Marvel’s psychotic Merc-With-The-Mouth would seem to be the perfect candidate for a videogame adaption of his irreverent antics. With a huge selection of weaponry, health that regenerates, and a seemingly endless supply of one-liners, you’d be forgiven for thinking his character wasn’t written explicitly for the purpose of a starring role in his own game. It seems that High Moon studios aren’t convinced though, at least until Deadpool sets off the cache of explosives he’s planted in their building. Needless to say, within a few minutes the studio is calling him back to rectify their mistake. Yep, that’s right. Deadpool the game is a game about Deadpool the character starring in Deadpool the game. Not to worry if you’re not feeling mentally prepared for a Kojima-esque post-modern critique of the art of videogame authorship though – Deadpool uses his twin Katana’s to shred the fourth wall in only the most ludicrous and chaotically hilarious ways imaginable, and although some of the satire here is just as sharp as the aforementioned swords, you can comfortably leave your reading glasses at the door. Deadpool is all big, dumb summer blockbuster; a love letter to comic books fans and gamers alike, and the only lasting impression it might leave with you is a big stupid grin on your face.
As anyone who’s ever flicked through an issue of Deadpool can attest too – Deadpool has issues. Unfortunately, Deadpool the game comes complete with its own set of issues too, and they aren’t nearly as entertaining or endearing as those of its central character. On more than one occasion, I had to withdraw the hand I was going to use to mentally high-five the protagonist after a quip, in order to use it to aim my controller in the general direction of the window out of sheer frustration. If Deadpool was an average game, it’d be enough to just call it an average game and forget about it, but the presentation here is so good that it feels like it should belong to a much more polished final package. I genuinely wanted to love this game, and I mean absolutely love it, because the things it does right just aren’t seen in big releases these days, and disappointingly, the things that hold Deadpool back from greatness all seem like things that could be so easily fixed, had a little more care and attention been paid to the end result.
It’s worth spending a bit of time talking about combat, since this is what you’ll spend most of Deadpool doing, and as a result, where some of its greatest weaknesses end up stemming from, but I’ll get it out of the way by saying right of the bat that combat in Deadpool has the potential to be very fun on occasion. Derivative, frustrating, slightly broken fun, but fun nonetheless. The basic mechanics will be familiar to anyone who’s ever racked up a stylish combo in Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, God of War, or any of the slew of lackluster and cynical movie license cash-ins that adapted a similar style to make up for complete lack of original design choice. Light attack, heavy attack, dodge, special bar. Cut. Paste. Ad nauseum. Whilst the three titles mentioned honed this gameplay to tight, responsive, gory perfection, and the multitude of rip-offs offered nothing but a hollow copy of the real deal, Deadpool, although not bringing anything new to the table, never actually feels as if it’s been cynically designed.
Make no mistake: Deadpool‘s combat is generic, but it feels less a case of the developers shoehorning in a tried and true mechanic for the sake of selling more games, and more giving gamers something they enjoy for the sake of enjoyment. There’s so much attention given to Deadpool‘s aesthetics and tone that the generic combat feels like a limitation, a flaw in design rather than outright disinterest in creating something original. It also helps immensely that there’s no dissonance between the two. The OTT style suits Deadpool’s persona perfectly, and even though the combat is, to be frank, lifted almost button press for button press from so many games before it, in many ways it would be strange to imagine a more fitting style of gameplay.
The combat never reaches the fluidity of the genre titans though, and it’s partly down to the flaccid gun play. Both Dante and Bayonetta’s guns are primarily weak weapons used to extend combos, and although heavy-hitters are available in both those games, they’re still woven so tightly into the flawless combat systems that their presence in the player’s arsenal always feels organic. The guns in Deadpool, however, nearly always seem to break the flow of combat. The transition is always brief, but with combat of this nature, one off-beat in the rhythmic carnage is enough to be seriously jarring to the player.
Almost as problematic are the actual arenas in which the fighting takes place. Thought has been given to providing the player with plenty of variety when it comes to enemy types, and even on standard difficulty, Deadpool constantly requires the player to prioritise threats in order to survive encounters. It brings a certain amount of strategy to the frantic button-mashing and means that challenge is maintained throughout, and, surprisingly for a game that consists almost entirely of combat, actually manages to keep things fairly fresh. Despite this, it seems that almost no thought was put into providing interesting, or even suitable, environments. Deadpool is never locked-in to the platforms he’s fighting on, and some end up being far too small for the chaotic swordplay. As a result, I found myself falling down levels in a few places, and I’m fairly certain this was because of poor level design, rather than something deliberately implemented to heighten challenge. On other occasions I found I was able to cheat some difficult encounters by backtracking to platforms where I couldn’t be hit and picking off the enemies with my guns. Again, this seemed more like a design flaw than me using any kind of clever tactics.
The way hit detection from enemy fire is handled is also a big issue, and this is where difficulty starts to leak over into the realms of frustration. Devil May Cry is a difficult series, but the large majority of the enemy types in your average Devil May Cry title all signpost each of their attacks clearly, and thus can be always be avoided. This is the fundamental difference between fair challenge and a cheap game – player skill is always rewarded, and any punishment is always a result of the players own failing. Many of the enemies in Deadpool have guns with automatic hit-detection – as long as they’re firing in your direction, they’ll hit you. It’s a common and valid design choice in shooters where cover is always available, but ends up feeling cheap and unwelcome in a third-person action game.
Another big problem a lot of gamers might have with Deadpool is its length. The game took me 8 hours on Normal, including all the parts I had to replay. There are a few challenge modes available, as well as a higher difficulty level, but I can’t really see these appealing to anyone but hardcore fans of the game. In its defense, Deadpool is a budget title, but the length still might leave a bad taste in some gamer’s mouths.
I realise that this is all starting to sound hugely negative, but despite its flaws, Deadpool is still incredibly entertaining. Combat is fundamentally problematic, but I still found myself enjoying it. The writing is great throughout, providing both wry sarcasm, laugh out loud moments, and a few poop jokes for good measure. The game isn’t technically incredible, but it stays true to its source material in aesthetics and is hugely inventive with regards to variety. Nolan North’s bombastic voice performance will have you absolutely glued to Deadpool’s every ridiculous and morally dubious action, and the chugging metal soundtrack is pretty perfect for slicing up waves of dudes. The attention paid to this game is present and obvious, but the gameplay never takes enough risks, or even offers a fully realised enough rendition of the mechanics it utilises, to match up to the hugely entertaining package it’s part of.
Deadpool is out now on PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U.
- Genuinely funny dialogue, great voice acting, hilarious scripting, visually appealing.
- Combat is entertaining…
- …but deeply flawed.
- Short length with little or no replay value
Nick Rueben broke the first, second, and third wall, but needs the fourth to keep the ceiling from caving in. You can follow his game related musings on twitter @NickTheHumanBoy