Monday, 1 July 2013

Now Playing: DEADPOOL


Released late June 2013.
Developed by High Moon Studios.
Published by Activision.
Available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Version played: PlayStation 3.

The story of Deadpool (the character) is an interesting one.  Not the actual in-universe 'origin' or whatever, that's fairly bland stuff existing solely to drag another character out of some part of Wolverine's past to further capitalise on the pointy-haired Bananaman lookalike's popularity, and perhaps to copycat DC's Deathstroke The Terminator because why not.  Anyway, he quickly evolved from just being a dude with swords who dressed kinda like Spider-Man into a kind of walking in-joke, the court jester of the Marvel universe - a means for his writers to satirise the ludicrous conventions of the very same cape comics their co-workers were hawking to the masses.  DP wasn't a huge success but he had his niche, and survived for most of the 21st century living on the outer fringes of Marvel...and then all of a sudden, people started noticing him.  Part of that was no doubt down to the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, although how anyone could see what Fox did with the character there and think, "yes, this is a guy I would like to know more about!" is beyond my understanding.  Whatever the case, Marvel jumped at the opportunity and cashed in big on Deadpool, and even now he's got at least 2 montly ongoing comic series all about him, not to mention an enviable assortment of toys and other merch.  I have a Deadpool logo polo shirt, for god's sake.  Y'know, in case I feel like playing golf and need everyone there to know I support Deadpool.  At golf.

The story of Deadpool (the game) is a lot less interesting.  Marvel wanted to make more money out of the character so they got some devs to make a videogame about him.  And here it is.  I have been playing it.  And now I have been thinking about it.

That banana totally isn't going where you think it's going.
Nope, not THERE, either.

Deadpool (just assume I mean the game if I say it in itallics) is a third-person 'action game', which is easily the least-descriptive title in the industry.  I mean, what, it's a game where you perform actions?  As opposed to one where you don't?  Ergh.  I suppose it's essentially a beat-em-up/platformer, but then people tend to get confused by 'beat-em-up' and think it refers solely to one-on-one fighting games like Tekken as opposed to something more like Streets of Rage.  That Deadpool also allows for shooting doesn't help much, but, there you go.  You take a linear path through various big-ish environments and aim to slaughter as many enemies as you can while making it to the goal area intact, for a boss fight or just a cutscene.

The controls are generally unsurprising.  One face button each for light attack, heavy attack, jump and dodge; left stick to move, right stick for look/aiming; shoulder buttons for fine-aim and shooting, etc.  Attack buttons can be mixed into multiple combos, which can also include quick taps of the trigger for 'gun-kata' shots without breaking a chain.  Dodging works on the same 'watch for the cue' mechanic as counters in the Batman Arkham Something games (or Spidey-Sense in some older Spider-Man titles) but can also be used to trigger a short teleport to let you close distance on gunmen without being torn apart by bullets, which is always helpful.  Successfully pulling off uninterrupted combos charges up your momentum meter for various weapon-specific smartbomb attacks, and earns you XP to spend on new weapons (DP starts with pistols and swords; there are 2 more melee picks, 3 more firearms and 4 kinds of grenades to unlock) and upgrades, which you will sorely need because this game does not muck around with killing you.

Lots of this sort of thing in the game.  And by 'this' I mean
both 'stabbing people' and 'sticklebacked albino ladies with claws'.

As far as the story goes, there...almost isn't one, at all.  Basically, Deadpool has blackmailed High Moon Studios into making a game about himself, and that's what you're playing.  There's a 'script' but Deadpool frequently edits it or ignores it completely, to the point where many sequences just seem to happen without any rhyme or reason of note.  You start by capturing a bald fat guy, who then is kidnapped from you by other people, which leads you on a quest to hunt down old-school X-Men adversary Mr. Sinister (kind of like what Dracula would look like if he was born in The Matrix) so you can, uhm...get revenge.  Or money.  Or save some tacos.  I don't know.  The story is told mostly through game-engine cutscenes with nice animation, although it does often resort to motion-comic-styled sequences for things that are more complicated, or when it just seems funny.

Of course, 'funny' is the operative word here - you can't really call a Deadpool project of any kind a success if it doesn't make you laugh.  My expectations in this regard were tempered somewhat by knowing this was done in the style of Daniel Way's Deadpool, who is funny but frequently a little too obvious and dumb, as opposed to Fabian Nicieza's Deadpool, who actively skewers the medium around him more effectively.  As it stands, the game can't quite make up its mind as to whether it wants to undercut the stupid standards of videogames, or simply use the same clichés while going "OH, LOOK AT THIS CLICHÉ, ISN'T THAT FUNNY?!"  Example: having Deadpool pass comment on how repetitive and drawn-out a given fight is doesn't make it any more fun to actually play said repetitive, drawn-out fight.  Even so, there are many genuine chuckles to be had, and Nolan North's vocal take on Wade (and his 2 duelling mental voices) is more than strong enough to carry even the less-funny material.  I've said some pretty harsh things about North (mainly also known for voicing Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series, although he also winds up in basically every Western-developed game ever) in the past, but in Deadpool he's found a character that plays to his strengths expertly, and the fact that this game succeeds as a one-man show is proof of that.

This is Death.  She's...well...Death.
Also: only girl in this game even remotely 'interested' in Deadpool.

In terms of presentation, the game isn't anything to really tax the systems it's built for, but it's functional and pretty enough.  Character models are generally smooth up-close and are textured very nicely, most of the animations look nice, and the frequent diversions into imaginary set-pieces or weird 'otherworlds' leave a lasting impression.  On the downside, the regular levels are pretty dull, lacking both colour and/or interesting, distinctive architecture.  Perhaps that was deliberate, to just emphasise how odd Deadpool looks, clashing with everything in his red-and-black tights, but after jogging through the 57th crumbling office corridor in Genosha and being confronted by the 58th I was really wishing to be somewhere more dynamic (would a few hours in Murderworld have hurt?).  The music isn't exactly evocative but the simple punk guitar riffs that seem to swallow up the more subtle themes are a good match for how Deadpool fits in (or rather doesn't) with the rest of the X-Men universe.  There's also some good gun sounds and a generous helping of blood and viscera that treads on the right side of OTT but doesn't go so far as to sicken or take away from the comedy.  The rest of the voice cast do solid work, though most of them are arbitrary cameos that amount to nothing; only April Stewart's Death (pic above) and Fred Tatasciore's Cable make any real difference to the proceedings, the latter fulfulling the same function as Cable does in many Deadpool comics by using lies and misdirection to trick Deadpool into doing something actually useful.  He also turns into a Cable-faced taco at one point, because why not.

Another thing I'd like to mention is quick-time events.  These have become a running joke amidst gamer culture, and it's hard to mention them without being met by rolling eyes and exasperated sighs (admit it, you slumped in your chair when I started this paragraph), but there's still no end to the things turning up in games, at least not until developers figure out another way to let the player interact with a railroaded cutscene-esque sequence.  For the record, Deadpool is loaded with plenty of QTEs...buuuut, it does them right.  In many cases, that means being kind of silly about it - like a command for 'press square to fix the ship!' being followed by 'that didn't work, try triangle instead!' - but in other cases, it simply means using QTEs to trigger sequences that A) wouldn't work with the regular gameplay controls, and B) are inherently satisfying to command.  Electrocuting Mr. Sinister with a Dance Dance Revolution controller?  Sure, I'll press those buttons, game.  Bitch slapping a helpless Wolverine?  You bet your ass I'm gonna tap square all day long.  My point is, it is okay to do QTEs if they're good.  And the ones in Deadpool are verrrry good.

Don't think I ever figured out how to pull off this move,
but damn it looks cool.

Alas, I didn't always enjoy my time with Deadpool.  For starters, a few times the game's sound cut out after reloading from a checkpoint, and didn't restore itself until I reached the next loading point.  I don't know how that happened, but I've had similar issues with Transformers: War for Cybertron and its sequel, also made by High Moon, so I'm inclined to think it's an issue with whatever engine they're using (and Deadpool does feel like it runs on the same base software).  Also, despite the campaign running for only 6 hours or thereabouts, it feels drawn out - the messy/non-existent narrative is perhaps part of that, but the fact is that the game forces you into extremely prolonged battles with respawning mooks throughout and very rarely do you feel like you accomplished anything upon victory.  Even the weird Death sequence in the caverns, which takes its sweet time, feels superfluous in the end, as Deadpool foils Sinister's attempt to do a thing which isn't stressed as important and makes no difference in how the pasty-faced jerk's minions attack you for the remainder of the game.  Even with alternate weapons there's a limit to how far the combat can go before it gets repetitive, and the main way High Noon chose to increase the difficulty in later stages is to spam basically every available enemy type at you all at once, which (as per usual) forces you to throw out a strategic attack and just do what a friend of mine calls 'monkey tactics' - jump in, hit a few guys once or twice, then 'port back out around a corner to heal for a bit before repeating.  It's just not fun.

Despite the graffiti, this game does not actually end with
you watching Deadpool piss.

The Verdict:  It's too short and feels too long; it skews too much towards comedy yet isn't as funny as it could've been...Deadpool the game is as ass-backwards as Deadpool the man, aptly enough, and just as I don't hold his Liefeld origins or dumb backstory against the character, I can't help but like this game despite everything.  It works from a solid base, is amusingly self-aware, has a pretty sensible upgrade system, and doesn't waste time in hitting the right notes.  Even so, there's room for improvement, and as such, I have to do something I really don't want to do...I'm giving it 8 out of 10.  The most boringly average score possible. For Deadpool.

He's gonna hate me.

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