(Xbox 360 Review) Deadpool

Developer: High Moon Studios
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: Philip Smith

Overall: 6.5 = Fair

I’ve never played a game as dedicated to the eccentricities of its license as Deadpool. Marvel’s most infamous mercenary has gone through several behavioral incarnations since his debut in 1991, but he’s always been one thing: homicidal. For his starring video-game debut, developer High Moon Studios chose to highlight his foul-mouthed pull-my-finger side. Fans who favor Deadpool’s less-slapstick antics might find this decision off-putting, but the studio’s surprisingly surreal approach elevates the goofiness to such a level that his personality becomes the most entertaining aspect of the game.

From the very beginning, Deadpool is unlike any game I’ve played. Games have broken the fourth wall before (see: Metal Gear Solid) and Achievements routinely point out and poke fun of elements known only to players, but I don’t recall a character calling out how easy it was for the player to earn one. After directly referencing the Achievement, and the next one, Deadpool then chats back and forth with the other two personalities in his head and, at times, directly to the player. His main voice and those in his head are all skillfully handled by Nolan North. As the voice of Nathan Drake and countless others, North might seem too ubiquitous to be the best choice, even after playing the role in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but he is absolutely phenomenal. As players fiddle with the various items around Deadpool’s apartment, the visual gags and jokes fly fast and routinely hit the mark, with Deadpool reading from the script and doing some on-the-fly editing, phoning up High Moon, cyberstalking X-Men, and even calling North himself. I’m not particularly fond of fart and boob jokes, but North does such a fantastic job delivering his lines, and the game’s animations are so complementary to the dialog, that the game is filled with genuinely funny moments.

The game is routinely filled with bizarre scenes, such as Cable’s face turning into a real taco, Deadpool struggling to get his severed arm back from a dog, and cardboard cutout figures on sticks being moved around in lieu of a rendered cutscene because of budget constraints. The creativity High Moon displays throughout these segments is award-worthy, but the gameplay, however, is not. Everything that has to do with Deadpool himself shows a genuine passion for the character and a dedication to delivering a high-caliber game, but the elements outside that narrow sphere—the combat system, controls, level design, and enemies—are another story.

At the core of the game lies a standard point-based progression system. By gathering the Deadpool Points (DPs) left by defeated enemies and scattered around the environment, players are able to unlock new weapons, new items, and a wide range of upgrades. Deadpool starts with pistols and katanas but can eventually access sledgehammers, sais, shotguns, mines, submachineguns, and more. Weapon enhancements include not just the standard upgrades to damage and ammo capacity, but new moves and counters that can be used in conjunction with melee attacks in a combined combat form, which can actually be pretty cool to see in action. Momentum attacks are also available for purchase, which allow players to unleash powerful moves after enough damage has been dealt to enemies. All of this is well and good, except for the fact that Deadpool always feels underpowered. The high cost of the upgrades are offset some by all of the tokens laid about to guide players where to go—an ominous sign—but he will frequently struggle against Mister Sinister’s grunts, who have to be some of gaming’s most resilient bullet (and sledgehammer) sponges. Most of his arsenal will be locked away until the end, but by that point, players will have gone through the game’s unbelievably lazy third act and gotten most of the pain behind them. The camera also has a hard time with tight corners and indoor spaces, which make up a large portion of the levels. The camera has to constantly be adjusted to compensate for the poor angles it frequently defaults to, such as right next to an enemy’s chin. In the final push before the big boss fight, players are subjected to waves upon waves of enemies on a series of islands that are filled with hallways and staircases, making for a really frustrating final act.

The platforming sections do not fare better due to loose controls and an even looser adherence to the laws of gravity. After vaulting past a platform, it becomes clear that the controls are designed for fast-paced combat and not jumping from one small surface to another. After a few hours, Deadpool’s evasive combat teleport is upgraded for navigating around difficult spots, but it is only available to use in a limited number of areas. Although, to High Moon’s credit, the teleport is handily repurposed as a failsafe for when players miss their mark or are knocked off of ledges, zapping them back safely to a secure surface without penalty. However, there is also a general sense of haphazardness to the game, which was on full display when I overshot a beam (a common mistake), only to find myself floating in the air, with nothing but a single toe making contact with the surface. A funny but poorly implemented stealth segment was made overly difficult by the fact that Deadpool didn’t just creep up some stairs but automatically stepped on top of the safety railing and disappeared halfway into a curtain. Making the situation even more ridiculous was the enemy guard no more than four feet away who stared right at him but didn’t notice—or maybe he did and let it slide, seeing how awkward of a situation Deadpool had gotten himself in.

A Challenge mode awaits would-be mercs who want more action. Each trial is a standalone mission set within a small area of a story level that pits Deadpool against three waves of increasingly tougher enemies that he must defeat within a set time limit. Aside from landing a top spot on the leaderboard with a high score, going through the difficulty levels to earn gold will unlock that map’s Infinite mode (an endless battle) and a stage-specific Infinite mode costume. Challenge offers a nice outlet to cut loose, but I had my fill after about an hour.

As much as the gameplay can disappoint, bouncing around within the unenviable range of middling to decent, the game itself consistently delivers. That same stealth sequence was immediately followed by an option to kill Mr. Sinister or wait, with the wait option leading to a great series of conversations between Deadpool and his voices, he being irritated that the player hasn’t chosen to go through with the killing and the voices alternately hitting on the player and warning about the dangers of online dating. Those kinds of moments are all over the place, and I’m sure I missed a few by simply progressing through the level and not taking the time to stare at a particular object or choose a different option. The numerous references never fail to elicit a smile, either, and there are nods to He-Man, Transformers (close to High Moon’s heart), and a fantastic homage to Sonic 2 with a sequence mimicking the bonus stages. During those moments when the combos and bullets are flying, enemies are exploding, jokes are being cracked, and the level helps rather than hinders the combat system, it’s clear that Deadpool could have been an amazing game. There are several jokes about budget constraints, with Deadpool even wiring High Moon money to finish a level at one point, which would certainly explain a few things.

Deadpool makes for a phenomenal experience but a middling game. So many elements fall short, from the poorly design platforming sequences to the uneven progression path for upgrades; however, Deadpool’s personality, thanks largely to actor Nolan North and High Moon Studios’ affection for the license, can’t help but shine through.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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