Deadpool is a rote action game that makes fun of rote action games. It falls into the same trap that other parodies do – which is to say, it forces upon you the same play philosophies that it mocks – but it does so with such panache that you can’t help but appreciate High Moon Studios’ capable execution. Most of the time, at any rate. 

Comedy flows easily, but the gameplay, less so, particularly as the hours wear on and the twists grow less frequent. The result is an uneven carve-’em-up that wins you over with its innate charm even as you curse mightily at its glaring shortcomings.

Slumming it with the D-list

The story and the script, penned by Marvel Comics’ own Daniel Way, is easily Deadpool‘s high point. The titular crass vigilante is played for laughs - a rarity in Marvel’s catalog of superhumans. In the comics, Deadpool frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the reader while also engaging in heated, humorous exchanges with his two inner voices. One represents his wacky, unrestrained side – his id, essentially – and the other offering an occasionally deranged voice of reason – his super-ego. This leaves Deadpool in the middle as the ego, though Freud’s definition of that word doesn’t exactly apply to his personality.

All of these pieces come together in the comics as an amusingly self-aware melange of pop culture sensibilities, and Way’s video game interpretation translates perfectly. Deadpool knows that he’s the star of his own game, and is in fact prone to whip out his cellphone at various moment to harangue High Moon for one shortcoming or another. He addresses the player directly, and frequently, with thoughts on everything from the familiar faces he meets to the gameplay justification for his nerfed teleportation device.

The beauty of Deadpool as a character is his inferiority complex stemming from the knowledge that he’s a C-list – B-list, at best – player surrounded by A-listers. Appropriately, Mr. Sinister leads a select cadre of scrub Marauders – Blockbuster, Dazzler, and Arclight – and acts as the game’s primary antagonist. The scope of the story is relatively small, a fact that is leveraged into a joke early on.

The success of Deadpool as a video game character is a product of the magical super-team formed by Way and star Nolan North. The ubiquitous voice actor lends his talents to all three lead roles, and he somehow manages to keep any of them from sounding like Nathan Drake. North plays the character just right too, lending his perfect sense of comic timing to Way’s words. As a work of interactive comedy, Deadpool sits alongside the best.

Everything’s… fine

Set aside the story and you’re left with a game that you’ve probably played before in some form or another. Deadpool‘s third-person action is the very definition of standard, with combo-driven light/heavy attacks complemented by a range of firearms and grenades, and a growing library of supermoves that can only be used when you’ve filled your “Momentum” meter. You can teleport-dodge away when the action reaches unmanageable levels, and you can deal out counters when button prompt pop-ups appear.

There’s an emphasis in the combat on building uninterrupted combo strings without taking damage. The higher your combo total, the more Deadpool Points – the game’s upgrade currency – you earn. Individual primary and secondary weapons can be purchased (and upgraded, in the case of the former), and Deadpool himself can be improved over time.

For roughly the first half of the game, new enemies with changing tactics are introduced at a fairly regular rate. The variants tail off rapidly after that, as Deadpool comes to favor a blunt-force approach to challenging your skills. The shift results in a number of frustrating difficulty spikes, with the endgame sequence in particular causing headaches with its unending onslaught of increasingly powerful hordes.

As a result, Deadpool feels very front-heavy, with the sharpest comedy and most enjoyable tricks being trotted out over the first four or five hours. To be fair, the rogue’s gallery of cannon fodder is surprisingly deep and some of the early gameplay twists are as enjoyable as they are humorous. In one memorable moment, the game “glitches” out as the perspective switches to a 16-bit-styled top-down view. Suddenly, you’re fighting your way through a Legend of Zelda-inspired dungeon. There are other nifty play diversions beyond that, including several side-scrolling and turret-shooting sequences.

You’ve also got a Challenge mode that sits apart from the story, offering up a growing assortment of combat-focused arenas that unlock as you progress through the game. There’s a hook here for Achievement/Trophy hunters, but the rest of you will get all you need out of the campaign.

Everything works well enough, though the map layouts lack visual diversity and can be difficult to navigate as a result, especially when there’s no scripted checkpoint indicator popping up. This is all the more frustrating when triggering the next sequence of events requires you to return to a specific location. Even when the occasional D-pad prompt appears to point the way – which doesn’t always happen – you’re out of luck if you miss that window.

While we’re whining about Deadpool‘s shortcomings, it’s also worth mentioning that the camera doesn’t like to cooperate. It performs well enough in the more open spaces, but not so much in enclosed locations… and there are many of those. You quickly get used to Death by Unseen, Offscreen Threat.

Conclusion

Deadpool is worth playing for the laugh factor alone. It is in all other ways a rote action game, offering little to invest in beyond some mindless entertainment. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Deadpool as a character essentially embodies mindless entertainment, so this is a case of the form fitting the function. The technical flaws are harder to forgive, but they are washed away easily enough in the midst of all the funny business. Perfect for action fans looking to kill a few summer hours, and indispensable for Way-era Deadpool-lovers.

 

(This game was reviewed using a retail Xbox 360 copy provided by the publisher, Activision.)