Reviewed: October 22, 2008
Released: October 22, 2008
Activision and Treyarch have joined forces once again to bring the Amazing Spider-Man to your next-gen consoles, and this time ďamazingĒ hardly does the game justice when it comes to describing the action, fun, and sheer exhilaration of playing Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. After a few hours of swinging around the Big Apple I had become Spider-Man, which makes this more of a superhero simulation than an action-brawler, although you will do your fair share of fighting.
Sensing something was missing from their past games, Treyarch brought onboard they creative geniuses over at Shaba Games. You may remember these guys from Tony Hawkís Project 8. Shaba was challenged with creating a much more freestyle form of combat that seamlessly connected street, wall, rooftop, and even aerial combat while Treyarch went about developing a completely redesigned city and enemy AI to take into account all this new verticality in gameplay. The results are quite simply amazing.
If youíve checked your movie listings lately you probably know that there is no Spidey movie hitting theaters this weekend, or even this year. Web of Shadows defies the unspoken rule of releasing a Spidey game only when it coincides with a movie release and in my opinion is far better for it. Unconstrained by movie plots (past, present or future), characters, and villains, Treyarch was free to design a game with a completely original story and throw in as many characters as they wanted, and thanks to a collaborative relationship with Marvel, the vault doors have been opened once again for lots of exciting cameos.
Forget what you saw in the last Spider-Man movie. Venom is not destroyed and Eddie Brock is not dead. Venom is back and this time heís brought along an entire alien invasion of symbiotic goo to infect the population of New York and even turn some superheroes into super-villains. Youíll get a small taste of what Web of Shadows will become in the opening tutorial before you flash back a few days to a time where New Yorkís biggest concern was gang warfare and the high-tech menace of Kingpin.
For those of you that have played previous Spider-Man games, especially the last, the basics will come back to you as naturally as if you had been bitten by a spider yourself. Squeeze the right trigger to swing, tap it to web-zip, and use the left trigger to get that Spidey sense tingling. The face buttons handle jumping, web-shooting, and punch and kick attacks, which can be creatively sequenced into elaborate combos with new moves and abilities available for purchase at anytime during the game.
The skills and abilities section for Web of Shadows looks like half of an NCAA tournament tree with each new bracket representing a new and improved move for abilities in several categories. These are further broken down into Red Suit and Black Suit abilities, although some abilities cross over between the two suits. For the first time Peter now has the ability to switch between the red and black costumes at will, even in mid-attack, although donít expect MJ to be happy if she catches you in the black suit. Of course you could always dump the red head and hook-up with Felicia Hardy (aka Black Cat). She doesnít care what color costume you are wearing.
The tutorial does a fantastic job of getting you back up to Spidey-speed with the familiar controls and introducing the new abilities and vertical combat. The tutorial continues far into the game as new abilities are earned and combat techniques are required. You will also have the luxury of previewing your upgrades before you buy them since each move is shown in an animated window along with the button sequence to activate them.
Never before in any other Spider-Man games have you ever felt this free. You can literally explore the city and engage in hundreds of enemies without ever touching a street, sidewalk, wall, or rooftop. Web of Shadows has these red and purple spider icons stashed (I wouldnít call them hidden) around the city and you can (and I did) spend hours just swinging around and collecting them, and when you reach a certain number you will level up.
Eventually you will have to forego the Easter Egg hunt and dive into the story which kicks off with some gang warfare at the hospital where MJ was just dropped off. After unleashing some Spidey justice Luke Cage shows up as one of your first superhero sidekicks. Luke not only serves as a mentor, teaching you some very advanced and extremely useful combat techniques, he also serves as your mission provider for the next several missions and sub-missions.
Each time you visit Luke, Black Cat, or anybody else who gives you missions, you always have a primary objective and several optional missions, which usually end up being defeating x many gang bangers or henchmen, or delivering x many injured civilians to the hospital. These side missions usually have various levels or tiers, so when you complete one you get to do it all over again only this time with a higher body or rescue count. Itís a great way to earn extra experience points and best of all; you really donít have to focus on completing them as they come quite naturally through typical gameplay. By the time you defeat 100 of Kingpinís high-tech thugs, you will have likely had to rescue 3, 5, or 10 civilians.
The new and evolved combat system is where Web of Shadows ultimately shines. During the opening tutorial I was able to knock off a 124-move combo within the first two minutes. Since the majority of the game is a flashback leading back to that point it will be some time before I can do that again, but it was a nice taste of things to come. The best part of the attack and combo system is how it expands upon itself in a natural progression of button presses, so once you have learned how to do one attack, the next one on the ability tree is just a slight variation in execution, but with explosive new results.
One of my favorite tactics is the new aerial assault called Web-Strike where you target an enemy then press the Y button to web-zip to that target in a slow-motion surge. At the moment of impact you can either press the Y button again for a quick attack or X for a more powerful attack. If the target is a big brute that is going to block your attack you can press A to abort or respond with your own counterattack. Luke Cage can explain it better than me so pay attention in his tutorial. What is really cool about this style of combat is that you can engage countless enemies without ever breaking the streak or even touching the ground.
In one of the earlier missions you will need to watch over a gang meeting in Central Park, but surrounding the park are 43 snipers hiding on rooftops. You must use the web-strike attack to defeat 22 snipers going clockwise then 21 coming back around without missing a beat. Itís very rhythmic, very stylish, and very cool. And this is just one of hundreds of new moves and combos.
Another favorite is the new swing-kick where you come swinging down to street level and press X just as you swing through a target or a group of targets. This will send them all flying through the air, and if you are quick you can lock onto anybody who didnít go down in the initial blast and finish them before they hit the ground.
Iíve been talking about red-suit Spidey for a while now, so how about that black suit. The black suit represents more of a brawler style combat. If red suit Spidey were martial arts then black suit is WWE. Black suit Spidey packs a wallop of a punch, has a killer tendril attack and most importantly, has the ability to pick up and toss cars. You are free to switch between black and red costumes at your discretion although there are some parts of the game where you are forced to play in a specific suit. The first such occurrence is when Kingpin is assaulting the courthouse with soldiers in giant battle suits. Until this point in the game I hadnít played around with the black suit hardly at all, but was quickly forced to don the black suit so I could toss cars at these giant robots to stun them long enough to disarm and evict their occupants using some all-too-familiar QTE button presses.
There are at least two distinct endings to the story based on how you play the game, specifically, at key decision points where you are offered two paths, one red and one black. Being a Spidey purist I tend to stick with the red path, but I must confess that Black Cat made me an offer that had more than my Spidey sense tingling, and I had to take a trip on the wild (dark) side just to see how it all played out. I have no regrets.
Spidey has never looked better and neither has New York City. The attention to detail on the city, character models, animations, and special effects comes through on every frame of every scene. Just comparing the rooftop detail from this game to the last, I remember running around a fairly barren Daily Bugle rooftop, and now we have skylights, AC units, pipes, vents, and all sorts of stuff, not just on the Bugle but on all the buildings, and it is all destructible and all available for tossing enemies into.
New York comes alive with traffic and pedestrians that celebrate your heroic appearance with applause and cheers or run away screaming if you unleash the chaotic nature of your black suit. And donít try to pull a quick suit change in a nearby phone booth. People know and remember what youíve done. The city becomes a different place when the sun goes down, offering a soothing tranquility as you swing over the glowing city below. It also makes spotting those spider icons a lot easier. Youíll also get to witness the destructive effects as the symbiote invasion takes root in the city.
With a new verticality to the combat comes the potential for a lot of camera issues, but the designers solved this with an awesome and intuitive Z-lock function that will become second nature in about 5 minutes. Squeeze the left trigger to send out a wave of Spidey sense across the city highlighting any nearby enemies, then tap the left trigger to cycle targets and lock the camera in a way that Spidey and the target are always in the same shot. Not only does this enhance the combat, it offers some truly majestic camera moves.
In one instance I was trailing a car, and as I passed over the locked vehicle the camera arced high overhead pointing straight down at me and the car 200-feet below, then switched to a reverse angle as I passed my target. This camera effect is extremely cinematic and offers a great tactical advantage. You can be locked onto an enemy on the other side of the block and the camera will keep everything in the shot as you circle around and come in for that devastating power-kick. Once you experience this game with Z-lock youíll wonder how you ever played any of those other Spidey games.
The web-strike combat has its own camera control that quickly reorients the view to your next target while incorporating a bit of a slow-mo Matrix effect to give you time to analyze the next target and choose your strike options at the moment of impact. Once you master this technique (which takes all of 2-3 minutes) you will be able to easily bounce from target to target racking up double-digit takedowns.
The cutscenes are all handled with game engine graphics and look fantastic. It is here, in these close-ups where you can really appreciate the subtle texture details and smooth character modeling for the bulging Luke Cage, sexy Felicia, the sinewy Venom, or the high-tech soldiers with pulse rifles and glowing body armor. And with support for full 1080p high-definition graphics, high-tech Spidey fans are in for a real visual treat.
Web of Shadows opens up with an awesome cutscene set to some classical music as we watch Spidey walking across a rooftop amongst all this destruction going on around himÖhe pausesÖthen dives off the roof and swings into action. Thatís the first of many cinematic pieces of music that appear throughout the game and is also the most noticeable since the rest of the score slips into the background of gameplay. There are moments where the music rises to the occasion and you will even recognize certain themes from the movies, but the score definitely takes a backseat to the special effects.
Sound effects include a lot of combat noises, squishy web slinging and the whip-like sounds of the black suit tendril attacks. You also get the futuristic sounds for laser guns, the whirring of hovercraft, car horns, car alarms, car explosions, and all sorts of impact effects when you slam things into a wall and the windows shatter. Itís a very rich experience for the ears that matches what you are seeing on the screen, and it all surrounds you in a fantastic Dolby Digital 3D soundscape.
The voice work is surprisingly good. At first, I really didnít like Mike Vaughn, the voice they chose for Peter Parker/Spidey, but his wisecracks started to grow on me after the first hour and I actually enjoyed his overall performance. Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) lends her sexy voice to Black Cat, and her performance was tempting enough for me to go black suit for a while. Robert Wisdom (Prison Break) steals the show with his powerful performance as Luke Cage. You also get a lot of ambient pedestrian noises, yells, and cheers, and even apologies from the cops.
This latest Spider-Man offers diverging paths that lead to at least two different endings, perhaps more. And even if you donít care about the destination, the journey will unfold quite differently based on the suit you choose to wear and the combat style you choose to wield. The core story mode consists of 12-16 hours of solid adventure, but that is if you only focus on the missions and nothing else, and why would you ever want to do that? There is so much more to do in this game.
Web of Shadows offers you the ultimate freedom in exploring New York City. You can quite literally play this game forever and never even dive into the story. You can search out those red spider icons for days and the gang members and high-tech henchmen will continuously respawn all over town, and there are always innocent bystanders who need an aerial ambulance ride to the hospital.
Spidey also offers 45 Achievements that cover everything from completion milestones to excellence in combat. Some, you'll earn just by playing the game while others require you to play the game well, and master the art of combos and make the most of Spidey's abilities on the ground, on the walls, and in the air. This is one of the first games where Achievements don't drive the gameplay, but rather reward you for playing.
Web of Shadows assembles a great cast of heroes and villains, combines them with a fantastic story, and integrates an intuitive and exciting control scheme and evolving combat system that easily makes this the best Spider-Man game ever made to date for any system. You arenít playing Spider-Man Ė you are Spider-Man!
The best part about Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is the total freedom you are allowed in not only choosing what to do and when to do it, but also how to do it and what you wear while you're doing it. And when you mix this freedom of gameplay with a massive sprawling city that reaches to the clouds, and an endless supply of intelligent evildoers, there is no end in sight to the superhero action waiting for you in this latest Spider-Man adventure.