Spiderman: Web of Shadows Review - 28/11/2008

Don the red and blue spandex, unless black is more your style...

Spiderman is a comic book character that utterly gives himself to videogame adaptations. Whereas stalking around Gotham as a bloke with a penchant for capes, or dashing around Metropolis as a bloke with a penchant for, well, pants, might scream ‘LOSER’, it doesn’t get much better than web-slinging down Times Square and throwing Taxis at grannies. Wait, what? You see, developers Treyarch and Shaba Games have taken cues from Peter Molyneux, Bethesda and Rockstar by offering players moral choices through the course of the story. Moral choices have always been an ambitious and sketchily-achieved innovation in video games; decisions often promise riotous or righteous outcomes but ultimately boil down to the equivalent of either helping an elderly lady cross the street or booting her in the face.

In Web of Shadows, the feature is as basic as it comes; throw cars at people and you’ll earn new combat moves and powers for black-suited Spidey, or spray jets of sticky white vengeance at the bad guys and level up ol’ red 'n blue pants. Switching between the two mid-combat with a tap of the left thumbstick is a nice touch, but that there are absolutely no consequences for your actions besides a smattering of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cutscenes – ‘tongue in cheek’ being the excuse for their complete laughabilty - makes the whole shebang a shallow gimmick rather than a prominent feature. Imagine a game where The Daily Bugle advertised rewards for your capture if you’ve been a naughty Spidey, or citizens singing your theme tune after you’ve protected their corner shop from a crazed wrestler named Bone-Saw Magraw! Well this game ain't it.

The city is better when you're up rather than down.

But you don’t play Spiderman to ponder issues of complex morality while you kill prostitutes and become the face of a Fox News hate campaign on the dangers of free-roaming videogames; you play it to swing, swing, swing, and here the player is given the webby reigns in the most fully realised vision of Stan Lee’s creation yet. Holding the right trigger will shoot strings at buildings while tapping it will zip you towards them; from here you can press the A button to jump and string together loads of impossibly cool animations. Of course, you won’t have meant to do many of them, but when you’re pushing the limits of the liberating, even breathtaking design of New York to the limit with swan dives, wall-runs and pirouettes, you won’t care in the slightest.

Actually, you’d be hard-pressed to summon up that ‘up and at ‘em’ heroism usually reserved for Marvel heroes when you’re galloping between buildings. The jolt of excitement in your stomach as your radar points you towards the horizon and you know the only way to get there is to swing renders the story mode almost a distraction (but more on that later).

You could call bits of it epic.

Visually, the buildings lack the detail of other free-roaming games, but accept that their sole purpose is to act as great stacky obstacles for you to swing around rather than places you can go to for a drink and a game of darts and the setting will have done its job, evoking pleasure as you navigate the city and pain as you collide head first into a pylon. Sadly, whereas at rooftop level the sun reflects beautifully off buildings and the gleaming distant architecture is just begging to be climbed, descending to street level strips away the glitz and glam normally associated with the New York skyline.

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