Guns, swords, girls.
There's always a point at which self-awareness turns into self-defense and Deadpool spends much of its time prancing back and forth over that line. In the comics, the character's penchant for breaking the fourth wall is used strategically to surprise and delight the reader by drawing them into the playfully manic mind of the Merc with the Mouth.
But here, High Moon uses it both as a shield to distract from the game's lack of craftmanship and a cudgel to pound players into submission with a relentless onslaught of stupidity. And yet, for as clumsily as it wields both the source material and the genre conventions it pulls from, Deadpool still manages to be entertaining enough for fans of either to play through.
The setup is as paper-thin as they come: Deadpool wants to be in a video game and so he sends a small nation's worth of explosives to High Moon Studios (har har) to get them to do it. So the entire game is essentially one continuous chain combo of non-sequiters of Deaddy's imagining. As you might expect, that involves lots of explosions, boobs, and all manner of mayhem… basically your typical big budget video game release turned up to 11. It's a good thing Nolan North's voice acting is here to save the day, though, because the writing mostly lacks the clever wit that makes the comics such a treat.
Is Deadpool an egotistical, crass-minded tool? Absolutely, and that is shamelessly on display here, often to a degree that outstrips not only common decency, but even the believable upper limits of what the character is capable of. Dick jokes after impaling a female boss with a steel rod? Set pieces where you get an Achievement/Trophy for creepily hitting on every woman at a bikini party? Whether you find this sort of stuff offensive or not, it's definitely more obvious and less funny than I expect from a character I love so well. This version of Deadpool tries suspiciously hard to be Duke Nukem, and the results often backfire painfully.
…Except when they don't, and at moments, the game channels the off-the-wall zaniness of the character into a perfect expression of the kind of fever-dream silliness that games often forget they are permitted to explore. 3D combat arenas are suddenly transformed into top-down pixel-art dungeons, thought bubbles become platforms, and so forth, making for some genuinely grin-inducing material that you can't feel guilty for enjoying. In the few instances where Deadpool maintains this feel for more than a couple of minutes, it's a much better game for it.
Through out all of this, though, what never wavers is the combat, which fails to reach any dizzying heights but also never quite becomes tedious. It threatens to do so at times, but any boredom gets continually distracted through a purhcase of a new weapon upgrade or the insertion of a one-off gameplay twist. With little notice, you may find yourself in a 2D-platforming section, or a Sentinel foot rail-shooting set-piece, and they always seem to pop up just when monotony begins to creep in.
Deadpool pulls heavily from other hack-'n'-shoot action games, but there's just enough variety in both moves and weaponry to keep it interesting through out. Arkham-style prompted counters, Devil May Cry-esque juggles, and a slew of well-animated special moves are all simple and satisfying to pull off. Enemies come in enough different flavors to make you think at least a little about how to use Deadpool's moveset, but they never provide any real challenge. This is a power-fantasy through and through, just as the titular character would want to imagine it as.
Though the combat rises above the dreck-filled story, the visuals wade in the same shallow end of the pool as the jokes and the writing do. The best thing I can say about the level designs is that I didn't find them offensively bad, but they're so colorless and suffocatingly linear that I forgot about each as soon as I had passed through it. Even with the treasure trove of possibilities offered by the source material and a clear lack of regard for story-telling conventions, this campaign doesn't take you to a single memorable-looking location.
Marvel fans will recognize the names of some of these places, but regardless of where you are, you'll be fighting through office cubicles, sewers, underground tunnels, or some combination thereof. The visual fidelity is just barely on the positive side of mediocre—good enough to not be jarring in any way, but too lacking to make me ever want to stop and look around.
And that's really the running trend of Wade Wilson's solo video game debut. All of it, except the writing, pulls up just early enough to avoid crashing into substandard territory. The combat is the high point and makes the game completely playable for genre die-hards or Deadpool superfans, but nothing else here warrants actual praise. There was a time when just making a solid licensed title was a feat in and of itself, and by those standards, Deadpool would have been considered something of a success. But today, it's just an average action game that succumbs to the classless, risk-averse practices of mainstream game design just as often as it parodies them.