Friday 20 December 2013


The Title Screen

Deadpool is an action-brawler-adventure developed in 2013 by High Moon Studios. Released for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it is sanctioned by Marvel and written by a Deadpool comic writer - so is as 'official' a version as one could expect. It features a singleplayer campaign and challenge mode with online leaderboard integration.

Disclaimer: This is an extremely adult title. Much violence, adult language, and sexual themes/references throughout. The only thing absent is drug use.

The First Thing
Unfortunately, my first experiences of this game were not favourable. The PC port felt extremely questionable, the controls in particular. As a third-person, hack n' slashy looking game I wanted to play on my control pad, but only the vertical axis can be inverted. This is bizarre and eventually forced me to swap to Mouse and Keyboard. This was more palatable, but since only some keys and three mouse buttons are available as bindings, was still unsatisfactory.

Plot & Devices
To understand the events of Deadpool, one needs to understand Deadpool as a character: a highly-skilled, human mercenary who undergoes an experiment giving him super-human abilities. He can heal so fast that is essentially immortal, but has been turned insane as a side-effect. One key character trait is that Deadpool knows that he is a comic book character, and in Deadpool he is aware that he is in his self-titled video game. Much of the humour and characterisation is based around this concept.

Deadpool and one of his internal voices

That being said, there is a plot to Deadpool - it's just not that important. At the start, Deadpool phones High Moon Studios and discusses being in a video game. They duly send over a script, and the story beings - without Deadpool actually reading the script. At some point the character Cable shows up to explain about how the world needs Deadpool's help, but Deadpool isn't listening. So, whilst there is a story, it is not a focus and the characterisation of Deadpool and the 'fourth-wall breaking' humour is what drives events and the gameplay.

It should be noted that Deadpool constantly acts very degradingly towards women; sexually objectifying them exclusively. As he is aware of his comic-book nature, this trait has been used by writers as a way of drawing attention to how females are typically inappropriately depicted in video games and comics. However, Deadpool could still easily be taken in an offensive/misogynist way, so it is something to keep in mind.

The Game
Appropriately, the main focus of Deadpools's gameplay is combat. In a style similar to the Arkham Batman games, the majority of encounters consist of groups of enemies, or larger and more powerful foes. The objective is to weave attacks continuously between targets, whilst avoiding incoming damage and ideally prioritising the dangerous adversaries. Landing an attack will add to the combo meter and the different types of enemies the player will have to deal with include : guns/projectile attacks, 'explode on death', shield-enemies, blocking and flying.

Group combat (with an enemy that is providing a shield to the others)

Deadpool's attacks are standard for brawler games : light and heavy melee and a ranged weapon. These three can be combo'd together in different sequences to produce varying attack chains. Successful hits with the gun also build the combo multiplier, and many enemies have head-shot hit-boxes. Deadpool also possess a short range teleport which acts as a dodge and counter. Whilst teleporting the player can not be damaged, but the ability is placed on a short 'cooldown' after multiple use. During combat enemies will occasionally telegraph their attacks and a counter button prompt will appear. The only other form of combat are turret sections where large groups of enemies are dispatched with a stationary gun of infinite ammunition.

During combat Deadpool will slowly charge a "momentum" bar, which when full can be used to unleash a powerful attack. Bars will deplete over time if not in combat, unless full in which case the abilities remain ready. The Upgrade Store will allow the purchase of more momentum attacks, each with their own bar. These powerful attacks are designed to deal with large groups of enemies in different flashy ways.

Between combat, the player can expect some light platforming. Deadpool can double jump, and platforming failing will not kill the player; offering a teleport prompt instead. Although the character of Deadpool is immortal, for the purposes of combat he is not. He does have regenerating health, but it takes about 15-20 seconds of not taking damage to activate. He takes no falling damage, but can die in battle. Death will return the player to the most recent checkpoint

The upgrade store

Throughout the game the player will acquire 'DP points', either through combat, chests or collectible tokens. The combo multiplier increases the number of DP points and functions as a reward for skilful play. These DP points are then used to obtain upgrades and new weapons from the 'store'. Weapons fall into the three categories : ranged, swords and "items" (such as grenades or land-mines). Each weapon has its own upgrade tree, unlocking passive bonuses, extra combos, finishing moves and momentum attacks. Player upgrades are also purchasable in the form of health/momentum return during combos, additional health and an extra teleport. Upgrades critical to progression are handed to the player at the appropriate moment in the story.

Predictably, the art style draws from Deadpool's comic book origins. Cutscenes are handled in-engine, but some reflect the meta aspect of the character by being poorly edited (by Deadpool himself...). The soundtrack is heavy rock/metal in keeping with the character and the sound effects are suitable, if a bit plain. Deadpool is voiced by Nolan North and has excellently written/voiced dialogue throughout the entire game. The overall technical competence of the title is a little questionable at times, however.

Wrap Up & Negatives
There are a few aspcts Deadpool that are not quite right and my main criticism is with the quality of the PC port and game in general. I encountered many bugs, most notably : AI behaving absurdly, Deadpool getting stuck on the floor and objects failing to be interactive (particularly chests). The PC port is fine graphically but the control scheme is ineptly implemented and a few moments of brief FPS dropping.

The difficulty curve is all over the place. Combat alternates between being trivial and very difficult. In particular enemies with machine guns can pose significant challenge. My advice would be : get the upgrade that heals on every 10th hit as soon as possible. The enemy variety is also extremely poor and fighting the singular larger/tougher enemies combat turns into a routine of stab-teleport-stab-teleport, with the occasional running away to regenerate. On top of this, the checkpoint system is really unfair sometimes, requiring the re-playing of up to 10-15 minutes of gameplay.

The "running away from large enemies to regenerate" combat tactic

The upgrade system feels totally pointless, but as that is referenced as such by Deadpool himself I can perhaps forgive that. But still, I never felt the need to buy any items or different weapons, which I can't decide is a failing of the game or my own playstyle. I feel the combat will be the biggest negative for some as it is quite repetitive. The teleport ability and frequent set-pieces do help alleviate the monotony, but there are definitely moments where it feels routine.

The usual caveat with humour/characterisation-focused games applies : if you do not like the title character, or this type of humour, then you will find that a large negative. If unsure, check out the trailer I have linked at the end.

Deadpool is an interesting game to critique. On the one hand, the actual gameplay is pretty uninspiring, and has its fair share of bugs and PC implementation issues. But in the end I more or less enjoyed my time with it because of the excellent Deadpool characterisation. I personally like the style of non-sequitur/meta humour and I was left with an overall positive impression. It's a shame that high-budget comedy games are something of a rarity at the moment.

Should you buy it? Well my advice would be... watch the official launch trailer : YouTubeIf it makes you laugh, and you like brawly/beat em' up games, then definitely try Deadpool. If you're focused on gameplay and/or do not find the trailer funny, then give this title a pass.

Oh, and Steve Blum playing Wolverine which he does in the show Wolverine and the X-Men? Brilliant

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