Deadpool isn’t one of the most popular characters in Marvel canon. By video game standards, which tend to focus on the biggest names, he’s relatively obscure. So for those unfamiliar, a quick primer: Deadpool is an intentionally obnoxious and uniquely self-aware character. He tries too hard to be liked in one panel, then turns around and tosses out any redeeming qualities the next. The “Merc with the Mouth” was so named because he rambles on too long, but that’s also part of his charm.
All of this also describes his game.
Deadpool is a unique anti-hero, primarily because his insanity has made him aware of his own fictional surroundings. In any medium in which he appears, he knows he’s a character. In the comics, this manifests itself with meta-humor abilities, like reading the thought bubbles of others. In the game, it gives High Moon ample opportunity to poke fun at trite video game cliches, old-school mechanics, and even the studio itself.
Deadpool talks to himself, constantly, but the best humor comes from when he has a foil that is unlike himself. That’s where various cameos from the X-Men come in. Those characters are pointedly written as extremely self-serious, while Deadpool carries himself with such manic energy that they seem boring by comparison. Some of my biggest laughs came from Deadpool shaking them up, like Bugs Bunny wearing a dress simply to annoy Elmer Fudd.
Nolan North’s voice is immediately recognizable (and even explicitly mentioned in the dialogue), but this role gives him opportunity to show off his comedic chops. Deadpool is often lecherous towards women, which would border on offensive if he weren’t painted as so pathetic at it, and North’s performance straddles that line perfectly. Deadpool is also an extremely expressive character, like a cartoon stuck in the real world, and High Moon did some fantastic work animating his face to show off a range of emotions.
If my thoughts on the game itself seem secondary, it’s because this is at its best when it’s not a game. The gameplay portions are, generally speaking, an overlong journey through interminable waves of enemies that each take far too much damage in the first place.
Deadpool’s melee weapons are relatively weak, making enemies sustain dozens of slashes before going down. His guns are more powerful, but they’re stymied by an imprecise and frustrating aiming system. The counter button also serves as his teleport ability, making it unreliable in a pinch. The occasional stealth portions are played as a gag, except one that actually expects true stealth without properly balancing the task. Plenty of games have combat that sings at some points and falters at others, but at its best Deadpool was merely passable.
That’s not to say that it was particularly hard. With the exception of a sharp difficulty spike during the final chapter, a combination of poor AI and the occasional bug made fighting enemies a breeze. Many charge straight at you or remain perfectly still while being pumped full of bullets. On more than one occasion I saw an enemy pacing back and forth. Defeating enemies was often simply boring, which made the turn towards frustrating near the end all the more confounding.
It isn’t all combat, as High Moon breaks up the pacing with occasional platforming segments and meta-minigames. The platforming moments are usually fine, and only fine, so long as the fidgety camera behaves itself. The camera works well enough about 75% of the time, but the rest it needs to be nursed. The meta moments were surprisingly clever, and didn’t run out their steam by appearing too frequently. Some of the best surprises came when Deadpool was ribbing old game tropes with a rough approximation of them.
And that’s one more important aspect to understand. As a character, Deadpool is an imitator. His latent healing ability was imbued from Wolverine, the comics have made casual reference to his costume as an “homage” towards Spider-Man, and he uses technology to teleport like Nightcrawler. Deadpool’s zany behavior and familiar powers make him a lampoon of other, more iconic Marvel heroes. Like the character, Deadpool’s game is enjoyable when it’s poking fun at others, but doesn’t stand up very well on its own.
This Deadpool review was based on a retail Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 3 and PC.
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Deadpool review: Merc with the Mediocrity