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Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

Score: 75%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Shaba Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Free-Roaming/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

Although the plot bears a resemblance to a recent Mighty/ New Avengers storyline, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is a completely stand alone adventure featuring Spider-Man and a crew of other heroes from around the Marvel Universe. The game opens in medias res, with Spider-Man slowly walking through a battle raging between symbiotes and S.H.I.E.L.D. members as snippets of conversation play in the background. Although a little over-dramatic, the introduction does a great job of setting up what eventually turns out to be a fun story. It's a shame then that many players won't be able to enjoy it due to an incredibly slow start, bland missions and numerous technical flaws.

Web of Shadows walks the line between the realism found in the movie-based games and Ultimate Spider-Man's comic book look. All of the character models look more like what was seen in the movie games (sans the creepy looking Tobey Maguire model), though they move more like comic book characters. Spider-Man flips and flops all over the screen during combat, unleashing effects-laden combos. The city looks good, but like the story, it takes a while before it feels like there is anything happening in the city. There isn't much in the way of traffic or pedestrians early on, though as the story progresses, it begins to come to life. The downside to the jump in vitality is that the framerate absolutely tanks during the last part of the game.

Sound is a major issue throughout the game. Music will randomly play, regardless of what is happening, and play in a continuous loop only to suddenly stop for no real reason. There are also instances of sound completely cutting out or getting out of sync with video during cutscenes. Of course, the voicework isn't that great to begin with. Spider-Man sounds like a whiny brat and his witty remarks make him sound less like a goofball and more like an obnoxious jerk. The others aren't great either, but at least you don't have to listen to them for the entire game.


Gameplay:

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows features the same open-world structure as past Spider-Man games. Unlike the movie games, Web of Shadows loosens the "realism" of web-swinging; though you do need to be close to a structure to attach a web, it isn't as picky. This adds a nice sense of freedom to the swing mechanic. Swinging around New York is a blast and you'll want to spend a lot of time doing that, even if it means ignoring the cries for help below you. It's a good thing too since you'll spend a lot of time tracking down collectable spider markers - and I do mean a lot of time.

Collectables are similar to the Agility orbs in Crackdown and will level up Spider-Man after he collects so many. Like missions, however, tracking down all of the markers is only fun for a short time. Looking for markers gives you a reason to explore your surroundings, but there are too many of them. Just to give you an idea of the number, I've managed to track down 1025 markers and still haven't unlocked the Achievement letting me know I'm halfway there. Fewer, better hidden markers probably would have worked better.

The underlying mission structure is fairly common for open-world games. Missions are doled out by superheroes that are apparently too busy standing around to see to the tasks themselves. That or they realize just how tedious most of the jobs are and would rather Tom Sawyer Spidey into doing the work for them. Many of the missions that popped up in previous Spider-Man games aren't present in Web of Shadows, so you won't find yourself trying to impress M.J. with your web-swinging abilities or diffusing bombs around the city. Instead, a majority of the missions you'll encounter involve beating up waves of enemies or rescuing citizens. Both are fun, especially combat, but after you pull your 200th citizen from harm's way or slam another generic goon into the pavement, it gets dull.

Another disappointing aspect of Web of Shadows is the lack of unlockable content. One of the best things about previous games what the amount of stuff to unlock like special costumes, comic books and other tchotchkes, none of which is found here. If you are going to make me search every henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in New York for glowing spiders, at least give me something for my troubles every 100 or so that I find.


Difficulty:

With the exception of bosses, death in combat isn't that common. Spider-Man automatically regains health after resting for a short period of time, so if health becomes a problem, you can always retreat to a nearby rooftop or just swing around in circles. When using the black suit, Spider-Man regains some health by fighting enemies, giving you another option. Enemies come in small groups and will usually attack one at a time. Most of the time, attacks are really just annoyances, especially later in the game when some attacks will send Spider-Man flying into next week. Other times, you'll receive a few cheap hits thanks to the wonky camera system.

Although it does a pretty good job of staying behind Spidey it will, on occasion, spin wildly out of control and completely lose you. This typically isn't a problem while on the ground, but once you take the battle airborne or on the side of buildings, it becomes an issue. However, this is a problem common among Spider-Man games, so until someone figures out a way to build a better camera, I can't lay the blame completely at Shaba's feet.

Missions are usually more about patience and persistence than skill, though some run into a few technical snags. Early in the game, enemies will sometimes spawn under the street while in later missions, civilians will sometimes spawn inside buildings. I was able to "see" them with my Spider-sense, but wasn't able to do anything to reach them. I also ran into an issue in the last part of the game where citizens would run away from the S.H.I.E.L.D. APCs they were supposed to evacuate to or refuse to enter. At one point, the APC vanished mid-mission.


Game Mechanics:

Next to swinging around the city, combat is one of the best things about Spider-Man. Combat is much faster than in past Spider-Man games and has a fun, over-the-top feel. Outside Ultimate Spider-Man, this is one of the few Spider-Man games to really take advantage of the wall-crawler's skills. The cool thing about the system is that it is basic enough that someone could button-mash their way through the entire game and have fun, but filled with enough combos that there's a bit of depth to it as well. Some moves are a little tricky to pull off, such as a zip line that pulls Spider-Man hurdling towards enemies. It is one of the few moves to get its own special tutorial, and getting the timing down takes some practice. The idea is to time your button-press with their movements, though things are usually happening so fast you can't tell when they're moving. A simple solution would have been to show the "Spider-sense Halo" as a signal.

The mechanics behind combat are the same regardless of which suit you are using, though each has its own individual combos and attacks. The red suit's combo list has a more agile feel and works great when in the air or when ricocheting off enemies. In comparison, the black suit is built for pure power. It doesn't perform that well while airborne, but some of the combos are devastating. Even if you're going for the "good" ending, more than likely you will switch to the black suit during boss fights.

Combat is the only major difference between the two suits. There's a "good vs. evil" system built into the game which involves the suits, though your decisions usually involve choosing either a "good" or "bad" path at certain points in the story. The only other difference is whether heroes or villains will help you out, but you probably won't use allies all the much anyway.

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is a game that only Spider-fans will get into and appreciate. The underlying gameplay is enjoyable, but if you aren't a big fan of the ole' webhead, you probably won't be able to look past the technical glitches and monotonous missions.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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