When you play a game with the name Spider-Man on it, you can expect a few things: A guy swinging through the air on strand of webbing, a group of baddies who want to smash him into spider paste, and hopefully a nice smattering of action. Of course, this is in contrast to the expectations for movie games, for which there are just two expectations: suckage and boredom. Fortunately, the Xbox 360 version of Spider-Man 3 meets or exceeds the expectations of a Spider-Man game, and while it isn’t the best game I’ve ever played, it’s certainly better than most movie based games I’ve played.
To begin with, this game should be really good, because this now Treyarchs’ fourth go round at developing a title featuring everyone’s favorite webslinger. Plus, the developers had the advantage of coding for the 360 for the first time, which gave them lots of horsepower to let Spidey harness. And harness it they did.
The single most impressive part of this game is the cityscape itself. There are a lot of single player games that try to provide an immersive sandbox environment and fail. Spider-Man 3 is literally the best single-player environment I’ve ever seen. It outclasses all of the other sandboxes, in part because the realism included in the layout, but also because of the way it is utilized. One of the biggest parts of this is how Spidey swings on his webs. The buildings are used properly in determining whether or not he has anything to attach to, and if not, he falls. I remember far too many Spider-Man games where Spidey is just swinging through the air with not a building in sight.
In this game, getting yourself from Point A to Point B is rarely boring. As you progress through the game and learn when best to throw a new web, your character advances in swinging skill, and becomes capable of higher speeds. It’s a lot of fun, just to move through the city as fast as you possibly can, and the physics model of the character as he’s buffeted with the high winds from swinging shows a strong attention to detail. When you spend a large percentage of the game watching Spidey swinging through the air, it’s important that they got this right.
Of course, swinging isn’t the only thing Spidey does. It wouldn’t be a Spider-Man game if there weren’t a lot of flying fists and gravity defying combat combinations. The combat system in the game is pretty simple to start, but builds in the complexity of what moves you can pull off as you complete sections of the game, or simply rack up the number of opponents you beat down. One of the interesting features of the combat system is the Matrix-like time slowing option you can bring into play simply by holding down the left bumper. Time slows, and you can dodge an enemies attack, or use it to throw a lot of attacks in a short time. This works great in short bursts against weaker enemies, but against the major bosses, it can become really mind-numbing as you have to use this mode almost constantly to really make any headway. Overall, the combat system works nicely, and incorporates the now commonplace button timing mechanism (as made famous by God of War, and long before that Dragon’s Lair), in some scenes to allow cut scenes to be interwoven with combat or movement actions.
The plot in most movie games tends to follow the movie almost verbatim, which if you haven’t seen a movie (as I hadn’t when I first played the game), can be a bit of a let down. Fortunately, while the game captures many of the elements of the movie, including the primary villains, and the overall story arch, but you also get a lot of extras. Side missions beget more side missions, and need not be completed to advance the main storyline. It almost feels like a non-movie based Star Wars title; you’re in the universe, and there may be elements that tie into the movie going on around you, but you’re on your own to do things as you like. Plus, you don’t have to go searching for missions, they are displayed nicely on the overhead map. Some people may be disappointed by this, but personally, I think this is one of the games strongest points. There are hundreds of movie titles that take you step by step through the movies plot, and having something different in this way is refreshing.
One of the biggest parts of any move-based title is the voice acting. Here is where the game really starts to go downhill. With the exception of J.K. Simmons (who may simply be overacting, because that’s what it takes to play J. Jonah Jameson), the acting talent is not as inspired in their performance as they are in the same roles in the movie. Tobey Maguire, whose voice is the most common sound in the game, gives a very performance that is mostly lifeless. It has it’s moments but like the rest of the cast, most likely did it to comply with a contract, and not to provide an outstanding product. It’s too bad most actors don’t take the same pride in video game voiceovers that they do in the rest of their careers (and they probably won’t until Roger Ebert upgrades video games to “high art”).
While the voice acting wasn’t very good, the camera system is downright awful. The camera does not follow you very well through combat, so you wind up performing all sorts of in close maneuvers from the same camera angle. This can be particularly disturbing when it involves wall crawling, and you often cannot tell which direction you are facing. In addition, there are sequences where you have to reach a specific location in a short amount of time, and most of the time the default camera angle does not lend itself to seeing your destination. This leads to a lot of failed missions and even more frustration. You can adjust the camera of course, but doing this while trying to swing Spidey from building to building is extremely difficult.
In conclusion, this game is for fans of Spider-Man or the super-hero genre in general. It has quite a few flaws, but the combat and the enjoyment of exploring the city more than make up for the games camera and boss combat issues.
With a tremendous background (a beautifully modeled section of New York City) for the sandbox style play, Spider-Man 3 offers a great environment to play against. While the combat is fun, and the missions offer a wide variety of scenarios and difficulties, the horrible camera system can lead to failed missions and worse, death. Terrific graphics counter the mostly below average voiceovers, even from stars of the film. And the lack of Kirstin Dunst as Mary Jane from the voice acting cost the game a quarter point just on principle.
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