The fourth wall, for anyone unsure of the concept, is the metaphorical missing wall whose absence allows the audience to see “into” a theatre set. When a character in a given play speaks directly to the audience, this shattering of realism is known as “breaking the fourth wall”, something fairly common in TV, film and theatre, but less well known in the world of comic books. It’s what makes Marvel’s Deadpool fairly unique amongst his masked and spandexed brethren, as he doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as demolish it with a garishly-painted bulldozer.
The Merc with the Mouth is probably more famous for his relentless chatter than his trademark guns and swords. He turned up in X-Men Origins: Wolverine played by Ryan Reynolds, who was pretty close to the original character before the screenwriters took some unwelcome liberties. He could quite easily have been the villain of that movie all on his own, having spent over twenty years harassing Spider-Man et al as Marvel’s most likeable anti-hero. After several failed attempts to get a standalone movie off the ground, Deadpool has now moved into the realm of video games – and he’s brought every one of his psychotic personalities along for the ride.
The characterisation is spot on, the game opening with Deadpool sitting on his ass watching TV while his split psychoses bicker with one another about what to watch, and even why he’s watching TV in full costume. He even comments on the first two achievements when you’re granted them simply for standing up. The self-aware humour is never-ending, and the moment when Deadpool calls Nolan North about voicing him in the game is actually priceless. I wasted 20 minutes wandering around his apartment and interacting with everything I could find, and I belly-laughed at least three times.
The story itself doesn’t really begin until you answer the incessant door knocking to accept delivery of a package that Deadpool has sent to himself, which turns out to be the script to the game – which he then decides to mostly ignore and ad-lib as he goes along, often throwing orders and insults directly at the player. Even the tutorial instructs you to “see what A does” as Deadpool couldn’t be bothered to read a manual. What follows is borderline mayhem, a cathartic action adventure that refuses to take itself seriously as Deadpool goes from scenario to scenario attempting to finish his game, keep the investors interested, wreak havoc while cracking wise and, above all, get laid. Along the way he picks up plenty of enemies (most notably Mr Sinister and his group of henchmen) and allies (Wolverine, Cable and Domino, amongst others) – but it’s always the Deadpool Show. While the story isn’t always easy to follow (our loopy protagonist has a habit of letting his mind wander when people are dishing out exposition), a coherent plot does eventually form.
Mostly, this involves an incredible amount of gratuitous violence. The combat, while retaining a standard light-heavy-evade-shoot dynamic, is about as far from Arkham Asylum’s refined pugilism as you can get while still in the same genre. X is light, Y is heavy, B evades and counters, and RT fires the guns. It’s not particularly deep, but it is satisfying as you build up “momentum” to unleash devastating area of effect attacks to thin the crowd of goons baying for a bullet or a blade in the brain-pan.
Reared by High Moon but broken in Activision’s stable, Deadpool successfully marries the sense of speed and anarchic shooting of Transformers: Fall of Cybertron with the superfast, screen-dancing melee of the underrated Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (which also featured Deadpool as voiced by Nolan North, fact fans) and the result is a joy to behold – even if the plethora of unlockable abilities and weapons can’t quite prevent monotony from occasionally creeping in. Some of the fights can be long-winded, infinite bad-guy affairs, and although Deadpool regenerates health, it takes a long time to do so until you’ve purchased the necessary upgrades, meaning early fights can sometimes be a bit of a slog.
Currency for upgrades and equipment comes in the form of coins dropped by enemies or scattered as collectibles. They allow you to buy extra weapons like sais and twin shotguns, or flashbangs and bear-traps, as well as upgrade your skills and gear. Each weapon has its own upgrade tree, and Deadpool himself has a specific set of abilities to improve. Doing more damage faster is the best way to earn more cash, so don’t be afraid to unleash everything you’ve got to end fights quickly and messily. Normal difficulty is pretty free and easy with the ammo drops, so bullets are rarely a problem, and you’ll be unlocking new abilities, weapons and Momentum moves all the time.
Aside from occasional difficulty spikes where bosses are concerned (alleviated somewhat by a decent auto-checkpoint system), Deadpool is a fairly straightforward affair. The man himself (or one of his personalities) will usually guide you from objective to objective, and environmental puzzles are rarely more taxing than, say, finding a socket for the stray power cell you just happened upon. It doesn’t quite hold your hand, but there aren’t many moments that will challenge the average player. The platforming is competent and, although the jumping can feel a little sticky and not as fluid as it should be, getting around is easy. If you can get behind an enemy, Deadpool will drop into a stealth stance automatically (possibly while making a joke about being a ninja), allowing you to kill your opponent quietly with your blades or loudly with your guns. It’s a nice option, but it’s rarely essential unless you’re playing on a higher difficulty setting. 9 times out of 10, the enemies will attack before you even know they’re there.
Graphically, it’s similar to the aforementioned Shattered Dimensions: brightly-lit and heavily influenced by its source material. The framerate soldiers on admirably during the bigger fights, and only momentarily chugs when the action gets particularly thick. Minor collision bugs caused by the ragdoll physics will evoke annoyance here and there, but for the most part it’s a great looking game boasting a diverse assortment of sprawling environs to assault.
The real star, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the audio. Nolan North’s Deadpool is, frankly, hilarious. Yes, the humour is childish, sometimes even dickish in a Saturday Night Live kind of way, but it’s always on the money. Deadpool is a sexist, psychotic, amoral nutjob, but there’s an occasional sense that his heart is in the right place, usually instantly superseded by an act of infantile idiocy born of boredom. His one-liners are great, and his interplay with the other characters, all of whom maintain their stoic comic book idiosyncrasies, is amusing – Deadpool and Wolverine make a great comedy duo, for example.
The music is par for the course, but little moments such as Deadpool’s request for a theme-song of his own, or tiny sound effects like the musical chord that plays when you land a successful counter, bring a crazed kind of charm to proceedings that adds personality and likeability.
There’s no multiplayer in High Moon’s game – it wouldn’t work so well with the insane mechanics – but there are a series of Arkham Asylum-style challenges to earn extra coin and hone your skills. None of them are particularly deep or taxing, mostly involving killing waves of enemies in a certain time limit, and they’re not as chuckle-some as the main campaign – so it’s lucky the combat is so much fun. You do have the option of going back and replaying levels, but it’s only good for hoovering up missed collectibles – there’s no score or time-tracking, which seems like an omission given the nature of the gameplay. The ability to replay levels to beat your own scores or even as other characters from the story would have been extremely cool but, as it stands, the replay value is fairly low.
Deadpool is the kind of game that splits opinion. It’s as simple as this: people who love the character will love the game, and people who don’t get it, simply won’t. North once again captures the drunken-moth-in-a-bottle mentality that singles Deadpool out as the funniest comic book character of all time, channelling his childlike Attention Deficit Disorder into an enjoyable, unpredictable romp around the Marvel universe the like of which we don’t often see.
Moments where Deadpool finds himself stuck in a top-down 8-bit action game because he spent all of his budget in the previous level, or makes insular comments about game design (“More bad guys! In a game, that means we’re going the right way!”) to highlight the correct route, are either borderline genius or puerile nonsense, depending on your personal standpoint.
VERDICT: It’s not going to win any industry awards, either for design or originality, but Deadpool is nevertheless a slice of pure, unadulterated fun, only occasionally let down by sudden moments of frustration and the odd feeling of repetition here and there. Nolan North delivers, as always, and High Moon have done a great job reshaping the Marvel universe around Wade Wilson to produce a highly enjoyable and genuinely funny action game. In a word: awesome.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.