Extra Punctuation Transcript
So, a sequel to the not unentertaining Sony’s Marvel’s Spider-Man is coming out soon – actually, will presumably already be out by the time you watch this – and maybe it’ll be something to celebrate or maybe not, precedent in the world of Spider-Man adaptations has shown that the introduction of Venom to the formula tends to be the point when things go to shit, but for me the real tragedy is that the new game will add yet another to the enormous pile of entities one could refer to as “Spider-Man 2.” Thus making it all the more likely to bury the good Spider-Man 2 in the folds of history.
And I’ve brought that game up often enough in casual conversation that it’s high time I did a video going into detail. I’m referring to the Spider-Man 2 game based on the Sam Raimi movie that came out in 2004 on PS2, Gamecube and Xbox, developed by Treyarch who these days spend their time keeping the Call of Duty train a-rolling until the heat death of the fucking universe, apparently. I am absolutely not talking about the PC game, that came out at the same time with the same box art, but was an entirely different, much shittier game developed by some mysterious entity named “The Fizz Factor.” Gosh, remember those days, when versions of games might be completely different from one system to another? That was great fun. Asking your grandma for a game for Christmas was like playing Russian Roulette.
But anyway. Spider-Man 2 on the Gamecube was one of my favourite games in the pre-professional game reviewer phase of my life. I could play that all day, must’ve gone through it at least fifty times. Well, I didn’t have very many other games, but still. I can distinctly remember how the TV adverts played it up as the game where you can go anywhere in the city. Because of course, this was back when sandbox gameplay was relatively new, superhero sandbox gameplay even more so, and what made Spider-Man 2 so ahead of its time was the interesting traversal, as discussed in my previous EP on the subject. Timing your swings to maximise acceleration was a constant test of skill, and the game was loaded with challenges that made the most of that.
The new Spider-Man games are good, and obviously look a hell of a lot better than Spider-Man 2, but to my mind suffer a little from trying to divide the gameplay as broadly as possible, giving equal focus to traversal, combat, and various other mechanics. Which is fine, and swinging through the streets still offers the catharsis of fun traversal, but it’s got all this other stuff packed around it like styrofoam peanuts. It always feels like a mistake when a Spider-Man game has you spend too much time in combat. More specifically, it annoys me how so many modern Spider-Man games try to ape the Batman Arkham games, with reaction-based fighting and stealthy predator missions. Seems like if Spider-Man was meant to be stealthy he wouldn’t go around dressed like a really enthusiastic supporter of the Haitian national football team.
Spider-Man 2’s developer Treyarch helped out with porting some of the Tony Hawk games back in the day, and apparently they brought some of that experience forward, because Spider-Man 2 treats the webswinging like the core of an extreme sports game. Most of the side missions, races, stunt challenges, taking pictures, delivering pizzas to possibly the most iconic video game music track of the 2000s, all focus on mastering the web traversal mechanics. Yes, there is combat, and yes, it mostly sucks greasy vegetarian bum, but most of the boss fights at least take place in massive arenas in which webswinging can still be a factor. And it is quite amusing if you get in a fight with street thugs to web swing them up to the top of the Empire state building and fling them off. Pull that punch, asshole.
The point being, any old superhero can punch dudes, there are no end of video games that explore that, but what makes Spider-Man great video game fodder is that he’s got this unique core movement mechanic fucking baked into his wrists, so why the hell would you force it to budge up for more combat arenas and missions where you have to play as Mary Jane crouching behind a desk?
So that’s the gameplay, what about story? It didn’t hurt that I also quite liked the movie it’s based on, always had a soft spot for Sam Raimi’s directorial style and Alfred Molina’s a delight, but there was a lot in the movie that wouldn’t have adapted well. Namely, the whole prolonged subplot in which Peter Parker wants to stop being Spider-Man. Doesn’t exactly gel with the video game pitch. “You can be Spider-Man! Whoops! Being Spider-Man sucks!” So for the game they chuck that entire element in the bin and replace it with a load of pillocking about with Black Cat and Shocker and Mysterio.
What remains of the movie’s plot exists a little tokenly at best. You’ve got the movie’s actors doing the voices for better and worse, Doctor Octopus as the main villain checks in three or four times, and there’s an amusing scene early on where Peter Parker meets up with Harry Osborn and within one line of dialog he goes from “Hi Pete, how’s tricks,” to “SPIDER-MAN MURDERED MY FATHER AND I WILL NOT REST UNTIL I HAVE MY REVENGE.” Sort of the speed version of that character arc. But all the new stuff the developers made up for the game reflects surprisingly strong writing chops.
The whole Mysterio plotline is great fun, and ends with a pseudo-final boss encounter that I held up at the time as one of the finest subversives gags in video games, because, as mentioned earlier, I hadn’t played as many. But the Black Cat arc is really well done too, Peter has genuine chemistry with Black Cat as she shifts from redoubtable possible-villain temptress figure to manic pixie dream girl type with nothing better to do than help a shy nerdy boy work through his personal problems. And how could we move on without acknowledging the ever-sublime Bruce Campbell, brought on to reprise his role from the first movie adaptation as the narrator-cum-tutorial voice. Who spends about half the time gleefully taking the piss out of the player for following his instructions.
So the writing’s both funny and, more importantly, genuine. And all in all, Spider-Man 2 is one of maybe two or three examples in the entire history of gaming of a game made to tie in with a specific movie and come out at around the same time, being a superb game in its own right.
Cliched as this may sound, you couldn’t get something like Spider-Man 2 today. For one thing, as we were talking about in Slightly Something Else recently, movie adaptations in AAA gaming have kinda stopped being a thing. Adaptations made to tie-in with the release of specific films, at any rate, probably because games take so long to make these days trying to sync up the release dates. But what you also can’t recreate is Spider-Man 2’s freshness, and its place in the earliest days of sandbox gaming. Obviously it looks primitive from a modern standpoint, but it’s infused with an experimental feel, not weighed down by all the bells and whistles triple-A gaming has come to expect from this kind of thing. The skill tree, the collectibles, the map splattered with icons like the floor of a novelty pasta factory. As such, it may seem a trifle stripped down to a modern audience. But sometimes, like a rabid Tom Holland fan with the horn, a stripped down Spider-Man is what you want.