Since the first of Marvel’s heroes began making the jump from comic book to video game, fans of Deadpool have been waiting for their turn. The ‘Merc with a Mouth’ has finally made the transition thanks to High Moon Studios, who have turned to some reliable sources; calling on comic book writer Daniel Way to provide the script, and some of the X-Men’s best and brightest to offer support.
The very first announcement trailer promised that the unique sense of humor and irreverence synonymous with the comic book character would remain intact, but can gameplay measure up as well? Or is Deadpool an experience only the most devoted fans will be able to appreciate? Read on for our review.
First, the good news: Deadpool is absolutely a game that fans of the source material will appreciate, which in itself is a compliment to the developers at High Moon. Making a ‘funny’ video game is a risky feat in any case, and given Deadpool’s polarizing style and irreverence, the studio’s decision to bring Daniel Way on board makes perfect sense.
It’s a decision that pays dividends, with writing from beginning to end that could be pulled directly from a “Deadpool” comic arc. For those unfamiliar with the character, a little explanation is required since he isn’t your typical ‘video game prtoagonist.’ For starters, Deadpool isn’t just a hired killer; he’s a twisted, crass egomaniac who is not only incapable of taking anything seriously, but sporting split personalities and a supercharged libido that could only exist in the fringes of Marvel’s X-Men universe.
Besides keeping the mercenary constantly accompanied by the voices in his head, the character’s insanity means that unlike other heroes and villains, Deadpo0l knows he’s in a comic book – breaking ‘the fourth wall’ constantly – addressing both the writers of his own story and the reader as the plot progresses. Not every one of these odd approaches are successfully translated into game form, but far more are implemented than fans may have thought possible.
Most are genuinely new experiences, from subtle touches (having Deadpool leave the frame to ‘plan a surprise for the player’ later on) to the game beginning with Wilson receiving phone calls from High Moon president Peter Della Penna and fan-favorite voice actor Nolan North, politely refusing to voice the hero in his game (North does provide his voice).
The game’s developers leap as freely into unconventional narrative as the standard “Deadpool” story arc, resulting in a campaign that could more accurately be described as a fever dream of changing gameplay and combat arenas than a cohesive plot (upon finishing the game, it’s hard to know exactly what was accomplished). While that is absolutely in keeping with the character’s disregard for standard storytelling – in this case, ignoring the exposition offered by a time-travelling Cable – uninitiated players are as likely to feel lost as they are entertained.
Given the amount of nods to the X-Men and the second-tier Marvel villains setting the plot in motion, fans of Marvel Comics will also find plenty of enjoyment in seeing some of the most revered and respected heroes made the butt of the joke for once.
To make the point clear: it’s the top priority of this game to keep a smile on the faces of those playing it, be they comic fans or not. How successful the developers are depends on the player’s sense of humor (check out some of Deadpool‘s live-action marketing for an idea of what to expect), but that also means that adding humor to the core gameplay takes precedence over genuine innovation.
Equipped with an array of weaponry – swords and pistols to start, with upgrades purchased along the way – players will inevitably spend their time doing what most mid-tier action titles demand: mashing buttons to unleash combos until an area has been cleared of all-too-generic enemies. With a variety of enemy types demanding slightly different approaches, there is some shifting pace to combat, but hacking, slashing, and shooting is as safe a bet as any.
While the developers have gone out of their way to make the core combat satisfying through visual effects and truly potent results for special attacks, it’s impossible for the combat to not become repetitive quite quickly. A ‘momentum’ system is used to keep players chaining combos, building up the ability to unleash said special attacks – and transitioning seamlessly between blade attacks and firearms is always a satisfying touch – but the enjoyment this game has to offer doesn’t come from combat.
In truth, there is more potential shown in terms of gameplay than is delivered upon: stealth sections, while spiced up with even more gory humor are painfully rote, seeming out of place in the end. A brief tryst with Death leads to some interesting and completely different style of gameplay that is still a few measures short of flawless. The scatter-shot approach to varying gameplay that High Moon chose to adopt – while a refreshing change of pace – is just one symptom of the balancing act of bog-standard gameplay and genuinely inspired ideas that proceeds through the course of the campaign.
It’s somewhat cliche to claim that players will simply grind through endless combat arenas to get to the next story beat, but even the strange, offbeat sections of gameplay are a welcome distraction from the simple hack-and-slash, and seem to land directly as the developers intended. Even if enough care is put into making the gameplay somewhat distinguishable from other beat-em-ups, it’s the self-referential story and performances that players will remember upon completion – and makes Deadpool an easy recommendation over Activision’s regular Spider-Man action titles.
Therein lies the difficulty of recommending Deadpool to anyone not already a committed fan of the character, or of Daniel Way’s run in particular; while the themes, humor and style-over-substance gameplay walks hand-in-hand with the source material, the game does so at the peril of turning off or frustrating newcomers. Given how loud the fan community has been in demanding ‘Deadpool be done right,’ that might be enough to satisfy the self-professed fans who shaped the game, but no attempt is ever made to appeal to a wide audience over a devoted one; a decision for which no apologies are made.
Fans hoping for a Deadpool game that does justice to the character are in luck, since you are without question the ones High Moon has crafted their game to please; those looking for a strongly-plotted, rich and expansive third-person action game that takes at least some of its own content seriously should certainly look elsewhere.
Deadpool is available now for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the PS3 version for review.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.