Spider-Man looks pretty darn amazing in The Amazing Spider-Man, the game that ties-in to the big-screen movie. But is it fun to play?
The plot, which takes place not long after the events of the movie, concerns Oscorp using the formula that turned Curt Connors into the Lizard to create lots of new human/animal hybrids. You know, for “beneficial to humanity” experiments and crap. Naturally, things go very, very wrong, unleashing all sorts of big, angry monsters on New York City. Some of them you’ll recognize from Spider-Man’s classic set of villains — like Rhino and Scorpion — though their origins get some big tweaks. There are lots of other villainous hybrids invented just for the game.
Many fans have pointed out similarities in the game to Batman: Arkham City, and those similarities can’t be denied. Spider-Man can freely roam around his city, for example, checking the in-game map for nearby disturbances, points of interest, mini games, side missions, and main storyline quests. The entire city is his playground to traverse and explore, but quests take place in interior locations that cut you off (temporarily) from the city. There’s a wide variety of missions to take on all throughout the city, including collectibles to be found, and there’s also some mild interaction available with the dense population of ordinary citizens.
Beenox, a studio that’s crafted many a Spider-Man game in its day, introduces a new element to the gameplay in this one. Web Rush uses the elastic qualities of Spider-Man’s webbing to zip you quickly from one spot to another (very much like a certain detective’s grappling gun), creating a whole new movement dynamic for the wall-crawler, particularly when you chain them together to navigate the city. You can still do all the usual stuff, like crawling on walls and swinging on web lines, but I was surprised at how often I found myself using Web Rush to get from place to place, particularly when it sounded like a gimmick at first pass.
There are many other similarities to the Arkham games, including Spidey’s new found finishing moves, but you get the point. Clearly, the developers held up Rocksteady’s masterful work with the Dark Knight as their ideal. And I’m entirely okay with that. It’s hard making a high-quality game on a tight schedule (to match up with the movie’s release), so if they had to handicap the job by giving themselves a template to work from, they chose their template wisely.
One of the game’s best aspects is how beautifully it animates Spidey’s web-swinging through the gleaming canyons of New York City. I don’t think any other Spider-Man game has better captured the adrenaline rush of our hero’s signature move, or the profound sense of speed and agility that Peter Parker experiences every time he does it.
Overall, there’s an enormous amount of polish applied to The Amazing Spider-Man — much more than what’s found in your typical movie tie-in. The city is gorgeous, Spider-Man has never looked better or more acrobatic, his fight moves feel fluid and fantastic at the same time, his dialogue is (mostly) appropriately snarky, the villains are challenging, and the whole of the gameplay is better than the sum of its parts.
For all that the game gets right, it does have the movie tie-in telltale signs of being pushed through production too fast. The controls take some getting used to, and could have used some refinement. (I’ve never played a PS3 game before that required me to use both shoulder buttons at once.) Spidey’s movements on land are remarkably hair-trigger-ish; the slightest touch on the thumbstick sends him into a full-on sprint. This makes things like standing on the edge of a rooftop to get the lay of the land all but impossible. Every time I tried it, Spider-Man would jump off the ledge straight into free-fall. Crawling on walls can be awkward, too, since the third-person camera shifts the entire game world to fit Spidey’s point of view. The result is awfully disorienting, and can erase your sense of direction.
Other complaints… There are too many trips down into New York City’s sewers for completing quests. There are dozens of characters modeled for the game, but curiously, Peter Parker is not one of them. We only ever see him in costume. (He never even takes just his mask off, as he’s so fond of doing in the movies.) And then there are the continuity gaffs. They’re not so much story gaps as strange blips in the game world. The biggest one comes after a major boss battle involving an gargantuan snake/robot thing that flies through the city, destroying quite a lot of it. At one point, the enormous robot flies right through the Oscorp building, tearing a huge hole in it. But once the fight is over, even though fires and destruction remain to be dealt with elsewhere in the city, the big hole in Oscorp has vanished without a trace.
But at least the game is written a lot smarter than your average movie tie-in, with some genuinely crisp dialogue, particularly in the cut-scenes. (The plot treads more predictable territory.) Peter’s in-action banter could use some tweaking, though. He often comes across as corny in his interactions with the public or the low-level criminals on the streets of New York; this is magnified by the fact that he only has a handful of standard phrases that are heard when he replies to people in the city, so it gets mighty repetitive.
Sam Riegel does a fine job voicing Peter Parker, but Beenox doesn’t seem to have been too concerned with hiring an Andrew Garfield sound-a-like. Riegel sounds more like Tobey Maguire to these ears.
One thing I really love is how the developers found ways to creatively address fan-favorite parts of Spider-Man’s mythology without going where future movies might go. For example, early in the game you meet a reporter for The Daily Bugle who gives Spidey her camera, so he can use it investigative reporter style to help her take down crime bosses and the like. So you could say that in this game, Peter is a photographer working for The Daily Bugle. Here’s another. Periodically, Spidey’s reporter friend will contact him with side missions that involve taking photos at highly unusual crime scenes. Though they’re never named, savvy Marvel fans will recognize these scenes as the handiwork of members of Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery, including Vulture, Hydro, Sandman, and more. So Spidey’s classic villains — the ones who aren’t human/animal hybrid types — are present in this world. They’re just doing their stuff off-screen. Hats off, Beenox. That’s clever.
Beenox deserves kudos for making a Spider-Man game that’s genuinely fun to play. At times it even achieves “addictive.” It’s a little rough around the edges, but that owes more to the corporate publishing schedule than the efforts of the developers. Beenox delivered a great game given the time constraints — one that rivals the classic Spider-Man 2 game in quality and player enjoyment.