Hands-on: Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (PS3 and Xbox 360)

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At an Activision preview event last week, we got to spend some quality time with Spider-Man: Web of Shadows for the PS3 and Xbox 360. And yes, controlling the aerial combat you’ve been seeing in videos is just as fun as it looks.

Look, the real Spider-Man isn’t hindered by programming and processing and code. If he wants to go somewhere, he jumps out of a window and shoots a web. He simply flings himself into the air and swings to where he wants to go. That’s what makes him Spidey. He doesn’t walk, he flies. And he fights in the air. And he does not have to worry about the “camera.”

In Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, Spider-Man flies with all of the ease and grace you’d expect, and that carries over into combat beautifully. It was the first thing that grabbed me when I first saw Web of Shadows. I wanted to jump in right away and pull off some of those amazing air combos I’ve been seeing in videos, but I had to start with the basics first.

Flying/Swinging: Spider-Man takes flight by simply pressing a left trigger button. This causes him to throw out a swinging web to the nearest ledge, lifting him up off the ground and toward that attach point. Once he’s airborne, you let off the trigger and press it again to attach to another building or ledge. As you get the hang of it, you’ll be flying through the skyscrapers of New York at high speed. After awhile it becomes natural, much like probably is for the real hero.

Combat basics: The attack buttons do just as you’d expect: punch, kick or range attack. On the ground, they’re not that graceful. In the air, they can be, but it takes practice. When you encounter a flying enemy while swinging, you’ll be able to hit “Y” or “Triangle” to throw a web strike attack. This hits that enemy and draws them toward you. As you draw nearer, a nicely timed attack will connect and you push off them in mid-air. The beauty comes when you then follow that attack with another web strike, drawing them in again for another. When you get really good, you’ll be able to attack one enemy, bounce off them toward another, attack them, and continue doing so until the air is free of baddies. Watching a seasoned player do this is a sight to behold. It won’t be that easy for a new player at first, but it does not take long to get the basic system down. Mastering it, on the other hand, will take some practice.

All of the Web of Shadows games feature the ability to change from red to black suit on the fly, aiding Spider-Man in his quest to rid New York City of the symbiote invaders. Spidey is most acrobatic in his red suit, and he does the most damage in his black one.  To make your air combos most effective, you’ll want to switch suits in mid battle, using each suit to its strength. In gameplay, I found myself in an air battle with Felicia and her henchmen. I died on my first attempt, and it wasn’t until I made good use of switching to the stronger attack power of the black suit that I was able to take her down.

Those that have played past Spider-Man games may be wondering about camera and control issues. For the most part, my experience with Web of Shadows was nice and relatively problem-free. Pressing the left trigger (or L2 on the PS3) sets you straight when your camera goes off track, which wasn’t often. I had no problems in air combat; whatever enemy I locked onto was easy to see and beat down. I did find that the camera goes a bit wonky when running up walls; it seems to spin freely as you’re trying to move up a building. On top of that, it was a bit difficult to hold down the target button, R2, and climb the walls with the R1 button at the same time. I blame the slope of the PS3’s R2 button, though.

Overall, playing Web of Shadows was a blast. Just seeing the combat ropes you in, and actually learning how to bounce off enemies and onto other ones keeps you hooked. Button mashing is out the window here, as you’ll have to get the rhythm and timing down to pull off those combos. When you finally do get it down, it’s very rewarding, and it makes you want to seek out other enemies.  The way you find a fight, get into it, and leave it reminded me of an aerial Devil May Cry. That’s a compliment in my book. 

If they get that weird wall-running camera problem fixed, it looks like we’ll have a winner on our hands. Check out Spider-Man: Web of Shadows when it launches later this month. 

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