There are some things to like in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. It has a solid, original Spider-Man story and the makings of some thrilling superhero action. Unfortunately, the game's bland visuals and overreliance on motion controls prevent it from making your spider sense tingle as much as you might hope.
The compelling introduction throws you right into the midst of a crisis. The forces of SHIELD have occupied New York and are fighting a losing battle against a massive symbiote invasion. Amid the chaos, Spider-Man is desperate to find Mary Jane. After a quick tutorial that has you swinging across the city pummeling symbiotes, you encounter MJ, and it's clear that all is not well between Peter and her. As she chastises him for using his black symbiote suit, a mysterious figure emerges from a nearby explosion and extends its symbiotic tendrils to envelop Spider-Man, and then everything goes dark. Then the game flashes back to four days prior, when Venom assaulted Spider-Man and part of the symbiote that gives Venom his power attached itself to our hero, giving him greater, more destructive strength that lets you pick up cars and hurl them at your adversary. With Venom defeated, everything seems normal again in New York, and Spidey has more run-of-the-mill problems to deal with, like full-scale gang wars. But we know the crisis that looms on the horizon. It's a great setup that pulls you in and makes you eager to keep playing to find out how things get so bad and how it all ends.
Things slow down a bit at this point as Luke Cage takes Spider-Man under his wing to show him some moves that will come in handy when dealing with those gangs and everything else Spidey will face. It's here that the game's problems first become apparent. The most vital move you learn is the webstrike, an attack that has you rapidly zip up to an enemy and then kick off of him into the air, from where you can webstrike another opponent, chaining together a series of attacks. You perform webstrikes by shaking the remote to the side, an action that quickly becomes tiresome as you repeat it over and over again in combat. Also frustrating is that shaking the nunchuk to the side has you changing between the red and black suits, while shaking it up or down has you targeting an enemy, and in the flurry of battle it's very easy to do one of those actions when you meant to do the other. All of the repetitive motions and imprecise controls involved in combat hamper the action considerably, and the fact that your movements bear no analogous connection to Spidey's actions makes the widespread implementation of motion controls seem pointless.
Swinging and zipping your way across Manhattan is easy and can be fun for a while, though it, too, is done by shaking the remote and soon gets old. Also, while Spidey leaps, soars, and dives through the air with a preternatural grace, frequent drops in the frame rate make the animation less than graceful, and the gray, featureless city won't compel you to do any leisurely sight-swinging. Still, a few of the game's more exciting moments come in the form of fast-paced chases across much of the city, which put the swinging mechanic to good use.
While Treyarch's movie-based Spider-Man games tried to shoehorn a lot of content into the game using side missions that made much of the action seem peripheral, here, everything ties in to the game's excellent story, resulting in a cohesive, compelling experience from start to finish. As in past games, you'll swing around the city to take on various missions, which are given here by a selection of characters from the Marvel universe. Whether you deal primarily with heroes or with villains depends on some choices you make. From time to time, you'll have to decide whether to do the moral thing or to give in to the temptations of Peter's dark side. These choices don't have much impact, though, because the missions you undertake are largely the same regardless of whom you're undertaking them for, though there are a few different endings to the game that vary based on whether you're more aligned with the red suit or with the black.
There's a good variety to the missions and to the enemies you fight. You'll take on easily dispatched thugs, hulking mechs, and enemies who fly around on Green Goblin-esque gliders. Combat against airborne enemies is especially thrilling, because the camera generally does a terrific job of circling around to stay focused on the action, creating a dizzying sense of altitude as you see the city spinning below. There are also a number of memorable boss battles, including a fight with Vulture that has you swinging from flying enemy to flying enemy to reach him, and a knock-down, drag-out brawl against Wolverine, who doubts your identity and so will periodically quiz you on obscure bits of Spider-Man lore to determine if you're the real Peter Parker, which is a nice bit of fan service for hardcore Spider-Man fans.
It's in the game's final act, though--when New York is once again the symbiote-infested, SHIELD-occupied city glimpsed in the game's introduction--that the missions become outstanding. Pockets of humans need to be rescued from buildings and rooftops throughout the city, and there's a real sense of desperation as you accompany SHIELD APCs and hovercraft and fight to protect the civilians from oncoming swarms of symbiotes that you can see approaching even through walls, thanks to your handy spider sense. It's a shame, though, that the enjoyment you may have found in all this conceptually cool action is severely lessened by the constant wrist-waggling you'll be doing.
Visually, the game is disappointing. The bland, monochromatic city is severely lacking in detail and activity, and while character models look pretty good, you'll often see people clip into buildings and other objects. And as previously mentioned, the frame rate frequently drops severely, making Spider-Man's otherwise graceful moves a lot less impressive. Many of the cutscenes were rendered using another version of the game and have a grainy look to them that lessens their impact a bit. The sound is decent, with some strong performances from the voice cast. Spider-Man delivers his so-bad-they're-funny (sometimes) one-liners with great geeky charm, while also giving a sense of the inner conflict he's experiencing in his struggle with the black suit. The music is sweeping and cinematic, but the best accompaniment to Spidey's swinging is the whistling of the wind you hear when there's no music at all. The sound also has its technical issues, though; music and dialogue will frequently cut out for a moment, and dialogue during cutscenes occasionally gets out of sync with the action. And oddly, all the civilians you pass on the street are as silent as mimes as they make a big show of cheering for you or scrambling from you in terror.
Fans of the wallcrawler may find that it's worth putting up with the considerable flaws and frustrations in Web of Shadows just to experience its original story and the occasionally thrilling action. But if you don't feel a particular attachment to the character, it's not worth it. In a way, the game's better aspects only serve to make its flaws all the more disappointing. This really should have been an exciting, high-flying adventure, but the awkward controls keep this Spider-Man from doing whatever a spider can.
Editor's Note: This review previously contained incorrect information about the ability to call upon an ally for support. This feature is absent from the Wii version. GameSpot regrets the error.