Developer: High Moon Studios
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Coming off the surprisingly impressive reinvigoration of the Transformers brand with their popular Cybertron series, High Moon Studios turned their gaze upon another licensed property, Marvel’s comic book anti-hero Deadpool. With no film to accompany it, and given the team’s noted success with the action-adventure genre, there was a quiet optimism surrounding the development of Deadpool. Tack on the inclusion of mega-popular voice actor extraordinaire Nolan North as the titular character, and Deadpool comic-scribe Daniel Way penning the script, there seemed little chance the studio wouldn’t deliver an authentic experience. In that regard, they succeeded with rainbow-riding, Pegasus-flying colors.
The best way to describe the Deadpool game is by saying it is so incredibly, totally, completely Deadpool. From the very beginning, the Merc with a Mouth is true to form; breaking the fourth wall while simultaneously off-the-wall insane. The opening cutscene and prologue set the tone perfectly, as Wade Wilson roams around his apartment eating pizza, drinking booze, and blowing up sex dolls. (As in inflating them, but he probably blows them up too.) Deadpool can even pick up the phone and give Nolan North a ring, before chewing out a High Moon Studios employee for not making the game according to Deadpool’s own script. Nothing and no one is safe from DP’s fourth-wall shenanigans, he’s free to provide a running narration for the entire game and comment on how the player should best combat a situation or solve a platforming puzzle; even the achievements/trophies are fair game for sarcastic retort.
With his personality firmly established, the game begins with Deadpool hired to bring a high-profile target in alive, but his snatch-and-run is soon thwarted by none other than Mister Sinister. For reasons I won’t spoil in this review, Deadpool, alongside the two “trusty” voices inside his head, embarks on a mission to put an end to Mister Sinister. Along the way, players will encounter familiar X-friends such as Wolverine (flawlessly portrayed by his iconic voice actor Steve Blum,) Rogue, Psylocke, and of course, Cable. The quest to put a stop to Sinister sends Deadpool through a variety of locations; from the obligatory sewer stage every comic book character must endure, to the once-majestic island of Genosha, now ravaged by the aftermath of a Sentinel invasion. In order to reach the mad scientist himself, Deadpool must employ a variety of beat ’em up tactics mixed with some third-person shooting mechanics.
Combat in Deadpool won’t be winning any awards for innovation, but for the most part it serves its purpose. Any Deadpool fan knows DP never leaves the house without his dual Katanas and Pistols, and this game is no exception. Fortunately for players, there are other weapons to try out as well. There are three basic weapon types in the game: Melee, Ranged, and items. When attacking up close, Deadpool can use either his Katanas, Sais, or cartoonishly large hammers. No stranger to gunplay, Wilson can also mow down enemies by dual-wielding pistols, shotguns, sub-machine guns, or pulse rifles. Neither guns nor melee weapons can be mixed or matched, yet both sets can be switched out on the fly by pressing either side of the D-pad. To clarify, Deadpool always has both a melee and ranged set equipped (dual Katanas + dual Pistols, dual Sais + dual shotguns, etc.) but cannot mix sets (He can’t equip one Hammer and one Sais, nor fire a Pistol in one hand and a Pulse Rifle in the other.) Tapping “left” on the D-pad will cycle through melee weapons, while pressing “right” will scroll through his unlocked collection of firearms. Finally, the items DP carries around in his utility belt include flashbang grenades, frag grenades, bear traps (yeah, you read that right,) and land mines.
With the exception of items, all of Deadpool’s melee and ranged weapons can be upgraded once unlocked. In order to unlock, and subsequently upgrade, his entire arsenal, players must acquire DP Points. (DP stands for “Deadpool,” by the way. Although, with this game, I guess it goes both ways…) DP Points are accumulated either by picking them up like collectibles scattered throughout stages, or through the primary way of defeating enemies. Furthermore, weapon upgrades unlock as you kill more enemies with the specific weapon; so the only way to make those Sais better is to kill more enemies with them. Additionally, Deadpool has a personal upgrade tree which offers expected passive abilities such as health bonuses and damage/critical hit boosts. His skill tree is also where players can upgrade Deadpool’s momentum meter.
Momentum in Deadpool is use to execute more powerful attacks, Each melee weapon has three distinct momentum moves, while each gun is afforded only one, with a meter to fill for each specific attack. Momentum is built up by executing chain combos, and will rapidly deplete if there is a break in the action, so it’s best to fill the meter as quickly as possible; because once the meter is full it will not diminish unless players either A) Unleash the momentum attack or B) meet their untimely demise. Unfortunately, players lose all filled momentum meters upon death, but once combat becomes second nature it takes only a few moments to build full meter anyway. Once executed, these screen-clearing moves can change the tide of battle in a hurry, turning Deadpool’s adversaries into bloody mush while he reminds players how awesome he is.
This all sounds well and good, but there are actually a number of issues with the game. Among those filed under the “annoying but not game-breaking” category, there are a variety of locations to play though but only a handful of enemy types. Aside from the bosses and the larger mini-boss-esque specialty enemies that pop up scarcely, there are basically just a few soldier types to deal with. I hope you like Generic Soldier Enemy #1, because he’s going to be your best friend for the next 6-8 hours while you and Deadpool make your way to Mister Sinister. The AI is also incredibly dumb, which is interesting considering how much of the game’s core mechanics are borrowed from the Cybertron series. The third-person shooting works exactly the way it did in Transformers, toggling in and out of it in an instant because every battle is a mix of close-quarters-combat and cover-based shooting. Except with Deadpool, only the enemies can take cover. With no cover mechanic to speak of, player have to just sort of run behind objects and use them as shielding, while enemies have the ability to dive behind cover and even blind-fire. What makes the gunplay even more of a chore is that invisible walls and environmental texture issues can snag both players and enemies. If an enemy is “behind cover,” even if Deadpool has a clear headshot lined up, there’s about a 50/50 chance that shot will connect. Otherwise it will just shoot at an invisible wall and the enemy won’t take any damage.
Further environmental issues that plague the game are PS2-era glitches I thought long-since dead. Enemies will accidentally phase below the stage, halting player progression and forcing a checkpoint reload because stages cannot progress until all enemies are defeated. Even worse, players will often launch an enemy during combat, either sending them off to float in mid-air close to the ceiling, or forcing them onto a table where they remain out of reach until the enemy decides to come down and attack. Compounding this frustration are some frame rate issues that don’t just crop up when there are a lot of enemies onscreen. Even when fighting a single enemy, like the larger mini-bosses mentioned previously, Deadpool himself can cause the frame rate to drop just by teleporting too often (Deadpool‘s equivalent of a dodge in this game.) This level of unpolished execution is surprising for High Moon Studios, who have done more than enough to earn the trust of gamers with their solid execution of the Cybertron games, so I’m not sure why Deadpool feels so undercooked.
But the absolute worst problems with Deadpool can only be realized when playing the game on Ultra-Difficult, the game’s equivalent of Hard mode. As I played through on the hardest setting, it became obvious how unbalanced firefights with enemies could be. Deadpool’s health regenerates, but when enemies can mow you down in an instant, health regeneration doesn’t matter. As I mentioned before, enemies can both hide behind cover and fire from cover, but Deadpool has no such ability; a disadvantage that becomes infuriating during the late-game when enemies are firing from all sides and there are few places to hide. The game also breaks up combat segments with a variety of minigame-esque homages to other games. Like his comic counterpart, Deadpool likes to “borrow” from various other pop culture references; so between the memes, the comic book Easter eggs, and the handful of obligatory Transformers references, Deadpool can also shift genre. This results in everything from brief machine-gun turret sections and sidescrolling platforming, to even an 8-bit Zelda dungeon romp at times.
These segments would be enjoyable if they weren’t so brutally unforgiving on Hard mode. Not challenging, mind you, because I enjoy a good challenge. Rather, these moments require numerous attempts just to memorize enemy patterns; as the only way to survive is to kill them before they start shooting. The final battles leading up to the endgame particularly exemplify exactly how imbalanced the game is, in favor of enemies over the player. Of course, this issue of balance can be avoided by simply playing on a lower difficulty setting, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the game barely holds its mechanics together when attempted on Hard mode. For crying out loud, there’s a part where Deadpool goes up against multiple bosses simultaneously, each running around equipped with a variety of ranged and melee 1-hit kills, in an open area that makes it impossible to keep track of where everyone is at all times. I’m all for those moments when you bring a boss down by sheer luck alone, but a fight that requires luck just to survive is inexcusable.
Not to get too down on Deadpool, the game has many redeeming qualities as well. The voice work is excellent all around, and there are a number of legitimate laugh-out-loud moments. Way does a great job of staying true to the modern Deadpool persona. In fact, I realized something while playing through this game: If you’re born in the late 80’s or early 90’s, Deadpool is the comic book equivalent of Duke Nukem, almost beat-for-beat. He’s crude and self-serving, combining an amalgam of misogyny and topical pop culture references, all to the tune of being absurdly arrogant. He’s certainly not a role model, but he’s definitely good for a laugh, and I think years from now we’ll look back and wonder how we could ever delight in such depravity. Yep, that sounds like Duke alright. At the end of the day though, Deadpool is supposed to entertain his fans, so when he looks to me and asks, “Are you not entertained?” I can safely say “Yeah, I’m entertained.” Take that for what it’s worth.
It’s tricky to fully explain my feelings about Deadpool on paper, so for my final verdict, I’m going to try and explain how best to experience Deadpool from two points of view, should you choose to play it. First, if you’re a fan of modern-day Deadpool comics, both the storyline and Wilson’s antics will amuse you. However, the combat is a chore and, at times, a downright hindrance to the overall enjoyment of the game. Given that, I recommend playing Deadpool on the easiest difficulty, no matter how hardcore of a gamer you are. The fun of High Moon’s latest endeavor comes from Nolan North’s superb work breathing life into the Merc with a Mouth, breaking the fourth wall and providing constant commentary of situations as they unfold; so the best way to maximize the level of laughs and good times is to not have to worry about cheap deaths and frustratingly unpolished mechanics. Instead, overpower your foes and let Deadpool run amok on his blissfully murderous rampage, while you bust a gut over his ridiculous one-liners and over-the-top comic violence.
Secondly, for folks who’ve never experienced Deadpool before, I say this: If television shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League make you laugh, and for ladies who aren’t afraid to back down in the face of such heavy-handed misogyny at the hands of a character who’s more concerned with getting Rogue naked than saving her life, Deadpool does have some entertainment value. Still, even releasing with a reduced price tag of just $50, the game is not worth paying full price. This is one of those titles you leave on the back-burner until it makes its way into the bargain bin a few short months from now. Being that the experience is largely only enjoyable because of the story and character dialogue, I wouldn’t pay more for Deadpool than the price of a standard hardcover graphic novel: Somewhere in the $20-25 range. This is definitely one of those “you either love it or hate it” type scenarios.
It’s unlikely Deadpool will spawn any sequels as a solo outing, but perhaps this could be the start of an Uncanny X-Force series to hold us over until X-Men Legends 3 finally happens. With some more time in the oven and a few upgrades to the shooting mechanics, the team could really be on to a uniquely enjoyable licensed comic book title. The issues currently holding the game back are all fixable, and with a strong voice cast and continued support from comic book writers, the team has all the ingredients necessary to whip up a fun franchise that could be the best thing since chimichangas. Should Deadpool ever take over High Moon Studios again, I’d be interested to see where the license goes from here.
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