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Reviewed by Jason Thompson
hen it comes to Spider-Man video games, I’ve played a ton of ‘em. For some reason, Spidey seems to not get a lot of love when it comes to his games. Granted, ever since the webslinger’s hit movies have pretty much taken over the course of his video game counterparts, things have felt a bit static over the years. Still, those games weren’t at all bad, and other ventures, such as “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Spider Man: Friend or Foe” were, to my own satisfaction, a lot of fun. So now we have Treyarch’s latest Spidey game, “Web of Shadows.”
To date, this is personally the most fun I’ve had playing a Spider-Man game, hands down. Unfortunately, the game is riddled with a few bugs that drop its overall rating a bit, but all in all this game is taking the Spider-Man franchise in the right direction. Gone are the pointless time trial races, Mary Jane “thrill rides” and other nonsense that cluttered up some of the past games. Also gone this time are Robbie and J. Jonah Jameson, probably because, most of all, Peter Parker is also gone from this game. Yep, this time out you’re playing as Spider-Man and Spider-Man only, so you won’t have to take pictures, listen to Peter complain about being late for class, or any of that other usual stuff.
Treyarch has gone a long way to make this new game a purely action-filled title, and with that they have succeeded greatly. In this game, Venom is wreaking havoc all over New York City and turning its denizens and everyone else who comes into contact with him evil symbiotes. If you recall, Spider-Man’s original black costume came to the planet as an alien symbiote being, attaching itself to Peter Parker and giving his old costume a whole lot of new powers. Of course, everything went to hell, and Parker finally shed himself of the alien, which found a new host in Eddie Brock, Peter’s nemesis and the person who would ultimately become Venom.
The game opens with Manhattan in ruins, Mary Jane pissed at Spidey for using his own symbiotic powers once again, and it looks like all is to be destroyed for good. Players then get to play the previous four days’ worth of action that led up to this mess. In the meantime they’ll encounter foes and allies such as Luke Cage, Black Cat, Wolverine, Moon Knight, Vulture, Electro and Rhino. No Green Goblin this time around. No biggie, either. At various points, players can call upon these other characters to assist Spider-Man in his battles. At the same time, players are also free to switch between original Spidey and symbiotic Spidey with the click of the left analog stick. This ability allows the player to set up a multitude of sweet and destructive combos with each costume separately, or together by switching in between them in the middle of a combo.
Spider-Man’s abilities are upgradeable by completing tasks, as well as through collecting various spider icons strewn about the city. I just let the game auto-upgrade my abilities for me, and found that this was perfectly fine, and actually balanced things out nicely. Various qualities such as ground attacks, web attacks, super attacks and the like are upgraded as the game is played, allowing Spider-Man to pull off some really impressive moves. Between the two costumes, the black one pulls off the cooler stunts, but both are highly effective.
So let’s get to the stuff that makes this game less than what it could be. While the web swinging in this game is as fluid as it has ever been, the camera is still a bit wonky when following Spider-Man up close, especially when he is locked on to targets. It’s especially frustrating when you want to swing up to a building and attach yourself to it, only to have the camera freak out in nine different directions. In addition to that problem, during some of the game’s third act missions, there was considerable slowdown in the frame rate when multiple enemies were on the screen. It got so bad at one point that the game actually locked up and had to be reset. Thankfully, this only happened once, but the point is it shouldn’t have happened at all, especially given this point in the 360’s life and Treyarch’s familiarity making these Spider-Man games all these years.
Yet these are minor glitches overall, and what’s left is a solid and terrific Spider-Man game. Spidey’s costume has a nice new shine to it, and doesn’t look like that flexible fabric introduced in the movies and its spin-off games. Black Cat has never been more alluring, and for the first time Rhino looks especially great in a video game, not relegated to just some goofy-looking cartoon mockup. There are plenty of side missions that don’t detract from the game, as they are usually completed within the same time as main missions, and Spidey’s dry sense of humor is well intact. The boss battles are all equally challenging, with the final confrontation with Venom being especially awe-inspiring.
Ultimately, players are challenged at certain points in the game with choosing whether to be good or bad in Spider-Man’s decisions. This ultimately affects certain outcomes of the game. As for me, I mainly played it up good, only diverting a couple of times (once to finally let Spidey get his groove on with Black Cat and the other time to just pummel the shit out of Electro after a second boss encounter with him). But every player will get to choose his own path. All of this adds up to the most fun and action-packed Spider-Man game to come around in a long time. As Stan Lee would himself say at this point, “Excelsior!”