Deadpool is the Marvel equivalent of Marmite; you either love him or you hate him. From his crass and vulgar sense of humour to his habit of breaking the fourth wall and talking directly with his gathered audience, the Merc with a Mouth offers some sweet comic relief in place of grim, dark, and brooding superheroes. But how is the character’s transition from comic to video game?
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Developer: High Moon Studios
Genre: Third-Person Mutant Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: June 25, 2013
ESRB Rating: Mature
First, a brief history lesson. While Wade Wilson (AKA Deadpool) was not always the known for being “funny,” his distinct style came to the fore in the long-running series Cable & Deadpool, written by one of Deadpool’s creators, Fabian Nicieza. The book paired the anti-hero with Cyclops’ time-travelling anti-hero son Nathan Summers (AKA Cable). Somehow the two anti-heroes made a positive book, fusing the seriousness of Summers with Deadpool’s brand of humour. After a successful four-year run, Deadpool’s popularity proved worthy of his own book, written by Daniel Way, who High Moon brought in to script the game.
And this is where the game kicks off. In pure Deadpool self-referential style, Peter Della Penna of High Moon Studios phones to give Deadpool the great news that they are making a game and has the script delivered. Nolan North calls to chat about the direction of the character (North has been the voice of Deadpool in cartoons and games since Marvel’s 2009’s direct-to-video hit, Hulk Vs.). Deadpool uses his computer to check out his social media presence. He even sighs after receiving “another friend request from Ryan.”
The game continues in a similar fashion, with Deadpool conversing with the other two voices in his head, high-pitched silly or gruff and sarcastic. At one point, Deadpool says, “We should probably explain to the player how our teleporter works.” “It runs on kitten farts,” replies the gruff sarcastic voice with killer comic timing. Deadpool also inflicts his own humour on stereotypical gaming clichés. “Press the jump button in mid-air to do a double jump,” says the high-pitched voice. “Laws of physics be damned,” retorts the sarcastic one. When Deadpool finds a stash of bullets just lying around, he comments, “Bullets. How convenient.” Sometimes, however, it feels as if High Moon is trying to have its cake and eat it; they are making fun of gaming clichés, yet still play within the boundaries of those tropes. “My, oh, my, there are two switches,” states Deadpool, slowly and sarcastically. “I must turn them both on.”
Thankfully Way and the development team have written a dense script bursting with amazing dialogue, so automatic phrases are never too repetitive and change as you progress. The same cannot be said of the gameplay. Deadpool is a button-bashing bloodbath of a game, that harkens back to days of old and titles such as Streets of Rage or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Beat up bad guys, continue, beat up more bad guys. At times this can be wearisome, but the difficulty curve rises in line with your progress, so it never becomes stale. Deadpool is armed with his katanas and dual pistols, but can gain extra weapons and guns, which can be upgraded for special moves. Even here, High Moon add a sense of mischief; as well as grenades and mines, Deadpool carries with him huge bear traps, which stop the larger enemies in their tracks.
The combat system is not as refined as the one found in the Arkham series; whereas the Caped Crusader enters a ballet of well-timed strikes and evades, Deadpool’s fighting style is more akin to a high-octane bar-room brawl. This is no bad thing. You can pummel your enemies mercilessly, counter when needed, or slice them to shreds, making longer combo chains for more experience points. For the most part this works, although there were a few instances when the camera obscures the action, resulting in painful, horrible, funny deaths. The other issue with the controls is a more troublesome one. In order to evade enemies, you must use the teleport power. However, the teleport button is the same one that is used to counter enemies when it appears above their heads. This occasionally leads to striking enemies when in fact you wanted to flee.
As with the controls, the game feels as unbalanced as the main character. Despite being a post-modern, self-referential game brimming with crude, hilarious jokes, High Moon never breaks away the beat ‘em up formula. There is a moment early in the game when the camera moves overhead above Deadpool, transforming the game into a 16-bit RPG. “I love old-school RPGs!” chimes Wade, until he realises it is because High Moon has run out of money for the game. After that, there is the promise of more of this sort of segue, but they never arrive.
The plot sees the assassin-for-hire trying to kill a media mogul, only to run into the Marauders, who have been hired by Mr. Sinister, to kidnap the same person. Cable charges Deadpool with finding Sinister, and so begins the trip to Genosha, now an apocalyptic mutant graveyard thanks to an army of Sentinels, whose body parts are found littering the levels. Cable and some other X-Men – Wolverine, Rogue, Psylocke and Domino – flit in and out of the game, but it is largely a solo affair.
Graphically the game is a conundrum. On one hand, the character models are nicely rendered, and the animation is fairly slick. However, for a game that sends up many of gaming’s worst clichés, the levels and back-drops are largely hum-drum, and void of much character themselves. The level designs are concise but never inspiring, and while there are plenty of bullets and Deadpool points lying around, there are no hidden secrets or comic collectibles that have been found in other superhero games. There are no layers to the gamplay; again despite Deadpool’s zany behaviour the game is remarkably linear. It feels like so much effort went into getting the script perfect, that there was none left to make the game as interesting or wacky as it could have been. It feels like a film, in the sense that you would watch it again, but because of the linear, single-layered gameplay, it is unlikely to offer any replay value, save for the Arkham-esque challenge modes.
That is not to say the game is not fun. It is, tremendously so, but it is more to do with the well-written script and the charisma of Nolan’s performances as Deadpool’s split psyche than the actual gaming elements. As a game it is standard fare, but it is Deadpool’s unique brand of crass humour, combined with the script, that elevates it above the usual comic-book adaptation fare. There are moments that will have you crying with laughter, while others will force you to throw down your controller in frustration. For fans of the character, it is a must buy. If you like your games filled with lines like “I don’t trust men with porno moustaches,” you will probably revel in the warped mind of Wade Wilson. However, if crude and rude is not your style (and if not, what is wrong with you?), then all this has to offer is a linear succession of blood and bullets.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Deadpool was provided by Activision for the purposes of this review.