Web of Shadows begins with a despondent Spider-man walking across a rooftop as a battle rages around him. Suddenly he picks up the pace and leaps into action, and you take over the battle against zombie-like humans and an array of other creatures infected by one of Marvel’s most disturbing characters, the symbiotic lifeform, Venom.
This prelude is revealed by Peter Parker’s narration to be a point later in the game, and you’re soon thrown back in time to play through events leading up to it, beginning with an initial skirmish with Venom in which Spidey regains his ominous black suit. This sets the stage for a later rematch, likely in the hope that you’ll persevere to see how the sarcastic neighbourhood web slinger saves the day.
The second act proceeds slowly with mundane matters of gang warfare before other heroes and villains such as Black Cat and Vulture emerge from the Big Apple’s alleys and penthouses. Much of the game is spent performing missions for your allies, earning experience points to add new and more powerful moves to either the red or black suit. Missions typically require a quota of a type of enemy to be hunted, or friendlies to be escorted or rescued.
The sense of liveliness in the city is at best on par with the now ancient Grand Theft Auto III. Roam to the river and the sense of life is less believable than a comic book. The lead characters look fantastic and it’s a joy to watch Spider-man swing and somersault around the city, but there’s too little variation in other characters, particularly citizens.
Covering long distances in short time highlights scenery pop-up, which has a practical impact upon hunting enemies; spider-sense shows enemy locations, but the inability to tell the difference without taking a close look makes missions more arduous than necessary. Many players will tire early one, rather than replaying missions with higher quotas to rack up all of the achievements that the game offers; they test your patience rather than stamina.
Both paths must be followed to earn all achievements. I racked up 790 points on the first run, aligned to the red and blue suit. Dedication may carry you through again, especially with the promise of an alternate ending.
Spidey’s alignment is affected by your willingness to help civilians as they come under attack or fall from the sky, and I gave up on randomly-discovered civilians by the drawn-out third act, and by choosing the red path at key junctures (tied to boss battles), the reward was a healthily heroic ending regardless.
There are some excellent set pieces such as aerial combat with Vulture, though not all boss battles are so breathtaking. A couple of rooftop pursuits are mildly irritating, and a brawl with Wolverine is a huge disappointment. In part that’s because the quick time events system – where you press a button as it flashes on screen – is reduced from an entertaining interactive animation with other bosses to a multiple choice quiz.
The biggest letdown is erratic storytelling that brings together the extended cast with nods to the extended Marvel universe. Having events revolve around Venom is a big pull, but they don’t unfold in a compelling way, instead asking you to clutch too tightly to the desire to see what comes next instead of enjoying the path through the game. What could have been a killer Spider-man game for everyone instead requires too much patience through long stretches, making it best for compulsive beat ‘em up players and dedicated Spider-man fans.