Doing what a spider can.
I was really getting into a patrol late one night, swinging across the skyline from Stark Tower to Harlem and back. I was getting stronger by the minute but I was too greedy. My overindulgence consumed me, and I literally went blind. For the first time, I wondered if I needed to abandon the heroics and stop being Spiderman.
[image1]Sadly, your friendly neighborhood game reviewer was not struggling with alien superpowers – no, this was me playing Spiderman: Web of Shadows for ten straight hours, until I had a nasty migraine headache from staring at the TV. Kids, take breaks!
I took a day off but couldn’t stop thinking about swinging from rooftops or punching out bad guys. Or Black Cat’s outfit! I can thank (or blame) Activision for Web of Shadows, a Spiderman experience that packs enough art, storytelling, and gameplay for light comic book fare. This Spidey is leaner, meaner, and smarter than we’ve seen in a while.
Web of Shadows takes place over a single day, a full day that starts by cleaning up street gangs and creeps toward open warfare on the blasted city. The traditional open-world format is back: Spidey can go anywhere until you decide to complete key story missions. Some flabby series staples like frustrating city races are absent from Web of Shadows; action is the name of this game, and the tone is serious without descending into a dry gloom.
Web of Shadows takes a few pages from its brawler brethren like God of War, with wide, sweeping attacks arranged in a dozen flashy combos. There are lots of subtleties to discover, with Spidey riding enemies like surfboards, sprouting deadly blades, and bouncing from enemy to enemy indefinitely. Best of all, the clunky old Zelda-style lock-on combat is gone. Most of Spiderman’s attacks hit everybody at once, greatly improving the pace and ease of playing this game over previous Spider-Man outings.
[image2]A few creative missions go beyond what has been done in a Spider-Man game before; there are rescue convoys to lead and fighter jets to direct, to name a few. You also have to appreciate the insane number of collectible coins around Manhattan, around two or three thousand hand-placed (mouse-placed?) coins… there’s a collectible on almost every other rooftop, and every path across the city follows a different string of collectibles into new territory.
There’s also an appreciative effort to develop characters into more than just bosses or signposts, and even Spidey struggles along moral lines. Favorite characters like Rhino and Wolverine do double duty as enemies and A.I.-controlled allies, and Good/Evil decision points let you decide whether Spidey treats his super-friends like a boy scout or a bastard. Web of Shadow’s dialogue won’t win any Eisner awards, but the story stands out for its smart use of recurring characters and its attempt to take a superhero narrative beyond “I’VE BEEN WRONGED, NOW I HIT THE NAMELESS MASSES!!!"
Web of Shadows looks great in terms of character animation and special effects. Spidey looks perfect swinging around and switching between red and black suits. Most of the star heroes have been given a spot-on treatment. Though some cosume designes are a little flat and boring, others sparkle with cool details. Manhattan also dresses to impress, transforming dramatically as the game progresses. Spidey’s FX-heavy fighting style has way more visual pop than plain-old FX-less punches, and the menus keep it classy including a very good try at a 3D topographical minimap.
However, I can’t really tell what the sound is trying to do in Web of Shadows. The music keeps changing as I swing around, but I don’t know what event it’s directing me toward. Regular beeps and bloops rattle off as if something is about to happen, but sometimes nothing happens. Also, Spider-Man is deathly silent during open-world play to the point that I actually missed his banter between missions. Once the voices do kick in, and you adjust to the Peter Parker voice, the voice acting is strong and suitable for every character.
[image3]While I remained hooked for most of the game, the interest wore down a little as I tried to collect all the upgrades and achievements. Web of Shadows leans a little too heavily on repetitive missions for “extended gameplay”. But even after the grind, I’ll look forward to playing it again with different Good/Evil choices, and even without the detours, there is plenty to enjoy.
In fact, Web of Shadows looks and feels so good that it’s hard to believe all the weird little oversights, as if a great deal of testing, fixing, and design fell off the back of the truck. Some civilian hostages are simply invisible, while some enemies disappear the moment they go off camera – you turn around punching and they’re gone! The good/bad alignment bar is also just one of the cute ideas that is terribly unbalanced, having no effect on gameplay… it’s nice fluff but a little disappointing.
Strangely enough, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows’ controls and content are such an improvement over past Spider-Man games that I still recommend this in spite of frequent glitching. The moment-to-moment activity of open-world Spider-Man is finally clean, smooth, and fun.