It would seem that comic books should make one of the easiest transitions to video game form. However, for the most part many comic book video games seem to either be buggy, boring, or full of issues that many other games manage to get right. As we’ve seen before in games such as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, the titles know what to aim for but often end up missing the mark. Unfortunately, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows really doesn’t get much right, either. While at some points it can offer genuine fun, Spidey’s better off sticking to blockbuster movies or, I don’t know, comic books.
Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’s sweetheart, Mary Jane, is being attacked by the nefarious Venom (Eddie Brock). Spider-Man intervenes, as expected. However, during fight number 728 between the two of them, Venom infects Spider-Man with a particularly nasty symbiote. Finishing the fight rather than stopping to take note of what just happened, Spider-Man’s suit blackens as a result and he continues to grapple with Venom. As the fight ends and Mary Jane is wheeled away on a stretcher with a broken arm, Spider-Man is faced with the fact that he has now been infected by the symbiote that plagues Venom, and that once nearly ruined his life. From there on as he cleans up the city teaming up with other superheroes, it’s known that he will have to make plenty of good or bad decisions. The remainder of the game revolves around taking out several baddies in order to get closer to and vanquish Brock. While doing so, Spider-Man must wrestle with his newfound demons as well as his conscience to do the right thing.
Players are presented with a sprawling city with which to explore and carry out missions in a style similar to games such as Grand Theft Auto; i.e., use the minimap to arrive at a location on the map, talk to someone to trigger a mission, and then complete said mission. The majority of missions available to tackle are simple: complete X amount of villains, perform X amount of combos, locate X, etc. While swinging through the streets, Spider-Man can also locate injured civilians and carry them to the hospital. Each successful mission awards Spidey experience points and upgrade points, so it’s definitely in your favor to complete as many as possible. However, running around the city saving injured men and women, assaulting gang members, and taking out boss characters does get extremely old and quite predictable.
One would assume these types of missions would plague only the beginning of the game, but alas, they are present for the entirety. When Spider-Man is not beating up random baddies in the streets, he’s whooping up on villain bosses or performing a chase mission. This is extremely disappointing, seeing as the city is large enough to accommodate many different types of missions aside from your everyday "kill everyone" directives. This brought down what could have been a much higher-quality Spider-Man title, because we all know the life of a superhero can be much more glamorous than gang battles and saving old people. Thankfully, the boss battles are quite interesting and enjoyable. Taking down Venom for the first time using cars, and meeting Black Cat after chasing her furry behind through the city, are actually engaging experiences. However, since boss sequences are few and far between you’ll have to make do with beating up nondescript criminals and symbiotes in order to progress.
Even though Spider-Man is usually seen being a hero, along the course of the game he will be faced with decisions that will determine what kind of superhero he will ultimately end up as. For instance, super-strong Luke Cage asks the web-slinger to help clean up the city streets from gangs. Do you kill all of the gang members or try to reach a peaceful solution? Depending on your choice, Spider-Man will be awarded "red" or "black" points, representing good or bad, respectively. Similar to the system in Mass Effect and other games before it, the game will tally up how many good or bad decisions you make and reward you with an ending based on how you performed. While this does add a bit of an interesting layer to the game, it’s been done countless times before, and better. It feels as though it was lazily tacked on as a way to encourage gamers to replay the game. There are even achievements that are unobtainable if you make certain decisions, so that you will be forced to replay it a different way if you are a completionist. If there were more instances in the game that actually called for Spidey to have to evaluate his situation, then this aspect of the game would have felt more fleshed-out rather than just a haphazard addition to a mediocre title.
Aside from fighting crime and the occasional boss character, Spider-Man can also attempt to collect all of the red and purple spider bonuses scattered all over the city. It takes little effort to collect them, seeing as they are often in plain view and do not take much skill to obtain. This is another lazy addition, seemingly serving only to prolong what would be an extremely short game otherwise.
Navigating the city is as simple as swinging through the air via the right trigger. It’s easy because you’ll want to do it a lot. Flying through the air feels so incredibly liberating that it’s no problem to ignore the story for a good hour or so while you explore the gorgeous cityscape. This game gets that feeling of slinging right on every level. Spider-Man can perform a myriad of different aerial acrobatics, including wall-running and bounding from building to building. Walking up to a building will prompt him to crawl up its side.
We all know what comes with taking a stroll through the city: bad guys. When faced with villains, Spider-Man can perform a wealth of moves. Tapping X will melee the fire out of those poor saps while Y will perform a web bounce, which is a successful method to chain combos together for more points. The B button will sling sticky shots of web at villains to damage and slow them down a bit.
Fighting feels very smooth and balanced, but the amount of combos Spidey is able to achieve is ridiculous. In the first ten minutes of the game I had unlocked three achievements for simply pressing X and receiving a 100, 150, and 200-hit combo bonus. It lends a bit of hokey feel to combat, though it is fun to press X over and over and watch the baddies scatter. You can also switch between Spider-Man’s trademark red and blue suit or the black symbiote suit at will with a click of the analog stick. However, this makes no real difference other than the fact whichever suit you happen to be using will gain more experience points for an upgrade. Upgrades are your typical action game fare: strength, health, new combos, and all of those lovely additions. Fighting is never really difficult, as villains don’t see fit to block often and enjoy standing in one spot while you pummel them to death.
That’s certainly a good thing, because the camera angles in Web of Shadows are God-awful. While pressing the left trigger will cause Spider-Man to deploy Spider Sense and lock-on to potential threats, using the power is downright detrimental to the gameplay. The camera will randomly swing toward the next "new" enemy even if you are faced with one just inches away. This leads to taking a cavalcade of unnecessary damage because the camera refuses to stay trained on the REAL threat in front of you. Similarly, climbing buildings can be a headache-inducing, dizzying experience due to the fact that the camera wants to point forward no matter which way Spidey is facing. On the off chance you want to go hunting for bonuses, this makes searching a pain since the camera often refuses to cooperate and leaves you wishing you had stuck to swinging through the city rather than stopping to play through the actual game.
As I mentioned earlier, the city is actually quite stunning. A full variety of different skyscrapers, apartment complexes, parks, and even statues abound, ensuring there is never a dearth of ground for Spider-Man to cover. Environments are clean and crisp with no loading times save for between missions and as the game constantly auto-saves when a bit of progress is made. The sky is appropriately ominous during pulse-pounding battles set in a deep shade of crimson, and sunsets/sunrises are gorgeous. It’s obvious a lot of time went into level design, as it shows. However, the voice acting accompanying such luscious graphics is, well, embarrassing at times. While it’s obvious they didn’t get Tobey Maguire on to play the role — even though many fans now associate his voice as Spider-Man’s — the actor that was chosen is painfully awkward and strange. He delivers his lines with the aptitude of a YouTube actor-hopeful. While he does occasionally hammer out the solid one-liner, much of his dialogue comes across whiny and incompetent, both of which we know Spider-Man is not (for the most part). Aside from a mousy performance from Spider-Man’s voice actor and weak lines from several other characters, we have the music in Web of Shadows to thank for scoring battles appropriately and in a manner relevant to the world of Spider-Man we know and love today.
Bottom line? Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is nowhere near perfect. In fact, it could have stood a bit more time in development to fix the atrocious camera angles and uninteresting mission structure. However, with what’s presented, the game is fun in short bursts. It can easily be completed in 10-12 hours or even quicker if you don’t need to be drilled on controls and game mechanics. At its suggested retail price, it’s most definitely not a buy, but hardcore Spider-Man fans will eat it up as it is arguably one of the best entries into the franchise so far. Rent it or borrow it, and give it a chance. Perhaps it’s you who will be able to break nerdy Peter Parker out of his nerdy shell with your superior gaming prowess.