Developer: High Moon Studios
Deadpool is utterly insane.
That's part of his charm. The Merc With A Mouth may be totally unhinged, but his irrepressible personality and ability to see beyond the comic panels make him one of Marvel's most beloved B-List characters. Having romanced Death herself, lectured us on the joy of mexican food and generally blithered on about whatever he fancies while cutting legions of foes to tiny pieces, Wade Wilson tends to drastically improve our lives just by showing up, and has been crying out for a tie-in of his very own for some time.
With Deadpool at the helm, you can fully expect his videogame to be utterly unlike anything you've ever seen before. Unfortunately, it's also functionally identical to every licensed brawler you've ever played.
Deadpool is famed for breaking the fourth wall in his comics, insofar as he's fully aware that he's the star of a graphic novel. The game takes a similar tack, with the mercenary haranguing High Moon Studios to make him a tie-in full of babes and explosions. Throughout what can only be described as a self-indulgent romp, The Merc With A Mouth addresses both the player and developer directly, constantly mocking us for not quite keeping up with his artistic vision and going off on bizarre tangents. It's anarchic, unexpected and profoundly brilliant.
This self-aware perspective allows High Moon to lampoon everything from game design to Marvel lore. Within the first five minutes, Deadpool takes a call from Nolan North who offers to camp up his character, angrily pulls a poorly-textured bookshelf off the wall and immediately unlocks two achievements in a meta joke about Gamerscore-heavy licensed tie-ins. Later he rides a boot, battles a scripting error, straddles a flying tiger, chats to a talking taco and commits other inexplicable crimes against making any sense whatsoever. Interactive mini-scenes give you the choice to avoid long-winded exposition by shooting yourself, for example, or participate in some homages to classic 8-Bit properties.
Fellow Marvel characters also get the sharp end of the katana, with the likes of Cable, Wolverine and Mr. Sinister becoming the perfect straight men to Deadpool's chicanery. Jokes miss as often as they hit, not to mention potentially offend (there's some sexist stuff in here, though it works in context with Deadpool's lascivious character), but they fly thick and fast enough to keep you laughing out loud for the duration.
I'm delighted to report that Deadpool's reality-twisting cutscenes and interactive non-sequiteurs are work of utter inventive genius, and almost worth the price of admission. I wish that I could say the same about the all-important game itself.
Outside of cutscenes, you'll discover yet another lacklustre cookie-cutter brawler that fails to present anything particularly interesting to do or look at. The dull campaign grimly trudges through brown and grey arenas populated by a tiny selection of nondescript grey goons, all of which are so visually bland that your retinas will likely unionise in protest. You'll battle through a boring penthouse, boring sewer, boring ruins, boring ruined sewers and a ruined temple (also boring) amongst other overplayed humdrum locations. Even stages that take place in hallucinations or bizarre planes of existence are still just dingy grey and brown, which is totally at odds with the colourful protagonist's reckless imagination.
I've often wondered whether all rushed-out licensed games swear to include a certain number of half-baked gameplay sections as part of a secret pact, and Deadpool only deepens my suspicions. Turret sections? Have a good half-dozen. Shonky inconsistent insta-fail stealth? Yeah, chuck it in there. Evading helicopter gunfire by timing your runs between cover? Yep. Bosses who charge at you and need to be stunned to injure? Oh for God's sake. Even some of the more avant-garde diversions such as the aforementioned boot-riding and an impossible carnival just boil down to turrets or rail shooting.
Squint and Deadpool could be literally any rushed-out brawler made over the last decade, only with some utterly fantastic cutscenes. Wade deserved better.
Combat is just as derivative, to the extent where you can practically tick off gameplay elements on a checklist. Light attacks. Heavy attacks. Counters lifted straight out of Arkham Asylum. QTE takedowns. A small selection of guns and grenades. Tick, tick, tick. Combos lack the fluidity and grace of top-tier brawlers like Revengeance and Bayonetta, while gunplay proves to be finicky and unsatisfying, lending battles a jerky stacatto rhythm. With the exception of wall jumps (which are tricky to pull off in battle) and the ability to mix gunshots into melee combos, Deadpool's combat could be lifted from any other C-list action game on the market.
That's not to say it's bad. Though hackneyed to a fault and clunky in comparison to the leading lights of the genre, Deadpool's brawling is frequently satisfying thanks to an abundance of gore and a combo system that ties directly into a robust set of upgrades. The higher your uninterrupted combo, the more points you'll earn towards weapon-specific buffs, character skills and passive benefits. These upgrades make enough impact to force you into some genuinely tough decisions, while on the flip-side, it's hard not to get incredibly angry when a 70-hit combo suddenly gets broken by a cheeky grunt you failed to see. This could have been the foundation for a superior game, but once again, the level design and lack of interesting enemies to fight makes Deadpool feel even more repetitive and derivative than it already is.
This recycled and drab level design also relegates Deadpool into what I like to call naughty lazy parody territory. Or more specifically: trying to poke fun at gaming cliches by committing the same aggravating cliches yourself, but laughing about it afterwards. Deadpool's angry reaction to High Moon designing yet another generic sewer level may be funny at first, but you're still running through the same old pipes instead of somewhere - anywhere - more interesting. The joke might have almost worked had you not discovered another sewer later in the game.
And that's the problem. Deadpool has all the makings of a truly superior licensed title, but the superbly inventive storytelling and humour ends up being compromised by yet another Activision brawler-to-order costing £39.99. Deadpool would never want his game to be set in a sewer, let alone two.
- Profoundly hilarious; breaks fourth wall with liberal and merry abandon
- Combat is functional if overly familiar, compelling combo system
- Versatile and robust persistent upgrades
- Thunderously unambitious, derivative and interchangeable cookie-cutter gameplay
- Disappointingly drab art, enemy and level design outside of cutscenes (I hope you enjoy sewer stages and turret sections!)
- Visually unpolished, jerky combos and clichés galore
- Parody sometimes comes across as smug and lazy
The Short Version: Deadpool's gloriously anarchic sense of humour and fourth wall-breaking brilliance lifts what is otherwise a crushingly generic brawler. Superb rental material for Marvel fans, but could have been so much more had the gameplay matched the cutscenes.