My initial foray into the world of High Moon Studios' Deadpool video game culminated in an intimate moment in the eponymous character's filthy bathroom. Pants around his hideously-scarred ankles, our hero strains. "It's burns!" he cries, and it does — but it also feels kind of good.
Following a phone call from the game's developer establishing the creation of the very action game I was playing (Inception!), the fourth wall-breaking Wade Wilson set about exploring his dilapidated apartment, an amusement park of alternating disgust and brilliance. One minute he's asking his dog how the ball-licking is going, the next he's commenting on the shoddy polygon model design of his furniture. He inflates a blow-up doll, one of the voices in his head (he has two) commenting, "We're not going to put our penis in that, are we?" Then he's having a conversation on the telephone with his own voice actor, the prolific Nolan North.
What seems like a series of cheap gags and gross-out moments is actually a glimpse into the tortured psyche of Marvel's "Merc with a Mouth." There's a hero inside Wade Wilson, floating deep beneath a sea of psychosis, where the call to action can be hard to hear. One could argue that this entire scenario — the High Moon Studios phone call and subsequent "video game development" — is an elaborate mental construct created to lead Deadpool down the path of the righteous.
As he wanders aimlessly about his apartment, there's an insistent knocking at his door. It's the script to the game being delivered — or is it? Is Deadpool playing with his own head and, by extension, mine?
I certainly feel like my head was messed with, but not by a fictional character. Ever since High Moon Studios and Activision announced the Deadpool game, we've been assailed by trailers and marketing materials that focused on the worst the game had to offer. Profiles for the game's guest stars — particular the female ones — were delivered in Wilson's voice, riddled with heavy-handed innuendo. One trailer suggested a game so immature and over-the-top I wrote an article worrying the developers had gotten the character completely wrong.
They were inside Wade Wilson's head the entire time.
At his best, Deadpool is a whirlwind of base behavior and manic insanity dappled with moments of sheer brilliance. He's crass and vulgar and violent and nasty and just when everyone else wearing spandex is ready to toss him into the sun, he does something amazing. An act of selfless heroism, an extraordinary physical feat — maybe a song and dance number — it's as if his survival instincts kick in and override his elaborate coping mechanism.
What's astounding about Deadpool the game is that High Moon not only captured this dynamic from a character standpoint, it infuses the entire experience.
Take the core gameplay, for example. Beneath the manic trappings, Deadpool is a beat-em up with platforming elements. That means there's an awful lot of fighting a group of enemies, running to the next area, and then fighting another group of enemies, spouting an endless stream of one-liners that are only humorous the first couple of times.
It grated on my nerves. My brow began to furrow with frustration. My hands tensed, and then — dream sequence! Perspective shift! Incredibly inventive turret sequence! This must be how Cable felt throughout the entire run of the Cable & Deadpool comics.
The pacing is perfect right up until the game's penultimate battle, where it felt like I was being forced to fight every single enemy I had defeated throughout the course of the game in one insanely extended encounter. If the combat in the game weren't quite so satisfying, I'd feel like I was being punished.
Luckily, the fighting is fairly enjoyable, capably capturing Deadpool's signature style — complete and utter chaos. He's swinging swords, sai's and hammers, generating momentum to unleash devastating special attacks. He's taking cover and shooting pistols, assault rifles, shotguns and one mean laser cannon. He's tossing grenades, planting land mines and setting bear traps, because he has a bag filled with that sort of crap.
At his very best, meaning in more capable hands than mine, he's weaving together melee and projectile attacks, practicing the ancient art of gun-fu. He's no Dante, but he's got skills.
Does he need those skills? Sometimes. I mean, when the enemies aren't getting stuck behind obstacles and standing still so he can cut them up at his leisure. Or when he isn't running right past two encounters to a third, dying, and then respawning at the third encounter's checkpoint, skipping the first two entirely. For every relentless pursuit by a heavy-weapon wielding mini-boss, there's another group of enemies that can't quite navigate stairs.
You may have noticed that I've not touched on the game's plot at this point. That's because I'm not quite sure what that plot is. It's not that there's no story. Big-time X-Men baddie Mr. Sinister is definitely up to something... sinister on the island of Genosha. Cable, who Summers in the future, tells us as much. Deadpool, however, is much more concerned with the bounty the villain robbed him of by tying up a loose end, so revenge and good times is his only motivation.
There's that convenient delusion again. As far as Deadpool is concerned, Genosha is just a nice place for a video game.
When not expertly burying a heroic epic under madness, Deadpool spends its time alternating between sophomoric commentary and genuine hilarity. The writing is at its most clever when the fourth wall is being brutally beaten down. Regular in-game calls to High Moon following purposeful game glitches, references to overused gaming tropes as they're being employed, random splashes of theme music — this is wonderful stuff.
And when it's crass, it's very, very crass. This is not a game for children, though I'd love to be in the room with mom and little Billy when Wade talks about his dick size, suggests a dog lick his testicles, or attempts to fondle a potentially imaginary woman's breasts. It can get pretty horrible, but it's staying true to the character. If anything, Deadpool is even more Deadpool here than he is in most of the comic books he appears in.
If you can handle the hairy humor, you might have as much fun playing Deadpool as it seems like High Moon had making it (well, up until that last bit). Thanks in no small part to the insanity of Wade Wilson (and an inspired set of performances by Mr. North), they've taken a genre that rarely produces more than repetitive filler and twisted it into a unique experience that embodies the very spirit of the character.