It seems as though licensed games are shaking off the stigma associated with them by the game communities. Where once gamers could generally count on a game with a current movie license to be a quick n’ shoddy cash-in, now licensed games are being handled by developers with the same care usually reserved for renowned titles and characters. Thus, we gamers have been blessed recently with the widely acclaimed Chronicles of Riddick game, a decently reviewed Van Helsing game, and now Spider-Man 2.
Even before its release, it was hard to argue that Spider-Man 2 was going to be the movie to rule them all this summer. After seeing it, I can say that it earns that distinction to go along with its millions and millions of dollars – it’s a great flick. Being such a [now] widely beloved mainstream character, Spider Man 2 deserved an equally great game to go with it. Fortunately enough, developer Treyarch has served up Spidey in a fine gaming experience that lets the player web sling freely through an impressive recreation of New York. It certainly could have used more flesh on the bones of its open-ended game play, but excellent controls for swinging freely through the city, plus a deep combo system that includes classic Spider-Man moves, makes the game as enjoyable as the movie, even beyond its story’s end.
Spider Man 2 is an open-ended game that allows the player to explore the city freely and (in most cases) pursue the plot at their leisure. The main plot does follow the movie closely, as Peter Parker’s superhuman alter ego fights both Doctor Octopus and the need to be punctual for social occasions. Treyarch added more divergent events to this core plot however, making the game feel more like a Spider-Man comic book as opposed to a carefully paced movie plot. It’s not a detailed reenactment, but it does give away most of what happens in the movie. The additional subplots introduce a famous buxom Spider-Man ally as well as several villains besides Doc Ock to contend with.
Bringing entirely open-ended game play to a super hero game has been long overdue. There’s nothing new to the free exploration and mission-based game play, with its mix of fighting and racing. Spider-Man 2 manages to set itself apart by allowing players to explore using all the impressive acrobatics, crazy leaps, motion-blurred swinging, and amazing kung-fu type moves and body contortions Spidey is known for. It could have been a super hero version of Tony Hawk Underground had it made more of its combat moves and added further diversity in its missions though.
After a Bruce-Campbell voiced tutorial explaining the basic moves, Spider-Man is set loose in the city to do good deeds. Immediately players will learn to web swing through the city, and from there the game opens up allowing Spider-Man to fight random crimes on the streets or pursue specific plot-related objectives.
Spider-Man is the most agile video game hero I’ve played to date, and the smooth controls make moving Spidey a pleasure. On the XBox, the face buttons controlled jumping and attacks, while the trigger buttons control the web lines. Spider-Man must be in the vicinity of a structure or tree to actually swing, adding a measure of realism and further immersion to the city. The game handles this seamlessly such that instances where there’s no place to connect a line are rare. Usually a player only needs to point and press the trigger to connect a line and let fly the Spider. By purchasing swinging power-ups, Spider-Man can swing ever faster through the city, making for some impressive scenes where, at times, a motion blur occurs as he hurtles across the city.
An easy swinging system is available that automatically keeps Spider-Man aloft on a line as long as the trigger is held, a nice touch for younger gamers. But the real thrills come from Normal Swing mode, where players must keep pressing the right trigger to keep above ground. Add in an awesomely authentic web-zip move, a more awkward two-web-line slingshot move, and a speed boost when correctly timing the next jump and players have plenty of options. It takes practice as Spider-Man can be slowed by hitting the side of a building. Once you get the hang of it though, it’s apparent that swinging works has an impressively tight control system that makes it addictive instead of frustrating.
The web swinging is the showpiece of the game, but Spider-Man’s ability to leap huge distances both up or across, wall crawl and wall sprint, plus swing sans web on lightposts and other protrusions, add further depth to the movement system. This is something Bruce Campbell refers to as “style”, e.g. jogging to destinations really isn’t what the Amazing Spider-Man is all about; it feels like a missed opportunity that the game doesn’t track movement style beyond simply refilling the Spider Reflexes gauge. Still, much like in trick-based games like SSX or Tony Hawk, I found myself practicing the swinging and moving Spider-Man around, just for the thrill to smoothly rocket Spider-man across the city as a timer ticked down.
While thwipping through the city, Spider-Man can accomplish missions to earn Hero Points. The main plot’s missions involve Doc Ock, social obligations, and/or other villains, but the city is filled with plenty of random missions. Some of these, such as a child who loses a balloon or a random person getting mugged, can be accomplished in the course of traveling. Others are started by talking to pedestrians who report a crime or emergency. The crimes range from armored car robberies to an injured person needing a quick trip to a hospital to a person in danger of falling. Other missions involve chasing down runaway cars or surviving basic ambushes. The violence is strictly comic book, with bullets looking like giant white dashes, zero blood, and Spider-Man completely unable to harm innocent civilians (even though the fifth kid who lost his balloon was asking for it!)
After the first two hours of game play, players are likely to be repeating the same missions, with only minor variations such as the armored car criminals making a run for it. Thus these tend to be less fun than simply exploring, although the game does force the player to earn Hero points by accomplishing these missions. The target Hero points never got so high as to become tedious, and Spider-Man has other means of earning Hero Points as well, including special pizza delivery or “Mary Jane” missions. Further points can be earned from challenge spots in the game, which put Spider-Man in various kinds of races. These usually range from difficult to practically impossible for all but the most dedicated.
Most missions, in the plot or random, require Spidey to knock out or tie up the bad guys. The combat system does a fine job of balancing accessibility with depth. With Hero Points, Spider-Man can purchase many different combat moves and combos from the Spider-Man Shops located throughout the city, including classics like hanging a webbed crook upside down from a light post. Spidey can execute counter attacks as well by using the dodge button. I usually have a hard time effectively dodging in games, but Spider-Man 2 makes it work by keying the dodge timing with the spider sense that will spark a halo and an audible buzz when Spidey can dodge. A Spider-reflexes feature slows time and allows Spidey to perform some devastating moves.
All these combat moves are nice, but not necessary, as button mashing works, even through most of the boss battles (although the final Doc Ock battle took some doing). Again, it made me wish that more was made of the combat; instead of 150 or so racing challenges, why not have additional missions? The best parts in the game come from the scripted missions where Spider-Man must race to arrive to class on time, keep up with another hero, or rescue people from a burning building. Had the game added more side missions (even just some twist to the racing or fighting) it would have rivaled the best open-ended games. The ability to control Spider-Man still makes Spider-Man 2 a winner, particularly since it’s the type of zero-commitment game you can pick-up and play anytime.
Buildings are impressively varied, with several notable NY landmarks recognizable. The draw distance is exceptional as well, although buildings lose detail when looking down on them from the highest points in the city.
Car and pedestrian models get repetitive after awhile, such that you’ll be seeing the same face on a pedestrian you saw two missions ago. The focus is on the buildings and rooftops as much of the game is spent swinging and crawling above the earth bound models. Character models look blocky though and, aside from Spidey and the other main characters themselves, tend to be animated for functionality rather than form. The Spider-Man animations themselves however are certain to bring a grin to a Spider fan’s face since they capture his best moves so well. A great example of this was when Spider-Man stopped his 360 degree swinging on a traffic light pole to curl atop it into his knees flared crouch.
Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, and Kirsten Dunst provide the voice overs for their characters. They sound like they brought their acting ability along for the readings as well; Maguire in particular does an excellent job in bringing Peter Parker’s humble, put-upon nature to the game. Bruce Campbell serves as the game’s narrator, his fan-friendly obnoxiousness and sarcasm intact.
The audio team nailed the “THWIP” sound of webs shooting from wrists and included enough ambient sounds to bring to life the inhabitants and automobiles of the city. Music is divided between epic cinematic scores and occasional blasts of hard rock. Often, Spider-Man will swing along in near silence with only the sounds of the city, but this was preferable to a repetitive music score. Music does tend to occur mostly during events and challenges, and it would have been less grating had it gradually fadeed at the end rather than suddenly cutting off.
Although it sets the player loose in a New York city that takes almost five real time minutes to swing very fast through (roughly double that to jog across), the incentive to replay Spider-Man 2 rests more with mastering the many different acrobatic moves Spidey is capable of doing instead of exploring every last side alley and building crevice. The main plot only takes about 10 hours to complete, a good weekend’s worth of game play. The crime fighting continues even after the game ends, but since the only evident reward is more Hero Points or an “Acquired” note on the stats screen. Additional collectibles for buoys, skyscrapers, crooks’ hideouts etc. are scattered about, but the rewards for tracking every last one of these down seems lacking. It’s disappointing that there are few plot or event-based side quests while racing challenges and random repetitive crime fighting abound.
Still, there’s something addicting about the web swinging and pulling off the many combat moves, something that reminded me of trying to master trick-based games like Tony Hawk. Because there’s not any definite commitment involved in swinging around the city, even dedicated gamers who finish the main plot are liable find themselves spending an entertaining hour sending Spidey hurtling through the city.
FINAL SCORE: 84%