GAME PREVIEW: "Spider-Man: Web of Shadows"

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows,” the new action game from Activision developed by Shaba / Treyarch and based on the Marvel Comics superhero, is scheduled for release October 22. Last week, CBR News got a hands-on first look at the game, which will be available on most console platforms, Nintendo DS and PC.

Like “The Incredible Hulk” released earlier this year as well as previous Spider-Man games, “Web of Shadows” continues the tradition of free-roaming action around an eight-square mile chunk of Manhattan. Missions are accessible at player’s discretion, and roaming mobs allow for a quick fight. Also, being a Spider-Man game, traveling around town is best accomplished with web slinging. Shaba’s mission statement in this game: take fluidity of motion and bring it to an action game.

In this game, the agile and frenzied feel of Spider-Man comes through in a camera system that is dynamic and impressive in its ability to keep action in focus. For even greater control, the camera can lock onto a target. To find enemies, Spidey can send out a quick burst of Spider-Sense, making target appear in the mini-map at the top left hand corner of the screen.

Focusing on combat, the attacks are varied and built to stack up combos. Escalating the number of combos is one of the principle skills to be learned in the game. Combos are registered by a hit-counter and it is possible to get as much as 300 hits on an enemy target.

One basic skill is web-strike. A move in which Spider-Man uses his webs to hold onto an enemy and quickly attack it. The move requires a bit of timing and a little time to learn, but a successful use is truly satisfying. Crawling is a dynamic that feels true to the concept and offers some moves and abilities of its own. Crawling up the Empire State Building and looking across Manhattan gives you a feel for the scope of the game world. Swinging and jumping across town via the skyscrapers is also quite thrilling. Though not a combat move, as such, swinging can start several combo moves. Swinging in and kicking an enemy off its footing is, like web-strike, satisfying.

Combos and moves are unlocked as the player advances through the game’s story line. Web-strike, for instance, become available roughly a half-hour into gameplay. Mastering moves offers a real feel of achievement. Once enough skills are mastered, the game opens up. Combat high over the streets of New York looks and feels true to Spider-Man.

“Web of Shadows” features both the classic Spidey costume and the black symbiote suit. Both suits have different attacks and advantages. The classic costume offers web-strike, while the black suit offers strength and allows Spidey to pick up cars and use them against enemy. Suits can be switched on the fly, allowing for full access to both power sets. If the suit is switched in the middle of a combo, Spidey will finish the previous powerset’s combo and switch. Switching suits also changes the way Spider-Man recovers health. In the classic suit, Spidey will recover health over time while not in combat. In the black suit, Spidey drains health from defeated enemies.

The player’s actions and choices determine the outcome of the game. Characters such as Wolverine, Black Cat, and Luke Cage will either fight with or against Spidey depending on a given situation. This moral mechanic, like the “Knights of the Old Republic” games, also effect the ultimate outcome of the game, which has several possible endings. Some of the supporting characters can become playable if Spider-Man calls out for an assist. Though, no one would confirm if Wolverine is on that list.

While the above aspects of the game appear on the Xbox 360 version, it remains true of the Wii version as well. Activision and Shaba showed great care in maintaining the story and gameplay of the high power consoles. The gameplay, combo system, and even the menu all remain the same. While not having access to the complex shaders and colors of the high definition consoles, the graphics still have care in them. The whole city appears without redraw. The scale is the same as the Xbox version.

In translating the control scheme to the Wii Remote and nunchuck, the team tried various schemes. The end result is extremely satisfying, with Web-strike becoming somewhat easier to learn in the Wii version. While the Xbox control uses the Y button to execute the move, the Wii remote is flung left. Though not the graphic powerhouse of the other consoles, the Wii version will not feel like a cast-off port of the game. Additional assist characters will appear exclusively on the Wii version, but the developer would not reveal their identities. The developers also teased about some added Wii content.

No matter the platform, “Spider-man: Web of Shadows” is an entertaining title that brings a lot of the character’s flavor and comic book quirks to the video game format.

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