Spider-Man: Web of Shadows Preview
With few exceptions, games based on popular comic book and superhero licenses generally trip on their capes and fall flat. One needn’t look further than this past summer's mediocre Iron Man and Incredible Hulk titles to be reminded of the genre's shortcomings. One of the few beacons of promise among the lackluster line-up has been Activision's Spider-Man efforts; both Spider-Man: The Movie and Spider-Man 2--based on their respective films--provided some of the best day-saving and do-gooding last generation saw. Spidey's more recent track record, however, hasn't been quite so spotless. Spider-Man 3, the web-swingers next-gen debut felt more like an undercooked Spider-Man 2.5, and the more recent Friend or Foe was cool...if you were 9 years old. With no movie to restrict its storytelling, and true next-gen tech powering its performance, Activision and developers TreyArch and Shaba hope to return the franchise's sparkling reputation with their upcoming Spider-Man: Web of Shadows.
The story, if you haven't been following this one, involves a symbiote invasion enveloping New York City in a black goo. Executive Producer Graham Fuchs explains it better: “It’s based on the comic book universe, but it’s not tied to any particular story arc. New York City has been invaded, S.H.I.E.L.D has declared martial law—they’re evacuating the city. Luke Cage is making a last stand in Harlem, Kingpin is holdup in his stronghold in midtown, gathering his forces to battle the invasion. The player is Spider-Man in the middle of all this, and it’s really up to them to decide how they want to deal with the invasion.” The alien threat can take a variety of Spidey-besting forms, from smaller minions to much larger boss-like monstrosities. It can also spread its evil-doing deeds to innocent civilians and even other classic superheroes and villains. One of the coolest examples of this that Activision recently revealed--they've been keeping a pretty tight lid on this title--sees cigar-chomping bad boy Wolverine being infected by the mysterious threat, and turning on Spider-Man; with suped-up, Adamantium-supported rage, the mutton-chopped X-Man opens a sixer of whup-ass on Peter Parker's alter ego. Impressive moments like these promise not only to set the stage for epic battles, but also to allow gamers a glimpse of a side of our favorite Marvel heroes we rarely see.
On top of the gooey black invasion, the web-head will face the usual assortment of goons and henchmen, many of which are led by super baddies like Vulture and Kingpin. With Spidey up against so many different threats it makes perfect sense the developers have crafted a from-the-ground-up fighting system. The major complaint surrounding previous games in the series has been the lack of a fighting engine, and players didn't really feel as if they're beneath Spidey's spandex. Executive Producer Graham Fuchs assures this has been addressed: "We’ve put in a whole new combat system, one that gives players the ability to fight the way Spider-Man should fight; a real ability to control, upgrade and evolve Spidey throughout the game. Depending on what fighting style you prefer, you’ll be able to focus on specific areas in improving Spidey." The new system puts a focus on combo-crazy combat, and also awards XP that can be applied to upgrade specific moves. Additionally, it supports a verticality previous unseen in Spidey's fisticuffs; ground-based battles can now be brought to the sides of skyscrapers and onto their rooftops. So, an altercation that begins in the streets could see players utilizing a slick new move that sees Spider-Man tethering himself to enemies, bouncing off them, and then continuing to beat them while moving the action to a vertical surface; players can then continue battling, chaining combos up the side of the structure and--if the bad guy lives long enough--finish the fight towering high above the NYC streets they began it on.
Pulling off this sort of action is no easy task, and mastering the most sophisticated moves will grant more power-boosting XP. Of course, the title's other big feature--being able to switch between Spidey's traditional red-and-blue suit and evil-infused black one--offers a nice boost in battles. With a click of the left thumbstick, players can seamlessly switch from badass to badder ass and back again. Based on what we've seen it looks like the former nicely handles the web-swinging—a mechanic that seems mostly unchanged from previous games--while the latter ensures your enemies will fear your fists. How much you rely on the killer black costume will affect how other heroes, villains, and civilians react to you. While this certainly has our interests piqued, it still remains to be seen how well it will be implemented. We've seen the whole moral-path thing play out before, usually to little actual effect on a game's outcome. Still, the prospect of siding with good guys and bad, not to mention that table-turning Wolverine encounter, has us excited about donning both suits and watching where the morality chips fall.
Web of Shadow's handlers have talked a lot about the presence of other classic Marvel characters showing up in the game, but have kept most of the details tightly locked away in J. Jonah's desk. Activision's obviously betting a lot on this appealing aspect, as they've slapped Wolverine's mean mug right on the final box art. We'll have to wait and see just how beefy the the roster is, and to what degree these other costumed cohorts are woven into the final product. Based on what we have seen, though--combo-driven combat, skyscraper-scaling battles, suit-switching gameplay, truly next-gen visuals, and silky smooth web-swinging—this one’s poised to deliver some sweet Spidey action. And, if they can take all that, successfully fuse it with the symbiote storyline and moral-path mechanic, we could be playing the best Spider-Man game ever when Web of Shadows swings onto consoles this Fall.