The criteria upon which we judge a video game is limited. A trilogy of technology, interactivity and narrative is a key component in the filtering process from which we derive and scrutinise the “fun”, deconstructing how graphics, story and gameplay work in harmony to produce a sense of accomplishment and reward. With an interactive medium so rich and young, genres that extend beyond the fun factor are few and far between. As it stands, if there is no fun, there is no game. Deadpool attacks this limitation with a great idea, but not so much head on, more from the side, stumbling along until it eventually turns the weapon back on itself amidst the confusion.
Treading new ground in a type of “comedy / parody genre”, Deadpool’s focus isn’t on triple A polish or solid game systems. On the contrary, it routinely parodies typical gaming conventions, often pointing the finger at how developers hold the hand of a player in obnoxious and shameful ways. In this regard, Deadpool lives up to his Marvel Comics legacy by kicking down the fourth wall and acknowledging the player and game director as active participants in “his” game.
Solely within this space, the game would have faced few competitors and carved a path of its own within the medium, free from the expectation and criteria associated with other beat ‘em up action games. Instead, Deadpool bursts out of the gates participating in two races: “Race Inspiring Triumphant Execution (RITE)” and “Race Oh No Gah (RONG)”. With a foot in each, the game compromises the strength of its refreshing parody, competing in a marathon it needn’t have joined to begin with.
When running at its own pace in RITE, the game fulfils its primary objective: pouring on the gamer in-jokes and goofy charisma of Deadpool himself. The tone is immediately set during the game’s opening, featuring phone calls to Nolan North and High Moon Studios’ game director, Peter Della Penna, discussing the viability of creating their own Deadpool video game.
This shameless and unapologetic approach to the medium is refreshing, producing the same respectful laugh you’d give to a dull and to-the-point salesman. Rather than plug its ears and scream, “La la la la, it’s the Animus!”, a large part of Deadpool’s comedy is born from the frank admission that this is a game; enemy corpses flicker before finally disappearing, a streak of sonic-like collectibles leads the way, and elements of the HUD that developers work so hard to hide is treated like an irritating formality here. But beyond the creative camera work and nutty one-liners, a scrapheap of untapped potential and dry beat ‘em up gameplay awaits.
Working its hardest in RONG, Deadpool pulls the audience’s focus away from its comedic identity, and onto the drab action instead. Heavy attacks, light attacks, counter, dodge, shoot – we’ve seen it all before and enjoyed it, but the legion of soulless drones that stand in your way only highlight the limitations of an incredibly meagre combat system.
Is this part of the joke though? Are we supposed to find it funny that the gameplay is standard and uninspired? Is this a type of commentary on the state of current action gaming, much like the friendly banter aimed at fly-through cams and loud levers? Whatever the intent, it’s irrelevant. After all, whether or not you find an offensive joke offensive has no bearing on the quality of the comedy; simply shouting out taboos doesn’t achieve the desired results – you need substance, and substance is not to be confused with content.
Indeed, Deadpool has content in its gaming systems, ticking every box on the “I’m A Licensed Game” checklist. There’s a variety of melee weapons / firepower to buy and upgrade, and switching between every tool mid-combo is the most exciting stuff you’ll find amongst the button mashing. It’s just a shame this kind of experimentation only keeps your sanity in check, rarely enhancing the gameplay at large, due to a severe lack of any meaningful challenge.
Had High Moons Studios committed to the uniqueness of their vision, they would have avoided the strictest of standards within the genre. A real potential to capture the current state of game design and developer / fan relationships was lost in the slog of second-guessed, flimsy design choices.
We’re constantly reminded that we are the player, and that game director Pete could make a change at any moment, but Deadpool dilutes the impact of a potentially interesting narrative outside of the game, for the lukewarm plot inside the game. Marvel fans will no doubt enjoy the presence of folk such as Cable, Death and Wolverine, though the same cannot be said for the other brain-dead characters and their motivations, including the single hook that the entire story hangs on.
Sinister is the big bad guy and your aim is to get him.
Another glaringly obvious fault found within the game is the often questionable script such as the conversation below.
Bro1: “HA HA HA!”
Bro2: “Man, that’s so bad it’s funny!”
Bro1: “Dude, that’s so true! You see that crap all the time in this kinda stuff.”
Is this the correct response? Are we supposed to respond to the dull plot points and bland villainy like we do a cheesy B-grade zombie movie?
If nothing else, Deadpool has made me feel more and more like a miserable pretentious tool with no sense of humor or charm. But I would never deny its finer points. It’s just frustrating that defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory so needlessly. The initial idea not only demanded absolute confidence in its execution, but it deserved it. Deadpool, for all its flaws, will make you laugh – I’m just not sure if it’s supposed to be with it or at it.
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