"Not very long ago, those kind people at Activision and Neversoft had a brilliant idea - an idea that became the really rather good Spider-Man for the Sony Playstation. If that game made your Spider-sense tingle, then you'll be pleased to know that there's a sequel out, and even more pleased to know that, hey, it's really not that bad either. Well that's good news... "
Not very long ago, those kind people at Activision and Neversoft had a brilliant idea - an idea that became the really rather good Spider-Man for the Sony Playstation. If that game made your Spider-sense tingle, then you'll be pleased to know that there's a sequel out, and even more pleased to know that, hey, it's really not that bad either. Well that's good news...
This time Neversoft have been replaced by Vicarious Visions, but the game still plays very much in the same vein as it's predecessor. This time round Spidey faces the evil, maniacal, and ridiculously dressed Electro (but you'd probably gathered that from the 'Enter Electro' subtitle of the game). As all successful supervillains should do, Electro has come up with a dastardly plan to rule the world, and has recruited many powerful bad guys to help him along the way, such as Sandman, Hammerhead and Shocker. Thankfully, Spider-Man is on the case, and he's out to shut down this absolute bounder's nefarious scheme. So in other words, he's gonna be swinging around various stages, beating the bile out of any anti-arachnid scumball in sight. This is a Good Thing.
The play mechanics are just the same as the last game. There are dozens of levels, varying in size, in which Spider-Man can do whatever a Spider-Can (only with so much more style) - he can swing from place to place, he can zip from floor to ceiling, he can crawl on pretty much anything, and has a wide range of web attacks - such as projectile webbing (pretty obvious really - Spidey shoots balls of web at the bad guys), web enhanced fists (again very self-explanatory), and web shields (Spidey encases himself in an igloo of web, which blows up causing plenty of damage).
There is a great deal of variety in the levels on offer here - one sees you trying to stop a runaway plane, another sees you attempting to find the four keys to disarm a bomb as the very tight time-limit ticks away. It's a fair bet that you'll find each level to be a different experience to the last, although it must be said that some of the levels are quite similar (there are quite a few that involve swinging between buildings - admittedly the Spidey trademark, and two that involve working your way up the inside of a round tower) but these levels never follow directly on from one another, so the game manages to feel fresh throughout. This game also brings the action down to street level, making the levels even more fun to explore - in the diffuse the bomb stage you can find yourself swinging from building to building one moment, and then running around in the gardens around the building the next - the play areas really can be pleasingly massive!
The boss fights are just as great as they were in the first game, even though the bosses themselves are a bunch of also-rans (the first game stole most of the good bad guys, I guess). To make up for the low numbers of bosses, some of the bosses must be fought twice, and it is to the credit of Vicarious Visions that they manage to make fighting the boss again seem like a completely different experience to the previous encounter. The bosses all require different strategies, too - in fact only one of the bosses is defeated by simply running up to him and pummelling him like the human punchbag that he is. The only real complaint about the bosses is the way that the camera can interfere with the play - in the first boss encounter, for example, the camera insisted on centring on the boss rather than on Spidey, so I could only see Spider-Man on the occasion that he happened to appear close to the boss. Admittedly this only happened once or twice - the rest of the time I was able to easily follow proceedings, but it still makes for some frustration. All other annoyances as you fight the bosses are usually down to you - much as you'd like to blame the game as Sandman swats you down like the arachnid that you are, the fact is that the boss fights are very well designed, and any problems lie firmly on the shoulders of you, the player.
As in the first game, there are plenty of extras to unlock as you proceed though the game. There are several costumes to find, which, as in the first game, become available as you complete the game again and again, and the wardrobe is helped no end by the very cool create-a-spider option - this allows you to mix and match the various abilities made available to you via your new costumes. For example, if you love the look of the battle damaged costumes (which has no special abilities whatsoever), you can enter the create-a-spider section, and equip that costume with as many as three of the special abilities from your wardrobe - abilities such as infinite webbing and increased strength.
The comic collection also makes a triumphant return. Again, there are 32 comic books hidden throughout the game, although this time they are much harder to find. By the time the final FMV had rolled for the first time in the original Spider-Man game, I had found twenty-nine of the thirty-two comics. When I finished this game for the first time I had found seven, and that isn't for lack of searching, either. They are much more ingeniously hidden this time around, not least due to the fact that the comics are not presented in the gallery in the same order as they are located in the game. First time round you could narrow down the location of the comic with a quick glance in the gallery - if comic #1 was found at the end of the first stage, and comic #3 halfway through the second, you knew that comic #2 was somewhere at the start of the second stage. Here, however, you get no such advantage - the fact that comic #1 is located right at the end of the game gives an idea of just how non-chronological the gallery is. Believe me, finding all the comics in this game will take longer than the week it took in the first game.
Graphically this game is among the best on the Playstation. Sure, the characters in the FMVs still look like they've had their face flattened by a frying pan, Tom and Jerry style, but the levels are gorgeous - the swinging-from-building-to-building stages in particular really look special - the city skyline in the background in these stages is almost breathtakingly well rendered. Spidey too moves with all the fluid smoothness that you would expect from the worlds second greatest superhero. The graphics do have less of a comic book feel to the original, though - replacing the hazy yellow mist that shrouded the city with a dark abyss, the bright colours with dark and gritty night-time settings, and removing the cameos made by other Marvel Superheros (save the appearance by the X-Men in the training levels), this game feels much darker in tone than the light-hearted atmosphere of the first Spidey outing, despite the humorous touches that pepper the levels. A very cool comic book-esque feature is the 'Previously on Spider-Man' FMV that opens the game, though. This is an amalgam of the various FMV sequences from the original that, although superficially totally superfluous, really helps to make this seem like the next chapter in a series of games, as opposed to a blatant rehash of what made the original a success.
Aurally this game is a real treat, too. Although the music itself is fairly forgettable (an ailment of the original that wasn't cured here), the voices are superb, and actually made me laugh out loud on occasion. The voices really give this game character, and give it a more polished feel - you can forgive the less than stellar music, since this game is providing you with something much better to listen to.
Unfortunately there are downsides - the game itself is still criminally short. The extras may take longer to uncover, but the game itself is, if anything, a little shorter than it's predecessor. As mentioned, the camera still causes acres of frustration on occasion, as does Spidey's ability to do whatever a spider can - in crowded arenas our hero will stick to pretty much anything, whether you want him to or not (especially frustrating when you are trying to evade the bad guys). The controls too are deeply infuriating - just like in the first game, it is all to easy to shoot a spindly bit of web instead of the meaty projectile web ball you were hoping for. Since precision webbing is even more vital in this game (the runaway plane stage immediately springs to mind) than in the first, this flaw is even more of an issue, and one that really should have been ironed out after the first game.
But despite these flaws and frustrations, the game is filled with so much pure genius and magic that it is so hard to not fall in love with it. Whether you prefer it to the first or not depends on whether you prefer the more gritty style to the more comic book style, but for me the fact that this game has more longevity thanks to the extras, and some slightly better level design, means that it just pips it's predecessor to the post. As a final note, extra praise must go to Vicarious Visions for their really quite superb end credits - the first time for me that gaming credits has ever raised a genuine smile.
Spider-Man 2 may be more of the same, but when the first course was a good as the original Spider-Man was, who wouldn't want a second helping?
Community review by tomclark (March 06, 2004)
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