Spider-Man (PlayStation) review
"Superhero games are never the most eagerly anticipated games on the release schedule. Gamers have learned the hard way, through years and years of substandard piles of junk such as the abysmal Superman 64. However, those superb people at Activision and Neversoft obviously have no idea about how downright bad Superhero games are supposed to be, because when they made Spider-Man for the Playstation, they made it... well... great. "
Superhero games are never the most eagerly anticipated games on the release schedule. Gamers have learned the hard way, through years and years of substandard piles of junk such as the abysmal Superman 64. However, those superb people at Activision and Neversoft obviously have no idea about how downright bad Superhero games are supposed to be, because when they made Spider-Man for the Playstation, they made it... well... great.
The plot in Spider-Man is suitably light hearted, bringing together several of Spidey's more famous foes (I won't ruin the game by listing all of them). Dr. Octopus has seemingly left the dark side, and is working for the good of the city. At a press conference to unveil his latest device, Peter Parker (the man behind the mask) witnesses in shock as an unwelcome guest crashes the party and steals the device - it's..... Spider-Man? Donning his suit, Spidey sets out to catch this impostor. But not all is as it seems. What is the mysterious mist that has fallen over the city? Is it just a freak weather condition, or is it the front for something much more sinister? By the time the plot unravels and Spidey starts to understand the scale of what's going on, he realises that to save the city he'll have to make what is, for him at least, a deal with the devil....
If you're put off by what seems to be a rather complex plot, don't be, because you can rest assured that, while the plot is great, it plays second fiddle to the task at hand - roaming the city using your spider skills, and generally having great fun. Rather than being another lacklustre licensed platform game, this game is a 3D action / adventure much in the veins of Tomb Raider and it's ilk. The game is split into over two dozen levels, each of them a digestible, bite-sized chunk - unless you get hopelessly lost or stuck, not one level in this game will last you more than five minutes. While this is good in a way, as it removes all the problems associated with the huge levels in games such as Tomb Raider (saving midway through and forgetting your objective, to name one) it also serves to the detriment of the game, as regretfully they forgot to include a difficulty level to compensate for this. On Normal or Easy difficulty it is unlikely that you'll have to restart a level until at lest halfway through the game. Still, while this may make the game unbelievably short lived, this is one of the few cases where that is actually forgivable. Short and easy it may be, but the gameplay here is absolutely fantastic.
It really does seem like Neversoft have tried to put as many of Spidey's skills into the game as possible, and they've been very successful indeed. Spidey can swing between buildings, tie bad guys up with his web, shoot web bullets, make boxing gloves out of his web to pack more of a punch, create an igloo-type web shield that explodes and takes the bad guys with it, stealthily take the bad guys out from the ceiling..... there really is so much that Spider-Man can do in this game. The levels are varied, too - one minute you'll find yourself being chased across the city by a police helicopter, the next you'll have turned pursuer yourself, as you chase a certain villain over the rooftops. It's not all swinging between buildings, though - the environments are as varied as the objectives. One of the more memorable levels involves using your top stealth skills to free the hostages in a bank robbery, while another sees you doing battle atop a moving subway train (a scene very reminiscent of the original Game Boy Spider-Man game). However, while the levels are varied, the bad guys you will face are not. You will start off facing common-or-garden thugs, and that's all. After a few levels the bad guys upgrade. After another few levels they again upgrade. It all gets rather predictable - you never have more than one type of enemy in a level. It's hardly going to ruin your gaming experience, but it does smack of laziness on the part of Neversoft.
To counteract the shortness of the main game, thirty-two comic books have been hidden throughout the levels, and tracking them all down proves to be a more lengthy challenge than the game itself! Admittedly it doesn't take that much longer (I had found twenty-nine of them when I first saw the end credits roll), but anything to give the game more life span is very welcome. The problem with the comic hunt is that the comics that you have already found are located in the gallery in the same order that they appear in the game. This is problematic, as if there is a space in the gallery between the a comic found halfway through a level, and a comic found at the end of a level, it is absurdly easy to work out where the missing comic is. Still, hunting for the comics is fun while it lasts, and you do get a shiny new costume for your troubles.
There are some fairly major drawbacks, however. The controls, firstly. While the controls work fine on the whole, there is a problem that arises when trying to shoot projectile webbing. Projectile webbing is fired by pressing up and triangle. Shooting a spindly piece of web is done by pressing triangle. Although in theory these should be different enough to cause no confusion, for some reason the game finds it very hard to discern between the two, leading to moments of howling frustration as the last shot needed to kill the boss turns out to be a weedy little spray of web that has no effect whatsoever, and leaves you looking on helplessly as the boss tears you to ribbons.
Secondly, the camera is, well, rubbish. Erratic at the best of times, there is one particular moment where the camera causes bouts of controller-snapping rage. One particular boss fight takes place in a coliseum-style environment, with the boss occupying the centre of a round room, and Spidey running around the edge. In this particular instance the camera focuses on the boss, which is fair enough - it would be hard to aim otherwise. The problem stems from the fact that this means that the wall at the front of the screen becomes transparent in order to allow you to see the action. This also makes obstacles like pillars transparent, meaning the Spidey gets trapped behind scenery that you didn't even know was there. Throw in the control frustration too, and this boss becomes frustrating to the point of abuse.
Graphically this game is very distinctive. Although Spidey and co. all look great and are animated smoothly enough, it's the fantastic levels that will really catch your eye. There's a real comic-book feel here - the mist the shrouds the city is a bright yellow colour, the slime webs in later levels are a bright red... Everything looks vibrant and utterly superb. The only real complaint graphically is that, in the FMV sequences, everyone looks like they've had their faces rammed full speed into a brick wall - it's all very flat and ugly. Still, in an odd way this actually suits the graphical style of the game.
Aurally this game is more of a mixed bag. Spider-Man's 'Daddy' Stan Lee drawls his way through an introduction to each set of levels, Spider-Man and the villains come out with lines that genuinely make you smile (the first time at least), and the voices of the standard goons are stereotypical enough to suit the mood of the game. While the voices get a big thumbs up, though, the music is utterly forgettable. Save the Spider-Man theme tune that plays over the title screen, there is nothing here that will cling to your memory even seconds after it has stopped - again it's not enough to ruin your playing experience, but it is another niggling little complaint that just makes Neversoft appear a little lazy.
At the end of the day, though, Spider-Man is fantastic entertainment. And though it won't last as long as a Chinese takeaway, and is about twice the price, it is still worth owning as you'll want to come back to do it all again quite a few times. It does have flaws, and in a game as short as this they become all the more noticeable, but it remains one of the must-have titles for the Playstation.
Community review by tomclark (March 06, 2004)
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