The original Spider-Man title was a solid game. Spider-Man 2 handed in solid gameplay improvements and turned an 93% for its review. Spider-Man 3 matched the efforts of its predecessor but didn’t innovate much, netting it a still-respectable 88%, but then something happened. I’m not sure if it was the painful direction that the movies took, or if there was pressure to crank these games out every 12 months, but things went south quickly. Spider-Man: Friend or Foe was absolutely in the foe category with a 58%, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows should have stayed in the shadows to hide that barely passing 61%, and Spider-Man: Edge of Time was on the edge of failing with a 66%. You can imagine it was with some trepidation that I tossed The Amazing Spider-Man into the tray of my Xbox 360. From the opening moments of the game, I could tell that I was in for something different.
Before we get started, I will keep the spoilers as minimal as I can. The stuff I’ll talk about can be clearly seen in the trailers for the movie, and I’ll be careful not to say more than that. Setting the stage, The Amazing Spider-Man takes place several months after rogue scientist Curt Connors unleashed the Lizard on New York City. Pinning it squarely on Connors, Oscorp has been absolved of any wrongdoing. New CEO Alistair Smythe is trying to push Oscorp in a new direction – helping reverse some of the destruction it has caused.
The game opens as Peter and Gwen drop into Oscorp after-hours to perform some sneaky journalism. They want to look into whether or not Oscorp is true to their word or if they are actually continuing the Cross-Species research that got them into trouble in the first place. As they walk through the corporation, looking on as scientists work on robots large and small, they encounter an old familiar Cross-Species friend. Unfortunately, as this creature is escorted to the Oscorp Biolab, it breaks free, Dr. Smythe rushes in to save us, and sets in motion the events of The Amazing Spider-Man.
“I trust my barber” – J. Jonah Jameson
The heart of any good game is the story. Even fighting games have complex and branching storylines. To help with The Amazing Spider-Man game, Beenox employed Seamus Kevin Fahey. Fahey is responsible for the compelling storylines of Spartacus: Vengeance, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, and Battlestar Galactica – impressive works, all. The end result is some solid writing that includes some genuinely funny moments. Star Wars references, allusion to other games, and even a few jabs at some popular movies are all interspersed into the writing. Unlike most superhero titles that quickly degenerate into a string of unrelated character battles, The Amazing Spider-Man managed to hold my interest throughout the entire campaign.
In terms of gameplay, the folks at Beenox have made some major changes to the way this title works relative to previous games. You’ll still earn experience points – and they’ve made it pretty easy courtesy of a healthy bonus system for stringing attacks together, as well as by completing story objectives and side missions. While your experience points can be used to unlock new attacks, you’ll also be picking up pieces of technology to upgrade Spider-Man’s gadget side. In The Amazing Spider-Man, much like in the 60’s cartoons, Peter doesn’t have the physical ability to create webs, so he relies on technology to handle that and a few other tasks for him.
When you’ve earned enough experience to go up a level, you’ll be given access to the character upgrade system. These upgrades can include additional damage, new moves like the “Web-bounce” (being able to bounce off an enemy mid-combo), or increasing the Web Rush Timer – a slow-motion effect that allows Peter a few more moments to select targets or navigate puzzle elements. The technology upgrades mostly focus around your webs, including the strength of the webs you can shoot, how far the web goes, and more.
The game also keeps track of a shocking number of game statistics. How many character figurines you unlock, concept art, how many petty crimes you stopped, sniper teams you’ve neutralized, highest combination completed, distance travelled, and even how many times you’ve died in the course of gameplay are all spelled out in detail. Since this is all done via the “OsPhone”, you can also check your email and listen to audio logs you pick up throughout the world.
Once you reach Peter’s apartment, you’ll find yourself in the central hub of the game. Here you can select and replay previously completed levels for additional collectibles like Magazines, Oscorp Manuals, Tech Pieces, Photos, audio evidence, or just to cobble together some more experience for that next upgrade. You’ll also be able to change into other Spider-Man outfits, and even talk to certain characters throughout the story. Once you tap into the nearby police antennae you’ll also unlock the ability to listen in for secondary missions including stopping familiar classic enemies and other random petty crime.
“I need a place to change! A phone booth–? Nah! Even I’m not that corny!”
All the changes are for naught if it doesn’t come together in a coherent way. Again I am surprised that I’m saying this about a Spider-Man title, but combat has never felt this fluid in any prior Spider-Man title. In fact, very few games with multi-enemy combat feels this satisfying. Bouncing between enemies, juggling them, locking them in place with webs, propelling Spidey through the air with a web-fueled kick, or just using his incredible acrobatics flows effortlessly. The controls are simple enough to be easy to pick up, but deep enough to lend complexity to the combat in motion. With only a little bit of practice, Spider-Man is able to take on a large collection of baddies, racking up 40-50 hit combinations or more with grace. This is showcased best in the first robot battle as you sling a tight circle around a giant mech.
I mention the robot battles specifically as they are truly the highlight of the game. As the story unfolds you’ll end up squaring off against some robots that show off some of the impressive scale of this new engine. In fact, as the game progressed I found myself looking forward to the next robot encounter. So much so in fact, I stopped shooting down a little scout robot in the hopes that it’d bring a bigger robot (Hunters are awesome!) for me to fight! On the opposite side of that coin is the classic boss battles.
Obviously the story of Oscorp’s involvement in the Cross-Species outbreak is the main thread of the story. Taking down those Cross-Species critters represents the vast majority of the boss battles in the game…and frankly they are kinda dull. You’ll use web to slow them down, use your new web-dash move to strike them, stand toe to toe and attack furiously, dodge periodically, and then cue cutscene to wrap it up. In terms of combat, come for the cross-species, and stay for the awesome, awesome robots.
As a dash of variety, the game features familiar side missions. Petty crime like robberies and picking up infected citizens to deposit them at a nearby medical center are the low points, but you’ll also get the chance to investigate secret laboratories, underground sewer lairs, and even assist the occasional police call-out. The police missions can be a car chase that has you hopping from car to car (or you can web-sling – the game doesn’t restrict you, thankfully), or using a helicopter to drop in on a firefight in the streets. Courtesy of always-awesome Bruce Campbell you’ll also get a few missions from alternative perspectives. For one mission you’ll control the camera on a Parrot-Drone trying to track Spider-Man as he ambles through the city. For another mission you’ll use the web-rush mechanic to chase down some flares placed throughout the city. None of these side missions are required, but some of them are fun – I just found myself leaving those poor victims to die as I got tired of dragging them around.
So many of the previous Spider-Man titles focused so heavily on webslinging that they forgot that Spidey often takes out his foes from the shadows, retreating out of sight to keep them on their toes. I’m glad to say that this title focuses on stealth in equal parts, allowing Peter to drop down and lock up enemies, webbing them to the roof of interior levels. Peter, as he upgrades, can snap up pairs of enemies, splatter them against the walls, and other skills to keep things quiet until it’s time to get loud. Unfortunately it also highlights the one control headache that persists throughout the game – the inverted camera. The camera works well right side up, but when you are inverted and crawling on the ceiling the camera inverts with you and it can be a little restrictive. It’s not a game-breaker by any stretch, but it does make for some occasionally frustrating moments. On the other hand, if stealth isn’t your thing, there is nothing to stop you from fighting – the experience point values are the same.
“Man. I should start a blog. “Spiderfail.org” – Spider-Man, Vol1, Ep 606
Not everything is sunshine and rainbows in The Amazing Spider-Man. There are some audio glitches like voice work appropriate for a few minutes earlier suddenly decided to play over the top of a mission brief. Additionally, and still in the realm of audio, the game features a LOT of repetition from Mr. Parker. The solo missions are a great example of that as you rescue more than 15 people and they all have essentially the same lines. As you collect the 800 comic book page collectables in the game you’ll hear about 10 phrases over and over. I didn’t expect 800 separate phrases, but having Peter look at a comic book like it was an alien artifact for the 20th time gets kinda tired. Also, if you feature the phrase “WHOOO!!!” or “YEAAA!!!” in your game, please allow me to turn it off.
For the audio missteps that the game takes, The Amazing Spider-Man fires on all cylinders when bringing the little details to the table. In between missions you’ll see tweets from city dwellers. Graphically the game is awesome and not once wavered in terms of framerate. The engine showcases incredible detail in costumes and characters – even Peter’s costume gets shredded up as he takes damage, only restored when Peter heads back to his apartment for a change of clothes. About midway through the game you’ll take to the city of Manhattan at night, showcasing the great lighting portion of the engine. When I think back to how completely the framerate broke in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows after the symbiote army descended, I’m VERY glad to see that this issue didn’t persist here.
There is one final axe that I have to grind – the very end of the game. (Again, no spoilers here) The last battle has me chasing down an enemy and then engaging them in melee combat. When prompted with the “Press X repeatedly to not die” moment, I found myself unable to complete the game. Even using a custom controller that can click X so much faster than any human could, I couldn’t click X fast enough to complete this quicktime event. After 20 or so attempts, and no clear direction of how else to try else to handle this clearly-scripted event, I just hung up my spurs. I’m not sure if the game is locked from completion as I have it early, or if there is just something counter-intuitively broken here, but I’ll get back to you when I figure it out. In the mean time, I’m still playing … let me tell you why.
In reviewing games, I don’t often get to play a game more than it takes to complete it. That said, a few titles have sucked me in until I hit 100% completion. I’m talking about Batman: Arkham Asylum, the original Crackdown, and everything from Bethesda – they have collectibles or stories worth experiencing. Most games give you some trinket to collect, but very little reason to collect them. In this case, there are 10 full digital comic books that you can collect. You’ll need a full 500 out of the 800 available pages floating around Manhattan to get them all, but they make for a fantastic reward. For just five comic pages you’ll unlock the original 1st Spider-Man comic. As you collect more pages you’ll pick up Lizard, Modern Lizard, Rhino, Scorpion, Black Cat, Vermin, Iguana, Gwen Stacy, and Smythe comics. The comic pages make a distinct sound (much like Crackdown) so you’ll have an audio clue as well as a button-press cue to nab them all. In addition to the comics there are biographies and 3D renders collected by taking pictures of the various characters in the game. I simply won’t be satisfied until I have them all.
“With great power comes great responsibility”
Beenox has done the impossible. The Amazing Spider-Man is a return to the days when I enjoyed web-slinging through New York City. They’ve made a story worth enjoying, and wrapped it in a game worth playing. With a new approach to cinematography, a bit more direction, an all new combat system plus the overhaul to the engine, it’s clear that Spider-Man is back. While there are some issues with voice work and the occasional camera struggle, this is far and away the best Spider-Man title of this generation. I’m still stunned to be recommending a Spidey title, but this one (and auspiciously in the month of his 50th Anniversary!) should be in your library.