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Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

Score: 60%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Shaba Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Free-Roaming/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

Welcome to New York; please watch out for hazardous symbiotic goo. These words should preface the introduction for Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. In this latest installment of the Spider-Man saga, Marvel's signature webslinger explores New York City, which has been quarantined due to an outbreak caused by the spread of an infectious symbiote, battling infected citizens as well as several notable villains from the comic book series, culminating ultimately in a showdown with Venom.

The opening cutscene does a nice job of setting the stage for the game, hinting at some of the coming battles. It is well rendered, if a little over-sappy. Unfortunately, the cutscene represents the nicest eye-candy in the game. The game itself, while not unattractive, just does not live up to what my expectations of a modern game should be. New York City has been nicely drawn out, but the lack of texture depth is noticeable from early on. The characters (Spider-Man, his allies and enemies) all show fluid motion, but the lack of real detail hurts the immersion factor. The environment, while sporting some destructible elements, remains largely unaffected by your actions throughout the game.

The sound effects, while not a distraction, are nothing exceptional. The best thing about them is that they are not over the top. Unfortunately, the soundtrack has some serious problems. The music seems to play randomly, sometimes breaking into an "action" theme when nothing of note is happening, at other times moving into some serene refrain in the midst of battle. Just as often, the music seems to end abruptly. The voiceover acting leaves much to be desired. While the vocalization of the allies and enemies is passable, the Web of Shadows version of Spider-Man is whinier and even less manly sounding than the Tobey McGuire movie version of our hero. Granted, Spider-Man is supposed to be young, although we are never told where in the timeline this particular adventure takes place, so just how young or old our intrepid hero is cannot be determined. Still, the constant nasally voice and sheer lack of manliness was a real turn-off. How am I supposed to believe that Mary Jane or Black Cat could ever fall for this guy?

Yet, all of the above are minor complaints and could be overlooked had the graphics engine actually worked. Sadly, this is not the case. Several times during my game experience, I ran into severe framerate issues, sometimes causing stuttered motion, and very often drastically affecting gameplay. In a game this heavily combo-dependant (more on this below), having the framerate suddenly dip below 5 frames per second during the middle of a long, drawn-out combo often causes in-game failure, not to mention increased frustration on the part of the player, and is really inexcusable in today's gaming environment.


Spider-Man: Web of Shadows follows the familiar paradigm of many sandbox games of late. You have free-roam of New York City and I must admit that swinging around exploring is quite fun... for the first hour or so. As in previous iterations of Spider-Man, you need to actually be near a structure in order to attach a web and swing, but the rigidness has been relaxed a bit, allowing for a bit more arcade-y feel, and trust me, this is a good thing.

Once you've explored a bit and gotten used to the basic controls, you'll want to start taking on missions. These missions are given out by Spider-Man's allies and generally follow the now all-too-commonplace standards: beat up "x" number of bad guys, rescue "y" number of citizens from harm's way, chase this "target" or stop that series of "events." At first these are fun, if frivolous, but soon (very soon) they become tedious and repetitious. As you fulfill your mission requirements, your allies will begin teaching you new combat maneuvers. Even the training gets redundant after time, often just adding one extra button push to an already existing combination.

As you progress through the missions, you will meet more allies and be given the choice of following the "good" path (represented by the normal red and blue suit) or the "dark" path (represented by the black suit). Your decisions during the dozen or so moments of choice will change your various allies' perception of you and therefore alter which missions you get offered. This is a fun, if relatively under-developed aspect of the game. Many of the "dark" choices are way out of character for Spider-Man, and those fans of the series will find them difficult to stomach. Also, if you do not save before one of these moments, there is just not enough incentive to play through again to see what options the path-not-taken opens.

The switch between the red-and-blue suit and the black suit is done remarkably well and happens on the fly with the push of a button. The differing combat moves offered by changing suits afford the game a bit more diversity. As you defeat enemies and complete missions, you will gain experience, which can then be used to purchase new abilities for the suits. While in theory this feature should introduce more control over the development of a character, the actuality is that the player can quickly max out these abilities if willing to spend the time doing extra missions, therefore eliminating the need to choose wisely. To gain health and improve swing-speed, Spider-Man can collect spider orbs scattered across the city. While an interesting diversion at first, the fact of the matter is there are just far too many of these orbs and it quickly becomes more of a distraction or chore for a completionist player such as myself, who cannot swing by one without the compulsive need to stop and get it. Much to my dismay, there are literally thousands of them.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect regarding the gameplay in Web of Shadows is the treatment of the storyline. This game had great potential, offering alliances with characters both good and bad, character development via the aforementioned "choices" and the facing adversaries integral to the pre-existing canon. However, some woeful oversights totally destroy the immersion factor for any even fringe fans of the Spider-Man series. As mentioned, many of the choices offered after boss-fights make absolutely no sense from the standpoint of Spider-Man, but it goes beyond that. When first facing citizens infected by the parasitic symbiote, Spider-Man inexplicably tosses them to their death, although it is quickly learned that said persons could be saved. Perhaps most disturbing is a dialogue that happens very early in the game. While trying to get Mary Jane to the hospital, she repeatedly, in the company of many observers, refers to Spider-Man as Peter, even giving him a birthday present. That would be like walking up to Batman and saying "Hello, Bruce. How are things at Wayne Enterprises?" Just one of many immersion-shattering moments.


There is no difficulty setting in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. For most players, the game will offer little challenge in regards to dying, the possible exceptions being boss-fights. The most common failures will manifest due to not completing a set task or series of tasks within the prescribed time frame. Combat is very combo-centric and if the player misses on one shot, it may well end the combination. This gets extremely frustrating when you are required to complete a 20- or 30-plus hit combination in order to beat a mission, exponentially exacerbated when faced with the framerate issues.

Combat animations are good looking and fun to pull off, but player skill is quickly taken out of the equation, as fighting degenerates to simply hitting a series of buttons over and over. As nice looking as they are, seeing the same combat animations a thousand times soon depreciates the appeal.

As tedious as regular combat is, the boss-fights are equally as frustrating. Whether caused by the missing of a needed combination, missing a block due to screen-stutter, or simply losing the boss because of camera issues, players will undoubtedly have to repeatedly attempt these fights prior to getting through them. Sadly, "getting through" was the overwhelming feeling I had by mid-way through the game experience. The redundancy of combat, problems with framerate, issues with story consistency and other smaller issues reduced my desire to finish the game for the purpose of enjoyment significantly and in the end, I was just trying to persevere so that I could move on to a more enjoyable prospect.

Game Mechanics:

I should note here, it quickly becomes apparent that Spider-Man: Web of Shadows was designed with the console player in mind, or at least someone using a console-style game-pad. While there are instructions for mouse and keyboard play, the layout just is not intuitive and often clunky and confusing. Not having an X-box style controller for the computer puts the player at a significant disadvantage. This affects not only movement and combat, but also camera control. Since Web of Shadows is, by default, a game that takes place in three dimensions, the camera is important. Trying to control the view with the mouse while web-swinging through a city full of skyscrapers or fighting creatures in mid-air or on the side of buildings quickly led to a sharp rise in my blood-pressure, as well as a few choice words uttered in the direction of my on-screen persona.

Most mouse and keyboard players will be familiar with the W, A, S, D format of the default movement controls. The additional function of the Q, E, Z, C, Tab and Escape keys, along with three mouse buttons quickly leads to confusion and a steep learning curve. Trying to hit the appropriate button for the right move in a combination while fighting the camera and stutter will quickly become enough to cause the most pious man to lose his religion. This discrepancy becomes even more noticeable during scripted moments in the game, when the player must quickly hit the corresponding key as it appears on-screen or fail the mission and be forced to start over.

There were some very inventive ideas introduced or improved upon in Web of Shadows. There are certain times in his adventures when Spider-Man can call his allies to fight by his side, but this feature is never really fully developed and hardly lives up its potential. Spider-sense and target locking is introduced via the Tab key, but again this feature somehow falls just a little short. Unfortunately this seems to be the prevailing theme in the game. While web-swinging through Central Park or taking in the vista-like view from atop the Empire State Building is very enjoyable, the tedious and repetitious nature of the game outweighs the inventiveness and in the end, even hardcore fans of the series are going to find that it falls shy of stardom.

-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge

Minimum System Requirements:

Sound: DirectX Compatible, Disk Drive: DVD Rom Drive, DirectX 9.0c, 6.6 GB Free HD Space, OS: Windows XP/Vista, Pentium 4 @ 2.8 GHz/Athlon 2800+, 1 GB/1.5 GB Ram for Vista, 256 MB (nVidia GeForce 7300 GT)

Test System:

Intel Core 2 Duo CPU 3.06 GHz, 3.35 GB Ram, Windows XP, NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 512

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