Review: Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a slimy alien ooze that's infected his brain tells him to do.
Spider-Man had a bit of a rocky introduction to the next-generation of systems with Spider-Man 3
in 2007. The game was criticized for being little more than a graphical upgrade of the PS2/Xbox version. The poor reception of the movie it was based on probably didn't help matters either. Last year, free of the movie series (for now), publisher Activision, developer Treyarch and new co-developer Shaba Games went back to the drawing board with Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
and pulled out one of the most impressive Spider-Man games ever.
Like a lot of recent Spider-Man fiction, Web of Shadows is ultimately an internal battle for Spider-Man symbolized by the Symbiotes. In the game, Venom's Symbiote has begun to reproduce and one of the first people it infects is Spider-Man, restoring his black suit powers. But this time it's different and Spider-Man is able to control the black suit, switching between it and his familiar red suit at any time. What follows is a war that spills over into the wider Marvel universe between Venom's new Symbiote army and the heroes (and a couple of villains working for their own self-preservation).
Like the last few Spider-Man games (barring last year's Friend or Foe
), Web of Shadows drops Spider-Man into an open world Manhattan that includes story-driven missions and optional street crime cleanup tasks. And without the more "realistic" movies holding them back, Shaba and Treyarch have filled the game with a variety of comic book setpieces such as SHIELD helicarriers and hovercraft, giant walking mechs piloted by the Kingpin's forces and the Vulture's jetpacked minions.
Also new is a revamped fighting system that is just fantastic. Spidey is fluidly able to go from fighting on the ground to fighting in the air to fighting on a wall and back again. It's particularly impressive when taking on someone like Venom (or a member of his Symbiote army) as using all three fighting styles will make all the difference (and it looks awesome to boot).
While dispatching low level henchmen and gangbangers with this new fighting system is fun, the combat really cranks it up a notch during some of the game's impressive boss fights. Speaking of impressive, the game opens
with a knock down, drag out brawl against Venom where the newly black-suited Spider-Man chucks cars at his evil doppelganger to slow him down. It's probably the most perfect way to open a Spider-Man game. Other fights are equally as awe-inspiring including two matches against Wolverine, a fight against the Black Cat on a rooftop and a second fight with Venom in an alley surrounded by his "children." However, other boss fights are less inspiring. For example, the two fights against Vulture and the final boss battle are visually impressive, but shallow.
In between the epic (and some not-so-epic) boss battles, players will be tasked with completing missions for various superheroes and villains. Who hands out the missions will depend largely on depending on your suit's Red/Black alignment and the choices you make at various points in the game. But the missions are largely the same regardless of who's giving them. These missions range from tedious training sections early in the game with Luke Cage to full blown gang wars to rescuing civilians to leading the forces of SHIELD against the Symbiote army.
For the most part, the missions are fun, although there is clearly some padding going on as Spider-Man is rewarded at the completion of many missions with the message "You completed your mission! Good job! Now do it again!" Repeat missions will become the norm to propel the story forward, especially in the third act. Thankfully, webslinging around the open world city will become second nature very quickly, even for those who have never picked up a Spider-Man game before. So if you need a break from the missions, the game provides it.
All of this webslinging also really shows off the beautiful open world Manhattan that Teryarch/Shaba has created. Skyscrapers, Central Park, the Daily Bugle, Stark Tower, alleyways, bridges, etc, etc, etc. It all looks beautiful. The subtle changes that effect the city as the Symbiote ooze begins to slowly choke the life out of it are pretty remarkable as well. There is the occasional bit of slowdown when traversing a particularly congested part of the city, but it's minor and easily overlooked.
Finally, I can't say enough good things about the great voice acting and the appropriately superheroic score. Every actor put in a great performance (especially Tricia "Battlestar Galactica" Helfer as the Black Cat) and the game's story is all the better because of it.