Marvel has been a staple content provider for game studios for years.
What’s not to like about video games whose lead characters are mostly super hero mutants?I’ve played plenty over the years and there’s been a mix of absolute classic games and abhorrent messes, but the focus generally stays on the well known characters: The X-Men, The Hulk (one of the classics! -Ed), Iron-Man (one of the messes! – ed) etc.
Deadpool, known to his close friends and enemies as Wade Winston Wilson, is an anti-hero ‘merc with a mouth’, I was only briefly familiar with. After a bit of research, I’ve learned that he first appeared as a villain in comics such as X-Force and New Mutants but was more known for his role alongside the character Cable, who makes regular appearances in the game. In the mid 90’s he was the star of his own comic series which ran for 69 issues and though still not widely received was well known by Marvell fans for his bizarre humour and unbalanced mental state. These traits were seemingly amplified further in to the series as it was perceived that few people were actually reading it.
More recently Deadpool was briefly immortalised by Ryan Reynolds in the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine but apart from a single wise-crack he was portrayed as little more than a controlled weapon later in the film after absorbing the powers of many other mutants thanks to the work of Colonel William Stryker. It’s this combination of powers being ‘pooled’ together that lead to him being referred to as “The Deadpool”.
Anyway, that’s enough background – what you’re really here for is a breakdown of the latest game in the Marvel series from High Moon Studios. From the very outset, it’s clear that high Moon Studios has taken a strange and original approach to story and focus of the game. He’s not so much the serious Weapon-X that we saw in the aforementioned film – far from it. The game starts in Deadpool’s apartment where he seemingly lives life the life of an immature college drop-out. The game’s plot is an odd one, but essentially Deadpool has kidnapped the employees of High Moon Studios in an attempt to create the most awesome game ever “starring himself”.
This interesting meta-plot makes for a game where your lead character is a split personality of immature wit and general hilarity. At first I wasn’t entirely sure how a game based on such a premise would turn out, but the comic book writer Daniel Way has done an exceptional job in making Deadpool a thoroughly entertaining game from the outset with many references to other video games and an abundance of other Marvel characters to truly break the ‘fourth wall’. They really got in to the spirit of the whole Deadpool taking over scenario, with one of the studio’s directors quoted as saying “We weren’t actually planning on making a Deadpool game, but Deadpool came by the studio one day, said he was taking over, and that if I didn’t hire Marvel writer Daniel Way pronto and make the most amazing Deadpool video game, he’d break both of our arms and beat us to death with them. I have kids, so we’re making the game.”
After messing around in his apartment and receiving some ridiculous trophies just for walking around, the game really starts and you’re gently led in to a series of fights against increasingly evil henchmen, mutants and other well known Marvel characters. The action comprises of a combination of blade-swinging combos that build up your ‘momentum’ bars, which once full give you the opportunity to do a series of more devastating preset moves. Deadpool (voiced brilliantly by the renowned Nolan North), also wields two guns which through the course of the game can be upgraded to increasing calibres of machine guns thanks to ‘DP Points’ you collect along the way. These points also pay for upgrades to Deadpool’s blades and character and allows for a steady improvement in his abilities to match the increase in enemy fire-power directed towards you.
Throughout, Deadpool’s split personality and penchant for dick / fart / sexist jokes will either keep you laughing to yourself, or grate on you very quickly. You’re constantly reminded that you’re the player in the game, as Deadpool talks to you directly, gets caught up in telephone conversations about the lack of budget in game and makes light of obvious videogame mechanics where at one point it suddenly turns into a 2D dungeon crawler.
Fortunately I found the light-hearted take to be pretty well executed, which made slashing through enemies in a way more familiar with players of the Bayoneta or Devil May Cry series more tolerable. Luckily there’s enough of these deviants from the main game as the repetitive nature of slicing and dicing wave after wave of henchmen can become rather tedious after a while. Deadpool’s phrases are repeated on-mass and at one point I literally found myself shouting at him to stop reminding me I’d run out of teleport powers.
High Moon studios are clearly aware of how unoriginal some of these gameplay elements are but it still happily includes them, and not always particularly well. There’s also an inconsistency in its fun-poking, with set pieces including controlling a helicopter’s mini-gun in an on-rails section going by without a hint of irony. Luckily the humour in most of these set-pieces do work and kept me playing what is otherwise a very straight hack’n’slash game with little in the way of imaginative level design. In fact, if it wasn’t for the interludes of humour and videogame clichés you’d be left with a game that in some parts feels like a resurrected PS2 game.
For instance, with your ability to teleport you’d expect some interesting game mechanics to evolve from it, but in reality your ability to dodge a few feet away from enemy attacks is often foiled by nothing more than ground-level scenery; pretty pathetic considering how you’d expect this space-age technology to actually work. Later on in the game some levels show more thought, such as when Death (a frequent love interest for Deadpool), puts him through a set of challenges to test his metal. One of these challenges plays out like a theme park ride, he has to shoot cardboard cut-outs of the demons escaping from his own messed up mind before they can destroy him; it’s sections like that I wish there was more of.
The big baddy, Mr. Sinister is a super-villain who rather enjoys cloning, the only excuse for each wave of identical bad guys to come at you in one of a small set of preset ways that are bordering on dumb. There’s occasions where they might take cover but mostly they will charge at you either shooting or with blades in hand waiting for your attack which makes it all rather easy in-between boss fights. You end up doing a pre-prescribed formula of teleporting, attacking ad-infinitum to dodge attacks and charge your health.
At best, Deadpool is a frantic mess of manic insanity that’s peppered with moments of sheer brilliance. He’s crass, vulgar and violent and just when every other spandex wearing hero is ready to toss him into the sun, he does something awesome. An act of selfless anti-heroism, or maybe a song and dance number. It’s as if his survival instincts kick in and override his elaborate coping mechanism.
This game is clearly more adult than most of the jokes would have you believe, though I guess it said a lot about my own immature sense of humour as I giggled when Wade referrers to his own dick size, suggests a dog lick his testicles, or attempts to fondle an imaginary woman’s breasts. It can get pretty churlish, but if nothing else it stays true to the character, being far more Deadpool than the character portrayed by Reynolds in my previous cinematic encounter with him.
Whether you will enjoy this latest Marvel outing really depends on whether you’re already a fan of Mr Wilson, you appreciate the obvious but well placed humour or if you simply don’t need a game to have a well thought out plot, game mechanics or any other real substance to bother playing it through to the end. I did enjoy it, and I’m glad I’ve become more well acquainted with the less serious side of the Marvel universe.
By Ben Stinson of TechNow.co.uk