity in their execution. While the more action-heavy fighting elements are handled solely by timing out taps on the the X-button for different attacks, it’s when these offensive blows are coordinated with special abilities and web-strike moves that things can get exciting, while being ironically repetitive.
Going fist-to-fist on the ground, air and walls is entertaining, however, especially when you string together attacks to stick one enemy to a wall, run up the side of that building, jump off and wrangle the pion into the air with your webbing, and end the whole thing by pummeling the opponent back into the ground in a flash of punches and kicks. Also, it’s possible to attack multiple enemies in succession by tapping the Y-button when you’re in mid-air to hurl yourself from one bad-guy to the next with concurrent web-strikes. The mechanic not only makes for the ability to rack up the hit-count meter, but it allows for dynamic fights like a sky-battle with the Vulture, where not keeping airborne means a long fall to your next Continue.
The fighting in Web of Shadows may be simple, but it has a complex nature—if you get creative. Leveling up Spidey and switching between the costumes yields more intense, lighting-fast moves which never can get old if you overuse a specific combo, but even mundane battles become shows of aerial acrobatics. In terms of the action, Web of Shadows is one of the most satisfying and engaging Spider-Man games to date.
Visually, things are less impressive as the city looks blocky, textures are flat and the draw distance is weak making for an underwhelming New York City; and as for the audio offerings, some out-of-place voice-acting for Spider-Man and Wolverine don’t do much to back up a fairly standard score, which may or may not play, and ‘meh’ sound effects as your batter your opponents. The beauty of these flaws though is that non of them matter when Spider-Man chugs through the air in mid-swing, objectives fail to load, objects constantly pop in, and the game freezes, requiring you to restart your hardware. Such technical issues are an extreme burden on an otherwise moderately-fun action game where the animations are spot on, fighting is engaging, and the character design is a great mix of classic influence and contemporary vision.
When all is said and done, Web of Shadows shows hints of promise for being one of the best Spider-Man games yet—that is, until you factor in the myriad of technical flaws which mar everything past about halfway through the game, or when you try to pay attention to the story. The experience may dip towards some repetition in objectives and things to do, but dynamic battles and engaging action make fighting the same thugs over and over again more satisfying than boring. With a bit more time refining environment textures, clearing up framerates, and creating a narrative, Web of Shadows would have been a solid game; as it is, its a buggy experience you have push your way through.
Let’s hope there’s a next time, and that things are a bit cleaner.
Web-slinging: it never gets old
Comic book universe and dedication
Oh, hell no:
Too…mu…ch…slo…oo…ow…dooooo…wwww….n—the framerate is hideous
Random plot points