Oh, the Webs We Weave
Spider-man has made five previous appearances on DS, yet with each new game, Activision seems intent on offering something new. Ultimate Spider-man was a beautifully cel-shaded beat`em-up that gave players not only the ability to pull off some really fun Spidey techniques, but afforded us the added opportunity to take on the role of Venom, one of the web slinger’s greatest foes.
Spider-man 3 made extensive use of the touch screen, mapping most of the controls to the stylus, and it was a unique experience from past DS Spider-man games. Web of Shadows, however, goes back to a more traditional control set-up – utilizing all of the system’s buttons (with a few touch-screen features thrown in) – but the level design and pacing are something completely new for the series.
One of the very first things you’ll likely notice about Web of Shadows is its visual quality. This is a very good-looking DS game. You begin your adventure in a half-destroyed apartment building; you’re on the hunt for Venom. The streets of New York are mobbed with zombie-like, symbiotes who’ve fallen victim to one truly dangerous, alien menace. The environments are very atmospheric, the lighting is great on DS, and players will immediately get lulled into the experience by a pristine production.
Though previews of the game have compared Web of Shadows to the Castlevania series, it also plays out a bit like the modern Ninja Gaiden games, yet from a side-scrolling perspective. Routinely, when you enter a new area of the map, you’ll be required to dispatch a set number of enemies before the exit becomes available. These encounters are usually brief, and the game does a great job of varying enemy types, even from the very early stages of the game. The level design is quite interesting and plays well to the abilities Spider-man possesses. Like many action-adventure games of this sort, there are areas you won’t have access to from the start, but as you progress, new powers will enable you to later get at various items and extras laid out throughout the game.
Perhaps the most rewarding element of Web of Shadows is its combat system. When we initially watched the teaser trailer for this game, the combat looked cool, but we weren’t sure just how accurately that would play out in the actual end product. Amazingly enough, all those cool combos are not only possible, but they’re easy to pull off, fun as heck, and the game wastes no time in allowing you to role-play as one of the coolest super heroes in the Marvel pantheon.
There are six control configurations, though the game doesn’t allow you to assign buttons for a custom set-up. However, once you get used to your preferred choice, things should be smooth sailing. Spidey can punch and kick, web zip, web sling (of course), dodge, and switch suits on the fly. In addition to Spider-man’s normal form, you’ll be able to transform into Spidey’s symbiote alter ego, which will afford him unique powers to aid in negotiating various obstacles and baddies. Chaining combos is very straight-forward and extremely fun, yet there are almost endless degrees with which to utilize Spider-man’s abilities. You can dodge-roll into an enemy and proceed to riddle him with a series of lightning-fast kicks, or waylay an enemy toe-to-toe, upper-cut him up off the ground, pound him while in midair, and then finish him off with a web-slinging kick. Depending on the angle and/or length of your web, you can even manage to knock back a slew of enemies at once. There’s a lot of room here for serious fans of action games to go crazy.
Web of Shadows also offers a substantial challenge, one which, in the latter parts of the game, might prove pretty tough for some folks. Spider-man has both a health gauge and a gauge that keeps track of how many times he’s fallen in battle. You can increase the maximum capacity of each, and the system works well and breathes a little bit of new life into the pacing of such games. Rather than die outright when Spidey’s health bar reaches zero, you’ll play a timed mini-game to re-collect health bubbles, as well as destroy poison bubbles. When the timer runs out, you’re thrown back into the fray with whatever health you were able to recover from the mini-game. However, if Spidey’s other gauge runs out and he’s been knocked out too many times, you’ll have to restart from your last save. It’s a forgiving system, but since the enemies are fierce and there are often large groups on you at once, it alleviates much of the tediousness that’s otherwise common in this sort of adventure game.
The gameplay is great and it has good pacing, but Web of Shadows isn’t without its shortcomings. There is a bit of backtracking involved, and though you’ll often gain new abilities that will allow you to bypass parts of a level you’ve previously navigated, making your way back through some areas can be a chore due to the nature of a few of the game’s platforming elements, not to mention the quite formidable enemies you’ll have to wade through each time you re-enter an area. Additionally, the early map offers no indication as to where you are in relation to a specific portion of a level you’re currently traversing. So, you’ll often be engaged in a bit of tedious poking and prodding in order to find your way to the next area of the map. However, later you will attain a more detailed map of each district, but it will entail…some backtracking.
These are relatively minor gripes, however, especially considering all the other aspects of the game. You’ll be able to explore at your own pace, and there are a ton of cool abilities to acquire along the way, most of them absolutely essential to your survival later in the game. Enemies drop orbs when they are defeated, and you’ll use them to both heal Spidey and purchase new abilities at various save points (public restrooms) sprinkled generously throughout the game. Additionally, you’ll encounter some pretty cool Marvel characters during the adventure, and alternate (though minor) story threads offer extra incentive to play through multiple times.
A last word of caution, however (though not necessarily a criticism): the game can be frustratingly difficult at times. Mobs of enemies will often converge on you without mercy, each one sporting a deadly arsenal of attacks and tons of health to back it up. Some bosses, too, can be real hand-breakers and take serious skill and patience to overcome. The gameplay in Web of Shadows definitely falls under the category of “hardcore,” as the A.I. is intelligent and will change its strategy if you attempt to spam the same moves over and over. Don’t be surprised if it takes you 20 or more attempts to beat some of the game’s later bosses. That said, there’s enough enjoyment here to inspire even a casual gamer to push themselves to the limit.
As mentioned, Web of Shadows is a very good-looking game, and the developers really worked to the strengths of the DS. All the textures are smooth, which is no small order on a system that can’t perform texture filtering. The 3D graphics run steady – another impressive feat, considering the many enemies that can accumulate onscreen at a given time. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered and add a great feel to the overall experience. You’ll often see a full view of the city off in the distance, as well as cars and other elements littered throughout levels – all wonderfully detailed. Of course, Web of Shadows is based on the Spider-man comics, and there are some attractive-looking 2D cutscenes thrown in for good measure.
The sound effects and music in the game are no less entertaining, adding both mood and a visceral quality to the gameplay. You can hear Spidey’s foot clops, web spray, and wall-slithering sounds as he makes his way through environments, and there are a lot of other subtle effects in the game that lend immersion to the adventure. Additionally, there’s plenty of scripted voice-over work, which helps tie the story together, as well as inject some of that signature Spider-man humor from time to time. The actual story is meager, but what’s here is entertaining and makes perfect sense alongside the high-octane gameplay.
Spider-man: Web of Shadows is a surprisingly refreshing addition to this series of DS games. With the many great titles coming out this holiday season – including Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia – it will no doubt be difficult for folks to choose which game(s) to spend their limited dollars on. Web of Shadows, however, does a very nice job of putting its best foot forward as a valid contender for your money. It’s short, there is a bit of tedium with the backtracking, and it’s competing in a virtual sea of gaming goodness ready to release within the next month or so. But for Spidey fans and action lovers alike, you can’t go wrong with this web-slinging adventure.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.6 Graphics
Though you’ll be running over a lot of the same ground, what’s here is some of the best-looking 3D seen on DS. 4.8 Control
Tons of variety with the move sets, and almost all of it is essential to Spidey’s survival. Linking combos is amazingly fun, and the controls are simply sublime. Perhaps the only criticism here is having to switch from the face buttons to stylus to revive Spider-man when he gets knocked out. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Wonderful ambient sounds and motion effects, lots of quality voice work to tie the story together, and the music is surprisingly epic at times. 4.0
The game clocks in at about six hours (give or take), but it’s an adventure you’ll want to relive. Various gameplay choices and stellar combat offer real replay value to the package, though the actual story is a bit meager.
4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.