Spider-Man Web of Shadows

The chances are that Spider-Man Web of Shadows will have passed many of you by. Released towards the end of 2008, when we were being snowed under with triple-A titles, this is the spiritual sequel to the rather disappointing Spider-Man 3. Delivered on launch day, my copy has been sitting on the shelf unopened for months while I waded my way through Fable 2 and Fallout 3. When I finally fired up the game I received loads of messages asking what it was like. I guess it’s worth doing a review then, even this late in the day…

Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2 provided the template and set the bar that all other Spidey titles are judged by. Players expect to be able to web-swing their way through a virtual New York, right from the tallest skyscraper all the way down to the city streets. And of course Spider-Man must also be able to do whatever a spider can. Spinning webs any size, catching thieves just like… well, you know the rest.

Freed from the shackles of a cinematic tie-in, the developers had the perfect chance to let their imaginations run wild and come up with a great original story. What they’ve produced is interesting but fairly lightweight. Thinly stretched over three chapters the pacing is pretty pedestrian and they could’ve done with including some decent side arcs to pad things out.

The extraterrestrial oil slick, Venom has returned (somehow). This time the alien goo is not satisfied bonding with a single host, it has all of humanity in its sights. Obviously it’s up to our hero, Spider-Man to stop him.
Unfortunately Spidey’s gone and got himself partially re-infected by the symbiote, which has given him back his powerful black suit but has also made him more susceptible to taking part in cringe worthy dance montages (there’s a “I hate the Spider-Man 3 movie” reference for you). Web of Shadows features the usual appearances from Marvel B-listers as well as a few star turns from more well known characters like Wolverine.

The game does away with a lot of the superfluous trappings of previous titles. Gone are the timed races, thrill rides, bomb missions and tricks. Rather than eight billion different sorts of collectables there’s now only one type. It’s easy to see. It improves your health. It’s worth collecting. (There’s still a lot of them, though.)

Web swinging has improved… or rather its gone back to what it used to be like before they went and made it over complicated. Sticking to buildings is a little more difficult that it needs to be, the camera sometimes decides to go wandering off on holiday, but you really shouldn’t have many problems manoeuvring your friendly neighbourhood web-head around the city.

The new combat system works well. There are three different types of attacks; punch, ranged and web strike. You can switch smoothly between aerial, ground and wall moves using your web strikes to chain combos as you go. Whether you take the time to learn all the different attack combinations or just bash buttons randomly, you’ll still find it relatively easy to dispatch most enemies in a visually impressive and varied manner. In tricky situations you can also call upon one of the supporting heroes (or villains) to come to your aid.

A single click on the left thumbstick switches between Spidey’s red and black suits. Each has their own particular powers. The red suit’s attacks tend to be more acrobatic and it allows you to regenerate health quicker. The black suit is physically stronger giving you the ability to pick up and throw cars, but this often causes civilian casualties. There is a powers upgrade system, fuelled by experience points, but unless you favour a particular suit (and enjoy constant micro-management) you might as well just turn the auto-upgrade mode on.

The red and black suit concept is also used in other areas of the game. Your choice of supporting characters is determined by your actions towards civilians. Rescue them to earn “good” red points, let them perish for “evil” black points. Every so often the main storyline presents you with a moral choice where, once again, you have to choose between red and black options. Your decisions don’t really change the overall shape of the narrative but the slight variations may be enough to encourage a second play through.

The missions might well put you off that second play through, though. The main story ones are well designed and are quite fun. Boss battles are generally enjoyable, although the developers do seem to like making you repeat the same set of actions at least twice. It’s the side missions that will bore you to tears.

You see, because there are no extra plot arcs the only other thing to do in the game, to gain experience, are the optional tasks your superhero mentors give you. They present you with an almost endless shopping list, asking you to kill, for example, ten of a certain type of creature, then twenty, then thirty. Or they tell you to go and save five civilians, then ten, then twenty. You get the idea? These missions are virtually the same in each section of the game, just with differently skinned enemies. I was really good in the first two chapters and tried hard to complete all of these missions (there’s an achievement for finishing all sixty tasks after all) but eventually I was bored silly, ignored them and just pushed on with the main storyline.

Almost the entire game takes place outside in the open, but not particularly detailed, recreation of Marvel’s New York City. There are no cramped, confined internal locations like in previous games. This is good in one way, because the series’ web swinging controls have never really worked well indoors, but it does make things a little monotonous, particularly by the time you get to the third and final act. The limited number of different villain types also adds to the overall feeling of déjà vu.

Possibly the worst part of the game, in my humble opinion, is the voice acting. Talent like Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer and The Wire’s Robert Wisdom (in particular) lend a bit of class to the proceedings, but their good work is totally undermined by the awful miscasting of the rather key role of Spider-Man himself. He just doesn’t sound anything like Spidey should. It’s a casting mistake second only to Nolan North’s appearance as the titular Prince of Persia.

With all the bad points I’ve just mentioned you might get the impression that Spider-Man Web of Shadows is an awful game. It’s not. It’s just as enjoyable, to be honest, as Treyarch’s previous Spidey titles. You really will feel like Spider-Man, swinging through the city and bouncing your attacks from one villain to another. Unfortunately, it’s just not different enough a game to win over any new fans.

It’s also a pretty easy and pretty short title, especially if you have little interest in the optional missions or collecting all the spider tokens. There are multiple endings, which technically require four run-throughs to view (or two with clever saving), but apart from seeing different cut-scenes there’s not really much to tempt you to go back.

If you’ve played a Spider-Man game before you’ll already know if you’ll like this. Fans of the series should definitely check it out as a rental but diehard Spidey-haters would be best steering well clear.

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8 Responses to “Spider-Man Web of Shadows”

  1. Comprehensive review, but not one that made me want to play the game. The MMORPG-esque quests seem to be symptomatic of the general lack of variety according to your review, and other reviews in fact. Did you notice any graphical issues? I remember the GameTrailers reviewer being turned off by some frame-rate stuttering.

  2. Not really. There was one period of intense slowdown but it looked more like the Xbox was about to crash than anything else. I was quite relieved when it recovered as I hadn’t saved for quite a while.

    They always seem to have problems filling these open-world games with interesting content. I’d settle for a smaller game world if there was something interesting to do on every street corner. I’d also really like it if Spidey went off on his holidays somewhere, even if it’s only for a single game… I’m getting a little bored with New York!

  3. Spidey… in Hawaii!

  4. I played both the Xbox 360 and Wii versions to death and I really enjoyed them both. After the appalling Spider-Man 3, it felt like Web Of Shadows was the true sequel to Spider-Man 2.

    I recognised its flaws: the gameplay did lack variety, and the story choices were ultimately pointless, but if you treat it like a mindless title to unwind to rather than a Triple-A release, it’s more than adequate to satisfy a Spidey fan’s needs. And it has this uncanny ability to keep me playing: just five more kills, ten more kills, twenty more kills, damn, 4am.

    The combat was much more enjoyable than previous versions and actually appeared more cinematic. All right, it’s uninspired thug bashing, but if any game allows you to:
    – knock a soldier off his glider
    – land on top of him on the roof of a nearby building
    – pummel him to death before knocking him over the side
    – then continue to batter him as you both tumble to the street
    – finally crushing his corpse against the roof of a parked car
    – and leaping back in with a gymnast’s flair
    …And all without depending on dreaded quick-time events, then I’m more than happy to play it again and again.

  5. I agree, combat is something they did extremely well. I hope that that’s one of the things they carry forward to the next game. I think I’ve had just about enough of Venom, though. 🙂

  6. Definitely. Problem is, from what I understand, the makers of Spider-Man built Venom up as the ultimate bad guy, so anything else is something of a step backwards.

    Another thing I liked was the various characters that appealed and the absence of Tobey Maguire made it feel more like the classic ’90s cartoon series, rather than the movies!

  7. Nice to see a more positive review of this game. I loved it despite initial reservations. A few reviews I read of it seemed overly harsh like the reviewer had gone in wanting to hate the game anyway.
    Certainly a game that I’d love to see a sequel for, hopefully with some of the annoyances cleaned up.

  8. Thanks Haly. I’m glad you thought the review wasn’t too negative.

    I can understand why some reviewers might have been a little harsh on the game as it still fails to address certain problems that have been around since the move to an “open world” setting.

    However… it’s Spider-Man… and playing as Spidey is almost always cool so… just like all the previous titles, I’m quite happy to spend my time with it.

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