He can scale tall buildings with his sticky fingers. He can outrun the fastest sprinter, outlift the brawniest muscleman. He can shoot web nets, web pellets, and web ropes, perfect for swinging through the skyscraper jungle. He is Spider-Man, of course, and it's hard to imagine a superhero whose funtime physicality and wide-ranging mythos are better suited to videogame extrapolation. Easily the best Spider-Man videogame ever produced, Web of Shadows is thrilling exactly because it finally allows gamers to exult in the fullness of Spidey's superpowered Spideyness. It succeeds where the blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Unleashed failed miserably: dramatizing the dark side of human nature for its teenage audience.
Usually, superhero games are movie tie-ins, and with a few exceptions (Lego Batman), they're pretty lame. Web of Shadows is neither, the cheapo packaging notwithstanding. It's comic-book geeky, with a story set in the hyperreal New York of Marvel Comics, teeming with spandex rogues like Black Cat (voiced here by Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer). But it's also accessible to anyone familiar with the third Spider-Man movie. Remember that alien oil that turned Tobey Maguire into a cruel lady-killer? You're up to speed.
In Shadows, Venom attempts to conquer Marvel-ous Manhattan by replicating itself into a deadly, infectious horde. Very quickly in the branching, time-shifting narrative, Spidey gets infected by Venom and begins morphing between a red-suited Good Spidey and a black-suited Morally Ambiguous Spidey capable of Grand Theft Auto-style misbehavior. The genius part is this: Indulging your dark side affects how the public and your allies (and enemies) react, and shapes the direction of your story line.
Like most superheroes, Web of Shadows does have weaknesses. The first act, lousy with cliché gangbanger baddies, grows increasingly tedious, while seasoned joystick jockeys might sniff at its merely moderate difficulty. But as a madcap riff on Spidey's mantra, ''With great power comes great responsibility,'' Shadows will leave your gamer senses tingling. A–