As a comic book character, Deadpool embodies everything that an over-the-top game character should - a maniacal, murderous, and very schizophrenic antihero, the extreme counterbalance to the stereotypical "good guy." When Wade Wilson first came onto the comic-scene, he was very "edgy" compared to the early '90s standards of the atypical heroes that graced the glossy pages of Marvel and DC publications, and the same could be said for the gaming industry. Flash forward 20 years, and now both industries thrive on the much more morally grey hero, one who falls in line with the Machiavellian principal of "the ends justify the means." With High Moon Studios bringing the "merc with a mouth" to consoles, is Deadpool 20 years late to his own party? Can the original Marvel miscreant badass make the jump to the virtual world?
What's very apparent right from the first line spoken is the influence that long time Deadpool writer Daniel Way had on the game as whole, and not just solely on the writing of the game. High Moon Studios has unprecedentedly recreated, with the help of Daniel Way, the complete essence of Deadpool. His delusional interactions with Cable and seeing him as a big-breasted fangirl, his unhealthy obsession with Wolverine and creating his own Logan plushies, his schizophrenic conversations with the other two voices in his head, his sex-crazed infatuation with any animated female (living is optional), the constant breaking of the fourth wall to explain game mechanics, why his teleport has been nerfed, or to call to argue with High Moon Studios' president Peter Della Penna about why 8-bit graphics were used even though Deadpool donated his own bank account to his game - it all comes together to form something truly great and unique.
Even the story has a unique spin. Deadpool's original "big game idea" was rejected by High Moon, but with some minor persuasion, which may or may not have been a mail-order-bomb, Wade's next project was given the green light and slaved over by the "nerds" at High Moon Studios. Given a contract by accidentally one-time-lover Domino, Deadpool adventures from his playroom to take out a corrupt media mogul, but is thwarted by Mr. Sinister and a couple of the Marauders (or D-List villains, as Wade likes to call them). Clearly, Deadpool will have none of this, and continues his murderous rampage in order to get revenge on Mr. Sinister for complicating his payday. With Daniel Way providing the writing, Deadpool shines with its story. It's a hilarious and widely entertaining undertaking where you'll find yourself just sitting back and listening to the great interactions that king-of-the-voice-actors Nolan North has with himself in the guise of Deadpool and his two bat-shit crazy personas. Other times you'll go the extra mile and slap an unconscious Wolverine a couple dozen times just to listen to what Wilson has to say, schmooze with the ladies in a hallucinated sexy-time hot tub party, run around eating chimichangas, or just listening to his vulgar, depraved mind. Every piece of Deadpool holds the same style that the character has become beloved for, and it's an impressive effort put forth by High Moon and Daniel Way.
Now in terms of gameplay, it's pretty evident that much of High Moon's effort was focused on creating the right environment and unique feel that Deadpool offers, as actually playing as him is a rather standard affair. Controls and camera work are generally smooth, though the occassional hiccup when walljumping does arise as the camera can get a bit wonky. Wade makes use of both melee and ranged attacks, creating a feel that's much like the Devil May Cry series, but with some over-the-shoulder auto-aiming to give a third-person-shooter perspective when looking down the sights of your gun. Some platform sections make their rounds, yet they are forgettably easy and seem a bit rushed; a long distance teleporting ability gets introduced, but it is not used very much (Deadpool even makes fun of this, showing that High Moon recognizes the misstep). There's also an odd feel to jumping when Deadpool has his guns out, as the movement feels a bit loose and makes precision jumping difficult. Combat focuses on combo'ing with light and heavy attacks, with some "gun-kata" moves thrown in to inflict some up-close damage with your ranged weapons. Falling in line with genre standards, blocking is unavailable and countering can mean life-or-death during the more challenging parts, and the typical dodge roll has been forgone in favor of Deadpool's teleporting ability. The general combat is largely uninspired and feels like any other game in the genre, yet some interesting aspects help Deadpool from being completely stale.
Though no real innovations have been made, there's still much fun to be had due to the Deadpool style permeating through every pore, as well as some depth to discover. As in Devil May Cry, in Deadpool you're rewarded for how you kill the clones that Mr. Sinister relentlessly throws at you, granting DP (Deadpool points, get your mind out of the gutter) based on the awesomeness of an enemy's death. Using light attacks won't give you much, but taking out baddies with a head shot or one of Deadpool's momentum attacks (special skills that build up by killing enemies and eating chimichangas) will grant a much larger bonus. More stylish attacks will also provide more eye-pleasing effects, particularly when Deadpool sneaks around for some assassinations, letting you know when the coast is clear with a thumbs up or if you should be more cautious with a "Shh" to his lips. DP is used to buy weapons like the hammer, sai, shotgun, pulse rifle, and bear trap; purchase player skills such as extra health, extra teleport dodging, combo bonuses, and additional momentum attacks; and upgrade weapons and skills. Deadpool needs quite a bit of DP in order to make his weapons and skills more formidable, so being extra fancy while taking out enemies is essential, and is also much more fun.
The sheer amount of upgrades for Deadpool are pretty impressive, with each melee and ranged weapon having a good dozen or so options, as well as over 20 player upgrades to spend your DP on. DP can also be gained from the game's Challenges, which are large, self-contained areas with bronze, silver, and gold levels, providing the difficulty that is absent in the main game. If you stick to repetitive techniques like combo'ing just light and heavy attacks and concentrating on the auto-aim, combat will become boring rather quickly. However, if you make use of the upgrades and momentum attacks, focus on getting headshots, assassinate people by lopping off their arms or pulverizing their skulls, and switch up weapons on the fly with the D-pad, then Deadpool can be a very robust and entertaining experience, albeit a largely unchallenging one.
By definition, Deadpool is very "meta". That is, due to his fourth wall breakage, there's always a story within a story, which remains true in his High Moon debut and carries over to every aspect of the game, including the audio and visual work. Though it may not impress you with slick visuals, Deadpool by no means holds the typical shoddy look that "budget" games are notorious for. It's smooth, and provides the quirky outlet for Deadpool's shenanigans that has the same feel and visual flare of a Suda51 game like Shadows of the Damned or Lollipop Chainsaw. Certain times, High Moon have "gone over their budget," and Deadpool is left with an 8-bit homage to Zelda or a glitchy hodgepodge of graphics, only for him to call in to the president and bitch him out, providing another great opportunity to infuse the game with Deadpool's unique style. The music sees a wide arrange of tracks, though most fuel the hack-and-slash gameplay with heavy guitar riffs and fast beats, with some dubstep thrown in for "good measure" and for Wade to make fun of. Although, my new favorite song of all time comes from the soundtrack and introduces Cable:
Who the f*@k is that? He's a man outta time.
Who the f*@k is that? He likes to fight crime.
Who the f*@k is that? We hang out with the 'Pool.
Who the f*@k is that? But he ain't a fool.
It's f*@king Cable.
Nolan North provides the top-notch voice(s) for Deadpool, breathing life to a character that Mr. North was seemingly born to play. Part of the story has Deadpool trying to convince North to voice him in his game, with Nolan seemingly blowing him off for other projects, helping to form the fantastic atmosphere. Without North behind the mask, Deadpool would surely suffer and not strike the same chord as it has - a performance I equate to that of Mark Hamill as the Joker in any Batman production. A great supporting cast also livens the superb story that helps create a truly funny, unique, and enthralling experience, with Steven Blum returning as Wolverine as icing on the cake
Despite its apparent flaws - a combat system that has the capacity to become just another run-of-the-mill hack-and-slash romp, the general lack of challenge offered on even the most difficult setting, some glitchy jumping mechanics, and a playtime that clocks in on the short side at around 10-12 hours - Deadpool is a wonderful experience. There has not been a Marvel game that so perfectly captures the essence of one of its characters, and it's due to this that any "glitchyness" or shortcomings that may be perceived can to a certain extent be overlooked. Comics and videogames are like peas and carrots, Forrest Gump and Jenny. They should embrace each other, make love to one another. High Moon Studios and Daniel Way accomplish this with gold stars. Even if their efforts have made for some uninspired gameplay mechanics, they still work well and provide a ton of fun, and High Moon should be applauded for how they were able to meld everything that is Deadpool into a worthwhile experience, all for a discounted price. Even if you can't find the genius in Deadpool, at the very least it will erase from your mind the atrocious adaptation of the famous "merc with a mouth" that spawned from Ryan Reynolds and Wolverine: Origins, and make sweet, sweet love to you.
This review is based on a retail copy of Deadpool for the Xbox 360.