Review: Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

SMWOS_360.jpg Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is the buggiest, most unpolished game I’ve played all year, bar none. And I’m not talking tiny flaws that are mildly unsightly. Oh no, I’m talking serious game-altering flaws that truly put a crimp in the entire experience, flaws like enemies vanishing in thin air right as you’re trying to hit them or getting stuck in buildings while they can hit you but you can’t hit them; dialogue that occasionally cuts out during cut scenes leaving you clueless as to what’s being said; a spastic camera that gets thrown all out of whack any time you try to run up walls or buildings; and a frame rate that’s so unstable at times that swinging around the open cityscape is a jittery mess.

It’s a shame that the game is so riddled with bugs and rudimentary design flaws, too, because underneath the mess is one hell of an entertaining superhero experience. Web of Shadows is a sandbox-style game like its predecessors, so generally speaking the gameplay is very similar. You swing around a virtual recreation of NYC, stopping gang wars, rescuing citizens from danger and performing other basic superhero duties on the side while undertaking campaign missions that follow a new, more comic-style story (no more movie tie-ins, thank goodness!) that sees the city under siege by symbiotes.

The writing and voice acting are kinda lame — on par with what you’d find in a superhero cartoon really — but overall the story is a fun ride. You get to meet up with numerous heroes and villains from the Marvel universe and even confront many of them in some truly memorable boss encounters, and even get to choose good and evil paths through the game that dictate how the story plays out and which ending you receive.

Combat has always been the Spider-Man franchise’s bugaboo, but with Web of Shadows Activision brought Shaba Games on board to focus development on improving the lackluster combat mechanics that have plagued previous titles. Mission accomplished! The new combat engine is light-years above and beyond what’s been done in a Spider-Man game before. Combat knows no bounds. You can pound enemies into submission on the ground or on walls, switch things up and take to the skies and battle evildoers while swinging through the air, or fight on all fronts using the new web-strike move that enables you to latch onto enemies from afar and chain together attacks. Spidey is also equipped with two suits that you can switch between on the fly – his traditional red-and-blue getup and the black symbiote suit – each offering unique combat abilities and play styles.

By defeating enemies, you even earn experience to use to build Spidey’s powers, and as you beat bosses you gain the special ability to call them to your side to help out in a tough battle for a short time. The enemies and missions are pretty repetitive, but thanks to this diverse combat engine beating up on gang bangers and symbiotes never gets boring. All of these elements combined make this is the first game in the series that truly makes you feel like you are Spider-Man, and that’s an accomplishment Activision, Shaba and Treyarch should be incredibly proud of.

However, with the game packing such high entertainment value, it’s all the more disappointing that it was released in such an unpolished state. Honestly, how Web of Shadows cleared final QA testing is beyond me. Clearly Activision was in a rush to get this game out in time for the holiday shopping season, but in doing so they rushed out a game that simply wasn’t ready for prime time. The core gameplay fundamentals are in place and really a lot of fun, though, so if you don’t mind putting up with the occasional glitch or ugly frame rate stutter this is a game you will surely enjoy.

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Pros:
+ New combat system is fluid and action-packed
+ Swinging around virtual NYC is still good fun
+ Memorable boss encounters and Marvel character cameos
+ Rewarding suit upgrade system

Cons:
– Bugs, bugs and more bugs…
– Unstable frame rate
– Poor voice acting
– Repetitive mission and enemy types

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available for PS3, PS2, PSP, PC, DS and Wii
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Shaba / Treyarch
Release Date: 10/21/08
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!