After playing the disastrous Spider-Man 3 earlier this year I wondered if we actually needed another Spider-Man adventure, with only six months between releases I worried that there wouldn't be enough time between games to adequately resolve the issues plaguing that movie game. Thankfully I was wrong, because Spider-Man: Friend or Foe isn't trying to be the next movie game, instead it sets its sights on a slightly different genre.
While Spider-Man 3 was going for the open-world sandbox sort of game, Friend or Foe is more of a traditional brawler, something in the tradition of Streets of Rage and Final Fight. This is not the kind of game where you swing from one building to another looking for your next mission, instead you are set on a very linear course where you walk around and beat up any and all bad guys that get in your way.
The biggest change in this Spider-Man game (beyond the genre shift) is that you will always be working with a second player, be it computer-controlled or a friend sitting next to you with another game pad. Even more striking is that not all of these characters are necessarily "good," in fact a majority of the sidekick characters are made up of villains Spidey has dealt with in other games and movies. I'm talking about the Green Goblin, Venom, Sandman and Doctor Octopus. And if that wasn't enough, you can also choose black suit Spider-Man, Lizard, Rhino, Iron Fist, Silver Sable, Black Cat, Prowler and Blade (yes, THAT Blade). On top of teaming up with a second player to have an easier time weeding out the enemies, you will be able to switch characters at any time.
The game has been set up so that a second player can jump in at any time, regardless of whether it's at the beginning of the game or half way through. Having a second person jump into the action is as easy as pushing the button on the second control, and switching the game back to a single-player computer-controlled affair is just as easy. Make no mistake about it, this game is all about having a couple of friends (or siblings, parents, you name it) come together to kick some superhero butt. In that way this game feels like the 3D cousin of so many classic arcade brawlers, including a couple of old school Acclaim Spider-Man games (Maximum Carnage and Separation Anxiety). And before you even ask, despite the strong emphasis on the multiplayer gameplay, the Xbox 360 version will not feature Xbox Live support ... this game is offline only.
So what brings all of these friends and foes together? As the game starts Spider-Man is accosted by some very familiar looking enemies, so in true Spidey fashion our hero swings into action and attempts to save the day. But as he investigates the situation he starts to realize that a lot of his former foes have been brainwashed and are completely unaware of their actions. As you might imagine, this does not sit well with these otherwise ruthless and evil villains, so everybody teams up to figure out just what is going on and destroy it once and for all. It's a story right out of a comic book, which is definitely what you should expect from a Spider-Man video game.
One thing that isn't right out of the comic book is the villains. While it's true that Venom, the Green Goblin and the Sandman all got their start in the pages of the Spider-Man comic book, the versions presented in this game are actually those found in the big-budget Sam Raimi movies. Even though there isn't much continuity between the movie stories and this game, all of the characters are based on the likenesses of the live-action film characters. That's why you will not only see the Green Goblin in this game, but the New Goblin, which in the movie was played by Harry Osborn. Even with the movie influence, the game's look and feel is a lot more over-the-top, so one should expect cartoony versions of all of these movie characters and nothing too realistic.
This cartoony look is done on purpose, though. Unlike past Spider-Man games that have gone for a more gritty/realistic take on the superhero, Friend or Foe is targeting 8 to 12 year old boys. Because of this focus, developers Next Level Games have decided to do what they can to make this game as accessible as possible. For example, in Friend or Foe players can't die; there is simply no punishment for losing all of your life. If you do run out of health you will pop up right where you left off, so you can just run in to any situation with reckless abandon.
But just because the game is focused at a younger demographic that doesn't mean that this is just some shallow action game. As you progress through the game you will be able to customize your character with new modifiers that will affect your gameplay. And that's not all, while in the game you will be able to actually team up with the second player and perform some impressive two-person attacks, many of which featured some very impressive graphics. The game's depth is certainly not at the same level as BioShock or Mass Effect, but considering that this is a 3D brawler there's more to this game than what first meets the eye.
On top of the story mode (which has you going through levels as diverse as Tokyo, Nepal, and Transylvania), players will have a chance to go one-on-one in a player vs. player match. While this mode is only open to two players, there's no denying that it's trying to be the superhero version of Power Stone or Super Smash Bros. The concept is good and earning the various multiplayer levels seems to be a good incentive to play through the game again and again, but part of me wishes they would have gone the whole way and made this mode a full four-player battle royale.
Outside of the obvious graphical differences, the Wii and Xbox 360 versions are practically identical. All of the levels, characters and sound effects are the same between the two different platforms, and the only real difference is that the Wii version supports motion controls (to switch characters, etc.) and the Xbox 360 version has achievements. Friend or Foe does not get too crazy with the Wii's motion control; most of the controls are mapped to the various face buttons. In fact, you could conceivably play the entire game without using even one motion move. But if you do start to incorporate the various waggle moves into your gameplay you'll not only have a much better time, but you'll also see an improvement in your Spider-Man skills.
While the Wii and Xbox 360 versions are pretty much the same game, the PSP and DS versions could not be any more different. The Nintendo DS game is a completely different game, one that features extremely tall levels where you fight on both screens. The PSP game, on the other hand, is being handled by a completely different studio (Artificial Mind) and has their own unique take on Friend of Foe. Not only will there be new levels and characters, but they've also changed the difficulty around. For example, the PSP version of the game will actually punish you for dying, something I would have liked to have seen in the Xbox 360/Wii version.
There is another version of Friend or Foe on its way, and that's the PlayStation 2 version. This version is basically the same as the two next generation games, only in this port you won't have a chance to play as Silver Sable. Unfortunately no pricing has been announced for any of the six versions (there is also a PC port on the way).
All in all I had a good time playing Friend or Foe, I really appreciated that this was a completely different take on the Spider-Man franchise and hope that future entries in the series will be just as daring as this. If you're one of those people who can't get enough of kicking the snot out of comic book bad guys but hate the direction the other Spider-Man games are going in, Friend or Foe may be just what the doctor ordered. We'll have more on this game in the coming weeks, followed by our full review of Spider-Man: Friend or Foe.