Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A confession

Aaah-ah-aaah-aah! I come from the land of the grain and soy!I was wrong about J. Michael Straczynski's "Thor."

I just finished the first trade, and I quite enjoyed it. I like the various juxtapositions: Asgard and small-town Oklahoma, Thor and Don Blake, the drama of the Marvel universe and the drama of the real world, gods and humans, etc. I'm not thrilled with girl-Loki, in part because it's reminiscent of "Earth X," and I've seen what letting elements of "Kingdom Come" seep into the main timeline has done to the DCU. Then again, I'm not sure how permanent a gender change is for a shape-shifting god of mischief.

I'm a bit surprised that the "search for the gods" bit seemed to wrap up so quickly and uneventfully. Sure, the Destroyer popped up, but I expected there to be a bit more epic questing involved. And, while I know this is kind of a dumb question to be asking, isn't anyone suspicious that Asgard popped up just outside a small Oklahoma town right after Don Blake moved in? Or that Thor showed up in Africa while Don Blake was also there in Africa? I know, I know, suspension of disbelief, but it still rankles me a bit.

Despite those little flaws, I really liked the book, the premise, the characterizations, and especially the gorgeous art. I like that it's exploring Thor's godhood more than his superheroics. It's clear that this is the Straczynski who I liked so much at the beginning of his Amazing Spider-Man run, and not the Straczynski I loathed so much at the end of it and in his Fantastic Four run. I'm quite looking forward to picking up the second volume.

So, um...does it continue to be good?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fighting Words

I rented Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe yesterday.

You may recall that I did not have high expectations for this game. So, unlike Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, I was actually pleasantly surprised.

First things first, I realized while playing MKv.DCU that I hadn't played a current-generation fighting game since, like, Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the Sega Saturn. I'm not entirely sure why; as a kid, I loved fighting games, but I haven't played one in years--with the exception of the Smash Bros. series, which is pretty far removed from the Street Fighters and Mortal Kombats of my youth. I think a lot of my love for that genre was because every game was a multiplayer title, and it didn't take long to make it through several rounds. These days, that niche in my life is usually filled with Halo 2 or Rock Band. It's interesting, though, realizing how the limitations and developments in technology have influenced my taste.

Back to the game, it's more or less what I expected. All things considered--the ludicrousness of the concept, the bloated pretentiousness of the Mortal Kombat storyline, the general quality of DC Comics games--the plot for the Story Mode is actually pretty good. I only played the DC half of the plot--I frankly have no desire to explore the Mortal Kombat side of things--so I'll give you the basic run-down. Superman blasts Darkseid with some heat vision, destabilizing the Boom Tube he's in and ultimately causing the DCU and MKU to start merging. Heroes are trading places with Mortal Kombatants, and all the while characters are getting infected with a glowing yellow rage energy that causes them to see friends as foes and attack ruthlessly and indiscriminately. Our heroes and villains team up on a quest to save the two universes and stop Dark Khan--the nasty amalgam of Darkseid and Shao Khan at the top of the whole thing.

The graphics are good. We've come a long way from the motion-capture characters of the early Mortal Kombat games, who had something like five stiff animations each. None of the characters, I'm happy to say, are simply recolors of other characters with slightly different powers. When characters get hit, their costumes show damage, so by the end of a three-round fight, the fighters can look pretty torn up. As you jump around the room, your opponent follows your movements. The animation is done very well; the special abilities look good, and overall the gameplay graphics are pretty well awesome. There are still some issues; the characters in the cutscenes often look oddly-proportioned--faces too small for heads, heads too small for bodies, long necks. The knockout moment tends to be kind of funny; you'll hit the character, who will then recover, resume the fighting stance, and then fall rod-straight backward onto the ground. I wish they'd put as much effort into making that not so goofy as they did into making sure that Catwoman's breasts jiggled in the cutscenes. There's a lot more blood than I expected there would be, though not nearly as much as was in the old-school Mortal Kombat games, where every character was a thin-skinned hemophiliac with skyrocketing blood pressure.

The voice acting is...off. It's not terrible, but all the characters sound kind of weird and flat. It could be the dialogue, which was often terrible. Also, Liu Kang makes nearly the exact same goofy noise when doing his bicycle kick that he made back in 1992, and I'm pretty sure I heard Raiden say "Hadoken" at one point. The Joker, though, is pretty much spot-on, somewhere right between Mark Hamill and Cesar Romero.

Gameplay hasn't changed much at all since those days. And I'm not entirely sure why. Either the controls or the characters are sometimes a bit sluggish, reacting just a little more slowly than you'd expect. The weirdest part of the whole thing is that the game required me to use the D-pad rather than the analog stick. The D-pad controls normal motion, the left analog stick controls sidestepping and other "3-D" motion, and the right analog stick sits unloved next to your button-mashing thumb. I've never actually played a next-gen console game that required me to use the D-pad to move around, including the '80s games I've downloaded from XBox Live Arcade. Fighting games used to be designed for joysticks, which were basically big analog sticks; why on Earth would this one force me to use the awkward and generally pointless D-pad? Why not assign the "3-D" motion to the right analog stick and normal movement to the left stick?

All I know is that for the first time in years, I have the makings of a blister on my thumb. It's nice nostalgia, but it's kind of a pain in the...thumb.

I played a bit of the Arcade Mode to start, and after each fight it gave me the old "Finish Him!" routine. In my entire history of playing Mortal Kombat (which, admittedly, stops after the fourth game--Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3) I think I've only been able to pull off one fatality, and that was one of Sub-Zero's early ones. I simply don't have the patience to learn the ridiculously complex button sequences and practice them enough to pull them off reliably in the short time frame. Meanwhile, there's nothing in the game or the manual about the fatalities, and GameFAQs doesn't have anything about the game yet, so I'm at a loss. I wondered briefly how people found out how to do fatalities in the days before the Internet, then I realized that that was the entire reason for magazines like "Tips & Tricks."

I do wonder about the game's difficulty. I've never been particularly awesome at fighting games, so I'm always a bit wary when I do well early on (also, shooters. It's because I was so good at it that I realized what a crappy game Darkwatch was). I don't think I lost a round until Scorpion, the first of the MK characters, showed up in Story Mode. After that, I found that the MK characters generally seemed a little tougher, faster, and stronger than the DC ones. Your mileage may vary on that one, though. Even though I had to play several fights repeatedly (Dark Khan especially), the Save feature made it easy to return to where I left off (though it kept making me watch cutscenes over) which was nice, and I was able to breeze through the story mode pretty quickly.

Bottom line, if you're fond of fighting games and fond of the DC characters, you might give this one a rental. I don't know how well this will play with the Mortal Kombat fans, given the toned-down blood and gore. But I do know that it's far, far better than Justice League Task Force. And as long as you're not expecting too much from it, it's fairly fun.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Comic Compromise

I haven't said much recently about the cancellation of Manhunter and Blue Beetle (and Birds of Prey, though that looks like it might be a temporary, R.I.P.-related thing). For one, I'm not caught up on either book (though I've been buying them regularly), so I'm not sure what's going on yet. For two, while I won't dismiss the arc without reading it, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if cancelling the Sturges Blue Beetle was an act of mercy--the way it was for Shadowpact and Remender's All-New Atom. And for three, it's not surprising. Books I enjoy keep getting cancelled, and The Outsiders keeps going; there is no justice in the world.

So, I understand that there's not enough of an audience to support a monthly Manhunter book, or a monthly Blue Beetle book, or a monthly All-New Atom book, or a monthly Catwoman book, or a monthly Firestorm book, or a monthly Chase book, or a monthly H-E-R-O book. And I understand not selling titles that don't sell well; that's just good business. But what about an anthology book or two? Mightn't there be enough support for an Adventure Comics featuring 12-page stories about Blue Beetle, the Atom, and Firestorm? Mightn't there be enough support for a Showcase Comics featuring Manhunter, the Question, and Chase? Wouldn't there be enough support for 48-page monthly or bi-monthly anthology books, featuring characters linked by a common theme, with finite arc-based stories that could be easily collected in trade forms (a la Doctor 13) featuring characters who can't support solo titles? Might that not be a better way to debut new stories or characters than the endless stream of miniseries? If I were buying a book for Blue Beetle and Firestorm, and there were an additional story about El Diablo, I'd be a lot more inclined to follow that story in the book I'm already reading than to pick up the El Diablo stand-alone miniseries.

I know it's been proposed before, and I can see reasons for not doing it, but isn't it at least worth a try?

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Belay that last post

You know, I like Geoff Johns an awful lot. And I like James Robinson too. I really like the ideas behind the Brainiac and New Krypton stories so far, and I can't wait to see where the latter ends up going. Supergirl's been given a pair of new status quibus in the last couple of days, and that's going to mean some very interesting developments for her character. But there are the niggling little things that keep bugging me.

First, what happened to Cat Grant to transform her from the character she was in the '90s--a troubled, passionate, competent reporter--to the character she is now--a vindictive tramp? I mean, it looks like they're pulling a bit from her characterization in "Lois and Clark," but there the trampiness was largely an act, and she actually had some depth (at least in one episode she did).

Second, why is Perry White smoking cigars? The man nearly died of lung cancer a few years back and gave up the habit back then. It wouldn't be a big deal--in fact, it really isn't--but Johns is supposed to be the king of continuity, and Robinson's no slouch in that department either. Poor Perry's been backsliding for awhile now under Johns' pen, so maybe I'm a little hypersensitive to changes like this one.

Third, we've had some high-profile appearances by both Ron Troupe and Lucy Lane in recent months. While I'd rather see more of Ron than Vince Lombard and Cat Tramp Grant, I'm a little upset that I've not seen either one mention the fact that they're married and have a son. The last time I remember seeing little Sam Troupe, it was when Greg Rucka was writing Adventures of Superman, but I haven't heard anything yet about Superboy Prime punching him out of reality. I suppose entering the Army wouldn't necessarily preclude raising a toddler, and I suppose Ron could be the more stay-at-home of the two parents, but I'd like some confirmation that they didn't sell their marriage and child to Mephisto Neron or something.

Fourth, a small note to Gary Frank: please stop making Lois Lane look like Margot Kidder. I can think of at least four people who have looked and acted better in that role.

Finally, there's the Pa Kent thing. On one hand, it's got Clark referring to Jonathan as his father again--a nice change of pace from two years ago (by the way, Johns started two years ago?! I thought it was a year at most). On the other hand, why is it necessary? I like that Clark has his parents alive; how many other superheroes can actually go get advice from two living parents?

This is not to say that the death wasn't expected. Even if the cover solicitations hadn't made the end obvious, the conversation Clark and Jonathan had in the first part was basically one long "we're so happy; what could possibly go wrong?" I'm just at a loss to understand why.

No, I'm not. Not really. See, all of these changes--like so many changes in comics these days--have a common thread. Every single one of them is trying to set the status quo back to a point that the authors have arbitrarily deemed perfect or otherwise sacrosanct. In the case of Geoff Johns, as has been obvious since he started on the title with Richard Donner, that period is 1978 and the Superman movie. In order for that to happen, Clark has to be an unpopular nebbish, Lois ought to look like Margot Kidder, Jor-El has to be a major influence on Superman's life, Perry White has to be an angry cigar-smoking tyrant, and Pa Kent has to die tragically of a heart attack. Throw in some more tropes of the past--Vince Lombard, for instance--keep some of the more modern bits--Ron Troupe, Clark and Lois's marriage--but take everything else as close to the past as possible. I'm a nostalgia buff as much as anyone, but I'd prefer progress, or at least the illusion thereof. New Krypton and Supergirl's new Linda Lang identity are examples of just that sort of illusory progress--both are taking classic ideas and spinning them into something new and interesting. Killing Pa Kent the way he died in the movie, the way he died in All-Star Superman, the way he nearly died in 1993, isn't progress, and so far I haven't seen anything to suggest that the death is going to be a springboard for greater developments. Pa Kent's death should have been a big deal; it shouldn't have been treated as an inevitability, something minor to happen in-between major events like Brainiac's attack and the birth of New Krypton. It bothers me that these changes seem to be happening not because the characters or plotlines dictate it, not because they'd open up new avenues for storytelling, but because that's the way things used to be. Nostalgia's great, until it becomes the main driving force behind a story. At that point, things tend to fall apart.

I read recently, and I wish I could remember where (I'm sure some intrepid commenter will remind me), a blog post or something with the thesis that comic writers who grew up in the '90s (with Kirkman as the prime example) are better than the previous crop, precisely because '90s comics sucked. Those writers, then, aren't quite so rosy-eyed nostalgic about the comics they grew up with, and had to seek out a variety of other eras and genres to get excited over. I'll admit, the idea has a lot going for it, especially if the crop of Loebs and Quesadas trying to take comics back to the '60s and '70s is any indication. No one wants a return to the age of useless straps and ubiquitous mullets.

Like I said, I'm a fan of nostalgia. Who isn't? But nostalgia is like salt: it's great to sprinkle over actual food, but eaten on its own, it's gross and unhealthy. Nostalgia's a great tool for spicing up a story, but it doesn't work for its own sake.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Warm Fuzzies

I've been so busy these past few months that I just haven't had the energy. I've let them pile up beyond belief, keeping track of the barest minimum when I get a little chance.

So I say this with the utmost sincerity: it feels great to be reading comics again.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I can't post this enough

In light of my last post, I wanted to give an example of the real Fantastic Four, someone who really gets the team's personality and dynamics. Nothing fits the bill quite like this:


"And the Thing just loves to fight!" Why, it's like they've leapt off the page and onto the screen!

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I don't say this nearly enough

You know, for all the times I've ragged on them in the past, for all the energy and enthusiasm I focus on the competition, and for all the abuse I heap upon their current EIC, there's something that often gets left by the wayside:

I Love Marvel Comics

Maybe it's just the video games talking; maybe it's the fact that I have three unread issues of Marvel freaking Apes sitting on my desk, but I really do love Marvel Comics. Not everything about them, mind you--as you might guess, I go through periods where my love is on the down-swing, but there are a lot of things about the Marvel Universe that just hold a special little place in my heart. So, for the next few days, I'm going to wax a little poetic about the House of Ideas.

And where should I begin? Well, I've been playing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance again recently. The first time I played through, my main team consisted of Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor, and Luke Cage, who occasionally got swapped out for the Thing (though I can't quite remember why). This time around, I've been playing a bit more with some of the in-continuity teams. The X-Men are fun, since there are so many combinations, and it's been neat to watch everyone mourning the death of Nightcrawler...even when he's in my party. I do wish Cyclops weren't such a wuss, but what else is new? The Classic Avengers are fun, especially since I already keep Cap and Thor in their original costumes, and Iron Man's classic armor has better boosts than any other early-unlockable suit. I was chomping at the bit halfway through the game so I could unlock Ghost Rider and build the New Fantastic Four team, which is sadly about as effective as it looks. I still need to get the Joe Fixit outfit for Hulk so I can complete the look. As soon as I unlock Silver Surfer, I'm going to put together an erstwhile Defenders team (aren't they all?). But more than anything, I keep coming back to the Fantastic Four. In my first play-through, it seemed like Thing was the only one with anything useful to contribute, but after playing with them a bit, I see what an incredible group they really are. Johnny's fire powers are all so good that I have trouble picking which ones to keep active; Sue's force field ability and "Unstoppable Force" skill make her nigh-invulnerable; Thing has a great set of upgrades and abilities. If there's a weak link, it's Mr. Fantastic, who still has some pretty devastating attacks. Maybe it's just because I rock the game's socks, but playing as the FF has given me quite a bit of insight into why four folks with relatively tame powers can be one of the most formidable forces in the Marvel Universe.

Just call the Four!I'll admit that as a kid, I never really got into the team. I bought the title for a short time around Infinity War (with all the doppelgangers running around) and again when Reed was "dead" and Thing was wearing a mask, but they never caught my interest. The next time I regularly bought the World's Greatest Comic Magazine was during the Waid/Wieringo years--specifically, the storyline where Dr. Doom turns his ex-girlfriend into a suit of skin-armor. Contrary to how that sounds, the book was incredibly fun, and is among the best things I've ever read by Mark Waid. The thing about the Fantastic Four that I think tends to get lost in the shuffle is that the best stories, whether they take place in the Negative Zone or the suburbs, are ones that center around the interactions and relationships between the FF family members.

And that, I think, is why the FF is the only group in the Marvel Universe who can make a transition from New York street crime to global supervillainy, to space invasions and otherdimensional entities, and do it seamlessly. They are, quite literally, the close-knit family that can handle anything. When written poorly, the Fantastic Four are just another superteam; when written well, the Fantastic Four is totally unique among comic book superheroes.

And that's pretty fantastic.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Oh what a tangled web we weave...

Wow, it's been awhile since I last posted. I apologize; I've been pretty gosh-darn busy, and consequently I've had almost no time whatsoever to read comics or do the other various geektastic things that I tend to talk about on this blog. Things have freed up somewhat now, leaving me a little more time to do the nerdy things I enjoy so much.

And one such nerdy thing, which has also eaten up a bit of my comic reading/blogging time, is playing video games. I recently managed to acquire an XBox 360, which means that for the first time since the Sega Saturn, I own a current-generation system.

My first purchases for this new and wonderous white rectangle of joy, as you might have guessed, were Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and The Incredible Hulk, since I already knew I loved the former, and since the latter looked like it might be picking up from the spirit of Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which is a fantastic game. I'm a little disappointed with how that turned out, but that feeling may or may not be balanced out by eventually getting to play as Hulkbuster Iron Man.

Apparently not contented with those and the half-dozen other assorted XBox games I've managed to pick up on the cheap, I went out and rented Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. You might recall that I'm a pretty big fan of the Ultimate Spider-Man game, which in my experience has had the best combination of mechanics, writing, and voice acting of any of the Spider-Man video games to date. I never got around to playing Spider-Man 3, and while I was impressed by the inclusion of the Prowler, I didn't give Spider-Man: Friend or Foe more than a single rental. I'd heard a lot of hope and hype about Web of Shadows, so I was excited to try it out and see if it'd be a worthy successor to USM.

First, the good: the game is gorgeous. New York City is huge and feels very realistic; the animation is fluid, and the character designs (with one notable exception so far) are spot-on. The action sequences are fast-paced, the combat is fluid, and the web-swinging mechanics are just about perfect (largely because they're just about the same as in USM). The storyline so far is fantastic; there's the obligatory in media res part at the beginning, and then a good, slow build-up to the main plot, with some of the usual side-quest stuff, involving the street gangs and the Kingpin. One thing I really like is that most of Spider-Man's powers work in boos battles about as well as they do in regular combat, which is a nice change of pace, since usually bosses seem to be immune to webs and various other special moves. The option to switch between the classic and black costumes, and the different powers that go with each, is fantastic. The moral system accompanying the costumes also works well with the plot and Spider-Man's character in general. The game feels very open; the only time I've encountered any problems was when I tried to go across one of the bridges while exploring early on, and hit up against an invisible wall. I haven't yet gone to see if there are other bridges in the city, but it seems to me like a Spider-Man game ought to contain a traversable bridge. It really doesn't matter which one--George Washington, Brooklyn, Queensboro--I can't tell the difference, and apparently neither could Stan Lee when Gwen Stacy was thrown off two of the three.

Now for the bad. The first thing I noticed that raised my hackles was the flash effects. Pretty much every time Spider-Man throws a punch, his hand creates little trails of light, which get bigger and brighter and more explosive as the combos increase. Last I checked, Spider-Man had not plunged his fists into Shou-Lao the Undying, and thus should not be demonstrating the iron fist--let alone the iron knee, and every other iron body part he happens to use in the game. For a game with such realistic-looking characters and landscapes, these cartoony effects really hurt the sense of immersion. I don't think I'd have noticed if they were more understated--speed lines, a flash when hits connect--or if they were limited to special moves, but it's every gosh-darn punch.

The next thing I noticed was the voice acting. Actually, that's not fair--so far, most of the voice acting is very good. Wolverine is spot-on, Venom and Black Cat were great, and even the stock phrases sound fine. Luke Cage is good, though I think my opinion is tainted by the fact that he doesn't sound like the version in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and thus sounds a little off. No, the biggest problem with voices is Spider-Man himself, and to a lesser extent, Mary Jane. Spidey does pretty well with the humor, but otherwise he's way too whiny and high-pitched, which makes listening to him more than a little annoying. In fact, the same complaints could be levied at MJ as well, but you don't actually hear much from her, except over Peter's "hands-free cell phone." This may, again, be because I'm spoiled by previous games--Ultimate Spider-Man had pitch-perfect voice acting pretty much the whole game, so it's a little jarring to hear bad choices now.

The game is occasionally glitchy. I haven't experienced any of the freezing and restarting that the Newsarama review mentions, but early on I had to fight one enemy who was stuck below the street. Later, a cutscene played toward the end of a battle, and one of the remaining enemies turned invisible thereafter. That wouldn't have been too problematic, except that the game's targeting system stayed inexorably locked onto him until he was beaten.

That targeting system is the biggest gameplay flaw. Well, the targeting system and the camera, which are related flaws. First, targeting has a tendency to never quite lock on when you want it to. Sometimes it'll decide that what you mean to be aiming at is not the symbiote creature who is gnawing on your face, but the Kingpin squad trooper minding his own business eight blocks away. Sometimes you can change which enemy you're targeting by moving the right analog stick--something rather difficult while you're already trying to juggle your left stick, buttons, and triggers in the midst of a heated battle--and usually that results in switching to an enemy nine blocks away.

The camera, ostensibly, moves to center whichever enemy you've targeted. Sometimes it does this well; other times, it locks onto Moon Knight halfway across the city and outright refuses to be swayed in any other direction. Part of this is because the right analog stick is used to control both the camera angle and which enemy (or ally) is being targeted at any given time, and it's never the one you want when you want it to be. Not being able to see who or what I'm web-shooting at has been the single most frustrating problem of this game so far.

Especially when that problem interferes with the game's moral system. See, the moral system operates on "Red Points" (good deeds) and "Black Points" (evil deeds), which you're awarded...well, pretty much randomly, I think. As far as I can tell (since there was no manual with the rental copy) there's no way to see how many points you have in either column, even though presumably the points determine which allies you can call and what direction the plot goes in. As long as Luke Cage and Wolverine are still coming when I call, I guess I have to assume I'm still on the side of the angels. Sometimes it's easy to tell when you're doing the morally right thing--after big cutscenes, the game usually makes you explicitly choose between Red and Black, which dictates your next action and presumably results in you receiving oodles of points one way or another. When you save civilians, you get red points. When you fail to save civilians, you get black points. I really like that aspect; it seems to me to fit Spider-Man's personality to a T. There are few other heroes with moral compasses so finely tuned that they'd beat themselves up over civilians they failed to save while in pitched battle with the forces of villainy, so that much is spot-on.

After that, though, it gets a little muddy. Sometimes collateral damage gets black points, sometimes it doesn't. After awhile, there's no apparent Red Points reward for saving civilians. During the fight with Wolverine and a bunch of symbiotes, red and black points seemed to be awarded more or less randomly. There's no color point reward whatsoever for stopping crimes or other criminal activities, as far as I can see, even after the police decide Spider-Man's a menace and shoot at him as readily as the bad guys.

Ultimately, it seems that the game seems to really, really want you to show off that black suit and play as a bad guy. Only the black suit has the power to detect symbiotes-in-disguise; only the black suit gives you the power to throw cars, which the game tells you to do so that you can stun and defeat the giant mecha enemies, even though throwing a car nets you two Black Points. No Red Points are awarded, so far as I can tell, by beating the mecha with fists and webs alone. And most obnoxiously, you'll occasionally be in a battle, with the glitchy and unresponsive targeting and camera system, when you'll get a flash of blue spider-sense around your head (good luck noticing it with all the other colorful flashes in the battle), and you might notice a tiny note at the bottom of the screen about there being a civilian in danger. Once in awhile, it'll tell you more explicitly to use the Left Trigger to target the civilian and the Y or B button "while near them" to rescue them. Fail to do this, and you'll get a very clear notice that you earned 10 Black Points. Do this, and I'll hail you as the god of button-mashing, because I've only ever been able to do it through sheer dumb luck. See, things slow down a little when the civilian's car explodes, launching them into the air, but Spider-Man slows down too. Which makes it darn near impossible to right the camera, lock onto the civilian, jump up to them, and press the right button while near them in midair. And that's assuming that hitting Left Trigger actually locks onto the civilian, and not whatever the nearest bad guy you're fighting is. I realize that the evil path is supposed to be easier, but the good path shouldn't be impossible, especially not in a game centered around a superhero, and especially not just because the targeting and camera mechanics are crap. As long as your Red Points (which you ought to be able to monitor) are in the lead, targeting and camera should automatically lock onto civilians in danger, and spider-sense shouldn't slow down Spider-Man. That's the whole point of spider-sense.

On more minor notes, this game seems less diligent than previous installments in making sure that your webs are actually sticking to something as you swing around the city. After a few instances of wondering what I'd hooked onto, I've looked up to see, in fact, that Spider-Man has managed to web the sky. Perhaps in addition to acquiring the iron fist, Peter also managed to get the Power Cosmic (he presumably took over for Golden Oldie). It's a small thing, sure, but it's another contribution the game makes to killing the immersion. Besides that, there's the matter of the black suit itself. I know my "Maximum Carnage" better than most, and consequently I know that symbiotes--or at least, the Venom/black costume symbiote--are weakened and hurt by sonics, heat, microwaves, and electricity. Consequently, I find it odd that a symbiote would be able to take over Electro. Besides that, I was a little annoyed when I managed to find an in-game church tower, with a giant bell, that rings if you hit it, that did absolutely nothing to my symbiotic costume. The game was clearly made by comic geeks with a real attention to detail--the billboards advertising careers in A.I.M. and S.H.I.E.L.D. are a testament to that--so failing to include one of the most iconic scenes in the black costume's history seems like a glaring omission.

I'm sure I've missed some things, but after a review that long with a reference to Aunt May's stint as a Herald of Galactus, I feel like I've reached a good stopping point. Bottom line: I'm planning on buying the game, but I won't drop $60 on it. A good story with some great moments and decent mechanics makes Spider-Man: Web of Shadows at least worth a rental.

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