Web of Deceit: Black Widow

I’m not gonna spend time talking about how it’s been a while since I wrote. I’ve stated how I see this blog and my posting many times before so let’s just talk about a mediocre HOPA that’s pretty decent.

In honesty, I’m writing about this game more because I need to get back into writing and less because I think it’s worth talking about. I’ve been passing up several HOPA in a row now to review mostly because I can’t find one interesting enough to talk about. I tried another Dance Macabre game and didn’t like it much and I tackled the next entry in the Dark Dimension series and came away feeling pretty ambivalent about the whole ordeal.

I tried a few other games and came away equally disinterested. So then I wondered if it simply wasn’t the games but… rather me. I was finding a lot of things dull and dreary and kept investing in new projects rather than finishing my old. So, in an attempt to break free of this melancholy this is the game that I’m going to review!

web-of-deceit-bw-bannerWeb of Deceit: Black Widow
(Blam! Games, 2012)

You are someone traveling to somewhere on a train when weird, creepy things happen. Spiders erupt into the train, web a passenger up and depart as quickly as they arrived. With the train stuck thanks to the webbing, it’s up to you to figure out what the hell is going on. Between clockwork spiders, ancient civilizations and a town under siege, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

I wasn’t sure what I was in for with Web of Deceit (I keep wanting to write that as Deception, not Deceit) since I kinda got it on a whim, looking for something a little different than I usually get. And Blam! is as far out of my comfort zone as you can get without starting to dig or learning how to fly. The last game of theirs that I played was Prisoners of Destiny and while I liked that one, the other games of theirs I’ve played are… meh at best.

So, is Black Widow a winner or a stinker? Well, the initial feeling was pretty good, the 3D in the opening sequence was definitely some of the better I’ve seen in HOPA, they use live actors for their characters and there’s clockwork spiders that are terrifying yet adorable. So far so good. But the first issue rears its ugly head the moment the characters actually start talking.  The dialog is atrocious.

web-of-deceit-bw-actingEverybody speaks like they’re William Shatner with awkward pauses and weird emphasis, making the dialog a chore to sit through. Well, most of it, anyway. There are some good actors in it but the majority simply aren’t very good. It’s like someone held up cue cards in front of them but could only fit so much text on it and switching the cards took a few seconds. Their movement is also incredibly stiff and exaggerated, pointing somewhere or gesticulating takes forever as if the director wasn’t sure how visual the medium really was. It’s okay, we can see them just fine! Either that or they were insulting my intelligence.

So actors they were not. At least not particularly good ones either. So charm aside, it was a bit of a misstep. I also got the feeling that the dialog was recorded separately from the acting so the lip movement doesn’t always seem to match up. A reason for the pauses could then be to cut the dialog into smaller chunks that could then be edited more easily. At last that’s how one of my theories go. Either way, I wasn’t a fan. It was long-winded too, it just felt like it went on forever, and with the pauses it was doubly awful to sit through.

The story, then, is far more of a mixed bag. Just from the title, I expected it to be another in the entry of scorned lover who goes around killing people, hence Black Widow. But the title was far more literal than that as it involves spiders, a human that can control said spiders and an ancient race of giant spiders. It’s one big mess of parts that doesn’t really make sense when put together and the game seems to have COMPLETELY forgotten its own lore in the Bonus chapter which just goes so far off script I’m not even sure it’s meant to be taken seriously.

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But while the initial setup is intriguing, it quickly veers off into uninteresting territory with mere sparks of ingenuity lighting up the landscape and casting eerie shadows on the wall. It starts out exciting enough with some properly terrifying imagery of people being turned into spiders (however the hell that works) and a town deserted and covered in webs, hinting at gruesome fates for all or most inhabitants. But then there’s a lull where things kind of doesn’t happen for a long while. Then there’s another peak of interest before it dies back down, repeat a few times, end of game.

The world itself is a fascinating enough place and what really kept me interested. At one point you run across a giant spider and wasp that I just assumed were sculptures that you unwittingly bring to life. And the easily best part of the game was when the two finally faced off for the last time, battling it out to death. And immediately my mind was ablaze with questions: who built them? How do they work? Are they robots or really alive?

The game doesn’t deem me worthy of an answer and the revelations slipped through my grasp. Many of the questions asked by the game remain unanswered by the end and the bonus chapter merely confused me more. It went out of its way to answer the most obvious questions that I already figured out so it was a bit of a bust.

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But I did start the review out saying I found the game decent and a huge chunk of that is because of the graphics. The whole game is incredibly eerie and atmospheric, from the moment you step off the train you know you’re in an incredibly bad place. And the use of green as the primary color with red as the offset was a fantastic move as it really lends itself well to creepy imagery. And it’s really good quality too, I played this on my TV and it looked amazing despite it.

Every scene oozes dread without, for the most part, forgetting to highlight important areas well. Sparkles or no sparkles, I want to be able to walk into a scene and immediately be able to pick out important areas from visual cues alone. Unfortunately the game does take some liberties with sense and not everything in this town makes sense. Take for instance the picture above. I assume the spider uprising was reasonably recent and yet after the spider and the wasp first fought someone decided to put a lightning rod on top of it?

the whole town is really weirdly designed too, as if it was built for an adventure game rather than convenient living. To get tickets in this place apparently you have to solve complex sudoku puzzles and to open doors you have to figure out some weird puzzle. I’m just saying, living in this town must be a nightmare on a whole new level and surely people would just stop closing their doors after a while? Or is it the Black Widow that’s running around setting up all these complex puzzles? Judging from the Bonus chapter, as unreliable as it may be, no.

The town is just full of weirdos, apparently.

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Speaking of puzzles, this was the first time in a LONG time that I’ve seen a sudoku puzzle in a HOPA so that’s worth celebrating. I used to scoff at sudoku, stupid things, then I played a few in HOPA and now I’m hooked. Last time I remember this being in a HOPA, though, is… Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull? That was six years ago now.

But that aside, I loved the puzzles in this game. Overall they were quite enjoyable and while most of them were things we’d seen before, in one shape or another, many came with additional little twists that made them harder or more interesting. And they didn’t muck about either, the sudoku took me quite a while to complete and there was quite a lot of thinking involved. Very few puzzles gave you an easy way out and while there were a few that were simply busywork, most genuinely felt like a challenge.

Even typical puzzles like jigsaw puzzles were made a bit more difficult than normal with odd shapes and demanding you think of the pattern on the pieces as well as the shape of the pieces.

And while I had to brute force a few of them, most of them were solvable simply by thinking. I say most because there were a few puzzles that relied exclusively on trial and error, the final puzzle in the Bonus chapter being one egregious example. I’ve never really had anything against these types of puzzles before now, mostly because they’re typically very harmless, but in this game they were incredibly tedious as you couldn’t move quite as fast as I wanted, slowed down by the game doing things its way. It’s the same kind of annoyance I feel when playing Simon Says-similar games where you have to sit through the sequence every time you get it wrong. Don’t play the whole thing again, I know it, I just misclicked! PLEASE!

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The hidden object scenes were also well designed, not too easy or too tedious, they struck a nice balance. And you got to return to a few them which was a lot of fun. I like that. Some readers might have realized that by now. Like the rest of the game, there was good use of colors here as well and how sad is it when you get excited because the palette is green? But the use of green together with other colors, primarily red, made things pop a lot more and things continued to draw your eyes in all the right directions.

Items were neatly hidden and while the game consisted exclusively of list-based, it never really felt boring. They did go a bit heavy on the scenes in certain portions of the game and I would’ve liked to see more variation in the types of hidden object scene but these are mere nitpicks rather than proper complaints.

There was a good deal of interactivity as well, ranging from finding a key to open a locked box to just opening cabinets and drawers. This is fine but I would’ve liked a bit more ingenuity in the interactivity, like throwing in some small puzzle or combination lock to open some boxes and doors. Just because I call it hidden object scene doesn’t mean that’s all it has to be.

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So overall I liked the game. It was mostly the story that let me down, never quite utilizing itself to the best of its abilities. There was so much more here to milk and yet the game can’t decide if it wants the story to be one of an outcast getting revenge or if it’s the spiders that are the main villains.

I’ve mentioned the Bonus chapter and thinking back on it now only opens the story up for more plot holes. Throughout the main game we’re told that the Black Widow, the villain of the game, manipulated herself into the lives of her past tormentors, each of them playing a part in her building an army and kingdom of spiders. She shacked up with the pharmacist so she could work on a growth serum for her spiders, the entomologist so he could reveal to her the secrets of the insects and the inventor to build her the robot spiders. And it’s slowly reveal that she was given mysterious powers by a spider that was thought dead after her classmates locked her in the mine on a school trip. I was okay with the story up until this point.

The story of an outcast/weirdo resonates well with me and the added touch of her actually falling in love with the inventor but still not feeling like she fit in was a good touch.

web-of-deceit-bw-creeptasticBut the Bonus chapter reveals that pretty much none of this was true. And her story wasn’t told to us by someone else, it’s pieced together from her words that she wrote down. And it goes an additional step to introduce giant spiders from a long lost civilization.

She isn’t locked in the mine by classmates during a school trip, the spider doesn’t actually bite her and the mechanical spiders weren’t built by the inventor but rather by a machine left by the ancient spiders. And I’m not sure over how long a time this story is supposed to have taken place because she supposedly got married to three guys and killed them yet their bodies look freshly killed. So was she married to all three at once?

All of this greatly confused me as it wasn’t the story we were told in the main game. So for once I highly recommend you don’t play the Bonus chapter and give the Collector’s Edition a miss since it really doesn’t add anything of value at all, in fact it rather takes away from it.

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And it’s a shame too because a better fusion of the two aspects would’ve resulted in a truly fascinating and exciting story. An outcast girl with a fascination for spiders stumbles upon an ancient civilization that gives her the power to exact revenge on the people that wronged her through a plan that takes decades to unfold. Instead the game feels disjointed and very little drove me to continue from a story perspective.

Luckily the gameplay was strong enough on its own and a few intriguing aspects did keep it interesting enough to warrant a full playthrough. I do recommend the game if you have nothing else to do but don’t splurge on the Collector’s Edition as it truly isn’t worth it in my opinion.

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