We all expected it to be big, but no one expected the first movie to gross in excess of $400 million to go on to become one of the biggest blockbusters of all-time. Now the sequel is out in the theatres and along with it is probably the biggest surprise hit of the year. Super hero games usually suck but Activision seems to have found a groove with this franchise. As opposed to relying on focusing on the license and building the game around it the designers instead built an amazing game and then tweaked it to conform to the license, creating an excellent game that could stand on its own merits.
Spider-Man 2 follows along so closely with the storyline of the major motion picture that Sony asked Activision to limit the amount of preview copies as to not spoil any of the movie’s major plot points. If you’ve seen the movie you essentially have the core (which is Peter Parker dealing with real life and being a super hero) with a few neat side stories thrown in. Spider Man has successfully defeated the Green Goblin but some unexpected problems have arisen. His best friend thinks that his alter ego killed his father, he never has time for the people in his life and the townspeople are still unsure whether or not they can trust the webslinger. To complicate matters more, a scientific genius is on the verge of a major discovery that could make or break his very existence. Then there’s that whole crime solving at night, going to school and trying to be on time for class thing during the day. Making the game more than just a run-of-the-mill movie tie-in, the designers opted to toss in a cavalcade of elements that weren’t in the movie. Aside from the dozens of crimes that you can solve, this also includes game-specific events and characters from the comics such as Mysterio and Black Cat.
Activision pulls all of this together rather well with a unique approach to the action/adventure genre. Instead of unfurling the game as a linear sequence of events the game follows a more freeform approach. There’s a primary structure that has to be followed in order to advance the storyline but a new gameplay feature allows you to roam around the city on your own discretion. Think of it as Grand Theft Spidey. You’re free to go wherever you want and explore the city on your own accord. As you do so you’ll encounter citizens who need to be saved and rescued. Accomplishing these missions will give you more hero points which can then be used to upgrade Spider Man’s abilities. He’ll be called upon to stop car chases, foil robberies, break-up ambushes and rescue citizens who happen to be dangling off of precarious ledges. There are a lot of different types of missions to engage in, but there’s generally only one of each kind. So when you need to stop an armored car robbery you’ll always see the same introductory cutscene followed by the line “if I could only get to my utility belt…” which seems to be a nod to Batman. It’s funny the first time but when you’ve heard it about 15 times it begins to lose its charm. Luckily the missions are fun enough so that they don’t become too monotonous; it’s just that variety is something that the designers should strive for in the next game.
As a fan of the comic I have to admit that it’s a little weird to see Spider-Man wandering around the streets and gallivanting about so freely. He’s a marked man that has a ton of enemies, for him to just approach civilians and strut around the streets seems to be detrimental to his well being. It’s strange that this happened too because the designers apparently took this into account. Pedestrians shout things such as “Menace!” and “Get a Job!” as Spidey swings over their heads, yet they never attack him or start confrontations on the street. These are just the musings of a fan of the franchise though. On its own the element is extremely fun and innovative. Sure the missions get repeated a lot but they never fall into the arena of tedium.It’s amazing just how well the designers were able to capture Spider Man in his comic-like state. In the original title I felt that Spider-Man was too normal and humanlike, almost generic in design. Here the designers pulled out all of the stops to ensure that he fought, moved, animated and behaved like no other video game hero before. Combat is comprised of three very simple commands: attack, dodge and web. Using different combinations of the buttons in conjunction with modifiers (such as the jump and sprint buttons) will yield different commands. To help convey the comic book feel, each time an attack connects the game will pause momentarily to show the impact. Another neat facet of the combat system is the way that aerial combat is represented. At any time you can knock your enemies up into the air to do massive damage. Massive combos worthy of Capcom Vs. Marvel 2 can be pulled off much to the delight of the fighting game fans out there. Spidey begins with a pretty basic set of moves but can learn more by purchasing them from the store as the game progresses.
Oh and then there’s this whole web slinging thing. In the first game you could sling webs but the designers apparently granted Spider Man the ability to hang off of clouds. To mend their errors the developers designed the most unique and addictive gameplay experience thus far this year. By hitting R2 you can shoot webs onto objects and use them to swing around town. At first it’s a difficult experience but in time it becomes second nature and almost intuitive. I can’t stress just how fun it is to swing around town. The way that the feeling is captured in the game is just simply amazing. Hands down, it’s the most unique gameplay element, not to mention the most fun, one that we’ve seen this year.
When Spider-Man isn’t fighting crime or doing battle with Doc Ock he’s able to scour Manhattan for secrets. There are secrets hidden all throughout the city which operate similar to the hidden packages in the Grand Theft Auto games. In addition to those are blue icons which allow Spider-Man to race through a part of the city. Treyarch also made it very simple to find the next objective by giving the player an on-screen indicator that points them in the right direction. All of the waypoints aren’t on level ground so another indicator was included to give the player a visual representation of how high the next objective is. Add in a tutorial featuring the acerbic wit of Bruce Campbell and you've got yourself a user-friendly game. Especially for B-movie geeks.
During the cutscenes you’ll get some face time with the game’s primary cast, and for the most part they look pretty decent. Peter looks like Toby Maguire, Doc Ock looks like Alfred Molina and Harry looks like Josh Franco. Probably the only character I could complain about is Mary Jane, simply because she looks more like the comic book red head and less like the dyed-red Kirsten Dunst. It’s a real shame that the other denizens of New York didn’t receive the same treatment as the stars of this show. With the exception of the main cast and the primary villains, everyone looks simplistic to the core. I’m not talking about average either; I’m talking about teetering on the brink of the PS2/PSOne border here. Every time I see a cutscene with a carjacker I cringe due to the horrific textures and designs. Vehicles look straight out of 1995 as they appear to be boxes with no defining details or refinement. They beckon back to the days of Duke Nukem 3D where the cars were little more than boxes with a few slanted slopes on them. Overall the game looks decent because of the sheer size and scale, but looks quite sloppy because of the poor artistic design and abysmal texture work.I only talk about the deficiencies of the pedestrians and the design because the game has such amazing special effects. From the way that the game pauses every time you connect with an attack, to the neat blur effect used to convey speed, Treyarch pulled out plenty of items from its bag of tricks. It’s just a real shame that they couldn’t have found a way to pull everything together in one neat package instead of residing on both ends of the spectrum.
Speaking of which, the audio in the game seems to be rather hit or miss as well. For a game based on a movie with such a blockbuster budget the sound elements are surprisingly disappointing. There’s support for Dolby Pro Logic II on the PlayStation 2 version but we wouldn’t recommend using it. For some strange reason all of Spider Man’s dialogue is siphoned to the middle channel while the other dialogue is moved to the side channels. To complicate this matter is the fact that the other dialogue is much quieter than Spider Man’s, making them sound really distant and difficult to hear. At times we also experienced problems where the audio would loop during the cutscenes and there were plenty of instances where Spider Man would continue his soliloquy as another person was speaking in the game. Voice acting is superb as the designers were able to snag the primary cast to reprise their roles along with John Dimaggio (Bender from Futurama) and James Arnold Taylor (Tidus from Final Fantasy X) to go along with the main players. Showing off their writing skills, most of the dialogue is funny too as Spider Man generally spouts off his sarcastic dialogue as he does combat with his foes
If you don’t feel like going through the main quest you’re always allowed to roam through the recreation of Manhattan. While not nearly as impressive as Luxoflux’s recreation of Los Angeles in True Crime, Treyarch’s design is still an intriguing sight to behold. The urban jungle looks, feels and operates like one would expect it to. There’s always something going on in the city and you’ll be able to watch it unfold as you’re swinging on by. It’s pretty impressive when you’re swinging around the city at full speed and you look down only to see traffic and a crowded sidewalk full of people. Most of the buildings look terrifically bland, but there’s enough variety in them to make you forget about their shortcomings.
Perhaps that’s just it. Though the game has more than its fair share of problems, it just has so many things going for it that you can’t help but look past them. Activision and Treyarch have successfully taken a major motion picture property and developed an addictive game that’s able to stand on its own merits, regardless of the license. Whether you’re a Spidey fan or just a fan of video games, you’d be a fool not to pick this one up.
We knew it'd be big, we just didn't expect it to be this big. It has everything going for, and aside from a few technical issues, this is one hell of an amazing ride.
Rating: 9 Excellent
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile