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 and Vicarious Visions to create a movie tie-in for a movie of that magnitude. Fortunately, this is not a new position for either company, having worked on Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Ultimate Spider-Man. Just in time for the release of Spider-Man 3, Vicarious Visions has been tasked with bringing this game to life on the Wii and the Playstation 2.
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…
When the game loads you’ll see just what is in store for you – the Columbia Pictures and Spider-Man Merchandise logos are almost unreadable. Locked at 480i, the game is jagged in almost every area possible. The graphic presentation is almost exactly like the Wii, which is to say that it is a mixture of good and bad. While some characters, such as the bosses and Spider-Man, are well textured and look the part, the civilians remind me of characters from Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation 1. Most people are pretty blocky and basic, and in missions where you have to save multiples of them, you are likely to save several identical twins. Even in the first mission you’ll see this phenomenon – some high-poly count giant lizards capture some very compliant low-poly count civilians. You’ll chase them down on some flat-textured grass and beat them down with some high-poly combat moves. Buildings in this version of the game are also a mixed bag. Some buildings look pretty fantastic with reflective glass and a lot of detail, while others look flat and lifeless. Swinging thorough the city is like the combat above – high poly, low poly, high poly, low poly – puzzling. Not to continue to beat on the graphics engine, but there is also a good bit of pop-in and jagged edges, which is only exacerbated by the 480i resolution.
The PS2 uses in-game movies from the PS3 and Xbox 360 version to for a few of the cutscenes, but uses its own engine for others. What is amusing is that some of the in-game PS2 engine cutscenes (Such as Peter’s interactions at the Daily Bugle) look more natural than its high-powered counterparts. Go figure.
If you have read the Wii version of my Spider-Man 3 review set, you’ll be able to tell that the PS2 is a port from that platform. The loss of progressive scan doesn’t hurt when you are webslinging and objects are more distant, but it is more obvious when the action gets up close and personal. Spider-Man always looks smooth and detailed, but everyone else suffers a little bit. It also brings the mipmapping and lack of distant animation into sharp focus.
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 the 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.
Right from the start (if you’ve played the PS3 or 360 version of the game) you’ll find that the whole cast gets in on some new voiceovers. Bruce Campbell riffs a bit more on your inability to dodge, Peter Parker has quite a few more lines in this version, and many of the other characters have all new lines to go with the new bits of storyline. Granted, some of the lines are a bit cheesier (While disabling an EMP Peter remarks about how much the enemy is going to hate taking his pulse) so expect some groan-worthy moments.
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? It shouldn’t be hard to spot since it afflicts every version of the game. During combat you’ll hear the same things over and over and over. Often the hints are useful, such as how suggestions on where to go next, or that the police many need some help, but when the instructions are repeated frequently, it gets annoying. You’ll also hear the same ham-fisted taunts against your enemies pretty often.
The game’s audio does have an issue that comes up fairly frequently. Pedestrians repeat themselves pretty often, and often their thanks or a mission update will be cut off by the loading sequence between missions. Having the cast of the movie makes the voice work absolutely perfect, but a few technical hitches stop it from being as good as it could be.
As I mentioned above, the PS2 version of the game is a port from the Wii version. Obviously the reason to buy the Wii version of Spider-Man 3 over the other versions is the use of the nunchaku and Wiimote, and the PS2 has neither. Could that spell disaster for the PS2? Surprisingly not! Let’s start our look at the mechanics with webslinging, just like the other version reviews.
The webslinging mechanic is handled via simple button presses, specifically the L2 button. Rather than alternating back and forth, like the other versions of the game, you’ll handle locomotion using the L2 to shoot your web, and the X button to kick your legs for extra speed and height. The surprising part is that this actually is easier to control than the Wii version. Rounding out the controls is the O button for webbing up enemies, and the Triangle and Square to handle quick and strong attacks. It is vastly more simple than the Wii version, which can allow for a bit more precision by eliminating the gestures.
Just like the Wii version, you’ll use vault attacks to leap over an enemy to attack them from behind. This is very effective as it can move around an enemy’s defenses and put the hurt on them. As your enemies become more powerful you’ll find that you use this technique fairly often, so learn it soon and use it often. You can pull off this move on the PS2 by pushing the analog stick towards the enemy and then hitting L2.
The simplified control scheme is a blessing and a curse for the PS2 version. While the webslinging isn’t nearly as entertaining as the Wii version, the simplified controls tend to make it easier to control. At the end of the day, it surprisingly balances out.
The PS2 version of the game carries many of the same concepts as the other platforms, with the same general story arc and villain lineup. What is different is the way that this version approaches that game arc. The game is more serialized in that you’ll be taking missions that lead directly into the next mission which leads to another mission. The other platforms tend to be more free-form, not requiring you to do anything in any particular order. This version angles more on the crime prevention angle and working with the police to put a stop to it than the super-villains. While they are always present, the crime wave seems to be more pressing.
Adrenaline builds up as you deal damage to your opponents. When you see a white aura on the screen you can unleash the attack by hitting the L1 and one of the face buttons. The first adrenaline attack you’ll get is the ability to shoot webballs at everyone in the room in rapid succession, likely incapacitating them. Using the “Point of Interest” markers on the minimap you can track down various missions. These missions show up as checkered flags for races, exclamation points for interesting things you should investigate, or the face of villains if it links to a boss battle.
As you accomplish missions you’ll get experience. You can use this experience in the Hero Upgrades portion of the scrapbook. The Hero Upgrade system is very different than the PS3 and 360 versions of the game. You’ll earn experience through combat and mission completion that you can use to purchase new and more powerful combinations. The system is set up like a web however, so you’ll have to purchase prerequisites to reach the more powerful items. Some webs have crossbars to other attack variations, so plan accordingly. There are air attacks, melee, web mounts (works best for larger enemies), adrenaline attacks, web attacks, acrobatics (like double jump) and vaults to upgrade, so you’ll be busy trying to earn experience points for a while.
Track down informants to try to stop the gangs that are infesting the city. The Apocalypse, Dragon Tails, H-Bombers, and Waste Tribe are all battling against New York’s Finest for control of the city. When you work with the Police they’ll often have other chained objectives that you can accomplish to learn more about the crime activities within the city. Occasionally you’ll get notices that the police are cracking down in particular areas of the city – assisting them helps clean up the various areas of the city. You’ll also see a visual improvement in the various areas of the city. Trees and grass that were drab and lifeless will spring to life over time and become green again, showing your impact in the city.
There is one skill that is used very differently in this version of Spider-Man 3 – the web yank. With the web yank you can pull enemies towards you, as it is with the other versions, but in this version you can also disarm an enemy if they begin to taunt you. This can mean the difference between victory and defeat for some enemies as they are all but unstoppable with their toys in hand.
The Wii and PS2 versions of Spider-Man 3 have one large divergence – the Black Suit. The Black Suit unlocks after about an hour of play and allows you to completely devastate your enemies. You can use the suit at will, but it comes at a cost. The Black Suit causes your aggression and rage to rise and will eventually attempt to take control of you. If you let the Black Suit grab hold of you for too long it’ll cause Peter to pass out. Before this happens you’ll see a narrowing of your vision telling you that you should switch back to the Red Suit. By pressing left or right on the D-Pad you can switch back to the Red Suit but first you have to complete a series of button presses. Using the Black Suit often will cause the button presses to become more difficult, and there will be more of them. You’ll need to rest for a short while before you can unleash the Black Suit again.
The storyline for the game features many of the same elements as the Xbox 360 or PS3 versions, but how they are implemented and how the stories are told are very different. It is as if you handed two artists paintbrushes and asked them both to paint the same thing. No matter what you’ll end up with two very different views of the same general concept. While the PS3 and 360 versions arguably have more polish than the PS2 version, all of them are entertaining in their own right.
As I’ve said time and time again, the structure of this version of the game is quite a bit different than any other. There is still a wide variety of missions, and a very large city to do it in. While there aren’t as many storyline missions or villains to take on as the other platforms, the unique control scheme makes for a more interactive experience that some could argue is, in the end, more rewarding.
One thing you need to be aware of is that this version features some loading. Between almost every mission you’ll get a 3-4 second load sequence. This does break the immersion a bit, but it doesn’t detract a great deal.Vicarious Visions has taken the Wii version of the game which leveraged the control scheme of the system very well, and then ported it to the aging PS2. The result is a surprisingly tighter control scheme, but one that is less interactive. Don’t count the PS2 out though, the tight control scheme makes for a satisfying beat-em-up title.