Game Review: The Amazing Spider-Man [Xbox 360/PS3/PC]
I started The Amazing Spider-Man sceptical. Developer Beenox has owned Spidey’s gaming licence for a couple of years now, producing two averagely received games that restricted our hero to a selection of linear levels, armed with only a sub-par brawler combat system and some notable voice actors. It’s surprising then, that this movie tie-in (of all things) goes a long way towards vindicating a studio determined to do the wall-crawler justice. The Amazing Spider-Man is far from a perfect game, but it’s certainly a significant swing in the right direction.
We catch up with Spider-Man after the events of the upcoming film and almost immediately the game spoils the flick’s final revelations – this would be fine if it added anything to the ongoing plot, but once a major character (in a rather contrived fashion) blurts everything out, it’s never really visited thematically again. Considering this game is on UK shelves before the film’s release, one can’t help but feel an optional catch-up session would have been a more elegant solution to the problem. The new narrative strand stands well on its own. Following on from Dr Connor’s cross-species investigations, we find out early on that Oscorp has been continuing the hideous work, helmed by the morally ambiguous Dr Smythe.
As you can imagine it all goes south pretty quickly and soon Spidey has a viral outbreak, cross-species super-beings and Smythe’s killer robots to deal with. It’s fairly engaging all told, with the love interest, Gwen Stacey, providing our protagonist with his all the requisite soppy motivation he needs. One niggle with the plot is the fundamental (and boring) rewrite of many of the villains’ origin stories. Iconic characters like Rhino and Scorpion are no longer men who have been aesthetically tampered with, they’re animals that have been spliced with human DNA – leaving them confused, angry and not very talkative. Scorpion especially comes up lacking; originally portrayed a tortured figure of empathy who wanted to be rid of his shell-like casing, now amounts to, literally, a humanoid scorpion.
Once the proverbial hits the fan and Parker escapes Oscorp, he’s finally let loose on the expanse of Manhattan. As Beenox is adamant to hammer home, the first thing to notice is how close the camera is to Spider-Man as he tumbles towards the ground – as promised it certainly adds to a sense of vertigo and momentum. Holding right trigger shoots a webline, allowing for some signature arachnid mobility. The process animates brilliantly and always feels responsive. One major problem is the reversion back to building-less swinging; as long as you can see the odd skyscraper near you, Spider-Man will happily swing off thin air. The whole thing can be executed simply by holding the button down and directing, almost regardless of the architecture around you. It still feels good but you lose the sense of skill and satisfaction found in the Spider-Man 2.
To supplement the swinging is Beenox’s brand new mobility mechanic, web rush. It works similarly to the web-zip of previous titles but is far more flexible and controllable. Essentially it allows the player to select a destination in a slow-motion first-person mode, and watch the webslinger organically react with the environment to arrive there with as much style as possible. He may run along a bus, swing off a lamp post, vault a water tower and run up a wall to reach the selected perch. Once you get used to it, it can be mixed in convincingly with swinging to produce the nearest you’re going to get to film Spidey’s acrobatic abilities. It’s massive fun, but like the swinging, seems a bit too abstracted from player agency and ability, often feeling like the the whole thing is on auto-pilot.
The combat system has seen a rework since the relatively lacklustre offering of previous games and whilst it’s definitely enjoyable it’s similarly uninspired. Fans of Rocksteady’s Batman games will recognise the combat immediately. It’s mainly about crowd control and mashing one button until Spider-Man can dodge out of the way or land a flashy finishing move. It’s a solid mechanic, it makes brilliant use of the agility the character introduces and doesn’t get too old before the game’s climax. Web rush can also be used to pull yourself towards enemies and interact with various combat-ready objects in the room. Many of the combat situations can also be handled with a stealth system, again, similar to the Dark Knight’s. Whilst Beenox have dabbled with this idea in Shattered Dimension’s Noir verse, this offering is somewhat more adaptable. It’s clearly indicated which enemies can be taken down and the camera accommodates the wall-crawling in a serviceable fashion.
The mission structures take very distinct formats. Most of the primary story levels unfurl within buildings (often Oscorp or Sewers), forcing the Spider to fight, run and zip his way towards a computer or individual. It’s run-of-the-mill, unimaginative and repetitive but somehow engaging, due, in large part, to the enjoyable (if derivative) combat and the odd impressive, skyscraper-sized boss. In the spirit of its earlier predecessors The Amazing Spider-Man has a relatively comprehensive set of extra-curricular activities within the city at large. After you place your spider trackers on various Police antenna, crime fighting becomes a key gameplay element. Some crimes, like mugging, will spawn randomly on the map and others like lab infiltrations or car chases, have a finite amount of levels. It lacks the adhoc nature of the random crime fighting of Spider-Man 2 and a profound lack of difficulty means it won’t take too long to finish all the missions and leave your map empty of everything other than mugging events. The city-based escapades are enormous fun whilst they last and make up for the repetition found in the core quest. Once you’ve completed everything you can replay levels from your apartment, go and hunt down some additional costumes, or try and find all 700 comic book pages (good luck with that.)
The presentation is generally good. Spider-Man’s render is the star of the show, with convincing textures and animations adding weight to the crazy proceedings. Other human character models fare less well, the facial animations are almost universally odd and of course Beenox’s Manhattan does not match the street-level detail of GTA IV’s Liberty City, but everything is generally comprehensive enough to immerse you in Spidey’s world. The film’s Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, isn’t involved in the game but the performances on the whole are convincing (Ali Hillis’ Black Cat particularly impresses.) Whilst none of the aesthetics blew me away, they are certainly a cut above Beenox’s previous efforts and most film tie-ins.
The Amazing Spider-Man is a pleasant surprise. If you’re in any way a fan of the Webhead, don’t be put off by this game’s proximity to the summer blockbuster. This is the closest a video game has come to presenting the player with a viable way of exploiting Spider-Man’s crazy abilities and whilst issues of repetition and longevity are certainly problematic, they don’t ultimately diminish the unearthed joy gained from clipping on the web shooters.