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Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

Score: 72%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Shaba Games
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Fighting/ Free-Roaming

Graphics & Sound:

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows for Wii is ultimately a disappointing package, but it's an attractive little package. Anyone walking into the room while you are playing this on Wii would be forgiven for assuming that you are playing the 360 or PS3 version. Glossy, reflective surfaces, good lighting, and great looking cut-scenes that move the story forward are all implemented as well as any game on the Wii. Web-swinging through the city looks fantastic, with lots of motion and expansive skyline. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is the kind of game that is more fun to watch than to play. Sitting around watching a skilled player exercise Spidey really does show off the hard work that went into making Spider-Man and his world come to life.

As you spend more time with the Wii version, you notice that textures aren't quite as sharp, and in some cases, models of buildings or cars have an unfinished look. The city is bustling with people and the traffic moves in predictable patterns, which all works against your suspension of disbelief. The music is very strong and has an epic, anthemic quality befitting the game's superhero themes. Borrowing liberally from popular film and television, the building soundtrack of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows will make you feel supercharged as you pound enemies and leap from tall building to tall building. Sound design, on the other hand, is very weak. That same observer that asked me if I was playing the 360 later groaned about how Spider-Man: Web of Shadows sounds like a broken record at times. There are only so many ways to pound enemies, and they all seem to result in the same grunting sound. After you've defeated 50-100 enemies in a row, that grunt will be seared into your frontal lobe. Similar issues with random or repetitious sound design crop up throughout the game.

The worst thing from a functional standpoint about the appearance of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is its unintuitive and unintelligent camera. You'll spend far too much time stumbling around between buildings, in alleys, and on the end of a web-line trying to find an enemy or objective. Sure, there is a mini-map with points handsomely plotted out, and you can lock in on enemies during a battle. The problem comes when Spidey flies off in some unexpected direction or falls off mid-swing. The ensuing disorientation is as much a function of poor controls as it is a camera problem, but attributing cause doesn't change the fact that many times you end up flying blind. Which would be cool if this were a Daredevil game, but...


Gameplay:

Obligatory comic book fan jokes aside, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows may be a rocky road for gamers, but it's a treat for readers of superhero comics. Seeing the good (Mary Jane, Luke Cage, Moon Knight, Wolverine) and bad (Venom, Doc Ock, Kingpin, Rhino) characters from the series together in one game is great, but Wii owners got stiffed on quite a few special characters exclusive to other platforms.

Marvel knows how to tell a good story, which really comes through in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. The tragedy is that many players won't hang through the awkward gameplay to see the story unfold. There's a nod to "Marvel Zombies" in the storyline, with a more mundane explanation: Venom. Marvel has managed to get a lot of mileage out of the Venom story, for good reason. With Venom, and Carnage, to some extent, the Spider-Man saga finally got an epic enemy. Spidey's enemies always seemed to come and go without scarring him too greatly. As Batman had his Bane and Superman his Doomsday, Spider-Man has Venom. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows takes the idea of Venom further than ever before; without any plot spoilers, we'll just say that the game's story mines the idea that the same symbiote Spider-Man barely harnessed to produce his alternate costume, and that Eddie Brock melded with to become Venom, has some very interesting side effects on humankind. Aided by Venom's dark motives and the symbiote's special powers, the world surrounding Spider-Man is about to turn upside down.

It sounds great on paper and the story plays out during the game without sacrificing any of the narrative style that makes the serial art form so much fun. You even find decision points during the game that let you make a choice, which ultimately changes your play experience and how the game ends. If it sounds fun to play, it must be fun to play, right? Wrong. The reality of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is a phrase I coined that is on its way to the patent office right now: "Grocery shopping with super powers." Gamers know this in a million annoying ways from other games. Sometimes you're chasing after keys to doors, or other times you're backtracking for missing pieces of some random machine that makes a motor run to open a door. It all adds up to killing time by knocking item after item off your list, in this case with some questionable mechanics and frustrating controls. Uneven difficulty, sloppy execution, and too many objectives that revolve around knocking someone in the shnozz, make you wish Spider-Man: Web of Shadows would just get on with it.

The basic flow of the game has you interacting with various colleagues that tell you about things happening in the city. Each update includes several optional missions and one mission that moves the story forward. Too many times you'll find yourself grinding through the optional missions, which look like an endless hunt-and-seek for bad guys. Learning new moves introduces the questionable motion controls - the moves are cool enough on their own, but are implemented poorly. Moving through missions does require that you level up, which can be accomplished by gathering power-ups around the city and working through special missions. Occasionally you can score points by rescuing a civilian, dropping him or her off at a nearby hospital. There is an actual upgrade system that is way too involved for the amount of difference it makes in how you fare in a battle. Most people will set upgrades on "auto" and forget about it. The eventual boss battles are long, drawn out, and frustrating if you haven't mastered the controls and the art of cheap shots. The story progress is cool, the alternate endings are cool, but there are too many wrenching disappointments in the game's difficulty and control scheme. Lack of online content or multiplayer is weird, considering the opportunities for some extra content, co-op, or at least some capture-the-flag action. What gives?


Difficulty:

Saying "uneven difficulty" might suggest that enemies are sometimes too hard. At first that seems to be the case, but the truth is that after you learn a few cheap shots, enemies are just a grind. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows offers several killer moves that incapacitate enemies almost all the time and even make boss battles not much more than a matter of time. Where uneven difficulty works against you is in the control. Shaking the Wii-mote and Nunchuk alternately triggers a bunch of actions that may or may not be what you intended. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to deal a final blow to your enemy, only to watch Spidey throw out some web and swing away. Climbing buildings and even just swinging across open areas can also prove to be very frustrating. If you just wanted to play through and experience the story, having the ability to take cheap shots at enemies would feel like a boon. Instead you have lots of issues that feel glitchy, but really are just a function of poorly planned motion controls. The developers did a nice job of building Spidey's attacks and moves, so when you pull them off they look and work great. It's the lack of consistency in execution that will ultimately lead you to toss your controllers at the nearest wall. Wii owners are special...we have not one, but two controllers to chuck at the wall.

Game Mechanics:

Wii motion controls don't have to suck. Link and Mario have clearly demonstrated that use of motion is a good thing when it supports the action in the game and makes things more simple or engaging for the player. The ideal for a cross-platform game like Spider-Man: Web of Shadows should be to only use motion in a way that will make the game play better than its counterparts on 360 or PS3. Simple things like slinging web would be an example of how motion could be good. Maybe motions for special attacks? The developers tried to execute in areas like this, with a snapping motion to web-swing, and several unique motions for attacks. Button presses have their place, but usually just to orient Spidey as he moves around, or to initiate certain attacks. Slinging web at an enemy only requires one button press, but swinging through the city requires motion controls and button pushes. The swinging is fun, but not when the motion to swing lives on the same controller as the motion to swing-and-attack. Battles are punctuated by frantic moments of recovery, as you get yourself into a bad place through a missed jump or an enemy that falls off a building. The latter example is from a mission early in the game where you have to leap from building to building, homing in on snipers and taking them out in a specific sequence before the clock runs out. The mechanic for latching-on to these guys is a flick of the Wii-mote, followed by another flick of the Wii-mote to finalize the attack, followed by another and another... This has the potential to backfire, and at times you'll end up knocking the enemy off the building. Instead of going to an early grave, the enemy just stays down on the ground. You'll eventually come to realize that at this point your mission is over, and that you may as well restart. Restarting missions becomes a ritual, as you play through again and again and again, trying to get the timing right. This isn't fun, to say the least.

The ideas behind many of the mechanics in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows are really good. The ability to attack enemies in the air, one after another, taking out an entire group with one fluid motion, is a really cool thing. Watching Spidey beat the stuffing out of enemies is always cool, but it is still more fun to watch than to play. If the game had been implemented without gratuitous motion control-schemes, it would actually have been fun to play. Spidey's special abilities are okay, but you'll only need one or two in combination to defeat 95% of your enemies. Nothing about Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, other than its visual panache and storytelling, stands out or makes for a good player experience. If you really want to do some web slinging, do it on another platform...


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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