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xx Spider-Man: Web of Shadows review
« Thread started on: Oct 29th, 2008, 5:37pm »

Hey, it's a superhero double-bill! Hot on the heels of Batman's recent brickification comes another in Activision's free-roaming Spidey series, this time without a movie to back it up (which'll probably hurt its sales figures severely, poor thing). So, in the absence of another hilarious tutorial voiceover from Bruce Campbell, what does Web of Shadows have going for it?

Well, the story, for one thing. Freed from the constraints of trying to follow the plot of one of Raimi's chat-driven flicks, the folks at Treyarch - assisted by current Ms. Marvel/Illuminati writer Brian Reed - have gone all 'epic' on us, throwing web-head from simple gang warfare and Kingpin-thwarting into a full-on invasion of those nasty Venom symbiote goo things, leaving New York a post-apocalyptic wasteground, with burned-out cars on every corner, black ooze growing over skyscrapers, and the few remaining citizens hounded by neverending swarms of symbiote freaks. All that stands between the Big Apple and Armageddon is Spider-Man. Oh, and his multitude of guest stars, obviously. I think there's a rule now that you can't have a Spidey game without Wolverine showing up at least once.

Now, let me start off by saying that my review is based solely on my experiences with the game's Wii version. It seems to contain all the content and features of the 'next gen' versions, but I'll admit that I can't be certain about this.

Anyway...the thing all Activision Spidey games have had in common is a free-roaming NYC, and so it remains here; Spidey's free to swing, crawl and zip between buildings to his heart's content all over the island, with no punishment for wasting time that could be better spent foiling evil-doers. This version of the city differs somewhat from the more realistic versions presented in the movie tie-in games, as Treyarch have included such comic-based locales as the Fisk Industries HQ and Stark Tower (with the Sentry's watchtower). You still can't enter any of the buildings, and up close the textures look rather ugly, but there's some small-but-pleasing touches of environmental destruction available, and the sight of the deserted, ruined city later on in the game is genuinely shocking. As you swing around, your mini-map will display the locations of nearby crimes or disturbances in progress. There is, admittedly, less variety than in previous games when it comes to these events; with the exception of some 'high-rise robberies', everything basically boils down to you beating up some goons...

...But that's no bad thing, since the game's fighting system has been given some serious TLC. The basic one-button combos and web-blasts remain the same for grounded combat, but brand new combos can now be used when Spidey's stuck to a wall; handy, since many enemies posess crawling abilities too. On top of that, there's the Web-strike - a new form of attack which makes Spidey leap back, attach a webline to his targeted enemy, then spring right towards them. You then have to press one of several buttons as soon as you connects with the enemy, depending on what attack you wish to perform. The basic 'Spring' attack propels you high into the air, and allows you to chain together another Webstrike; one cool setpiece sees you having to eliminate teams of roof-mounted snipers solely by chaining this technique. Last but not least, after an altercation early in the game, Spidey gets to switch between his regular red-n-blue duds and his black symbiote suit at will. Strangely, this has no negative effect on Spidey's health or anything, but the extra offensive options - particularly the ability to throw cars at people (!) - can be very helpful.

Regular crimes are used as padding between story-based missions, which are typically distributed by a friendly (or not) face from the Marvel Universe. Could be Luke Cage wants you to stop a planned hit on some lowlife gang leader. Could be Black Widow wants to draft you into SHIELD. Could be Moon Knight demanding you serve Khonshu, in a moment which made me squeak with joy. I <3 Moony. These, of course, lead to boss fights - and happily, these are often crackers, taking you right across the city in pursuit of your prey. Best one so far has to be your high-altitude scrap with the Vulture; one mistimed Webstrike and you'll find yourself falling, with no buildings to web yourself to in sight...of course, there are a few disappointments; the confrontation with Venom is mostly restricted to a few tiny square backlots, which makes things a little clumsy, particularly the camera. But that's just a one-off, so I'll forgive it.

Special note here about the music: it's very awesome. I've forgotten the name of the composer, but he did a brilliant job, stringing together big heroic action beats, paranoid-twitch strings for the main menu, and some eery, ominous melodies for the deserted NYC. Additionally, the voiceover cast do a good job with some smartly-written dialogue; the back-and-forth exchanges between Spidey and his fellow super-people had me laughing (especially the "I'm flirting and you're all awkward and that just makes me want you more" snippets that play during the boss fight with Black Cat). The only weak link, oddly enough, is Spider-Man himself. I haven't checked the name of his voice actor, but the guy's comic timing seems a little off, and his 'emotional' voice makes him sound like he's having a nervous breakdown.

There are some other problems, too. For one thing, there's the whole 'good vs. evil' thing; from time to time, the game will ask you to decide between doing the proper super-hero thing at a given moment, or caving in to temptation and being a bit dark instead. This affects a little meter thing on the pause menu, which in turn affects what characters will treat you as an ally, and what ending you get. Problem is, most of the time there's very little tempting you to go with the evil option, and the one time there was...look, just because you fancy sleeping with Black Cat doesn't mean you've gone and turned into Doctor frickin' Doom, surely?! Bah! Also, the Wii controls. On the one hand, they actually work, which is more than could be said about Spider-Man 3. On the other hand, the emphasis on directional flicks, combined with the sensitivity of the controller, means that some mistakes may conspire to screw up your play. Example: a sideways nunchuk flick switches suits (red or black), whilst a downwards flick activates lock-on camera. It's quite common for you to try a lock-on and wind up switching suits accidentally at the same time. It's not game-ruining by any means, but it's slightly irritating. Shouldn't affect other consoles, mind. Oh, and needless to say, if seemingly endless combat isn't your thing, well...this probably isn't gonna be your favourite game.

That being said, I do believe that Web of Shadows is, on the whole, the best Spider-Man game ever made to date. It's not a huge revolution like Spider-Man 2 was, but having taken that basic formula and noticably improved upon it, whilst providing a story that you really want to see through to the end, it has exceeded that earlier pinnacle of arachnid gaming achievement. If there's even a single Marvel bone in your body, this should be webbed to the top of your purchasing list.

Published by: ActiVision
Developed by: Treyarch and SHABA
Players: 1
Formats: Xbox 360, Wii, PS3, PS2, possibly others

Rating: 4/5
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