Playing super hero games usually always goes something like this: get excited about a new game featuring some of the best super heroes around; play said game and realise there's nothing super about the gameplay; and turn off game wishing you hadn't bought it in the first place. There are exceptions to the rule, but not many, and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows isn't one of them. Although marginally better than Spider-man 3 in some ways, the lack of a movie license and an awful lot of uninspired missions make this an unfortunate chore to play through.
After a bizarre opening that sees Spider-Man zooming through New York City and taking on Venom as he tries to hurt the rather large-shouldered Mary Jane, you're unleashed into the game proper. It's an open world, so missions are dished out on the fly, with completed tasks opening up new activities and story missions. Initially you'll mainly be talking to the massive Luke Cage, who hands out missions and teaches you a few of the moves you'll need to dispatch the many enemies in the game, but eventually you'll open up new allies (or villains) that can help you out.
Seeing as you can play as either red suit Spider-Man or black suit Spider-Man (the more evil version) by a simple press of a button, who joins you will depend on how you like to play. If you want to be bad and choose a darker path through the game, villains will join you, whereas good guys like Wolverine will help out everyone's friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. This good/bad theme running through the game isn't nearly as complex or impressive as it might have been, essentially giving you a different ending depending on how far you've strayed from your moral compass. It's really not something worth playing the game through again for.
Whoever you choose to play as, combat is surprisingly decent and fast paced. On the ground Spidey can perform easy to pull off combos, pick up and throw cars, sling web at foes and generally give goons a hard time. It's your air-based moves that come in most handy though. By linking together these air attacks you can move from one enemy to another without breaking a sweat. It's undeniably cool to see Spider-Man pulling off such acrobatic attacks, but it does make things rather easy.
It's a shame then that the game you're given to play is so devoid of ideas. Missions start off basic in order to let you get to grips with Spidey's powers (using Spider Sense to locate enemies, for example), but the game doesn't really elevate itself too far above these early moments. A lot of the time you'll be asked to do something over and over again or told to take out a set number of a certain type of enemy. As entertaining as the combat is, it's not good enough to stop you getting bored very quickly.
Web swinging is something that can almost make or break a Spider-Man game, with Spidey's fast, acrobatic movement through the city being a core component of the gameplay, and why we play these games in the first place. Developer Shaba has done a decent job of this in Web of Shadows, with Spidey eventually able to move through the air at some speed. His web attacks are also pretty good once you've levelled them up - although this once again is wasted because of the dull missions.
We've seen some stunning open-city games this year, but sadly Web of Shadows isn't one of them. Spider-Man and the other main characters look decent, but the city isn't nearly as detailed as those seen in other current-gen games and the lighting looks quite primitive compared to the likes of GTA 4. Voice over work in the game is generally of a high standard, but we couldn't help but laugh the first time we heard Spider-Man's ultra weedy tone. We got used to it, but it certainly seems a little out of place.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows ends up being a disappointment despite a lot of potential. We reckon the combat system, the web swinging and special moves are about the best we've seen in a 3D Spider-man game, but the city feels lifeless, the graphics lack spark and the missions range from OK to dire. Spider-Man fans will likely still get a lot of fun from the game because of the decent treatment of the main man, but he really needed better material to work with in order to have a broader appeal.