One of the most important aspects of recreating the superhero experience in a videogame is making the player actually feel like the superhero he or she is controlling. We’ve all seen Spider-Man a thousand times or more in comic books, movies, television shows, and other games, so asking someone to jump into Peter Parker’s shiny red socks comes prepackaged with a massive helping of expectation. Before the game’s first tutorial, players already know what they want to do: shoot webbing, Tarzan between skyscrapers, and cling to the ceiling. On this front, The Amazing Spider-Man delivers.

Most everything about Spider-Man’s motion is fluid, with a clinging camera that does an impressive job of keeping pace with his high-speed acrobatics. You’ll spend much of your time tangling with gravity in some form or another – not once will you actually just walk somewhere – and yet, somehow, you’ll almost never feel as though you’ve lost your bearing.

Having the power to smoothly traverse entire city blocks in mere seconds is a blast, and The Amazing Spider-Man has provided a modest recreation of Manhattan as a playground to do just that. The city sandbox doesn’t lend itself quite as well to combat – the ability to blip a mile away from any baddie on a moment’s notice sort of deflates the whole danger aspect – so, instead, the majority of story missions take place indoors. Of course, you’ll still need to swing across New York to get there, occasionally stopping for the random side-quest or two, halting a mugger, snapping some zeitgeist photos for the local paper, or racing between checkpoints for the kudos of an eccentric blimp pilot.

Once indoors, Spidey trades his speed and maneuverability for precision and stealth. The combat, at its most basic, is melee-oriented, relying on basic combo stacking to execute more powerful and distinctive super-moves. It’s a solid foundation for knocking out thugs and robots, but gets boring (and extremely difficult) if you choose to never do anything more. To that end, Spider-Man is given a new mechanic called “Web Rush,” sort of a reaction equalizer that helps your normal, human-type-brain keep up with Spidey’s more powerful, spider-type-brain. When activated, Web Rush slows time to a near standstill, giving the player a small window to choose his or her best next move. This is used for a variety of functions, such as zeroing in on a specific enemy or selecting the vending machine you’re ready to hurl at a group of aggressors. Most often, however, Web Rush is used for selecting precise locations around the room that you find perfect for a quick, tactical retreat, or better yet, a stealthy takedown.

Stealth in The Amazing Spider-Man works differently than in most games. As opposed to sneaking up on a clueless guard and disabling him without notice (though you’ll do that here and there), Spidey’s technique is more accurately described as massive befuddlement, zipping into view for a quick one-hit takedown, and then whipping out of the fray to behind a nearby girder or ledge. The rest of the enemies left standing will still know you’re there, somewhere – and they’ll look for you – but that doesn’t stop you from repeating this method over and over, causing some hilarious chaos that just feels perfect for Peter Parker’s comedic approach to fighting crime.

To accommodate your time-manipulation, super speed, and one-hit stealth kills, most baddies, even the most simple can take you down with just a few hits. The effect is even worse when they’re carrying guns, removing some, if not all, of your mobile advantage. By making you more susceptible to damage, the game forces you to abandon constant button-mashing melee for at least some sense of tactical strategy, keeping things from getting too stale. The only time The Amazing Spider-Man breaks this formula is for its frequent boss battles, which often combine the open, high-speed webslinging of the outside sandbox with the precision-focus of standard combat. The result can be exhilarating, with some of the outdoor, city-spanning scrums offering the sensation of actually living a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster.

Sadly, while The Amazing Spider-Man has a solidly constructed movement and combat system, its framework never quite binds it all together as well as you’d hope. From a story perspective, the game is a jumbled mess from its very first minutes. Peter Parker breaks into the restricted area of a sinister genetics facility after hours, casually strolls among its giant staff of scientists, and practically shouts, “Geez, I hope no one finds us here, THAT WOULD BE BAD!” to a nearby friend. Shockingly, this behavior gets him bagged by the company’s head honcho just minutes later, which he immediately wiggles out of by claiming that “he just really likes the place.” And what does the evil corporate overlord do in response to this brown-nosing trespasser? Why, offers him a friendly guided tour of all his illegal experiments, of course! Yeah, Agatha Christie this is not.

Aside from the more asinine aspects of the story, the quest objectives themselves often are repetitive and pointless. You’ll save the same key person twice, fight the same mini-boss three times, and almost every single thing you’re asked to do will at some point have you visiting OsCorp, the giant genetics facility in which you started. The game tries to keep you tense with the inclusion of a fake, Manhattan-exclusive Twitter-like feed that’s supposed to showcase the fears and feelings of the common folk, but in the end you’ll never care about anything you’re doing or anyone you’re doing it for.

There are a few minor annoyances with the interface as well; chapter select and various other options are only available from your commonly inaccessible apartment, and you can only have one master save going at any one time. Partner this with some questionable story components and repetitive quests, and you end up with a package that struggles to support what are often some really fantastic core mechanics. Still, a good Spider-Man game should foremost be about actually making the player feel like Spider-Man, and that’s where The Amazing Spider-Man really earns its adjective.

Bottom Line: Spider-Man‘s landed himself in one more somewhat cockamamie story that doesn’t quite work, but a slick movement system and a fun combat scheme do a lot to make up for it.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a good popcorn action game, The Amazing Spider-Man does a great job of doing just enough to keep you playing.

[rating=3.5]

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Game: The Amazing Spider-Man
Genre: Action
Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK)

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