It seems like a long time since we’ve seen an original Spider-Man game, but in reality, it’s just been a year. When you think of Spider-Man games, the movie-based ones come first to mind, although Friend or Foe released last year, and this fall saw the release of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. Somehow, Web of Shadows seems more original even than Friend or Foe. Maybe it’s the RPG elements. Maybe it’s the new acrobatic gameplay. Heck, maybe it’s just the lack of good voice actors (yes, this game’s are absolutely horrid). Regardless, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is the first original Spider-Man game to release in quite some time that held my sincere interest beyond the first five or six hours of play, even if it does eventually start to feel repetitive.
I’d love to say that the biggest improvement over previous Spider-Man outings is the omission of quick-action sequences, but those stupid things still persist. Seriously, can a non-FPS developer please grow the stones to refuse a publisher’s request to include these annoying “press A now or DIE” button-mashing segments?
Instead, the biggest improvement in the Spider-Man gameplay model is the deft combination of acrobatic combat and role-playing elements. Previous Spidey outings included combo attacks, but in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, the effect of combining attacks has an almost Devil May Cry feel to it, with 100-move combinations that don’t have any meaningful impact on the game but do look cool and unlock some Achievements in the Xbox 360 version. Even in the air, Spidey can string together combos during his open-world adventure, and when players switch on the fly to the Black Suit, the ability to string together combos stays intact, although the combos themselves are somewhat different and reflect the powers of that suit.
This is one point where the RPG elements surface in Web of Shadows. When playing through each mission, players can switch on the fly between the two suits, even in mid-combo, and depending on the number and type of attacks unleashed in each suit, players will build up different point totals (a la XP) for each suit. After the mission is complete, players have the option to spend these points on various suit upgrades (swing speed, longer health bar) and combo enhancements.
All plot-advancing missions are separated by time-eating “eliminate the thugs” missions that serve no purpose other than to build “XP” for the aforementioned suit upgrades. Normally I don’t mind dinking around in an open world like this, but the various classes of thugs are so brainlessly identical that I would’ve liked TreyArch to let me head straight through the plot points. There are several “choose your path” kind of scenarios during the story where you can decide whether you want to act like a good Spidey or a bad (Black Suit) Spidey, and each decision has a subtle impact on the plot. This is another welcome RPG element to an otherwise action-heavy franchise, but forcing players to eliminate countless faceless thugs just to bide their time has the unintended impact of forgetting about the role-playing elements altogether due to the tedium of cleaning the streets. Life must suck as a superhero.
Fortunately, Spidey has a few friends, so even if life blows, at least it isn’t lonely. Almost like an RTS, Spider-Man now has the ability to call in “Heroes” once they’re unlocked via the plot. These Heroes act as powerful sidekicks whom you can activate by pressing the D-pad. They’re only there for a limited time, but if you’re in a bind, they can prove very helpful. The ability to call them in is based on the energy you have in a rechargeable power bar a la a mana or resource bar, which keeps players from relying too heavily on their (inexplicably) more-powerful buddies.
Still, although Web of Shadows has RPG and RTS elements, it’s first and foremost an action game. And that fast, acrobatic action is complemented by a crazy-fast camera. Unfortunately, as has been the case in several earlier Spider-Man games, you often fight with the camera to know which way is up, and because the camera doesn’t respond as quickly as it has in previous games, you actually feel like you’re fighting it more than ever as you try to switch directions in mid-air. Stick to the ground, or play more as the brute-force-prone Black Suit, and you’ll be fine.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is a breath of fresh air in many respects, but needs a good breeze in others. The smooth combination of RPG and acrobatic combat is most welcome, but the developers lengthened the plot by inserting thug-killing filler missions that create some unintentional boredom. The inclusion of Heroes is nice, but it feels like they’re unlocked almost randomly, and they really don’t ever need to be called. The graphics are a nice blend of cel-shaded appearance and real-world character models, but the fast camera is hard to control at times and actually gets in the way of maneuvering through the big, open world. In short, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows feels like a game that takes two steps forward and one and one-half backwards, eventually leading to a game that only Spidey’s most staunch supporters will deem a “must own” title.
- Score: 7
— Jonas Allen