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Review: Spider-man: Web of Shadows

Graeme Virtue | 25 Nov 2008 20:59
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While web-slinging is the poetic soul of the game, there is also the more prosaic aspect of combat. You can switch from Spider-Man's trademark red-and-blue tights to his black symbiote-enhanced costume with a simple click, and each has its own scrapping style. Classic Spidey is acrobatic and funny (he offers a nice little mock-salute after punting opponents into the air) while black Spidey is a more aggressive, gooey bruiser. To ensure progress, you have to purchase and memorize combos, and while it takes a bit of effort to decode the nuances of the elaborate systems of air combat, wall combat and firing little spitballs of webbing at baddies, the action remains spry and entertaining.

There's also a buddy system which allows you to summon some spandex back-up in the form of other superheroes and villains, although their cooperation is perplexingly conditional and - judging by the few times I remembered to try and whistle for them - not particularly effective. Still, it's an excuse to put fanboy fave Wolverine in the game.

Halfway through the game, Web Of Shadows still doesn't manage to do anything demonstrably better than Spider-Man 2, but it's also managed to not totally suck. Then comes the masterstroke - the alien symbiote starts to take over the city, slowly darkening the skies, altering the architecture and mutating the citizens. The transformation is handled relatively subtly, and as incidents flare on various intersections, you begin to realize that despite all your powers, you can't actually stop the wave of panic. The baddies eventually evolve into Venom-ish zombie/vampire/alien creatures, but creepier still are the normally-dressed pedestrians who suddenly flip out and start scuttling up walls to attack you. It may not be anything like the cumulative, granular detail of Liberty City, but swinging down eerily deserted New York streets dotted with smashed storefronts and burnt-out cars is still remarkably atmospheric, with echoes of I Am Legend, Cloverfield and the deathless Escape From New York.

The marketing tagline for Web Of Shadows is "seize control," although there isn't all that much seizing; it boils down to selecting a "good" or "evil" path after key missions. (The most anguished moral decision comes early on when Black Cat - voiced by the yummy Tricia Helfer -makes a pass at Spidey.) Does it make much difference? Let's just say Fable 2 has nothing to worry about.

While such extraneous stuff can be mildly annoying, it doesn't interfere too much with the actual game, which is solidly constructed, well-paced and sneakily addictive. With great power comes great playability, it seems.

Perhaps it's because I've been a fan since I was a Peter Parker-esque teenager - did you know Spidey kicked the ass of all the X-Men single-handedly in Secret Wars? - but Web Of Shadows restored a little of my ragged faith in Spider-Man videogames. While Activision haven't quite seized control of the listless franchise, at least they've got a handle on what makes it great.

Bottom line: If you like the sound of I Am Legend crossed with Spider-Man - albeit with some unnecessary sidekicks and faux-conflicted choices - it's time for tights, camera, action!

Recommendation: Give it a spin.

This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.

Graeme Virtue is a freelance writer based in Scotland. He wrote about his numbskull urge to finish mediocre PS2 action-adventure games in Issue 151 of The Escapist.

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