Wading in the shallow end
Deadpool and videogames are a potential match made in Heaven. Marvel's perpetually popular Merc with a Mouth is violent, vulgar and lacking even the smallest shred of subtlety. That's why we love him, though, and why the tacky world of mainstream videogame production is so perfect for him.
The catch is, however, that Deadpool is famous for being funny. His self-referential humor, breaking of the fourth wall, and frighteningly effective insanity make for some hilarious comic book adventures, and if there's one genre videogame developers find very hard to do right, it's comedy.
Still, High Moon Studios managed to turn Transformers into a surprisingly credible game series, proving it's able to nail a licensed property with due reverence and an adequate level of quality. If any team can come close to nailing Deadpool, it's High Moon, and I can say with confidence that it definitely came close.
Deadpool (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: Deadpool, High Moon Studios
Publisher: Deadpool, Activision
Released: June 25, 2013 (NA), June 28 2013 (EU)
With Deadpool, High Moon Studios decided to abandon any sense of a real plot and run enthusiastically with the titular character's penchant for self-reference. The story of the game is that it's ... well ... a game. Deadpool contracts High Moon Studios (yes, the developer shamelessly namedrops itself constantly) to make an "awesome" game for him, roping in some X-Men favorites and the villainous Mr. Sinister to give us a vague sense of a goal. Any story is secondary to the cameos, the one-liners, and the cavalcade of dick and boob jokes.
I've no issue with dick and boob jokes when done right, and I'd say that maybe half of the time, Deadpool does them right. Treading a very thin line between satirizing the game industry and being just as bad as the things it makes fun of, High Moon ostensibly provides us with the very definition of "hit and miss." There are moments in Deadpool that make me smirk, times when it's the right kind of audacious and makes a near-perfect mockery of so-called "AAA" videogames. There are other times, however, where the "game that knows it's a game" premise wears very thin, and other times where I felt a bit embarrassed playing.
Fortunately, Nolan North does a stupendous turn as the mutant mercenary, delivering each line with the kind of enthusiastic mania one would expect of Wade Wilson. North's performance alone often carries what would otherwise be a total bomb of a joke, and his contribution to the genuinely witty moments cannot be overstated. If nothing else, Deadpool serves as an excellent showcase of the man's talents.
Of course, there's actually a videogame attached to all the sarcasm and slapstick, and it's a fairly entertaining one. Sharing many similarities with Raven Software's surprisingly-not-terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this is a standard, relatively "safe" action game that largely delivers arena after arena of combat, interspersed with some light platforming and an obligatory character unlock system.
Taking to each level with twin blades and guns, Wilson can carve up enemies using simple button-mashing combos, or shoot them to pieces with a standardized trigger-based aiming setup. He can also combine melee and shooting to perform "Gunkata" attacks, and counterattack incoming blows by reacting to telegraphed button prompts ripped straight out of the Batman: Arkham games. Keeping combos flowing builds up Momentum, which can be used to pull off flashy moves, and each kill scores Deadpool Points, which can be spent on unlocking new weapons, moves, and skills.
Combat isn't exactly challenging, save for those moments where a small army of machine gun wielders appear to carve through the life bar like a knife through butter. Enemies mostly exist to be sliced and diced, and as a basic power fantasy, Deadpool delivers the goods. The result is an intuitive but well-worn system, one that does very little to surprise the player, while keeping itself focused and refined to a point where there's little to complain about.
Of course, even with unlockable weapons and skills, an endless parade of slaughter eventually gets old. Deadpool's campaign clocks in at around six hours, and though that'd be considered by many to be short, the combat was formulaic enough to where I could've stood to have had an hour shaved off the running time. It's not that I wasn't having fun for those first five hours, but the final chapter was just a bit too much of the same flavor, an issue not helped by the rather repetitive bosses that acted more or less like souped up versions of generic mooks.
Nevertheless, Deadpool has its moments. By far, its best stuff is found in the optional distractions. From messing about in Wade's apartment to suddenly appearing in retro-inspired sidescrolling levels, those precious moments where Deadpool shakes things up prove to be effectively pleasant hits.
Not the best looking of games, but far from ugly, environments are surprising in their drabness, relying a bit too heavy on the browns and the greys that undermine the exaggerated charm of the series upon which it is based. Textures tend to pop in fairly noticeably, too.
Animation, on the other hand, is pretty damn good, making combat appear satisfyingly meaty, and doing a great job of capturing the excitable silliness of the anti-hero. The character designs for Deadpool and his supporting cast are almost all really good, too.
Deadpool is a fun game that wears out its welcome a little toward the end, but mostly gets away with being far better than it could have been. Though half the jokes fail pretty damn hard, the ones that succeed are worth seeing, while the focus on endless combat carries with it a certain purity that's hard to really screw up. Deadpool fans may be expecting something more daring, more exceptional, and more altogether original than this, but High Moon played it safe with a straightforward slash 'em up and came out mostly a winner.
It's a good little game, and not really anything more than that. It's not as "awesome" as Deadpool himself may tell you, but hey, it's about ten thousand times better than X-Men: Destiny, and I think we can all be thankful for that!
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