Spider-Man returns to a console near you in Web of Shadows. But can Spidey enjoy a comeback after a rather lacklustre offering in Spider-Man 3?
Web of Shadows is an interesting title because it doesn’t follow a film and so essentially starts with a blank canvas and spins out a new story of its own. Basically you have to save New York from what looks like gang troubles to start with and soon reveals itself as Venom sharing the love and generating symbiotes all over the place, intent on bringing the place to a sticky end.
You of course get Spider-Man under your control who comes along once again with the black suit, which gives you a big hint as to how the story is going to unfold. Things start peacefully enough with a good dose of tutorial built-in as you get to grips with Spidey’s powers. This seems a little irritating at first, as you’re asked to swing through marked areas as part of a mission: we’d have much preferred to be left to figure this out for ourselves, because it's not that hard, it's just irritating failing to swing through the loops the first few times.
But once you get familiar, the glory of Spider-Man’s powers soon open up and you’ll be finding these things faster than the game can teach you. Swinging around New York is glorious, picking long avenues to speed down, running up and down walls, diving off walls. It pretty much doesn’t matter where you want to go, you’ll find a way of getting there.
The learning progress continues with the combat system. You’ll be getting on fine and then you’ll find yourself learning various attack styles from people. You’ll have to do it a few times to pass that mission, but sometimes you’ll find a mission objective like “wall sprint” which you’ve already been doing for the past hour.
The choreographed combat moves do look pretty funky once you get them going, but they do get pretty samey. Once you have figured out chained web attacks you’ll be doing it all the time, mixing it up with some random button mashing and that is what combat becomes time and again. For some people, this is great, because you don’t really have to think about it, it just becomes second nature. If you’re loving the swinging through the city then perhaps this isn’t such an important point.
Combat is aided by a targeting system that will lock-on to your enemies. This can be a little hit and miss for two reasons. Firstly, if you don’t destroy an enemy you’ll have to manually flip to the next or disengage the system if you find yourself being blasted by a bigger foes from behind. When you come to fight Vulture you have to basically platform jump swing your way into mid air to battle him and the targeting system sometimes doesn’t help you at all.
The other thing the targeting system can do is pull all the cameras around the wrong way, so if you are locked on someone and don’t want to head straight towards them, you’ll have to disengage again. The cameras are generally pretty good, but with a large number of narrow gaps between buildings and tight corners, you’ll sometimes find that you lose yourself and your sense of direction. In the open, this isn’t a problem.
Graphically things are pretty, but not staggering. Spider-Man generally looks good and his moves are well rendered, but you can't help feeling that some of the supporting characters are a bit wooden, like Cage. MJ also seem as though she lacked attention from the artist, more’s the shame. But you can get some decent speed swinging through that city and the best way to enjoy that is right in front of a large screen, so you really get a feeling for the buildings whizzing past.
Going back to the story the gameplay weaves in and out of it, picking up various missions along the way. One of the things we liked is that you can opt to do some things or ignore them completely. Finishing a task will reward you with experience points, the pause menu detailing their value and being exchanged for upgrades. You can upgrade, say wall attacks, but we found this a distraction, so you might want to set it to auto and just get on with it.
And then there is the black suit. Yes, Spider-Man looks cool in that black suit but if you’ve seen Spider-Man 3 you’ll know what it’s all about. Switching suits is a case of clicking the left stick, which is fine, but you’ll find yourself changing suits by mistake. There is a black vs red battle going on, with points awarded to different sides as you do things. Ignore the injured civilians and your black side will be boosted, save the distressed damsel and your red side gets a bonus.
Control of the two suits is basically very similar, with the noticeable difference that in the black suit Spidey seems more intent on wanton destruction and killing. At times you’ll have no choice but to use it, and you’ll find yourself addicted, flipping into black when you want to do some killing. That also plays into another interesting option: choosing paths.
You get the option to choose the red path or the black path at key points in the game. These decisions change things slightly, but not much, giving the game an element of replayability, but the chances are that you’ll not remember what you chose before, nor care. Unfortunately you just sort of stumble past these options, as you’ll just think it is another holding page where you need to press the button to continue: no one warns you to expect it.
The difficulty levels also vary wildly: one mission you’ll swing out and battle a few baddies and be done, the next you’ll find yourself facing one of the character/boss battles, with no idea of what you are doing. Many of the larger battles last far too long, with your near defeated foe suddenly jumping up, getting some friends and having another go. Should you slip up, you might find yourself doing the whole thing again and again. Usually they end with a synchronised button press to end them, again, pretty simple, but lose concentration and you’ll be doing it time and again.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is undeniably a fun game from the outset. Swinging through the city with an element of freeform action is great. Do what you want in your own time and generally get on with it. But things start to get a little repetitive as beating the bad guys becomes very samey, save for the upgrades that give you new and exciting moves.
But things are pretty easy here, you just need to have patience as your progress is sometimes hampered by having to battle an enemy so many times, so it can get frustrating.
But the final word is we loved Spidey taunting Logan for having a “My Face” page. There are some funny lines in Web of Shadows, as well as a nod to the Marvel world, with adverts for Stark Industries and so on, so it’s not all bad, and you can now pick it up pretty cheap, so fine for a winter weekend.