It was recently announced that the movie Spider-Man 3 cost half a billion dollars to make and market. You can only imagine the sort of pressure on Treyarch to create a movie tie-in for a movie of that magnitude. Fortunately, this is not a new position for Treyarch, having worked on Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Ultimate Spider-Man. Just in time for the release of Spider-Man 3, Treyarch has brought this series to the Next-Generation, and with an all new story and villains to boot.
Our story begins much as the second movie ended – Peter has just begun to get his dual life as well as his relationship with Mary Jane in order. Things are finally falling into place for the webslinger, and there hasn’t been a super villain in the city for a while. As you might expect, things are about to change…
Spider-Man 3 takes place in New York, just as the movie and the previous games did. Treyarch put in the hours to expand the city of Manhattan to triple the size of the previous game as well as double the vertical height. In addition, they have added more than 20 miles of sewers and subways beneath the sprawling city. Further filling out the city, they have added neon lights, stock tickers in Times Square, as well as more pedestrians and vehicles than any previous Spider-Man title. This fleshes out the overall landscape in a very realistic fashion as it brings the game to life. Pedestrians hustle and bustle down the sidewalk as cars stack up for rush hour traffic.
It isn’t just the graphic textures and landscape scope that got an upgrade, the overall lighting engine has been completely rebuilt to bring the city of Manhattan to life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Times Square in the evening. The neon lights paint the night sky in bright colors as random buildings and street lights cast their dull yellow glow below.
Another area that received a great deal of attention is the animation system. Spider-Man’s swing animation is very close to what is seen in the movie, as are other villains like the Sandman, and Venom. Enemies have had their game sharpened as well with the Dragon Tail clan being the most obvious. Their Kung-Fu is strong and they are eager to test it out on you, web-head.
There are a few hitches that will become apparent less than a minute into the game. During the tutorial you’ll end up running through an area with shattered glass, fire, and raining debris – it is here that you’ll see the first of several framerate hits. The game normally glides along at a smooth clip, even when the action is quite heavy. It seems to be that particle effects are the culprit here. When fire, smoke, and debris cause chaos in your vicinity, the framerate suffers for it. While the frame hits are usually quite brief, they are very noticeable. Treyarch had to have noticed these, but I have to imagine that they ran out of time to fix them before the movie launch deadline.
The only other area that sticks out graphically are the faces, and surprisingly, Peter Parker’s unmasked face is the biggest offender. It looks as if Pete was hit in the face by a bag of nickels at times, making odd expressions even more disturbing when his face seems to detach from his eye sockets. Since you spend near 99% of your time in the Spidey suit, you won’t see it often, but when you do…blech. The 360 can do better. On the other hand, faces like that of Eddie Brock and J.J. Jamison are spot-on. Go figure.
Spider-Man 3 has an all-star cast – Tobey McGuire as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko / Sandman, Topher Grace as Eddie Brock Jr./ Venom, James Franco as the New Goblin / Harry Osborn, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jamison, and Bruce Campbell as The Narrator. You’ll note that I’ve not listed Kirsten Dunst as playing Mary Jane Watson-Parker – although she speculates that she is completely irreplaceable for the movie (http://www.movieweb.com/news/43/19143.php) she is easily replaced for the game. Honestly they could replace Dunst with a cardboard cutout with Nosferatu teeth and it would have the same acting ability. No loss here.
The fantastic cast above puts out a solid performance, each one recreating their movie role with passion and energy. While collectively, other then McGuire and Campbell, their roles are fairly short, it does bump the overall production value of the title quite a bit. Bravo for getting all of the voice actors that mattered to the storyline.
Spider-Man 2 had some great sound effects, and some of them seem to have made their way across to this sequel. From the sounds of Spider-Man’s websling to the solid impact of hand-to-hand combat, the sounds seem like they could be pulled directly from the movie.
There is one area where the sound falls down. There is one area that the sound falls down. There is one area where the sound falls down. Care to guess what it is? During combat you’ll hear the same things over and over and over. Often the hints are useful, such as how you might disable an electrical shield on one boss, or how to disable another boss that is seemingly invulnerable, but when the instructions are repeated every 10 to 15 seconds, it gets very annoying. You’ll also hear the same ham-fisted taunts against your enemies pretty often.
As I said, the production value for this title is truly a cut above the rest. This is the strongest voice-over lineup I’ve seen in any game to date, and the use of the cast from the movies just adds even more authenticity.
Obviously webslinging is the most important game mechanic for a game like Spider-Man 3, so we’ll start there. Whipping through the city on webs is very easy – jump into the air by tapping the A button and then simply pull the right trigger. This will attach you to the nearest object such as a building or lamppost and cause you to swing through the air. When at the bottom of your arc you can pull the left trigger causing Spider-Man to pull his legs forward to gain momentum. If you do this at the top of the arc you’ll kick out and pull Spider-Man higher. If you continue to hold onto your web you can actually go near vertical and cannonball yourself off the top of your web arc. Rounding a corner is equally easy – simply press the thumbstick in the direction you’d like to go and continue to swing. If you need to round a corner a little faster you can pull the thumbstick at a right angle and then pull the trigger to shoot in that direction almost immediately. All of this adds up to some interesting locomotion mechanics and it turns out to be a lot of fun to boot. If you want more control (and a classic look) of your swing, you can hold both triggers to do a two-handed leg-spread swing. It doesn’t seem to do much other than keep you going completely straight, but it looks cool.
The combat mechanics for the game utilize almost the entire controller. You’ll be using the left thumbstick to move, and the right thumbstick to control the camera, but the X, Y, and B buttons are reserved for combat. At the beginning of the game the combat will be fairly basic – you’ll have your Spider reflexes (activated by hitting the left bumper) to slow things down, as well as a handful of combat moves to take on your enemies. For instance, when a fist icon appears above the head of an enemy, you can use your left bumper to dodge and counterattack with an unblockable move. Learn this trick early as you’ll be doing it often.
As you take out the entrenched gangs and various super villains you’ll unlock various combat moves. They are all fairly simple to execute, so don’t expect a Mortal Kombat level of complexity to have to memorize.
As you clean up the city you’ll become more powerful. When you get the black suit, you’ll become almost unstoppable, but at a cost. You’ll lose your spider-reflexes but you’ll gain incredible power and speed with a new rage power. Glowing with a red electrical flame, you’ll find that your attacks are faster and far more aggressive. You’ll be able to subdue and pull multiple opponents at the same time, and certain bosses will be immune to all but your rage attacks and the unblockable attack mentioned above.
Ever since we progressed to a 3D world, camera control has been an area that can make or break a game. The vast majority of the Spider-Man 3 world takes place outside, sky-surfing the city of Manhattan. Unfortunately, all of your tough boss battles take place indoors. The camera tries to be intelligent and tends to stick behind you fairly well, but when it hits corners or walls it can occasionally swing wildly, leaving you unable to locate your opponent. During one particular battle you are confined in a small room with one of the largest bosses in the game, meaning that you’ll probably end up fighting this boss several times due to camera issues. Thankfully the game doesn’t punish you for this as there are frequent mid-mission saves, and every boss has an auto-save just prior to combat. If you find that you can’t finish this boss off at your current power level, you can also quit from there, returning to the world to try again later.
The area that irritated people most with Spider-Man 2 was the lack of variety in random missions. The thugs were constantly taking armored cars and roughing up random pedestrians. You could fight against them but it never seemed like you could make a dent. Treyarch listened to your pleas and has added a wide variety of things to do in Manhattan. You will take on almost a dozen super villains including Scorpion, Kingpin, the Mad Bomber Carlyle, and many more pulled directly from the comics. You’ll also square off against three gangs – Arsenic Candy, a group of goth girls using explosive teddy bears to terrorize the city, The Dragon Tails, Kung Fu wielding martial artists trying to discover a hidden power via some ancient statues, and Apocalypse, a gang that uses street signs, guns, and bats to impose their will on the public.
Sometimes simply stopping the crooks isn’t enough – you’ll work with a detective named DeWolfe to execute some photo reconnaissance against some corrupt police officials who are working with local gangs to make illegal arms trades.
People enjoyed jumping off the tops of buildings in Spider-Man 2 – the hustle and bustle of the street below vanish replaced with only the rush of air past your ears. In Spider-Man 3 you can take this hobby to the next level by doing the all new Skydiving missions. In these events you’ll dive through a series of rings, using your left thumbstick to dive and the right stick to turn and maneuver in the air. When you exit your dive you’ll get just one swing to try to land on a colored landing platform. You’ll get additional points based on which platform you set down on, so aim carefully.
A returning element from previous games is the race missions. These are as simple as it gets – just reach the checkpoint as quickly as possible. You can earn fantastic Gold, mediocre Silver, or oh so shameful Bronze medals for your efforts, but beyond Achievements, they are just for fun.
Mary Jane takes advantage of having a radioactive boyfriend by using him as a taxi service. You’ll get three Thrillride Missions to complete where you’ll pick up MJ and take her for a ride on her way to work. She’ll tell you that she wants to go fast, fly high, or fly low, earning you hearts. Pay attention to her because you ‘ll get more hearts for doing what she says. Each landmark you reach will give you more time. You can also get more time by stopping and defeating thugs. There are hearts you can swing through like a race line that give you an extra 5 hearts per. There are three races total, easy, medium, hard, and your objective is to get a certain number of hearts by making M.J. happy. You are swinging against the clock, so speed is a factor. You can get more time by stopping random crime, but I found that this is completely unnecessary as I completed all three without ever putting my feet on the ground.
There is a new element to the series that breaks up the combat and storyline nicely, what God of War dubbed “Cineractives”. At any point (and not just boss battles) during combat or any story scene you can be presented with a button sequence that you have to tap to complete. Unlike the aforementioned God of War, these button presses are relevant to the control scheme. If you are to dodge left, you’ll be prompted to bump the left stick to the left. If you need to jump to avoid danger, you’ll be hitting A. Botches these button presses can sometimes trigger additional enemies, but most often, you’ll lose some health and get another crack at it.
The variety of missions, the number of well-executed villain battles, the introduction of the interactive cinematics, the cleaner swing mechanic, and the new combat system make for a pretty great overall gameplay package. While it was fun just swinging around the city in Spider-Man 2, now you can enjoy it with a sense of purpose.There are a total of 42 storyline missions to complete in the game, comprising several storylines and super-villains. While the game does follow the movie plot, it also expands it greatly. You’ll tangle with close to a dozen villains and three rival gangs, as well as racing, doing combat tours for time, running bomb defusing for speed, grabbing a whole truckload of tokens from the top of skyscrapers to the dank wet sewers. While the main storyline missions may take roughly 15 hours, knocking out the rest, even excluding the tedious token hunt, will take you a few more hours. There is plenty to do in Manhattan, and with the way combat and the interactive cinematics are structured, you won’t get bored getting there. Treyarch has put a great deal of work into this title. The game is not only bigger, but also better in almost every way. The graphics, the animation, the lighting, and the overall storyline cohesion – the whole package is vastly improved. There are some issues such as repeating voice work, framerate stuttering, and a hyperactive camera while indoors, but the rest of the game more than makes up for these shortcomings. While webslinging may not be as novel as it once was, it also isn’t the only thing worth doing.