If I have not made it clear yet on this site, I, Roger Gus Townson Jr, love Spider-Man. I love his superpowers, his personality, his back-story, his villains, his allies, and the whole package. I regard Spider-Man as the number one best comic book super hero ever created. Since I first stumbled upon the character on the mid 90’s animated series, I have continued to follow my friendly neighbor’s triumphs across future animated series like Spectacular Spider-Man, the comics [from both Amazing and Ultimate Marvel Universes], a trilogy of breakthrough hit live action movies, and video games.
Yeah, surprisingly enough, Spider-Man is one of the few licensed characters out there who can say he has a handful of genuinely good video games to his name (Unlike Batman, who took a good two decades before he struck gold with the recent Arkham Series games). Spidey’s gaming prowess dates back to the cult hit beat-em-up, Maximum Carnage for the SNES and Genesis. Spider-Man for the PS1 and N64 holds a special place in my heart as the web slingers first jump into 3D. But if we’re all honest with ourselves, we all know Spidey’s landmark moment in the gaming scene was with Spider-Man 2 The Movie The Game: the title that brought players into open world Manhattan, and allowed us to actually explore the city just like the spider himself. While current developer, Beenox Studios, has so far trekked a very bumpy road with their past installments of the series that went more for the brawler type of gameplay, it was this last week that they released The Amazing Spider-Man: The first Spider-Man game of this whole console generation to hold a candle to Spider-Man 2.
Taking place directly after the events of the upcoming movie with the same name, The Amazing Spider-Man begins by putting us in the perspective of the wall crawler’s alter ego, Peter Parker. Our girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, takes us through a tour of Oscorps deep science division to show us the bountiful supply of human-animal mutants (known as crossbreeds) that are being created and contained within the facility. This act proves to be a grievous mistake because, wouldn’t you know it Parker himself is a crossbreed, and even though there are dozens of them already in there within close vicinity of each other, the presence of one more of them arriving on scene is enough to make the lot of them snap into a savage fury. A riot of animal freaks resumes to trash the place, they escape into the city, the people of New York begin falling pray to infection at an alarming rate, and guess who’s fault it is?
A pretty nonsensical plot to be sure, but it gets the job done, setting up half a dozen B-List Spider-Man baddies for the player to track down and lay the smack down on. (Mostly guys with animal themes like Rhino, Scorpion, Vulture, and Vermin [whom I’m not even sure is a real villain from the comics]). Anyway, after the first incident at Oscorp, we check back into Stan’s hotel where I can check out the news, look up how much I’ve cleared of each story mission so far, and raid my wardrobe for alternate threads. Right away, one of the first outfits offered to you is the classic suit from the comics and the original Sam Rami trilogy, which I immediately changed into without hesitation.
From there, it’s out into the streets of New York to get our first taste of swinging across the massive open world metropolis, of which is a gaming treat that I have yet to get over. By simply holding the R2 button Spidey will begin swinging from one building to the next in any direction you point him, and if you swing into a wall, holding the R2 button makes Spider-Man race up the building and leap off it at top speed. The R1 button is used for Web Rushing, in which time slows to a near stop at any point, and you can personally aim and choose an exact location you want to zip toward.
So yes, the swinging controls excellently, but it also looks incredible as well. There is a strong sense of weight and gravity behind the game’s mechanics. It is the first time I can truly say I could feel the way Spidey feels swinging across the city. In fact, it’s for that reason that probably my favorite parts of this game involve just swinging around, collecting comic books, escorting sick people to hospitals, taking pictures for the news, and swooping in on common everyday thugs. As repetitive as some of these side missions can get, I still do them all because the traversal to them is just that much fun.
Eventually we do get around to doing some fighting in this game, which is a by-the-numbers twin to the combat system in the Batman Arkham games. You have one attack button, one counter button, and one to tie up your opponents. The combat is pretty formulaic, and not a ton of the boss fights differ from one another, but the least that can be said is that, like the past Beenox Spider-Man games, the fighting animations and finishers are very crisp and cool looking. The game tries to switch it up now and again with some stealth missions as well, and I’m not going to complain about that one particular bank heist ending with an encounter with Black Cat.
I guess my one main gripe about most of the story missions is that they all seem to take place in tight cramped areas, like laboratories, prisons, sewers, etc. which really takes away from the best part of the game, which is the swinging. Other than that, I can get behind it pretty well. It does a good job of keeping the tension high by having Gwen’s life at stake, and Peter going to Conners for help, even after the events of the movie. Alastor Smythe takes the reigns as the games main antagonist. As the new chief inventor of Oscorp’s mechanical division, he dispatches these massive Security bots of his own design across the city that are programmed to hunt down the escaped cross-species. Since we’ve already established, Spider-Man himself read by these robots as a cross-bread and ends up engaging in big scale boss fights with them.
While some have been quick to complain that these robots look like an excuse to put generic Transformer/Battleship-like robot designs in a Spider-Man game where they don’t seem to belong, to which I respond they are more-or-less updated versions of the Spider Slayers from The 90’s Animated Series (which were also created by Smythe, so it all checks out). The robots come in many different shapes and sizes and each plays out differently, and since all of them take place out in the open, they are easily the best fights in the game.
While the actors from the movie don’t show up, voice work like Steve Blum as Dr. Connors, Claudia Black as Whitney Chang, Nolan North as Alastor Smythe, and the man himself, Bruce Campbell as the Xtreme Reporter, leave very little to be desired. Sam Regal’s feels just right as the title character. He’s not as iconic sounding as Christopher Daniel Barnes (Spider-Man TAS), but I’d definitely pick him over someone like Josh Keaton (Spectacular Spider-Man).
Yet despite all this, I would not say The Amazing Spider-Man is without its flaws. Many of the bugs and mishaps that frequent licensed games can be found here as well: repetitive and cluttered side missions, repetative civilian designs, repetative one liners, long load times between deaths, lackluster character models, story mission areas that are easy to get lost in with no clear maps, and lack of any real difficulty. While Beenox has claimed that they started work on this game prior to their release of Spider-Man, Edge of Time last year (a game that turned out NOT to be that good at all), there are many facets of this game that do feel rushed. If I were Beenox I would have cancelled production of Edge of Time all together, and used all their extra manpower and resources to polish this game, though I suppose that’s much easier to say in hindsight.
The potential for another great comic book superhero game like Batman Arkham City was definitely shown here. The Amazing Spider-Man has nailed the web slinging and combat mechanics in a way that truly makes it feel like I can do whatever a spider can. With more mission variety, a bigger cast of A-List Villains, and a deeper plot that doesn’t feel the need to be tied down to the movies, and Beenox could be onto something truly big. As it stands, The Amazing Spider-Man may not be for everyone, but I liked it. A lot. In fact, I still got more to play of it as soon as this review is finished.
For anyone who wishes to avoid potential spoilers to the plot of a certain movie that EVERONE knows the plot of anyway… but just in case, watch the movie first, in theatres tomorrow, then pick up the game. And stay tuned next week for my review of The Amazing Spider-Man movie.