Games 11/4/08: Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, Far Cry 2

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
Also available for: Playstation 2, PC, Nintendo Wii, PSP, Nintendo DS
From: Treyarch/Shaba/Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, drug reference, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

In “Spider-Man: Web of Shadows,” you star as Spider-Man and enjoy unlimited liberty to swing around New York City to whatever degree you please … just as you could in last year’s “Spider-Man 3.” Oh, and “Spider-Man 2” before that. Doesn’t Spidey ever do any traveling beyond the city limits?

But while a change of venue would’ve been nice, doing away with the sloppy hand-to-hand combat and dull mission objectives that bogged down those other two games is paramount.

On both fronts, “Shadows” scores direct hits. Spider-Man’s combat repertoire always has been expansive, but “Shadows” is the first game that not only gives the moves the oomph they deserve, but removes any static between what you’re trying to do and what Spidey does. “Shadows” mixes land, air, web and even wall-mounted combat in some pretty liberating ways, and practically every move in the arsenal controls and feels as it should.

Remarkably, the expansive fighting controls don’t come at the expense of the swinging controls, though you might initially think so if you don’t check the instruction manual. (The in-game documentation doesn’t reveal how to properly scale buildings until the first act practically is over.) The game’s camera occasionally flips out when the action shifts planes, but it almost always recovers quickly.

“Shadows'” mission selection isn’t wildly inspired compared to past games. To the contrary, almost every mission consists of some variation of going to area X and pounding Y amount of enemies. But by fronting with equally fantastic swinging and fighting mechanisms, the missions are fun simply for letting you go nuts with Spidey’s skill set.

If nothing else, the missions push forward the storyline, which benefits tremendously from having no film tie-in to impose on its creative freedom. It’s tighter than any of the three “Spider-Man” films, and some surprising instances of moral ambiguity allow you to pick your path en route to one of three different endings. “Shadows'” lack of movie ties also means a lack of A-list actors in the voice cast, but the no-names who stand in are miles more lively and much funnier than “SM3’s” sleepwalking stars, so it’s no loss at all.

Finally, while a change of venue once again would be appreciated in the next “Spider-Man” game, it must be said that this is the series’ best rendering of New York by far. The streets remain too sparsely populated, and some weird graphical glitches spring up here and there, but the visual leap forward from “SM3” is pretty remarkable given the short amount of time between the games’ respective releases.

—–

Far Cry 2
For: Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC
From: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, drug reference, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

“Far Cry 2” is, by an arguably absurd margin, the year’s most immersive shooter.

Mostly, that’s a great thing. “FC2” — which shares no storyline ties to its predecessor — drops you in the middle of Africa, and you’re generally free to explore the rather massive area open to you as you see fit. A storyline guides the game, but there exists a massive degree of freedom within that space to collect assignments, form alliances and cause general mayhem on your terms.

Furthermore, everything — from shooting to driving to healing and all that exists in between — takes place in the first person. Given how stunningly good “FC2” looks, it’s easy to buy into the illusion that you’re walking in your character’s shoes. To its credit, the game never sacrifices control or gameplay to make this a possibility. It works.

Sometimes, though, that immersion goes overboard. Found and used guns are prone to jamming, which is a cool touch, but when every other gun jams every other time you engage in a firefight, it gets annoying. Similarly, while trekking across Africa is a thrill the first time around, the lengthy travels between missions grow old once you’re traveling down well-worn roads.

Especially disappointing is when “FC2” breaks its own illusion. It’s hard to convince yourself you’re in real Africa when (a) the continent is populated almost exclusively by mercenaries and (b) almost everyone instinctively wants to kill you regardless of reputation, standing and other factors. “FC2’s” enemy A.I. Is all over the place, too: Some can pick you off practically sight unseen, while a rare few won’t acknowledge your presence if you’re standing two feet away.

In other words, “FC2” can’t escape its fate as a shooter first and everything else second. And really, what’s so bad about that? All the important ingredients — cool guns, solid controls, stuff to blow up — are here, and “FC2” manages to fill its expansive playing field with a ton to do, all the while slipping in a story that drastically improves as time goes on.

Things aren’t quite so philosophically out there on the multiplayer (16-player, LAN or online) side. The usual modes show up, albeit with special “FC2” touches, and that’s good enough.

More impressive, at least on the console side, is the surprising inclusion of a full-featured map editor and distributor. A complete lack of documentation means a high barrier of entry, which, unfortunately, will keep a lot of players from doing anything special with it. At least you can download other players’ creations for free — a nice gesture in this era of overpriced map packs and other downloadable content.