Saturday, November 14, 2009

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (video game)

Platform: X-Box 360
Also On: PS3, Wii, PS2, Nintendo DS
Developers: Treyarch
Genre: Action, Adventure
ESRB Rating: T
Release Date: October 21, 2008

"This game needed more time in the oven."

That's what runs through your mind less than thirty minutes into playing this game. The ingredients for success are there. The good parts may outweigh the bad. But the details drag what could have been a great experience into mediocrity. It just doesn't feel done.

This isn't to say the game is a total wash.

The story is one of the positive elements. During a fight with Venom, a piece of the symbiote breaks off and bonds with Spider-Man, giving him back the symbiote suit he wore a long time ago. From there, things go to hell pretty quick, with symbiotes taking over the city one citizen at a time. Before the end, Spider-Man will do battle high above the broken metropolis aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier make a choice; save the city from the symbiotes or embrace them and take over.

While this game embraces the symbiote tropes of Spider-Mans past, it doesn't mean that's is all you're going to deal with. Through the course of the game, you'll meet - and fight - stalwart Spidey characters such as Black Cat, Vulture, Electro and of course Venom. Also on tap are some heroes such as fellow New Avengers Luke Cage and Wolverine, whom add some legitimacy to the games setting. Even Mary Jane plays a role in the game; to my dismay, as she's as annoying as ever.

This game plays rather fast and loose with actual comic continuity; it doesn't take place in any specific part, but references things such as Daredevil declining membership into the New Avengers and Spidey's team up with Wolverine to track Ned Leeds killer with seeming glee. It helps the game feel tied in some ways to Spidey's comic roots without ever confining the game within it.

The sound suffers. The script is perfectly fine - Spider-Man has his usual amusing remarks, banter is plentiful and no one feels out of character - but the voice acting absolutely ruins it. The side characters are fine in this regard - and more Steve Blum as Wolverine is always a good thing - but Mary Jane and Spider-Man are so annoyingly miscast that it all but slaps you in the face every time either speak. Mary Janes dialogue is made even worse by the way some lines are delivered. Then there's Spider-Man, who sounds like a pre-pubescent teen who hasn't even made it into high school yet, much less a grown man. When even the wittiest lines make you cringe because of the awful voice casting, you know there's a problem. The music is alright, though, if unremarkable.

Control is arguably the most improved. Spider-Man 2 pretty much invented the control style that the subsequent games have used. This game takes it further. You can now fight in three different ways; in the air, on the walls and on the ground, each with their own combo's. On top of that, the suit switching mechanic - used by pressing in an analog stick - changes the fighting styles of all three entirely. Swinging is also much simpler than it was in Spider-Man 2; a welcome addition.

But for all the game manages to get right, there are several problems that stick out. This is one of the glitchiest games that I've seen in recent years. Late in the game, enemies and optional mission objectives will outright disappear from the game and your minimap without warning, even if you're right in the middle of a fight with said enemies. By the time the Vulturelings show up, the game is prone to crashing outright. It's absolutely ridiculous to the point where you wonder if the game was ever even beta-tested, as these issues are right in plain sight.

On top of that, the graphical glitches are just sad. If you pan the camera up while swinging, you'll notice that a lot of the time the webs aren't even attached to the buildings; also returning is the lovely Pre-Spidey 2 "webs seem to connect with the clouds" annoyance, which I thought we were done with. Clipping can run rampant and you might even be hit by some slowdown. On top of that, the awful draw distance is inexcusable in this day and age; things will pop out of absolutely nowhere from a few hundred feet out and the textures will drop out if you go too fast, leaving the game to draw it in after a few seconds. If you're going too fast while swinging through the city? The game will hang - everything literally just stops in midair - while while it desperately attempts to catch up.

To add insult to injury, the camera is a mess. Trying to wrangle it once you start running up walls is an exercise in frustration. Sometimes it will even lock during or after you finish running on a wall, with the slightest twitch sending the camera flying to the extreme up or down. This can be remedied by pressing in the right stick to center the camera, but it's still an annoyance that can will get you killed at least once.

Even worse, one of the games key features - the "choose your path" feature allowing you to make good or bad choices - is rather limited. The story is short to the point where there are only around eight or nine times in the game where you can make a choice, with one of them being made for you depending on the ratio of good-to-bad choices made. On top of that, it's painfully obvious the developers meant for you to play as a good guy regardless of the illusion of choice; they didn't even bother to change all of the dialogue for the black suit path, leaving Spider-Mans voice constantly switching between the high "good guy" and low "bad guy" pitch. Then there's the endings. There are four of them - and you're technically supposed to be able to choose the love interest you want - but only one of them will see you with Black Cat. That's the evil one, by the way. The hero ending where you choose Cat has Spider-Man by himself with Cat nowhere in sight, much less even mentioned. Thanks Treyarch; if you're not truly devoted to allowing the player choices then why even bother?

I wanted to like this game a lot. Really, I did. There's plenty to like about the game. But the glitches and issues it has take a crap all over the parts of the game that make it worth it. It's still worth playing, but unless you get it at a discount or used it's probably not worth owning. This one's definitely rental territory.

My Opinion: Try It