By John Walker on July 9th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.
I don’t know how far through Deadpool I got. I do know I don’t much care. And it seems fairly evident the game doesn’t care either. I’ve hit a bug, the thought of replaying the level through to see if it doesn’t happen again is too much, and so we’ll call it a day.
Deadpool is an odd character. He exists to spoof the world of Marvel, from within the world of Marvel – an invulnerable arsehole whom none of the other superheroes like, but all too often are stuck with. Complete with multiple personalities all existing concurrently in his head, his primary purpose is to offer meta-commentary on the comics scene, while allowing it to revel in its inherent violence and boobs. As fast as Marvel eats at the Deadpool cake, there it remains in full on the plate before them.
This game incarnation sees developers High Moon attempting to do the same. With the license in their laps, Deadpool sets out to be a meta-commentary on third-person action gaming, while making absolutely no efforts to do anything vaguely interesting with the genre.
It happens every stinking time there’s a spoofing game. “Ha ha, look how we’re doing that annoying thing that’s annoying in games, and saying that it’s annoying!” It seems so many developers labour under the belief that Annoying + Observation Of Annoyance = Hilarity. However, Annoying being the infinite mass it is, anything added to it can only ever equal Annoying. So when Deadpool shouts how annoyed he is that the game is taking place in dreary sewers, that’s the precise moment when it should move on – not a queue for another tedious trawl of levels through the same. (Followed by dank corridors, followed by other dank corridors, followed by more dank corridors.)
It’s tough to balance a character like Deadpool. He’s a dick, so reading about him in comics we at least get a sense of detachment. Actually playing as him brings it a little closer, and could have been handled with a little more finesse. In either direction, really – either allowing the character to face some consequences for his behaviour, or even better, go all-out balls-out disgusting with it, and have him be so morally reprehensible that it becomes grotesquely funny. Instead, here you’re just playing as a cretin who says and does stuff you’ll likely not want to have said or done.
Yes, Deadpool’s a sexist jerk, but do I really need to watch him play “I crush your head” with the breasts of a woman he’s just killed by impaling her on rebar, immediately before referring to her as “hot tits”? It’s worthless. You could go down the line of pointing out that this is objectifying the body of a mutilated woman (following on from half a dozen other comments about her breasts when she was alive), but they have the get-out-of-jail that he’s “meant to be an arsehole”.
The theme continues, with endless close-ups on chests, comments about women’s figures – often disparagingly referring to them as “mannish” and the like – and puerile fantasies of women in bikinis with meticulous physics bouncing their ample bosoms. When Deadpool attempts to ‘motorboat’ such a figure, does it all become fine because it turns out to be a delusion and it’s Cable’s chest he’s waggling his face within? Honestly, the game’s of so little interest I’m finding it hard to care.
The game was listed as console only for most of its development, with a PC version only tacked on right toward the end. Which appears to be the case. Setting up the controls for mouse/keyboard is a farcical mess, requiring you pick letters to assign from a list, rather than just tapping them. Want E or F for Use? Tough. It defaults to, er, U, and you can have R.
Once you’re playing you’ll realise that there’s really no choice but plugging in a 360 controller, as there has been no effort to adjust things to play without one. You’re clearly meant to be struggling with the deliberately odd targeting anyway, the mouse removing an element of how it’s meant to be played.
Oh, and just to confirm that, during the tutorial Deadpool is supposed to be confused with learning the controls. Looking for help amongst his personalities, one responds that he can’t help because, “I only play PC games.” Smooth.
The game itself is clippy and buggy. Deadpool grips to doorways like they’re magnetic, while invisible walls in front of corridors and paths cause you to pop madly about the screen. The mission I reached had me clearing out yet another dull arena of its spawning identi-enemies, so when one of the bigger bads got stuck behind a wall the game wouldn’t let me kill it, nor move on. And I’d yet to experience anything to give me any motivation to care about that.
But it’s not a terrible third-person action game. It’s a mediocre one. Your ability pool grows as you spend XP on it, letting you increase your range of weapons and skills, and indeed combos. It mixes ranged and melee combat pretty neatly, which at least provides a glimmer of variation in its woefully repetitive scenes. Bug free, probably on a console, I can see that someone could plough their way through it without wanting to sever off an arm. But when the issues do come in, there’s just nothing there mechanically to inspire you to get past it. And there’s plenty there aesthetically to ensure you don’t want to.
Jokes often wildly miss. Very early on the game suddenly goes to a weird facsimile of 8-bit gaming because Deadpool spent too much budget on the explosions in the previous level. For a few seconds. And then you’re running around dreary sewers again. It comes and goes without meaning, and doesn’t do anything with the idea while it’s briefly there. Let alone the tangling confusion of the game’s developers not being able to control what the central character does in the world. Oh, and while we’re pointing out issues, how about the one where we’re playing an invulnerable character who can survive having his own head chopped off in a cutscene, who somehow runs out of health and dies when we’re in control?
What should be the best feature – the direct interaction between the protagonist and the voice of the developers he’s blackmailing into making the game about him – is disappointingly delivered. A great deal has gone into excellently motion capturing Deadpool’s movement, dances, even singing, but the gags they’re supplying aren’t particularly funny, and perhaps more importantly when trying to get all meta-meta, aren’t at all clever or interesting. In the end it doesn’t reach higher than, “Oh, the character is talking to the developer, that’s a nice idea.” There are moments here and there – a hand-made cutscene using dolls and cotton wool is briefly fun, if not actually funny – but for the most part, for all its puff, you’re just kicking baddies in a grey room.
And oddly, that’s Deadpool’s main problem. It’s unpleasantly foul, while not being interestingly offensive. It’s not especially funny, although isn’t knuckle-chewingly unfunny. It has a bunch of interesting ideas, even if it does very little with them. Ultimately, the issue with Deadpool is that it’s a bit of a dull action game, no matter the hits and misses going on around it. And in a universe that’s now as much as 30% action games, you have to be better than dull. What’s unforgivable, however, is your game’s central character pointing out that it’s dull as you play.