Activision recently held a media event, giving Newsarama an opportunity to play a few of their major upcoming fall releases and chat with the people involved in their creation. First up from the even is the all-new, non-movie-based Spider-Man: Web of Shadows.
This is the first Spider-man game in the action-adventure style to not be directly tied to a specific storyline or property (besides the Spider-Man license itself, of course) since the days of the original PlayStation. Since then, gamers have seen four major console action games based on the wall-crawler, with three based on the movie and one set in the universe of the comic book Ultimate Spider-Man. This story is completely new, and not set in any strict continuity, though it borrows elements from several great eras of Spidey tales. Comic writer Brian Reed scripted the game, using his love for and knowledge of comics to lend the proper tone. From the few story elements seen in the three or so levels available in this build, he’s crafted an interesting story and downright nailed the characters involved.
The story is set in Manhattan, NY, and centers around a concept familiar to Marvel fans: alien invasion. This has the “symbiote” race that spawned characters like Venom, Carnage, and many more, launching a full scale invasion, releasing globs of black goo across the city. The motivation behind this sudden move has yet to be revealed, but I was assured there is a climactic battle, implying someone is behind the scenes. It may sound a bit like a recent Mighty Avengers arc to some fans, but aside from the general backdrop of “symbiote invasion,” the story shares few similarities, if any. Throughout the tale, choices are presented to the player after major events. You can choose to follow the darker instincts the black suit provides you, or go the red-and-blue power = responsibility route. Each time you make one of these choices, you will guide the story along in that direction. Sometimes these choices lead to new allies. Some have been mentioned before, such as Wolverine and Luke Cage, along with the recently announced Black Cat. We also saw Moon Knight as an ally-able character, along with the literal big man on campus, the Kingpin. A few other potential allies remain to be seen, but there were several grayed-out possibilities. If you begin down one path, it is possible to double back for a time, though there is eventually a point of no return, where you’re either going down the dark path or letting your conscience guide you. Moon Knight is crazy, Luke Cage is no-nonsense and tough, and Black Cat is seductive and playful; they all fit their established comic personas like a glove. But how did it play?
Well, the jump from Spider-man 3: The Game to this one is about the same that the PS1 to the PS2 games made: huge. The controls, especially in regards to fighting, have been completely redone. It’s all about using all of your spider powers simultaneously to get the job done the way only Spidey can. First, you locate your targets with your spider-sense, giving a vectorized, colored view of where you can find the baddies. Next, you sling, crawl, and wall run to the enemies. These have all been simplified, and feel more natural than the same movements have in prior titles. Upon arrival, you start off every combo with a web attack, slingshot-ing Spidey into the fray. From here, you can opt to begin a melee combo, a throw (flinging your opponent into the air for a high-flying combination), or kick flip yourself off that enemy and onto another. This one-start-for-all approach is fantastic, and really fun. I found myself pulling off advanced combos within minutes of getting my hands on the game. There are some standard ground melee-only combos, too, but the web-based ones are so entertaining, most gamers will likely ignore the ground attacks nearly altogether. New side-of-building combat has been implemented as well. When fighting enemies along the outside of a building, the camera turns to offer Spidey’s horizontal view, making it much easier to continue the battle. In addition, you can change between the two costumes on the fly with a simple click of the left control stick. The black suit is stronger, the red and blue is more agile and quick. It makes for some ridiculous combinations.
The graphics allow for a natural Spider-Man experience as well. All the characters I saw looked the part of their comic book origin. Familiar buildings smatter around Manhattan, including ones only found in the comics, like the Baxter Building and Stark Tower, complete with The Sentry’s Watchtower atop. The other boroughs of NYC are not accessible, but they are visible, so Manhattan doesn’t look like it’s a magic island disconnected in the middle of an ocean.
Having my hands on this game for a relatively short time made me all that much more anxious to play it more. I was somewhat wary of this game going in, as the last one turned me off to the franchise somewhat. Now, I’m ready to slap on my web shooters, merge with a symbiotic alien, and get out into New York to kick some alien butt.
The Wii Difference
In addition to playing the game on both PS3 and the Xbox 360 (of which there was literally no difference between the two), I had the opportunity to take Spidey out for a swing with the Wiimote. This is a rare multiplatform game, as the same story (along with the same graphical concept) will be included in the Wii version. Most have a stripped-down or rearranged version in order to fit the Wii’s lower tech specs. The controls here were surprisingly easy and natural. There are still button presses, with Wiimote and Nunchuck motions only being assigned to those moves that would be obvious. Not everything is a motion-control just to be a motion-control, and thus far that made things better than a lot of “core” games on the Wii. The Wii version was notably more glitchy than the others, with Spidey getting stuck in the sides and rooftops of buildings, and the occasional “Woah, that building came out of nowhere!” moment. However, that’s likely to change by the time the final version comes out. If you only have a Wii, you can absolutely still be excited about this game. If you have one of the other systems, the superior production quality allowed for on them along with the well-mapped controls will make those versions worthwhile over this one.
Stay tuned for tons more coverage from the Activision event, including interviews with a developer and a producer of Spider-man: Web of Shadows, and some more hints of what’s to come in the game when it ships late this month.