Developer: Shaba Games
Release Date: October 21, 2008
For whatever reason, Spider-Man is one of those lucky superheroes who get good video games. From the days of the Sega Genesis to the excellent Spider-Man 2 on the last generation of consoles, he's been at the top of the "game." Unfortunately, his last two outings have been less than stellar. Spider-Man 3 was a disappointment and left most gamers wishing that they had held onto their copies of Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe couldn't even live up to the low expectations set by Spider-Man 3. Thankfully, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is a return to form and is one of the most enjoyable superhero games since … well, Spider-Man 2.
Web of Shadows takes place in one of Marvel's many parallel universes that is much like the primary "616" Marvel Universe, but where Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson haven't sold their marriage to a demon, Eddie Brock is still Venom, and Peter Parker's identity does not appear to be any sort of secret. During one of Spider-Man's routine fights with Venom, something rather odd occurs. The Venom Symbiote sheds part of itself, and the new symbiote combines with Spider-Man to give him the Black Suit. Venom doesn't stop there, and before long, the symbiote has multiplied hundreds of thousands of times, infecting most of New York City and forcing the city's heroes and villains to band together to free the city, rallying around Spider-Man. However, Spidey has his own problems as he is forced to wrestle with the corrupting influence of the Black Suit, which tries to turn him away from the path of heroism.
Web of Shadows' plot is honestly a paper-thin excuse to have Spider-Man beating up bad guys. Most of the story line makes no sense whatsoever, and no excuse is provided for most of the events that occur. The big plot twist is the ability to make Black or Red choices in the gameplay. Red choices are classic Spider-Man stuff, such a rescuing people, helping villains who are in danger, and generally being a superhero. Black choices are selfish and violent, causing Spider-Man to cheat on Mary-Jane with the Black Cat or to tear a symbiote-possessed Wolverine in half like a phone book. The choices you make eventually lead you to one of four endings, two Red and two Black.
In addition, how you play the game influences your alignment meter, which skews either toward Red or Black. Use the Red Suit, be heroic and save civilians and you'll earn Red points. Use the Black Suit, cause a lot of property damage and allow innocents to come to harm, and you'll earn Black points. While it's an interesting idea, the Red/Black dynamic doesn't really work. The Black choices just feel out of character but not necessarily feel like a corrupted Spider-Man. If it had been better developed, these choices could have been more interesting, but when combined with the incoherent plot, they end up feeling like an excuse to have Spider-Man act like a violent jerk.
The controls for Web of Shadows are really easy to learn. Your character's basic abilities are all bound to the face buttons: X attacks, A jumps, Y performs a Web-Strike and B uses either the Web or the Tendril, depending on which suit you're using. Holding the left bumper allows you to perform a supermove by using the X, Y or B buttons, which is a super version of the respective button's ability. The right trigger is used to swing with your web, or you can tap it to use a Web Zip for a quick boost of forward momentum. Holding the left trigger activates your Spider-Sense, which highlights all nearby characters and lets you lock onto enemies, and holding the right bumper allows you to block. The only real problem with the controls comes from trying to activate wall-crawling. Unlike other Spider-Man titles, wall-crawling is only semi-automatic, so trying to get Spider-Man to latch onto a wall automatically is a crapshoot, and it rarely works when you need it to. Instead, you either press the left bumper when you're near a wall to run up it, or the right bumper to grip it with all four limbs. It never quite feels natural, and even experienced gamers will probably run Spider-Man face-first into a few walls, expecting him to latch on.
Venom's infection has given Spider-Man the ability to switch between his iconic red and blue clothes and the Black Suit at will. The Red Suit, Spider-Man's basic outfit, is all about agility. When using it, he's fast and super-agile, foregoing single powerful attacks for rapid flurries of weaker punches. He can use his web-shooters to weaken and stun enemies, and is incapable of injuring innocents or doing severe property damage. The Black Suit is the polar opposite of the Red Suit in that it's built around pure strength and power instead of speed and agility. Its basic attacks are all slow, but they hit like a speeding truck. Black Suit Spidey can throw cars, and he foregoes his web-shooting ability in favor of a tendril attack, which allows him to grab enemies from afar and bring them close for a painful beatdown, or even to shove the tendril into an enemy's mouth and cause him to explode from within. The downside to the Black Suit is that it is a bit slower and causes property damage. Using the Black Suit can seriously tear up your environments, and the more damage you do to the city, the more Black points you gain. This isn't really a concern if you're trying to play a Black Suit game, but if you're trying to be a heroic version of Spider-Man, you're going to have to be very careful when and where you use your suit. I found the property damage risk so great that I just kept Spider-Man in his regular duds at all times, unless I needed the Black Suit for a certain mission objective.
The Web-Strike is the iconic gimmick of the Web of Shadows combat system, and the one you'll be using the most. By pressing Y near an enemy, Spider-Man will shoot a web, rapidly propelling himself toward the enemy. Press Y, B or X as you're just about to make contact with the enemy, and you'll unleash a powerful attack on that foe. You can unleash multiple Web-Strikes in a row, leaping from enemy to enemy without actually touching the ground or stopping.
Success is a matter of timing. Press the attack button too early or too late, and you'll be countered by the enemy doing nasty damage to you instead. Some enemies will even auto-counter your Web-Strike. The interesting thing about this is that unlike the annoying auto-counters in Spider-Man 3, Web of Shadows gives you a few ways past this. One is to web up the enemy because tying them up will prevent them from auto-countering your attacks. The second is the Overcounter ability. The timing for the Web-Strike attacks is fairly lenient, and if you're close, it will do the attack just fine. However, if you time your Web-Strike perfectly, you'll unleash an Overcounter attack, which does substantially more damage, and, more importantly, can't be countered. Proper use of Overcounter allows you to break through any defense, although those who are uncomfortable with their timing skills can always fall back on the slower but easier web-'em-up method.
New York City is in danger, and for once, Spider-Man isn't alone in defending the city. The Fantastic Four, Iron Man and The Sentry are all out of town, but that doesn't mean Spidey doesn't have a hefty dose of allies available, both heroic and villainous. On the hero side, you've got Luke Cage, Wolverine and the enigmatic Moon Knight, while villains like The Rhino, Vulture and Electro will aid Spider-Man on the dark side. The allies you can summon are determined by your alignment; Red Suit heroes can use the aid of the good guys, while the villains are more likely to come and assist a Black Suit Spider-Man. You summon allies by pressing down on the d-pad, which calls them into action and causes your special bar to slowly drain. You can choose to have them focus on a certain enemy by pressing down again, which drains your bar faster, but also causes them do more damage. You dismiss them by pressing up. To be honest, the allies are neat, but not particularly useful. Luke Cage is great for taking down the Kingpin's mecha early on without resorting to the Black Suit, but most of your allies are just going to sit on the sidelines, since Spider-Man is far more capable of taking out enemies on his own, and no hero, not even Wolverine, can match Spider-Man for pure agility and power. You'll probably end up using Spider-Man's supermoves instead of summoning allies, since they're faster, more effective and easier to focus.
The missions in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows get rather dull after a while. They all basically boil down to the same thing: go to a place, punch a whole lot of enemies, and leave. Sometimes you have to defend civilians from damage or destroy a specific item while punching enemies, but punching enemies is the primary focus of most of your missions. Thankfully, there is just enough variation in mission and enemy design that Web of Shadows doesn't fall into the same trap as Superman Returns, and the combat system is fun enough that you won't mind battling the same kinds of enemies over and over again. Still, it does grow a bit tedious, and the game really could have done with some trimming. There are an annoying number of required missions where the goal is just to beat up a specific number of a specific enemy, which tends to feel more like grinding in an MMORPG instead of a frantic fight against a symbiote invasion.
The area where Web of Shadows really stands out are the boss fights, which are unique, interesting and a heck of a lot of fun. One battle, for example, has you fighting The Vulture and a swarm of his sidekicks in the skies over New York. Since Spidey can't fly, you instead have to rely on his Web-Strike to leap from enemy to enemy, using them as stepping stones to reach The Vulture. Another involves chasing a berserk Electro across the entire city, wearing down his defenses and trying to avoid his ever-increasing electric assaults. Each fight is unique and each fight is fun, and they are the highlight of the game. Getting through the repetitive missions isn't too bad when you have the promise of an interesting boss fight just around the next corner.
Web of Shadows is a pretty good-looking game. The models are a bit simplistic but well-animated, and there are some very impressive visuals during some of the more intense boss fights. However, there are lots of annoying nagging bits that hold back the game. For one, I encountered a lot of slowdown during my gameplay, especially during the latter half of the title, when the symbiote invasion went into full swing. It didn't occur enough to ruin the game, but it was quite aggravating when the frame rate would choke while I was just swinging over the city. There are also a number of minor graphical flaws that stand out, particularly with Spider-Man's web-swinging. Unlike recent games, Spider-Man's webs don't actually attach to a building, but instead to an invisible sky box. This doesn't really look odd if you're using the default camera angle, since the game does only allow you to use webs if an appropriate building is nearby, but if you twist the camera at all, you'll notice that Spider-Man is swinging from mid-air, which looks extremely silly.
Web of Shadows is a bit odd in that every character except Spider-Man is well cast. Most of the voice actors are fairly solid, and while there are a few flubbed lines, they're not enough to ruin the experience. Spider-Man's actor Mike Vaughn, however, just doesn't work. He's trapped somewhere between Tobey Maguire's movie voice and Sean Marquette's overly whiny Ultimate Spider-Man voice. The result is someone who is just annoying and unlikable, and he does not work as Spider-Man at all. You get used to him as the game progresses, but he always sounds a bit off. The audio also features some pretty annoying mixing problems, where the background music will overshadow the voices or voice acting will cut off in mid-sentence, or repeat multiple times in the space of a few seconds.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is one of the better Spider-Man games on the market, and considering that Spider-Man games in general are among the better superhero titles, that is saying something. While it isn't perfect and suffers from a fair bit of repetition, the extremely fun combat and excellent boss battles more than make up for that. The branching story line is something the game could have done without, but it also doesn't harm anything and provides at least a few amusing moments. This isn't a flawless game, but it is a lot of fun. Perhaps the only barrier to prevent it from being a purchase is that it is a bit short; most experienced gamers can finish it in a day or so, and the gameplay isn't varied enough to make it a worthwhile purchase just so you can play around outside of the main plot.
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