For the most part, the Spider-Man games based on Sony Pictures’ film series haven’t been all that bad. With Spider-Man 1 they perfected the excellent level-based formula from Neversoft’s original game of the 64-bit era, and with Spider-Man 2 they introduced the free-roaming New York City to Spidey games. With so much practice, you’d think that Activision and its army of development houses would only improve the formula for the third game. With Spider-Man 3 coming to all consoles, some amount of confusion is expected however, and all versions of the game suffer considerably. The Wii version doesn’t escape this confusion by a long shot.
Spider-Man 3 starts out promising. The opening sequence has the web-headed hero rescuing civilians from a bombed out office building, while Bruce Campbell offers his typical witty advice. This opening serves as the obligatory tutorial, which is more necessary than ever because of the new Wii controls. The full scope of the Wii functionality isn’t revealed, here because of the constraints of the cramped building environment. Some basic combat and movement skills are demonstrated, but they aren’t very interesting. Only when you get out into the city does the game get very exciting.
Once free to travel amid the skyscrapers, the one defining aspect of Spider-Man on the Wii becomes clear: web swinging. By pressing the B or Z trigger, and then flicking the Wii remote or Nunchuk, you literally cast webs like Spider-Man. This method takes about five minutes to get used to, but after a quick warm-up period it feels more natural than squeezing a trigger button. Some button combos grant speed boosts while swinging, which are accompanied by a nice blur effect. It is fortunate that the brutal villain chases from Ultimate Spider Man aren’t in 3, because cornering with this new control scheme is somewhat clumsy. Aside from that, however, I think Vicarious Visions has nailed the new way to web sling.
The other controls aren’t exactly intuitive but they work. A regular jump is accomplished with the Z trigger, dodging enemy attacks requires a quick flick of the Nunchuk, weak attacks are performed by a remote jab and strong attacks are assigned to the A button. At the beginning this is how most of the game plays out—not quite solid or polished, but enjoyable. Starting out, Spider-Man 3 feels deceptively promising.
For a few solid hours the game is good honest fun, and because it is sporadically entertaining you are able to ignore the numerous but subtle flaws. The first thing that will slowly grow tiresome is the combat. After the fast-paced acrobatics of Ultimate, 3 reverts to the tedious combo system from the other movie games. Spidey starts out with a pathetic 3-hit combo and can only purchase significant upgrades after completing a number of missions.
Upgrading Spider-Man doesn’t make much sense in the first place—he’s a freaking super hero, after all—but it’s necessary if you want to make the combat at all playable. The rest of the upgrades offer some advantages, but are mostly filler. Much like in 2, you’ll use two or three of the attacks and nothing more, which compounds the stale, repetitive feeling that plagues the combat. What’s worse, it looks like the cool web powers from the first games are gone forever, replaced with a few lame lasso combos and impotent little “web splats.”
Spidey feels so underpowered that you’ll probably use the new gimmick, the Black Suit, a lot. The symbiote costume is acquired very early in the game, and acts like an instant upgrade to all abilities. Spidey’s attack power is doubled, every upgrade is unlocked and his health bar increases dramatically. The suit comes at a cost, which seems to be a necessity these days for any “bad” power—a rage meter increases with every punch, and eventually a black aura will begin to consume the screen. While swapping into the suit requires a simple D-pad tap, taking it off involves a remote gesture minigame as Spidey fights the corruption within. Failing to get the black suit off in time results in Peter Parker losing consciousness, and he fails any current mission. Once the suit is off, a short “cool down” period is needed before it can be used again. I enjoyed this duality—it’s more involved than the Black Suit in other versions of the game and added some much needed depth.
That said, you’ll want to get a lot of use out of the black suit. You have it until the very end of the story, but the brevity of the plot means that you’ll lose it before you know it. I suggest cleaning out most of the city before taking on the final story missions.
Speaking of which, Spider-Man 3 leaves a lot to be desired in all of its structured missions. If combat weren’t a huge part of this game the missions wouldn’t feel as repetitive, but sadly most of the time you’ll be beating up thugs. New York is host to four stereotypical gangs, and they occupy almost every square foot of Manhattan. It takes a long time to clean out the Big Apple, and you’ll be doing it through the same kind of tedious missions that you’ve had to slog through in the last two games. There aren’t any more kids losing their balloons or the same armored truck getting robbed over and over again, but the random crimes in Spider-Man 3 are comparatively unimaginative and only a bit more numerous.
The main difference is that the crimes are organized into gang patrols, similar to Ultimate’s combat tours. Each gang has a type of crime that they like to carry out, such as defacing a statue or stealing guitars. Not all of the individual crimes involve smacking around thugs; sometimes you’ll have to retrieve stolen goods or rescue a hostage from a dumpster, which usually requires a small Wii remote motion game. Cleaning up a small area of town takes about three or four of these crimes strung together, which returns police control to that area…until another gang moves in from their adjacent territory. It’s a lot like fighting a losing battle, unless you clear out a substantial portion of the city, which takes a long damn time.
There are a handful of other random events like in previous games, the only difference this time around being you don’t have to track them down—simply press the minus button and the event begins. There is even less variety to these short missions.
All this gratuitous filler is really the meat of the game. The main story missions, while they can be completed independently from the gang missions, make up a pretty small fragment of Spider-Man 3. It’s quite possible to beat the game on a rainy afternoon, if you focus entirely on the story campaign. In this regard, the Wii version is even more disappointing than the less than stellar builds on the PS3 and 360. Wii owners get docked two villains, including the Kingpin. The “exclusive” baddies, Morbius and Shriek, aren’t given the depth or quality they had in the comics, and their arc is mostly pointless. The other extra villains, Kraven, Lizard, Mad Bomber, etc, have uninspired backgrounds and missions that again entail beating up a lot of thugs.
The boss fights themselves are the highlight of the game, which is unfortunate because most of their ideas are stolen from Resident Evil 4 or God of War. The same “do this!” action cutscenes dominate the fights, with remote gestures replacing button cues. In the process, Spider-Man 3 manages to take everything that was frantic and cool about interactive cutscenes and makes it all a chore. The early glider battle with New Goblin left me frowning with disappointment. There were a few sequences from the film that would’ve worked great as “cinteractive” cutscenes, like rescuing Gwen Stacy from the crane disaster, but for some reason those moments aren’t in the game. The few fights in between with the main villains and the final boss fights are so anticlimactic and rushed, it feels like the last third of this game was slapped together in the space of a week. I simply cannot describe how brief and ham-fisted the end of this game feels. If you thought Venom was a let-down in the movie…
With the PS3 and 360 versions, the developers thought that going nuts with the shader brush and smearing everything with normal mapping would make a good game. It didn’t. So, you can expect that the Wii version has even less of a crutch to stand on in the graphics department. Spider-Man 3 is pretty plain looking, and has visual flaws that don’t belong in a last-gen title, much less a Wii game. Almost nothing has been improved upon since Spider-Man 2, be it character models or city textures. Pop-up and draw distance are the biggest problems—textures and buildings appear out of nowhere literally fifty feet from Spider-Man. Citizens can and will clip through practically anything, as long it’s at street level for them to run into. The final insult is the instability of this game. The inexplicably erratic framerate causes serious chug while you’re swinging through the city, and it gets worse when fighting enemies. A number of glitches spontaneously fail a mission right in the middle, and on rare occasions the game just crashes.
New York itself is twice as big and twice as empty. Spider-Man 2’s Manhattan was lacking personality, and 3’s version is even less interesting, with no interior environments and bland texturing. It’s ironic that Ultimate Spider Man had the smallest free roaming New York, and yet it felt the most alive.
The music and sound side of things is even more anemic than the visuals. If anyone was holding out hope that Tobey Maguire might act this time around, well, prepare to be greatly disappointed. He sounds more disinterested than ever, which is saying something because his performance in the last two games was exceptionally mediocre. He mumbles and drones his way through his dialogue, and manages to kill any of the jokes the writers throw his way. James Franco also sounds like he couldn’t be bothered, even though his part is small. The best voice work in the game is done by the stand-in actress for Mary Jane, who ironically does a better job than Kirsten Dunst.
As for the game’s score, there are literally, at most three pieces of individual music. It doesn’t matter if they’re all orchestral and rather good if they’re repeated ad nauseum. There are a few fanfares and jingles for the events in the game, but none of the music is from the official movie score. I think this is the first time I’ve encountered a big budget movie licensed game that doesn’t even bother to pay to use the movie music.
Once you finish the story game, endure the muddy graphics, the redundant gameplay elements and repetitive music, you don’t even get much of a reward. The only real unlockable is the ability to play in the Black Suit again, and to do this you need to collect 50 tokens scattered throughout the city. There’s another set of fetch-quest tokens to find, but with absolutely no payoff. Cleaning out all the gangs rewards you with a few experience points to spend on more pointless upgrades. Out of all the Spider-Man games, 3 gives you the least incentive to keep playing.
Even if you enjoyed the movie, this game isn’t worth your money. It isn’t a sequel, but more like a buggy, half-empty expansion pack for Spider-Man 2. The high points were the web swinging, and the fact that it didn’t include emo-Parker swaggering down the street making an idiot of himself.