So the question I ask today is which is worse, a game that is a great experience but extremely short, or a game that's a reasonable length but gets very repetitive?
The answer… well it depends on the price now doesn't it? None of this really matters because Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is what it is - a game of reasonable length, but very repetitive. It's chosen its side and now it has to suffer (ha! "It", sorry, I meant WE have to suffer) the consequences.
I should quickly say that it's not a terrible game, before you think you know my opinion and stop reading. Stay with me and this will all make sense…
The story is all original, and because there was no movie tie-in the developers were able to come up with their own take on the franchise, and this also allowed for them to bring in cameos from other Marvel heroes and villains. The concept of the story is good, but it's told terribly. Very little is explained. You know Venom has found a way to make more of his symbiotic suit (no idea how, as you're never told) and infect people in the city. Eventually Shield is brought in to quarantine the city and fight it off, and only Spidey can save the day. At the start, Spider-Man also gets infected, and so he gets his black suit back. You can switch to it at any point. There aren't many differences between the red and black suit (both of which have different moves you can upgrade throughout the game). Black is a bit stronger while red is a bit more agile.
From a narrative point of view this also lets you make good or evil choices at different points in the game that will affect the way people see you, who will fight alongside you during story moments, and the ending you get. It is fun to get to make these choices and choose to be either the heroic Spider-Man, or the corrupt one. It's just a pity both versions will annoy you.
The voice acting is so-so for most of the characters, but Spider-Man will irritate you. He has a very whiny voice. Most of the witty banter Spider-Man is known for is lame and badly written, and there are even some questionable character choices he makes that you didn't get to decide, so that's just how they wrote him. There are a lot of interesting design choices made by the developers, for example there is no extra content to collect or costumes for you open up when you finish the game. This is terrible because it pretty much kills any real reason to play through the game more than twice (if you really wanted to see what happens when you made different choices). Another particularly odd one is that during a boss fight the enemy will stop to ask you random Marvel trivia questions. This may have seemed like a good idea at the time to the developers, but in reality very few people are actually going to know the answers and I'm not even 100% confident getting them right or wrong has much of an effect on the actual fight. It also pauses the action and ruins the pacing of what should have been an awesome combat scene.
Beyond those weird things Web Of Shadows is very similar to all the other free roaming Spider-Man games that have come out in the last few years. You have a Manhattan to freely swing around and do as you wish. There are random crimes to fight, the usual runaway cars with things attacking them, gang wars - there are a lot of gang wars (which later turn into monster wars, but it's really the same thing with a different paint job).
There are some significant differences between this and previous Spider-Man games. The most important is the combat. For the first time in a Spider-Man game, fighting is actually fun (for a little while anyway). Beyond the regular button mashing or combos (combo's you'll almost never use, I might add) the combat has a very important addition, which is the ability to attach a web to your enemies and pull yourself towards them to execute a number of attacks. This not only allows you to get into combat quicker, it also turns it into less of a button masher and more of a rhythm game as you have to learn to get the timing right. Mastering this attack style is extremely satisfying, especially when you manage to string your attacks from one enemy to the other. Clearing an entire city block of enemies without missing a beat or taking a hit can happen quite often if you're skilled enough. It also looks great because the developers worked on the camera so that you can focus on a single enemy and the camera will follow them around. This firstly makes everything easier to do, and makes the combat look a lot more cinematic and therefore entertaining.
Speaking of looks, this is one of those games where it's very much a mixed bag. There are some parts where is looks great (somehow any time Electro is on screen it looks better) and then at other times it looks like PlayStation 2 graphics… and not even very good PlayStation 2 graphics. The city is a bit more alive than previous games in the series. You also get a bit more interactivity with it, as building windows will smash and cars will blow up, for example. You will see the same textures over and over again and there aren't as many pedestrians in the city to make it feel overly dynamic. Later in the game, the lack of pedestrians makes sense based on the story, but at the start it's just a shame. With games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Saints Row 2 our standards are a bit higher than they were a few years ago, so it's time for Spider-Man to catch up a bit. I will admit the sky and clouds look great, though.
And that's good thing because you will spend quite a bit of time battling in the sky. Due to the new camera and combat system, the developers were able to create some great air combat. In previous Spider-Man games; any time you had to fight an enemy in the air it was a very frustrating experience. In Web of Shadows you can easily transition from ground, air and wall combat with ease, and it's all mostly satisfying. Some of my complaints with the combat are that every now and then some enemies will counter the attack. You are giving a visual queue when this is going to happen so you can react, but when you attach your web to an enemy who is going to counter you twenty times in a row, this just becomes annoying (and a major problem during the final boss fight especially).
My other complaint is that the combat begins to feel extremely repetitive, and unfortunately this happens early in the story.
The tutorial levels at the start are the game are terrible because they will force you to perform the same moves about thirty times before getting to move on. Firstly you have to practice the moves and then go out and fight gangs using them. It's boring, uncool and just a really bad idea. How no one realised during game testing that they needed to cut this back is beyond me. Considering you will spend the early game fighting these gangs and various other things using this technique, it doesn't need to be forced down our throats for the first hour. Thankfully swinging is still great. Ever since Spider-Man 2 captured the essence of what makes swinging fun, developers have been able to refine that feeling, and swinging around New York is as much fun as ever. Unfortunately you will notice a few bad slowdowns whilst doing so; there were times where I was happily swinging my merry way around, not doing anything in particular and no enemies in site and the game would slow down to a crawl for a few seconds.
All things aside, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows just feels like a game that had some good ideas put into it and was then stretched out to be made longer than it should have been. It just hurts it because it becomes repetitive and when game become repetitive then most people will stop playing them.
In all fairness, this is actually better than the last Spider-Man game like it (Spider-Man 3) as the graphics are a bit better, the combat is much better and the camera is less wonky (although it will break down often when you come off of a wall to the roof of a building). The problem is that the developers force you into doing the same things over and over again. The enemies are varied enough (more importantly your approach to the enemies will never have to change). The story isn't told very well, and when you stop to have conversations with other characters in order to progress in the story you are forced to click a button between every sentence! A chat conversation will never just flow, and that becomes really annoying because you can sit back and simply enjoy the story.
If you enjoyed Spider-Man 3 then you probably will enjoy this, as it is a better game. But after seeing the trailers or hearing about this game before it was released, I just cannot help but feel disappointed because this had the opportunity to be so much better. Developers have a lot more options these days and a free-roaming, open-world Spider-Man game complete with downloadable episodic content could have been awesome. The developers would have been better off if they'd released the game at a cheaper price, and in a few months released additional content with more story and enemies.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows would probably be better in short dosages and unfortunately I couldn't really recommend it for more than just a rental.