2012-07-03

The Amazing Spider-Man – Often Feels Like Another, Better Game

by Yo Snyder

So with The Amazing Spider-Man, Beenox was not only trying to improve on the legacy of one of the more beloved Spider-Man games – the open-world playground of Spider-Man 2
– but they also were trying to deliver a movie tie-in game that didn’t
suck. Neither one of those things is easy to do on its own, trying to do
them both at the same time is a truly difficult task. I must,
therefore, give credit where credit is due; Beenox doesn’t outright fail
at either of these goals, but neither do they fully succeed.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing this game is the fact
that it’s coming in the shadow of one of the truly great super hero
games; Batman: Arkham City. The Amazing Spider-Man wisely
borrows some of the elements that made that game so great, but while
that helps with some of the weaker areas from previous Spidey games, it
doesn’t quite have the same polish as the Batman game, and therefore it
often just feels like a lesser imitation. It’s tough because so many
elements just remind me of how much better they felt in Arkham City
instead helping me appreciate how they help improve this Spider-Man
game. For instance, the combat borrows the simple one attack and one
“special moves” buttons from Arkham City, and Spidey has his
spider-sense warning and dodge/counter move like Batman did. It’s an
elegant system, but here it lacks the polish and fluidity that it did in
the Batman game. Also, the combat lacks that solid heft it had for
Batman. Granted, Spider-Man isn’t as brutal of a brawler as Batman, but
the combat didn’t have that solid, satisfying impact. Plus, lacking the
elegance and timing that was necessary to master the simple yet deep
combat found in Arkham, here it can feel like more button mashing.

Then there are the stealth elements. Spidey can hide on the ceiling
and take out bad guys one by one with a stealth attack, leaving them
hanging from the ceiling; sometimes in webbed cocoons. Fun stuff, but
again it’s basically a shallower and simpler version of Batman’s game;
it often feels like it’s lacking the challenge and the strategy of what
it’s emulating. Finally, there’s the whole open world aspect. Arkham City
had a fairly organic feel to it; it felt like a living city, granted
one populated by criminals, but it felt like stuff was going on. In
Spidey’s game, some how Manhattan feels like it’s a city just filled
with missions, not with events that are happening that you come across,
but with timed and coordinated events, which breaks the illusion of a
living city where things are going on regardless of whether you’re
attending to that particular mission. Truthfully, I think it was a smart
move to imitate some of the elements of Batman’s wildly successful
game, but it just would have been nice had they been executed a bit
better with a little more attention paid to why they worked so well in Arkham.
Don’t hear me incorrectly, these borrowed elements work fine in the
Spidey’s game, but given a little more time and tweaking, they could
have truly felt more like a Spider-Man version of them instead of an
obvious but lesser imitation of them.

However, The Amazing Spider-Man is not the Arkham City
clone it may sound like I’m making it out be; it does has it’s own feel,
which is most prominent in the webslinging. I miss the more realistic
webslinging of Spider-Man 2 where the webs actually had to attach
to something, and you had to adjust for the momentum and direction of
where they attached to, but I love the new web rush ability. Had the
more technical web slinging of that classic game been combined with the
new web rush ability, it would have been truly awesome. As it is,
swinging around Manhattan is still a lot of fun, if a bit simplistic.
The camera being in closer to Spidey not only lets you see his acrobatic
athleticism, but also gives you a real sense of motion and momentum,
even a bit of vertigo. In fact, up close to a big TV, you may even get a
wee bit motion sick. One of the nice things about web rush is it makes
it easy for you to get places, especially if you want to look cool
sitting on a flag pole or spire on top of a building (like the Empire
State Building, which is so easy to get to now with web rush). Swinging
through the town is, well, a rush and is one of the best parts of the
game. Plus with tons of collectibles like comic books to find, it can be
a rewarding experience. It would have been nice had the map marked
iconic locations like the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building
or Times Square and spots like that so you could go explore and swing
around them if you felt like it without having to be familiar with the
layout of New York.

As for the story, well, it’s good that it’s not just a game that
retells the story of the movie that it’s based on. It actually takes
place right after those events. So if you haven’t seen the movie, just
beware this game will spoil things for you. Also, it keeps things in
that more “grounded” and “realistic” take on things from the movie,
which is fine, but in the end there’s just something missing. For every
moment that shines and really makes you feel like the comic book hero
Spider-Man, there are plenty where it feels like the more realistic take
on some lesser known rogues just aren’t as interesting as they
otherwise might have been. I don’t want to say too much in order not to
spoil anything in the game that spoils things from the movie, but let’s
just say the story isn’t the game’s strongest suit. Again, going back
the the Arkham City comparisons, it would have been interesting
to see what could have been had this game had no movie ties and instead
just went for it’s own, original take on the character (it’s already
trying to lean that way anyway). That also might have afforded more time
to polish things up since it wouldn’t have needed to tie in with the
release of the movie, which is always a bane of games such as this.

Here’s the thing about The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s not a
particularly bad game, but it’s not a particularly great one either. If
it wasn’t for the fact that so much of it is similar to a truly great
super hero game, it would probably stand out a bit more as a really good
Spider-Man game because it is. But since there are so many moments of
“oh, this is like in Arkham City, only that game was better”, it’s hard to appreciate how much of this feels like the great but less flawed Spider-Man 2
game (the combat it better, the stealth missions are better, the side
missions and random crimes are not better). Truly, with a little more
time and refinement, this game probably could have emerged from the
shadow of that other game. There are plenty of elements that give
Spidey’s game it’s own, distinct flair, and it’s always a blast to see
your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man swinging around the neighborhood
doing friendly things for people. There’s a really good game in here,
but unfortunately, what emerges is a merely average but fun game that’s a
shallow imitation of a much better one. There’s enough here for true
Spidey fans to love, but for the rest of us, this one’s probably better
to rent before deciding to buy.

Score out 7:

Graphics: 5 – Looks pretty good with a decent draw distance, although
there is some pop-in. Indoor environments feel a bit bland. Also,
character movement isn’t always as fluid as it could be, especially in
combat. 

Sound: 5 – Voice acting is decent, though it’s not the actors from
the movie. Spidey does toss around some amusing comments, but he also
repeats himself quite a bit. Music is pretty forgettable.

Controls: 5 – Web swinging is fun, and web rush is a great new
addition for getting around, interacting with items and in combat.
However, Spidey lacks some precision (just getting him to stand on a
ledge without jumping off can be tricky if you just walk up to it).
Combat is effective if a bit too simple. Camera controls can be tricky,
especially when crawling on walls or the ceiling.

Gameplay: 4 – The story missions range from bland to somewhat
interesting, while the “random” crimes get really repetitive, and the
fact that things like car chases actually have to load before they start
really keep them from feeling like an organic event happening in the
city. There is a lot to collect though, and alternate costumes; which is
a must for any super hero game.

Story: 4 – SPOILERS from the movie, so if you don’t want plot points
from the film ruined for you, don’t play this game first. A so-so main
plot and the lack of any really interesting side-plots means you won’t
be playing this game for the story.

Content: 6 – Mild violence, some mild sensuality with Black Cat, and a
few scary creatures, but overall, Spidey is pretty friendly.

Final: 4 – I had high hope for The Amazing Spider-Man, but it just doesn’t quite reach them. It’s impossible to escape the Arkham City
comparisons, and this game just falls short in comparison. Still, it’s a
thrill to swing through the city, the combat isn’t as much of random
button mashing as it used to be, and there’s lots to collect and unlock.
So, while it’s not amazing, it’s still fun; just not as much so as I
hoped for.