Spider-Man: Web of Shadows Review
It would seem that the elusive balance for a good Spider-Man game is to make web-swinging that's fun and intuitive while creating a combat system that plays to Spidey's limber, improvisational fighting style. Shaba's Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is probably the closest any game has come to realizing that ideal, though as much fun as it is to watch Peter Parker's alter-ego run effortlessly up the sides of skyscrapers and use his web-spinners to get up-close and personal with his foes in some inventive ways, it gets old.
The plot of Web of Shadows, which revolves around Venom's plan to overtake the city with his symbiotic spawn, is a dichotomous thing, serving to both tickle and enrage Spider-Man fans. The idea that Venom could just up and decide to start replicating himself, populating the island of Manhattan with teeming millions of other symbiotic beasties, is an infuriating one, and it's something that the game never even bothers to try and justify. Even worse, the game kicks off with Spider-Man getting back together with his original goop suit with a nonchalance that belies his troubled history with it. On the other hand, there's a really excellent What If...? quality to watching other Marvel heroes and villains get incorporated by Venom symbiotes. It makes for a few great moments, but in general, the story is poorly told and needlessly bewildering, and it features some breathtakingly bad dialogue. I actually died a little bit inside during an extended conversation about Wolverine's MySpace page.
Beyond all that, Spider-Man should be a preternaturally nimble dude, something that Web of Shadows captures. You can use his web-spinners to swing around the city, an act that carries some momentum. It feels appropriately unpredictable, creating a controlled sense of danger. Part of what makes the swinging feel so good is the way Spidey will spin and flip and contort his body in some real trademark ways as he navigates the high-rises of Manhattan, brushing his hand along buildings when you get close, and kicking his legs when he gets near the ground. The zip-splat sound effects that go along with the swinging are a nice touch. Spidey can also crawl and run on walls, and the game features a ton of enemies that share this ability, allowing for some unique horizontal combat.
Web of Shadows is at its best when it blends the ground, mid-air, and wall combat together. For the most part the camera can keep up with this often dizzying action, though it can get twitchy in tight quarters. The targeting is a little loose, which can make it tough to pick a specific enemy out of a crowd, particularly when you're just throwing punches. You can whale on enemies with a standard attack, but that's not nearly as interesting as using Spidey's web-strike ability, which allows him to lash onto an enemy from a distance and zip towards them. From there you can choose to either leap off the enemy and target another, or perform an intricately choreographed series of attacks.
The real justification for the whole red-suit/black-suit duality of Spider-Man is a mechanical one. You can switch between the two suits at any time, and each gives you slightly different abilities. For example, the black suit gives Spider-Man super-strength, allowing him to pick up and toss cars at enemies, as well as the ability to lash out at enemies with gooey symbiotic tendrils, while the red suit allows Spider-Man to regenerate his health more quickly and perform some special web-based attacks. Defeating enemies and completing missions earns you experience points which you can invest in new abilities for the individual suits, though depending on how you play the game, it's not hard to have enough points to max out both.
There's also a flimsy morality system that, depending on your actions in specific situations and which suit you use, will determine whether you'll be able to call in assistance from either heroic or villainous support characters. As chic as moral choices in games are, it's just window-dressing here, since you'll always be able to call in someone regardless of your choices, and I found that Spider-Man is such a bad-ass that I very rarely needed the help. Ultimately, the often subtle differences between the two suits aren't enough to differentiate them, and the whole system is superfluous.
Web of Shadows opens strong, but it seems like it runs out of interesting and varied ways to put them to use well before you get to the end, and it turns into a bit of a grind. After the novelty of being able to go from swinging through the air to running up the side of a building to zipping up on an enemy and giving them the old biff-pow wears off, you're left with a lot of missions that seem to always come down to traveling to a location and beating up some dudes. Still, Spider-Man looks great in action, and the game is better about giving a sense of that oft-discusses conditional “great power” than any Spider-Man game before it.