“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” This quote, often attributed to Edmund Gwenn, adequately sums up the state of video game comedy. While there have been stabs at comedy in games by developers like Double Fine and Telltale, if one was to curate a collection of comedy games it would subsist of only a few franchise, such as the LEGO games and possibly Saints Row’s latest entries. This is why Deadpool is such a surprise, when I started my review I would have never thought I would be writing this, but the game is really funny. From the opening sequence to the final credits, Deadpool delivers laughs hand over fist.
Deadpool is one of the more obscure Marvel comic book characters who has been tossed around the movie pool for some time. The reason a movie has never come to fruition is that, despite his cult following, Deadpool is a difficult character to translate to screen. As a member of the Weapon-X project, Deadpool’s alter–or forgotten–ego Wade Wilson was artificially endowed with Wolverine’s regenerative abilities. The procedure accelerated cancerous tumours in his body that would disfigure Wilson and permanently damage his brain, leaving him terribly scarred and mentally psychotic. While the character began as a crafty villain in the Marvel Universe, he got his own series and slightly morphed from evil to brazenly insane. Deadpool’s mental debilitation has allowed writers to play with comic formula over the years, having the character to constantly break the fourth wall, provide outlandish narration, and also hop between different art styles from frame to frame.
While the formula may be difficult to translate onto the big screen, the people at High Moon Studio (War for Cybertron, Fall of Cybertron) had the perfect recipe for a video game. There is some sort of plot happening in Deadpool, as Mister Sinister is plotting to destroy the world, but it is almost occuring in the background as Deadpool cares so little about why he has to kill things and is much more obsessed with feeding his schizophrenic tendencies. It all is a smoke-and-mirrors trick to avoid having to dream up some coherent plot for the game, but it is a good trick because High Moon pulls it off with rigorous conviction. Deadpool has two voices in his head that converse with him constantly, providing continuous comedic banter. While the split-personality dialogue works well, it is a trail of breadcrumbs to the feasts of comedy that come at certain points. Deadpool blows the games budget then calls High Moon Studios in fits of rage, threatening lives to drum up more money. He daydreams while Cable desperately tries to relay the game’s exposition to him. The game’s script turned into a doodle pad by the titular character. The irreverent, crass humor of the game is full of dick and fart jokes, but often transcends into visual gags that really show off the comedic talent High Moon Studios has.
Unfortunately, the jokes die away and players will actually have to play the game. This is where Deadpool gets stuck in the mud. The button layout is the first problem the game has, has the teleport button and counter attack button are the same. This can lead to a scenario where health will be running low and while players will want to teleport out of trouble, they will instead counter a series of attacks. This doesn’t come to a head until about two-thirds through the game when High Moon starts throwing waves of bad guys at you. These larger scenarios are ripe for this faulty button layout to come front and center. This isn’t always a problem, but when it does happen it is pretty frustrating.
The combat of Deadpool is a mix of teleporting to get an advantage, counter-attacking to open up weaknesses, blowing people away with firearms, or slicing them up with blades. The game should have taken cues from the impressive combat fluidity in this year’s DMC: Devil May Cry reboot, but they seemed to have missed it as the game’s combos don’t string together nearly as cleanly. There is also a slight latency in button response that makes the character always feel a millisecond behind player intuition, which is fine while plowing through the easy levels but infuriating when you are taking on scores of clones in the final leg of the game. Not only does the poor gameplay lead to unfair deaths and groan-inducing combat sequences, it also breaks the immersion to try and wrap our brain around why this A-list assassin keeps being left one-step behind. The only respite to the gameplay are small interactive moments, where button prompts will have Deadpool interact with his surroundings. These little sequences are so good, I would not only seek them out, but play them repeatedly to enjoy the plethora of varying jokes.
The gameplay would be easier to overlook if it was implemented in creative ways, but High Moon also lacks vision in this department. There are a couple moments where the narrative will shift levels to a top-down 8-bit style, or side scrolling beat ‘em up, but those couple breaks from monotony are all you will get. The rest of the game is painfully straightforward and plays like a tour of cliche action game levels; there are sewers, an office building , then a journey to Genosha–a fictitious Marvel country–that takes up the rest of the game. There seems to be a general awareness that the character could justify instantaneous leaps in any sort of direction, but this is executed much more impressively in the writing than in the gameplay. By the end of the game you are willing to bang your head against the wall to see what witty jokes Deadpool has up his sleeve, but just barely.
As if taking cues from the Deadpool schizophrenic nature, High Moon Studios seemed to have crafted two different games. There is the game told through cutscenes, dialogue, and small interactive moments, then there is the actual gameplay with poor controls, uninspired level design, and a lack of creativity. This carries over to the art style, which hilariously mashes up styles and interprets characters during cutscenes, but once players get control of Deadpool it just looks like generic interpretations of cliched surroundings. An occasional joke is planted here or there, like a giant river of sewage stemming from a prison, but for the most part it lacks the comedic zeal so much of the game is blessed with.
Aurally the game lacks flavor, and can sometimes hinder the experience. Terrible sound editing nearly ruins entire jokes, failing to cue up with the animations, and great lines sometimes land on top of each other killing the comedic timing. The score also fails to deliver, unsure if Deadpool is channeled through heavy-rock power chords, dubstep, or some odd mash-up of the two. In the end, the only thing that is memorable about the music, is Deadpool’s hand-selected theme. However, while talking about the sounds of the game it would be shameful to overlook Nolan North, whose commitment to the lead character is absolutely crucial to the game’s impressive comedy. Every aspect of Deadpool seems to be two-sides of the same coin, brilliantly hilarious on one side and lackadaisical on the other.
Despite so many of its shortcomings, there is something engaging about Deadpool. The Merc with a Mouth is getting a mainstream introduction that is built for fans of the character. High Moon Studios really did their homework with Deadpool’s history, often pointing out their own canonical mistakes with a wink to the audience. The majority of the game will fly by as the jokes are in spades and the difficulty is easy enough to forgive what is bad. It is the final third, when High Moon starts to crank up the difficulty and the poor gameplay really starts to show its true colors, that the game becomes a grind and the jokes feel few and far between. Comic books fans should get a great kick out of Deadpool, enjoying the characters translation while being able to overlook much of the lackluster gameplay. However, the game is difficult to recommend on merit alone, as Deadpool lacks the true bread and butter of what makes a video game great. It is odd that for once, comedy is just as easy as dying.