The ‘Deadpool’ Video Game Is Pretty Solid, Something Something Tacos I Guess
I've been weirdly excited about High Moon Studios' new Deadpool game since I heard about it last year at San Diego. I say "weirdly" because while I really loved Deadpool when I was younger, it's been years since I've been a regular reader of one of his many, many comic books. And yet, my first reaction on finding out that there was going to be a game, which continued for a whole year without me actually going to look up a trailer or screenshots or any other information, was "I definitely need to play that game as soon as it comes out."
I think what it comes down to is that Deadpool is one of the few characters who seems to fit perfectly in the world of video games. He's a dude who literally does nothing but kill people and make wisecracks, specializes in both melee and ranged attacks, and even has that nifty short-range teleporter that can be used for dodging attacks or platforming. It's a no-brainer, and I'm kind of surprised that it's taken this long for it to actually happen. That said, even with all that he's got going for him, Deadpool as a character brings a pretty unique challenge to the table when it comes to trying to translate him to a game, and it all comes down to tone.
Deadpool really works best when he's, if not an outright parody of the serious, life-or-death melodrama of the X-Men franchise, at least a goofy, comedic contrast to all that stuff. I mean, I think it's safe to say that we all love those stories where he's running around Shoryukening Kitty Pryde or shrinking the Rhino down into a keychain, and we're a little less enamored with the issues where he's talking to Sabretooth about how mercenary work is serious business that slowly erodes a man's soul, right? Right. That's the role that Deadpool fills, and in comics, it really works. If he was going to work as a game, they'd have to recreate that tone, and it's a riskier proposition than it sounds.
It's not that video games -- particularly action games about shooting dudes -- are somehow less self-important and melodramatic than comics, because they are definitely not. It's that they're self-important and melodramatic in a way that's almost impossible to parody. Seriously, that opening scene from Gears of War where a dude named Marcus Fenix rolls up out of a cell in space prison wearing a leather do-rag, and then picks up a rifle with a chainsaw on the end so he can go fight bad guys? That is dead serious, and is maybe the hardest I have laughed at a video game in my entire life. And have you seen that Dante's Inferno game? It's almost impossible to goof on, because there's no way you can exaggerate it. Deadpool can succeed in comics largely because the creators are encouraged to go as over the top as they can, but in a medium that has Bayonetta and Saints Row, going far enough over the top to make it clear that you're making fun of something isn't as easy as it sounds.
Getting that tone right was what I was worried most about, because if it went wrong, everything that makes it distinctive and appealing in a crowd of third-person action games would fall completely flat, and to be honest, it was on pretty shaky ground. The developers -- and Daniel Way, who wrote the script -- go big early on, and a lot of it misses. They take full advantage of the game's M-for-Mature rating, and there's a scene early on where Deadpool takes a moment to stop and ogle the dead body of a female bad guy that he just killed. That was the low point for me -- not because I don't get the joke, but because it doesn't feel like a joke. Comics and video games are full of that kind of scene done completely without irony, so instead of being a gross-out "Deadpool's a wacky psychopath" moment, it just feels like business as usual.
Fortunately, it actually gets better as you get further in.
Despite a rocky start, the game's humor gets sharper and sharper as you play, and at the end of the day, there are a lot more hits than misses. A lot of it, for me anyway, comes from the fact that they continually hammer the idea that while Deadpool is really, really good at killing people, he's actually kind of an unlikable idiot, which actually does a lot to make him easy to accept as a protagonist. It works, and there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, both from dialogue and gameplay.
There's actually some stuff that's almost on the level you'd expect from Suda51, although to be fair, if he'd been the guy to make this game, there probably would've been a part where you fought a giant monster made of Deadpool's libido, and a level based on Deadpool #11 where you played through the entirety of the Spider-Man game for DreamCast. I would have been completely on board with this, but High Moon does a pretty great impression, and the bit where Cable is introduced via a Shaft-style theme song is pretty fantastic all by itself.
The plot of the game is that you're playing the Deadpool video game, because what would a Deadpool game be without a friendly disregard for the fourth wall? It's actually something that I wish would've come up more often -- some of the most enjoyable parts of the game happen early on when Deadpool is dropped into a top-down Legend of Zelda-style dungeon or a weird little side-scroller, and that would've been a nice way to translate Deadpool's schtick to a new medium.
The actual plot is that you're helping the X-Men take down Mr. Sinister, who has made an army of clones based on various mutants, giving you the thrill of shooting, say, Gambit without actually damaging anyone's precious continuity. It's a trip that takes you to Genosha, and, much like Deadpool is a perfect character for a video game, Genosha makes a great setting. There's ruins with pieces of giant robots everywhere that you can use for a bit of platform-puzzling, ancient temples and all kinds of weird settings for action.
I ended up really liking a lot of the designs, too. Deadpool himself looks exactly like he does in the comics, without a lot of the "realistic" adjustments to his costume that you'll find in a game like Arkham City. The same goes for the X-Men, whose roles pretty much amount to a bunch of cameos, and Cable. Actually, they might have done some redesigns for Cable. I'm not sure, but as long as they got that he carries a gun the size of a tree trunk, it's good.
One character who does get a redesign, though, is Death.
I actually like the design itself a lot -- you can't really tell from the image above, but in the actual game, the laces on her bodice are rigged up to look like ribs, to ultra-gothic effect. I will say, however, that as much as I like it, it kind of undercuts a big part of Deadpool being someone literally in love with death when you make her a sexy lady in skull makeup instead of a woman whose head is actually a skull. One of these makes Deadpool seem strange and insane, one of them makes him seem like a pretty rational guy who wants to spend eternity with a floating SuicideGirl.
She gets a pretty great musical number, though.
Beyond that, it's a pretty standard action game. You get some upgradable weapons that take the edge off some slightly clunky gameplay when you upgrade them. There are four melee weapons and four ranged weapons, and while it's nice to have options, it's entirely possible to go through the game without bothering to unlock anything but the swords you start with and the machine guns. I didn't even bother until I realized I was in the last level, and while they're nice and distinctive -- the hammers hit damage-resistant enemies a little harder, the sai are faster, the shotgun has an area effect which you know if you have ever played any video game ever -- the only real thing they added to the game was making it more difficult to select the weapons I actually wanted to use.
One thing I did notice that most people won't have to worry about, though, is that this game aggravated my motion sickness something fierce. Usually that only happens with first-person shooters, but I think in this case it came from the way the camera switches from a close over-the-shoulder view when you're using ranged attacks and then pulls back for a longer view when you switch back to melee. Since you end up doing this constantly over the course of a fight, it's easy to get that ol' familiar nausea. If you're me, anyway.
But even that didn't really ruin the game for me. It's not one that I think I'll be going back to over and over again, but it does a great job at being fun, which is what a video game's primary goal should be. Even if the combat starts out a little slow and clunky before you upgrade the weapons, the game still does a great job with something that could easily go wrong by overwhelming you with enemies and then making it enjoyable to bop around the room, slashing and shooting at 'em.
Plus, there's an entire class of enemy that are just flawed clones of Gambit, who run at you screaming "MON AMI MON AMI MON AMI" and then explode in one hit. And to be honest, that's a really good way of making me like a video game.
Give me endless streams of Gambits to blow up, and I'll be happy.