You would think that a universe as rich and deep as Spider-Man's would translate well to the world of interactive video games. Yet for some strange reason Activision has had nothing but problems lately bringing this comic book character to the game consoles. Spider-Man 3 was littered with technical problems that marred any fun you might have, and last year's Spider-Man: Friend or Foe turned the franchise into a kid-friendly Final Fight-style brawler. Without a movie license to weigh it down, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows looked like the game that could resurrect this webby hero. The good news is that this is the best Spider-Man game in years. Unfortunately, like so many other recent attempts, it falls just short of being the must-own Spider-Man game you've been waiting for.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows has an interesting gimmick; it allows you to play through the game choosing whether you want to be good (red suit) or bad (black suit). The story starts out strong; it features our hero (along with the SHIELD forces) fighting a losing battle against some sort of symbiote invasion. From the get-go you can tell that this all out war on New York City is taking its toll on the webcrawler, especially when it comes to his relationship with Mary Jane. At first you don't know what's wrong, but it won't take more than a few hours playing Web of Shadows before this tale starts to make sense.
The problem is that Peter Parker is conflicted. Even though he's defeated Venom and the symbiote invasion, he's having a hard time reconciling the complex emotions he has as a superhero. He wants to do the right thing, but there's a certain feeling he gets from letting his "bad" side come out. This is the crux of Web of Shadows, it allows you to take Spidey on this adventure and choose whether he is going to be the superhero everybody wants him to be ... or if he's going to misbehave and turn his back on all of his old friends. Either way it makes for an exciting story that not only feels like it's taken directly from the comic book, but also light years ahead of anything they could have done with a restrictive movie license.
After the exciting set-up, Spider-Man is forced to start taking missions from all sorts of good (and bad) guys around the city. You start out by running missions for Luke Cage, who essentially teaches Spider-Man everything he already knows (for your benefit). From there he's off to complete missions for Black Cat, Moon Knight and even Wolverine. In a lot of ways these missions are doled out similar to what you would see in a Grand Theft Auto game, each of these larger-than-life characters have problems they need solving, and usually that means that you will need to take part in some epic boss fight.
Like Spider-Man 2 and 3, Web of Shadows takes place in a fictionalized New York City, complete with huge skyscrapers, tons of crime and, of course, Central Park. Thanks to the game's easy controls it's incredibly fun to swing through the city, even if you're just goofing off. Taking a page from last year's sleeper hit, Crackdown, Web of Shadows gives you incentives for just exploring the city. Scattered throughout the rooftops are little upgrade icons, which allow you to add new moves and abilities to your arsenal. There's something addictive about just swinging from skyscraper to skyscraper looking for these little icons; it doesn't hurt that this is one of the first times where I've truly felt like I was playing as Spider-Man.
While it's easy to compare this game to other Spider-Man games, I found myself constantly coming back and likening it to that of Crackdown. When I reviewed Microsoft's "superhero" game last year I was impressed by how much it made me feel like a real comic book character. Unfortunately, I was also disappointed that I never seemed to get into the big comic book fights that you see in the movies and in the comic strips.
Thankfully Web of Shadows took notes, because this Spider-Man game is at its best when you're going up against all of Spider-Man's arch villains. It doesn't hurt that most of these battles take place hundreds of feet above street level, so there's always that danger of missing a swing and falling to your death. To make things even more complicated, most of the bosses require you to actually use your head when in the middle of a fight. In some situations you will need to save civilians while battling the boss, or take out a bunch of secondary characters all while working your way back to their leader. In one inspired boss fight you actually have to answer Spider-Man trivia, which can be a real pain in the butt if all you know are the Spider-Man movies. With the exception of one or two battles, each and every one of these bosses are memorable. It's almost a shame Activision didn't include a mode where all you did was battle these bosses, I would love to play a few of these epic fights again without spending another ten hours playing through the standard missions.
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