tiistai 9. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - Spider-Man: Web of Shadows | DS | 2008

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure / Beat 'em up
RELEASED: October 21, 2008
DEVELOPER(S): Griptonite Games
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

How do you know you're reaching the end? The last on the whopping list of Spider-Man games - for now, and I assure you, a long while from now - is called Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. Three totally different versions of the game were announced in the spring of 2008: one for the PC, PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360, one for the PlayStation 2 and PSP, and finally, one exclusive to the Nintendo DS. Although the storylines between the three versions were similar, the three versions differed greatly in gameplay and cast. While the console versions were deemed typical, boring and glitchy, yet not totally bashed by critics, it was surprisingly the DS version which got the most praises for its Metroidvania-influenced gameplay, cool 2.5D graphics and good physics. The praises didn't go to waste here - Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is the best Spidey game I've played in a very long time. No bullshit.

Goin' out with a bang... uh, swing

As if Venom by himself wasn't enough for Spider-Man to handle, New York City gets overrun by an army of symbiotes. Convinced that his arch rival is once again running with the wrong crowd, being too simple and straightforward for such a massive attack, Spider-Man sets out to search for Eddie Brock for answers. Meanwhile, Spider-Man's allies and foes alike are working towards stopping the alien invasion.

With about twenty Spidey games behind me, it's hard to believe anything fresh or positively surprising would come along, much less with the last title of one lengthy branch, and even less a DS game. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is like a combination of the few good qualities of the DS games that came before it, spiced up with simple, but fluid and effective beat 'em up action set in the world of Metroidvania, with some decision-making with long-term effects involved. As it is, the game would not work on a major system - if this was a console game, I'd probably call it boring and repetitive. As a handheld game, it's just what the doctor ordered. Keep a charger at bay at all times, at the very least don't leave home without it.

Don't mind me, evil symbiotes. Just
swingin' by.
What might come as a bit of a surprise to you and me both, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows isn't that good-looking. Character animation is superb, but the cutscenes, comprised of slideshows, ain't much to look at, and most backgrounds are really dark - I'm surprised the developers didn't give us an option for gamma correction, the correct paths are sometimes really hard to spot - double that since you can't see where you're going on the touch screen map, just the room you're in is highlighted. Enemy design is somewhat boring; at first it seems you never know what to expect since even wild animals are taken over by the Venom symbiote, but after just a couple of levels, you'll realize you've seen at least 80% of the whole enemy cavalcade. The bosses are either stronger versions of those same enemies, or some other generic symbiote victims. It's safe to say that this game wasn't made for observation (like someone would watch you play a DS game anyway...).

The sound continues to impress. Though the music's not very memorable, a full voiceover track on a DS card is quite damn impressive, and it sounds impressive; voiceover stalwarts all over the place, guaranteeing a smooth delivery for a good and unique story which once again pits Spider-Man against my favourite villain - someone say one-dimensional? I think I must feed...

Games with the Spider-Man vs. Venom (as well as Spiderman w/ Venom) set-up have been made for ages and even I've missed a few even though I've reviewed a huge bulk of 'em, so in 2008, a synopsis so simple wouldn't be enough to build up to an exciting start for a game. Web of Shadows looks simple enough; everyone's been taken over by the Venom symbiote, and even though Spidey figures soon enough that even Eddie wouldn't be cruel or stupid enough to infect a whole city with the black plague, he's still on the run and it's up to Spider-Man to catch him and squeeze out some answers as to who's running the show. Characters from both sides of Spider-Man's web-slinging law are doing their parts in the liberation of New York, some to actually protect it and some to save the conquest of the city for themselves.

So the game really can't be explained any further; it's a side-scrolling beat 'em up platformer in the style of Metroidvania. Some exits are locked - or rather sealed by symbiote goo - until you beat up every enemy in the room. Beating bosses grants you hard upgrades, such as lifting strength for both your arms and web, so you can lift up heavy blockades, even from afar, to gain entry to a new area. Collectables such as maximum health upgrades are hidden around the levels. At save points, scattered along in classic Metroidvania fashion - and almost as illogically - you can purchase new moves for both of your suits. Yes, suits... to follow is a series of disappointments, which don't really hurt the game all that much, but through which we come to the realization how stripped the game is from the basic concept (well, the execution of the basic concept apparently sucked on the big boys, so who really cares...?).

Uh... this looks kinda kinky.
Well, first of all, the suits were made to be totally different from each other and the gameplay is supposed to feel completely different depending on which suit you're using, but it's not fundamentally different at all. There are some occasions you need to use the black suit's capabilities besides its higher strength attributes in order to make progress, but in general, you'll be just fine either way. Decision-making is narrowed down to one single instance, and there are no different endings, at its worst it's like an ad for the console game - which, again, flopped, and it was this game that garnered in the critics' favour. Gotta remind you of that every once in a while so you wouldn't misunderstand me here. Finally, the game is very short... which, however, might be just right for this sort of simplicity. Back to the ups again.

The most notable praises are once again aimed at the minimal use of that damn touch screen. You use the touch screen to zoom the map in and out, and after each death to "kickstart" Spidey in a similar fashion as you resurrected your character in Iron Man 2, by directing health orbs floating around the screen towards his nearly lifeless torso. If you succeed, he respawns immediately. To keep the game from becoming too easy, you only have two shots in one combat scene; if you die again in the same spot, you're taken all the way back to the last save point. My verdict on this system? I think it's fair, a good compromise. Well done.

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows has a lot of flaws, but most of them are of the minor variety that aren't there to remind you of their existence at all times, they just pop up from time to time to keep you from thinking that you're playing a perfect game of its kind. Good tempo, the Metroidvania schtick and trying out new moves are things that keep you addicted even if beating up the same blue bastards screen after screen got boring. The game might not be all that special in principle, as I'm disappointed at how it fails to live up to some of the most important expectations brought on by its big brother's ambitious concept, but I'll say it this one last time: what's a good concept worth without good execution? This game certainly has that, and that's the important thing. I'm glad to bid farewell to Spidey with such a quality game.

+ Minimal use of the touch screen; I really hate that gadget, as you might've figured out
+ Something about Metroidvania that always gets me
+ Increasingly complex, but good controls
+ Tasty upgrades

- Short (to the point, though)
- Lack of different endings and real decision-making
- No truly fundamental differences between the two suits as far as I'm concerned
- Dark backgrounds, bland enemy design

< 8.0 >

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