Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was a delightful film, though not always by way of its slapstick antics. It shuffled the lovable 90’s stoner duo on a road trip across the country, a decent formula for any comedy, but its third act was basically a gigantic in-joke on the movie making business. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reluctantly accepting awful roles for a lucrative paycheck, young actors not reading their scripts, the increasingly phallic nature of props, and Affleck’s thirst for murdering hookers were all sufficiently lampooned. It all worked as a wacky comedy to the layman, but for those with a moderate interest in the Hollywood process, Kevin Smith’s (temporary) send off to Jay and Bob was a playful commentary on his early filmmaking experiences.
At its outset, Deadpool appears primed to expel the demons High Moon Studios suffered through creating three Transformers games in as many years. We find Deadpool lounging about his apartment enjoying, among other things, a voice message from High Moon’s president. There’s mention of a script for a game being sent over, and, shortly thereafter, the option to take a phone call from omnipresent voice actor Nolan North concerning North’s interpretation of how to play Deadpool in Deadpool while talking to and as Deadpool. North has been voicing Deadpool already the entire time, so back here in reality the player is hearing a voice actor have a conversation with himself. This is the level of meta-commentary Deadpool aims to keep – and it’s a crushing disappointment that it can’t manage the task.
Taking a momentary step aside, it’s valuable to examine what Deadpool means in his comic home. He’s not the first character to switch between good and evil, boast regenerative health, or maintain absolutely proficiency with blades and firearms. Instead, Deadpool’s calling card is his ability to insult friend and foes with colorful language and penchant for speaking directly to the reader. In that regard he’s something of an alluring anomaly, a super hero whose interest is entirely founded upon his personality. The problem is the videogame medium is already filled to the brim with relentless badasses spouting awful one liners – not to mention third person action games with guns ranged + melee combat. It’s not exactly like the time Michael Jordan tried to play baseball when there were already plenty of good baseball players, but you can see some comparisons.
The problem with Deadpool is that Deadpool isn’t consistently funny and the game design meta-commentary thread is often left dangling in the wind. The inconsistency of humor isn’t for lack of trying; the writing team behind Deadpool tosses out a joke every couple of minutes, but little actually hits its mark. Sophomoric one liners and crude references are often cringe-worthy, and Deadpool breaking the fourth wall down loses its flair after the first thirty minutes. He does manage a few decent one liners in the midst of battle (“if I cut you do you not bleed”), but even those are repeated ad nauseum and quickly transform from amusing to irritating. Lollipop Chainsaw was a game that took a similar approach and emerged with far better results, suggesting you can get more mileage from snappy dialogue by not always settling for low hanging fruit.
It wouldn’t be so tragic if Deadpool didn’t, on occasion, shine with brilliance. The character introductions for Rogue, Cable, and other b-tier Marvel heroes are excellent (especially Cable’s). Any sequence where Deadpool’s stuck in a scene, like pissing at a urinal, goes on and on with a seemingly limitless amount of dialogue until the player decides to put a stop to it. Deadpool’s attitude toward the X-Men is hilarious, and his means of prematurely exiting a conversation with Cable produced genuine gut-busting laughter. There’s some great writing and perfect timing here. Even the neglected videogame meta-commentary is occasionally picked back up, including one particularly amusing scene centered on bad scripting. Likewise, Michael Jordan did indeed hit a few homeruns playing (AAA) baseball professionally, though not enough for a sustainable career.
Just as Deadpool’s narrative busted out of the gate with loads of promise, so does its gameplay. With DmC: Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, third-person character action games have experienced something of a comeback in 2013. Deadpool has a lot of the same toys as its peers, but it isn’t nearly as competent at handling them. Sais are good for extending combos but lack damage while a pair of giant mallets are combo light but damage heavy. Deadpool’s trademark swords are the in-between weapon set as the best of both world. Joining these melee weapons are a variety of firearms; dual pistols, dual machine guns, a shotgun, and a laser rifle.
With the exception of the medium-range swords, every other element of Deadpool’s arsenal must be unlocked. Unlock points are either stationed as pick-ups in obscure areas of the environment or earned by beating the snot out of bad guys. Efficiency by way of combos is valuable, which means that, while sticking to your heavy mallets exclusively will kill baddies off quicker, it won’t generate the high combo numbers necessary for generating points. In addition to the straight unlock each weapon and firearm can be boosted with additional perks, like an increased damage percentage, regenerating health faster, or additional combo strings.
This all works fine initially, but after a couple hours it becomes a stunted, predictable slog. When Deadpool isn’t borrowing from Arkham Asylum’s “kill the one non-glowing guy in the mob that’s protecting all these other guys” idea, it’s content to masquerade as a third person shooter. If you don’t care for clumsily lining up headshots and picking off guys around corners, you’re free to run up and slice them at will. Deadpool’s teleport is actually an engaging maneuver in evasion, and the button it’s assigned to doubles as a nice execution move, but it combat never achieves any sort of identifiable flow. Weapons switching mid-combat is to slow to be anything more than a novelty and, almost always, I was better off sticking to one weapon anyway. Likewise, Deadpool’s momentum meter is a neat idea in that it encourages constant engagement, forcing the player to not retreat/heal, but it’s often not much more effective than mashing out combos.
The relentless clone army set against Deadpool doesn’t help much either. Basic enemy types are introduced and employed with alarming frequency. At the campaign’s closing chapter, when you’re begging for anything new to be added to the field, you’re presented with wave after wave of the same guys you’ve been fighting for the last five hours. The game’s even content to recycle bosses, and in fact it dumps them all out at the same time without concern for how they interact with each other. It would be a cruel instance forced upon the player if guns weren’t completely overpowered (when melee combat failed I resorted to running between Shotgun and Machine gun ammo for ten minutes until I won); fighting fire with fire is means of dealing with it, but far from an acceptable solution.
Level design isn’t very strong either. Most of Deadpool takes place on Genosha, the failed mutant society, and other than broken Sentinel parts everywhere you’d be hard pressed to identify anything unique about the place. If you’re able to draw from the depths of the Marvel universe I don’t know why you’d be content with and endless string of hallways in the form of sewers and offices, but such are the choices that were made. Ironically Deadpool’s time to shine is almost exclusively in sequences outside of combat. Deadpool’s relationship with Death is an attractive setup, and the level the two share together makes for some great one-off sequences. The gameplay is nothing to write home about, but the context behind it is almost magical. Likewise, any time Deadpool decides to pay homage to games of day’s past makes for a good, crowd-pleasing moment.
Deadpool’s gags don’t go deep enough to merit a second play-through, though consistent stats through a different difficulty aren’t a bad lure. More disappointing is the challenge mode, Deadpool’s lone extra, which recycles maps from the campaign and tosses out waves of bad guys against a counting clock. I had gotten my fill of Deadpool’s combat through the abusive final chapter, but it’s there for those are might get more out of it.
It doesn’t help that Deadpool is frequently plagued with less than stellar technical craftsmanship. Hard locks, the abrupt absence of cut-scenes between sequences, enemies stuck inside architecture, and a stuttering frame-rate are the chief offenders. The frame-rate, in particular, was particularly annoying because of how choppy and stunted combat felt anyway, and whether or not it would accept my command to switch over to the shotgun in the proper amount of time was usually unpredictable.
Deadpool’s self aware narrative and seemingly impartial approach to combat boasts honest intentions but quickly fails in execution. Instead of a meta-commentary on game design or an innovative brawler Deadpool’s content exhaust one liners and borrow mechanics from better games. The campaign’s final chapter is a statement of the game as whole; throwing everything together makes for an unpleasant lack of depth or detail.