I’ve been remiss in keeping up with everyone’s favorite web head. I haven’t touched a Spider-Man game since reviewing the excellent Ultimate Spider-Man on the PlayStation 2 a few years ago. Since then, he’s gone through some rough patches. Peter Parker has always been goofy and quite frankly a little cheesy, but it seems that when Venom and that black suit are involved, Spidey lets his emo side take over. It happened with the abysmal Spider-Man 3 movie, but is kept in check and is even played to comic effect in Web of Shadows, an adventure set in a New York City on the verge of a symbiote invasion. Spidey’s trademark wit keeps the rather dire situation from falling into Dark Knight-level seriousness, though things are definitely bleak as arch-nemesis Venom does his best to befoul the city that never sleeps. There are plenty of other cameos too, including members of the Sinister Six, Kingpin, Wolverine, and Moon Knight, among others.
If I had to label Web of Shadows, I would say that it is a wannabe open-world game – a comic book Crackdown without the freedom (some sections of the city are off limits), co-op play, civilian killing, and vehicles. It holds your hand as if it was your fist day on the job and never lets go. You don’t stumble across missions while exploring the city; you have to unlock them by repeatedly visiting Luke Cage, Wolverine, and other heroes and villains. I understand that Spider-Man’s primary job is to protect the city from lame, purse-stealing junkies, but that doesn’t mean I want to do that over and over for hours on end. Defeat 50 bad guys, report back, accept new mission to defeat 100 of them, and so forth.
Nearly every story advance offers these types of optional missions, though the enemies get bigger and tougher as the city degenerates. Mixed in are real missions, such as saving the courthouse from giant mechs and bomb-wielding baddies, or chasing Electro all over the city. Some require skillful juggling of time and mastery of the controls, while others, as is the case with many of the boss fights, require you to continually chase down your opponent. As the game unfolds, Spider-Man will be presented with choices: take the red or black path. I mostly chose the black path, primarily because I enjoyed dispatching foes with the black suit’s tentacle attack and because I thought it might spice things up a bit. It did: the city rebelled against me and I was able to call villains to my aid.
So why bother even playing Web of Shadows? The real star of this adventure is the gameplay, a fluid cornucopia of air combos and ground beat downs. Because Spider-Man is free to shift instantaneously from his red to black suit, there is plenty of move variety as each are improved using experience gained from all the incessant villainy going on. Seriously, I used to think that Smallville had some messed up occupants, but this New York City is in serious need of help. Spider-Man can save a helpless passerby and the next minute throw a taxi into a pile of other cars, earning points for both.
That's the beauty of Web of Shadows and for the first few hours, players will be satisfied unlocking new moves and experimenting with ways to rack up high-hit combos. They’ll also enjoy scouring the city for spider tokens that level up health and special meters as well as swing speed. If you set your mind on auto-pilot, this approach may work in sustaining you through to the end, though many players will likely move on before getting to the final, and best, chapter.
Because it's been so long since I last played a Spider-Man game, maybe I expected too much of his latest exploits. The combat is simple and fun, but the lack of mission variety and sheer repetition of the city gets old far too quickly. The camera tries its best to keep up with the wall-crawler, but often gets stuck in odd positions. I didn’t suffer many of the bugs that Valerie experienced in her review of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows for the Xbox 360, though I did get stuck a few times in what I thought were perfectly safe places to travel. Spending time with Spidey’s latest is a fine way to relax for a weekend, but make sure to kick him out by Monday; or he will definitely overstay his welcome.