Hands-On: ‘Spider-Man: Web of Shadows’
As sure as the sun rises, sure as night follows day, sure as MJ loves Pet…oh, wait, scratch that one…um…as sure as humans breath in oxygen and expel a form of carbon, there’s sure to be a new Spider-Man video game. And unlike even vs. odd numbered Star Treks, the quality of Spider-Man games (or super-hero games at all) is sketchy at best. Sure, you’ll occasionally hit a milestone gem like the game based on the Spider-Man 2 movie, but then you’ll follow it with duds like Spider-Man 3 and Friend or Foe. Thankfully, the developers at Shaba Games have taken the mold from the good Spidey titles and built an even better game around some new ideas that make this feel like the best wall-crawling escapade yet.
That’s right, I said feel.
I recently had an opportunity to play a preview build of Web of Shadows for Xbox 360, and let me tell you, as a hardcore Spider-fan, this is the one we’ve been waiting for. As fantastic as the swing mechanics were in Spider-Man 2, this takes everything up a notch with quality camera control, new combat maneuvers, a great story, and, finally aerial combat.
Admit it…even if he is a nerd, Parker has some bad-ass moves. The way he hurls himself through the sky, zipping along a webline is graceful, dynamic, and awe-inspiring. The animation team at Shaba has done a wonderful job of upping the ante with his swing animation, and everything flows just the way you remember from past games. That’s the good thing. The even better thing is how you transition from swinging to fighting. Even while gliding through the air, you can target the nearest enemy by clicking the left trigger, and the camera stays focused on your foe (unless you tap the right analog stick). Tap the Y button and Spidey will shoot out a webline straight for his target, either pulling his foe to him or him to it. With careful timing, you then tap Y again once the two are about to connect, and you’ll begin the attack sequence. Under a flurry of blows, ol’ Webhead can punch, kick and web up his foes, bouncing from target to target with ease. With a few simple controller taps, you’ll be ping-ponging between enemies at a fast rate, and scoring some serious upgrades.
Every enemy, once defeated, relinquishes stat points, which Spidey can use as upgrades. With this title’s theme being “Seize Control”, players can stylize Parker anyway that they want. Upgrading combos, power moves and special abilities in a mock RPG style menu system furthers the control players can take. Want more brutality in his combat, it’s yours…with the added effect that you can switch between the traditional red & blue suit, and the black symbiote suit with a click of the left analog stick. And each suit has their own list of moves and upgrades unique to it. While the red & blue is more acrobatic and graceful, the black suit is more destructive and vicious…giving in to Parker’s wilder side. To add to the effectiveness of this, the environments are now also more destructible, and depending on how much damage you cause (in whichever suit) a small meter at the bottom tracks how much the city is thankful – or fearful- of which persona. Spidey can pick up cars with a tap of the B button…with commuters in them or not…and throw them at foes or just for fun.
But I said something about aerial combat, didn’t I? That’s right, with the new targeting system and web attack; you’ll be battling baddies in the sky, just as you would on the ground. The targeting camera keeps everything focused, even if you’re upside down (though that can be a bit disorienting at first). There’s even fighting while stuck to the side of a building! If you engage in combat while running up a skyscraper (by holding down the left bumper after sticking to a wall with B) he’ll just stand up and fight as normal…or as normal as a guy with radioactive spider-blood fights, anyway. Everything just feels right about the way he moves, and it’s not just the swinging anymore. This is how playing as Spider-Man should feel. Freedom of movement, of combat…with no limitations…not even the sky.
While the plot has you facing off a city wide invasion of the black symbiote goop that makes Venom the charming people person he is, you luckily won’t have to go in alone. You can team up with several heroes from the Marvel roster, including Wolverine, Luke Cage, and Black Cat. Unfortunately, every time I clicked down on the d-pad to call the spandex clad Felicia Hardy to help me out; an Activision rep would click it again and make her go away. “We’re not ready to talk about that yet”. Damnation.
Sadly, my hands-on preview was short lived, but in the brief time I spent swinging around Manhattan, everything looked amazing. Since this is the first Spidey game specifically for the next-gen consoles, the character models and texture are just outstanding, making this the best looking Spider-Man title yet. Even just standing still on a rooftop, he looks amazing…but seeing him action is even better. Players will be able to “seize control” of Parker and pals this October.
Ian Bonds is a comedian, writer and videogame retailer from Baltimore who carries a sick obsession for games based on comic books. He also writes a video game review column over at Kevin Smith’s QuckStopEntertainment.com entitled “Game On!” and is writing and recording a comedy album of songs about games and comics due (hopefully) later this year.