While it may be a while before we see another Spider-Man movie, Activision and Northern California-based developer Shaba Games are teaming up to give fans of the superhero something to help pass the time, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. The new game features an original story drawn from Spidey's comic roots, which offers considerably more material to work with than a film. We visited Shaba's San Francisco-based offices to get an early look at a work-in-progress version of the Xbox 360 game to find out what sort of trouble the webhead has gotten himself into this time.
Spidey hasn't lost a step--or a sling.
The game's original story appears to steer clear of the polarizing Brand New Day story arc that's been going on in the comics and focuses on Spidey dealing with a big mess. His arch nemesis Venom is back, and this time, the symbiote-powered villain has figured out a nasty new trick: infecting civilians to create clones of himself. Our friendly neighborhood hero is a bit slow to catch on, so before you know it, the city and its residents are under siege. The level of threat presented by the symbiote infection leads local law enforcement to call in SHIELD to help get things under control. Unfortunately, the counterterrorism and intelligence agency's solution is a mixed blessing: Manhattan is quarantined and cut off from the outside world, leaving those inside to fend for themselves. The good news is New York is fairly overflowing with heroes (and more than a few villains); the bad news is recent events have left the city in chaos resulting in a hefty "to do" list for Spidey. To save the day, Spidey will have to assist SHIELD in evacuating the uninfected, as well as work with both heroes and villains to fend off the symbiotes. He'll also have track down Venom and figure out how to undo the symbiote infection running rampant. If all that wasn't enough, Spidey has a bit of extra incentive to deal with the symbiote infection problem: He's been reinfected himself. While this makes for an epically bad day for Spidey, it's fertile ground for the game's premise.
Shaba reps gave us a look at a handful of sequences in our demo to give us an idea of what to expect from the game. The first part of our demo was set in Harlem and found Spidey helping Power Man, aka Luke Cage, defend the neighborhood. The sequence saw Spidey taking on ordinary thugs, as well as destroying cars as part of the mission. One of the key elements to the fighting was Spidey's ability to switch between his standard red and blue outfit to the black symbiote suit on the fly. While the mechanic is similar to the system seen in the Spider-Man 3 movie game, wearing the black suit doesn't have an immediate negative result. Instead, the effect of wearing the suit is cumulative--it will affect how civilians, heroes, and villains will perceive you, as well as interact with you. So, for example, depending on how you've been playing, villains may be more open to partnering with you than heroes or vice versa. From what we saw, the system is along the lines of the morality system in KOTOR although not as set in stone. You should be able to switch which way you lean pretty easily. Besides the moral implications, each suit will have its own unique specialty. The red and blue suit is speedy, featuring assorted web-based attacks, while the black suit is slower but packs devastating power.
As far as combat goes, Shaba was intent on giving the action in Web of Shadows a very fluid and graceful feel, much like Spidey moves in the comics. The battle we saw certainly looked the part with Spidey swinging or leaping around his enemies and coming at them from various angles. Switching between the suits was quick and changed the look of combat. For example, the black suit isn't as big on leaping around as it is on smashing and using tendrils to knock people around. Shaba's variation on Spidey's extrasensory "spider sense" is a way to track enemies by coloring threats in red, while keeping tabs on civilians and helpful characters by coloring them in blue. You'll be able to lock your view on specific enemies, which then makes all your movement relative to their position. From what we saw, this seems to work well for combat, although we're curious to see how the camera behaves in mob-heavy combat.
The next part of our demo showcased another combat type in Web of Shadows: building combat. The levels tasks Spidey with protecting SHIELD forces, who are attempting to airlift survivors out of the city from Venom's symbiotes shambling up the side of the building. The action got crazy as Spidey leapt up and down the sides of the building, fighting the climbing mobs of symbiotes. During this segment, Shaba reps pointed out the game's robust combo system, which uses an onscreen DMC style meter that rates your skills based on how many uninterrupted hits you can get on all your enemies. The longer your combo, the more experience orbs you'll earn. The upgrades will go toward powering up your moves as opposed to granting you all new ones.
Web of Shadows uses a combo-heavy combat system.
The final demo showcased a boss fight with the Vulture, which had Spidey racing after the airborne villain. Given the Vulture's greater mobility in the air, Spidey made constructive use of all the airborne minions zipping around the battle zone. This appears to be due, in part, to the game's swing system, which is based on Spider-Man 3's system and requires you to latch Spidey's webs onto something. However, Web of Shadows looks to be more forgiving and your web will be able to latch onto ample spots.
The sequences we saw looked solid, and we're pleased to see some familiar faces from the Marvel universe popping up. Shaba reps stated that the game will feature an eclectic cast of heroes and villains, some of which have never appeared in a Spider-man game before. How you interact with them will vary based on your current alignment in the game. In some cases, you'll team up; in others, you'll fight. We're curious to see how the game's roster of faces shapes up, given the dearth of options from the comic. This also seems to ask for a multiplayer mode of some kind, but sadly, that's not in the cards as Web of Shadows is single-player only. However, to ensure it's a meaty single-player experience, Shaba is tucking in a host of unlockable content and collectibles to find strewn about the massive virtual Manhattan that you'll be roaming around in throughout the game.
The visuals in the work-in-progress 360 game we saw were shaping up to be in line with what you'd expect. Manhattan looks sharp and populated with a respectable draw distance. The buildings and assorted structures throughout the town create a nifty jungle gym on which you'll be able to swing and fight. The pedestrian and vehicle traffic we saw was a little thin, but we reckon that's to be expected given the premise. Spider-Man is looking good although a bit small in relation to the massive city structures. The supporting cast of characters is about what you'd expect in terms of quality. Big names out of the comics, such as the Vulture and Power Man, are on par with Spidey in terms of detail, while the assorted grunts we saw were a few cuts below. Although it's still in development, Web of Shadows ran at a steady clip and featured some glitzy special effects for Spidey's on-the-fly suit changes, as well as the various attacks they could perform. The game's art style skews a bit older, along the lines of the movie games, as opposed to last year's Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, which skewed pretty young.
There's nothing peaceful about flying off into the sunset here.
Audio in our demo spanned a range, given the game's work-in-progress state. Spidey is as quip-y as ever, doling out one-liners at a fast pace. The Vulture also sounded suitably menacing during the standard prefight villain rant. We also heard quite a bit of work-in-progress pedestrian and SHIELD personnel chatter. Outside of that, the action was complemented by a range of effects for Spidey's attacks. We also heard bits of the game's score, which is coming together well and has a movie soundtrack feel to it.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is looking like a promising action game featuring the webslinging hero. While we have a decent amount of questions around control, camera, and cast, the core gameplay seems to be pure Spidey. You'll be able to swing like a champ, web baddies, and take on villains--which is pretty much what you'd want to do as Spider-Man. Look for more on Web of Shadows in the coming months. The game is slated to ship this fall for the DS, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii, and Xbox 360.