High Moon Studios has a history of bringing well known franchises to the gaming space with a verve and panache that is not often seen in licensed titles. Both 2008’s The Bourne Conspiracy and 2010’s Transformers: War for Cybertron were surprisingly well received, and they followed up the success they had with their first Transformers effort by delivering the equally impressive Fall of Cybertron last summer. This summer High Moon have returned to the realm of famous franchises that have yet to be done justice in gaming, this time with Marvel’s highly polarizing Deadpool character, who has as many admirers of his sarcastic and crude fourth-wall-breaking shenanigans as he does detractors. Breaking the fourth wall is a concept that High Moon really embrace here, and whilst fans will be glad to see the developer stay true to the character in this sense, unfortunately it comes at a cost.
Deadpool’s repertoire of gags and wisecracks isn’t particularly varied in this outing, and by that I mean most of his interaction with the player involves him detracting the very game that he stars in. This is because High Moon have essentially created a parody of the third-person action genre, which is clear from the off as Deadpool himself hires the studio to develop a game for him, and secures the services of Nolan North in what is one of the more amusing and original pieces of writing to be found within the game’s paltry six hour run time. This opening segment arguably carries two of the funniest gags in the entire game; you get an achievement for standing up, and then another achievement when Deadpool questions the easy nature of the first achievement. Yep, this game’s self aware alright. Not that there’s nothing wrong with the concept of a self aware videogame that can effectively parody various tropes within the industry, but the way High Moon have approached this idea, even if well intentioned, backfires. The developers are, essentially, asking you to put up with what is a mostly tedious romp through Deadpool’s ridiculous imagination for the sake of a few cheap jokes. Maybe High Moon had fun with this game, and I’m pretty sure Nolan North was having a whale of a time in the recording booth, but I, the player, was, more often than not, rather bored.
The aforementioned opening of the plot, and I use the term ‘plot’ loosely, is relatively funny, but the style of humor and parody employed cannot be sustained effectively for much further beyond the first half an hour or so. Beyond a few inspired forays into 2D platforming and gallery shooting on an amusement park lovers boat ride, as well as a few clever moments that play on Deadpool’s ability to live on no matter how many limbs have been severed from his body, the game’s setup mostly just allows for repetitive and uninteresting environments in which you’ll take on enemies with clunky combat and also endure some painfully imprecise platforming and dull puzzles. There are a few cameos from the cast from the X-Men, but they’re entirely forgettable, whilst trips to notable Marvel locations like Genosha don’t feel as significant as they really ought to – in short, a rather large missed opportunity. For the majority of the game then, the attempts at humor come from an undoubtedly enthusiastic Nolan North bombarding the player with cursing and innuendos, most of which falls flat despite the predictably excellent performance from North himself. Deadpool’s an enthusiastic character, but unless you’re a huge fan of the merc with the mouth it’s unlikely that his enthusiasm will be enough to carry you through until the credits roll, with a line-up of villains that even the game acknowledges are, well, rubbish.
Let’s talk about how the game plays then. As has already been hammered home, the combat is clunky. Even though you can seamlessly switch from melee combat with swords and counter attacks to shooting with pistols and initiating some flashy special attacks, it never feels as fluid or fun as, say, Rocksteady’s Arkham games, whilst the weapon based combo moves flail in comparison compared to the likes of God of War and Devil May Cry. You can upgrade your weapons and unlock new ones, but it doesn’t really make the combat feel any more progressive, and you’ll find yourself mashing on buttons and lining up headshots with reckless abandon rather than employing any real tactics. Deadpool’s enemies aren’t challenging enough for you to experiment with the combat until the very end of the game, in which a horrendous difficulty spike does little more than feel cheap and unnecessary. The ability to teleport short distances also feels like a missed opportunity, especially after experiencing the delights that such an ability can offer in a game with last year’s excellent Dishonored. There’s no strategy to Deadpool’s combat and death almost always feels cheap when faced with wave after wave of enemies in numerous arena style setups throughout the game, which are overlong and break up any momentum the game may have worked into its favour via some of its more creative character focused moments.
Deadpool’s incredibly short length would have been more forgiving if it had been dominated by the creativity that is hinted at at various points, but ultimately it’s the repetitive combat and woeful platforming that make up most of the adventure. Deadpool doesn’t even look or sound all that great, barring Nolan North’s performance as the titular character, and a few well delivered lines from the voices inside his head, the voice work and music is completely unremarkable. The character models are acceptable at best, but the less said about the unbelievably boring environments the better, and it’s all the more depressing that they’re reused level for level in the superfluous challenge rooms you can take on upon completion of the campaign. High Moon absolutely nailed the look of the Transformers universe, but the world that Deadpool is given to gallivant around in is nothing short of drab. Various technical issues also blight what little enjoyment you may or probably may not be garnering from the experience, with dialogue that constantly cuts across itself, enemies that will freeze in place and cutscenes ending prematurely, although that’s not always a totally bad thing.
The best thing you can say about Deadpool is that High Moon Studios have captured the essence of the character, and for that fans of the merc with the mouth will be relieved, but unfortunately the character is at its most authentic when he breaks breaks the fourth wall to remind the player just how monotonous, boring and lazily put together the game they are playing really is. There are occasional moments of inspiration to be found when the level design matches the quirkiness of the lead, but ultimately most of your time will be spent with drab and repetitive environments, enemies that range from the pointlessly easy to the frustratingly cheap, and a combat system that too easily descends into button mashing and the aimless spraying of ammunition.
Deadpool may take joy in mocking the very product his character is a part of, but perhaps the real issue here is that if the best way to present Deadpool in a videogame is to make a bad videogame and have the character himself tear it to pieces, perhaps High Moon Studios shouldn’t have wasted their time making a Deadpool videogame. One thing that is for sure is that, unless you’re a hardcore fan of the character who is willing to sit through six hours of mostly monotonous combat to experience the occasional well timed joke, most of which you feel guilty even raising a smile at, you should stay well clear.