Spider-Man 2 (Xbox) review
"There was a time when the summer movie season was all about the cinema experience. Sight, sound, and spectacle were the keywords to judge by as some of our biggest childhood fantasies were brought to life on the big screen. Inevitably however the movie would end and we would return to our dreary lives with a yearning for more of the good stuff that, oh so briefly, sated our lust for adventure. And while in the past we may have turned to our video games in order to keep that spirit alive, these l..."
There was a time when the summer movie season was all about the cinema experience. Sight, sound, and spectacle were the keywords to judge by as some of our biggest childhood fantasies were brought to life on the big screen. Inevitably however the movie would end and we would return to our dreary lives with a yearning for more of the good stuff that, oh so briefly, sated our lust for adventure. And while in the past we may have turned to our video games in order to keep that spirit alive, these licensed products would invariably disappoint as their low production values brought us all crashing painfully back to earth. That was then however and this is now, and suddenly the balance of power has started to shift. For it is the summer of 2004 and virtually over night, licensed gaming has moved to the forefront of the summer movie experience. With The Chronicles of Riddick already a confirmed yet unexpected success on the home front, expectations were running high that Treyarch's upcoming Spiderman2 would also come out swinging. Could this Grand Theft Auto inspired web slinging adventure be up to the challenge of carrying Spidey's torch? Or was it about to get squished? Popcorn at the ready web heads... dreams do come true...
''This is my story. It's the usual thing... boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy meets another girl... well I'm getting ahead of myself. This is the city that I protect, New York city. It is my home... it is my playground... it is my responsibility...''
It's with these words that Spiderman2 gets off to one hell of a fanboy boy pleasing start. Narrated by Tobey Maguire (aka Peter Parker aka the Amazing Spiderman), the opening monologue serves to welcome players into the game as they are treated to a spectacular fly by of the Big Apple. With skyscrapers towering over the player's point of view, the camera pans and zooms through the city, ultimately coming to rest on our hero who, in typical Parker fashion, finds himself reflecting on love's misfortunes. Sure he may be a superhero with the proportionate speed and strength of a spider, but that doesn't mean to say that he isn't any less human. It's this aspect of the character that Treyarch have successfully nailed in bringing Spiderman2 home for gamers to enjoy. While the story still offers up all the web slinging, wall crawling action fans of the movie would rightly expect, it also goes above and beyond the call of duty by delving into the dilemmas our hero faces each and every day. From working with the newspaper mogul J Jonah Jameson to juggling his social commitments with the responsibilities of being Spiderman, the trials and tribulations of Peter Parker are presented in a 100% authentic ''wow this is a great story!'' style fashion. And the fact that ''Doc Ock'' is now joined by a healthy assortment of other super-villains only serves to please players while throwing further gasoline on the bonfire that is Parker's life.
It's with all the emotional pieces in place that it becomes time to get to work. Before you go leaping off that building however please take a moment to soak in the graphical splendor that is one of gaming's better realized environments. See that building over there, off yonder... it seems like it's a long way away now doesn't it? Fear not brave hero as much like Grand Theft Auto did before it, Spiderman2 has given you the entire city to use as your playground... within the confines of being a super-hero that is! And though it may be lacking in the finer details that give the real New York city its infamous charm, a world without traffic congestion and puke stained sidewalks can only be a good thing. Right? That being said however, everything that makes the real NYC so special is present and accounted for. The Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Chrysler Building... you name it. As helicopters fill the skies above, pedestrians line the streets below and before too long it all begins to feel like a real city should. A bucket of hustle spliced with just the right amount of bustle. And better yet from one side of Manhattan island to the other, it all flows together with nary a skipped frame or loaded sector in sight. A true feat of coding if ever there was one! With a city like this spread out before you, how could you possibly say no?
So go on then, leap from that roof and experience the fluidic joy of seeing Spiderman making a swan dive for the concrete at over 80miles an hour. Whether it's the first time you find yourself free falling like this or the 100th, the rush generated is so convincing that you can literally feel the wind blowing against you face. Before Spiderman hit's the ground and becomes an arachnid shaped pancake however, it's probably a good idea if players begin to familiarize themselves with the excellent controls. As demonstrated by ''B-grade'' schlock-meister Bruce Campbell, players can expect a thorough walk through of every spider given ability at their disposal. Want to web up some bad guys and tie them to a light post? No problems Jack! Here's how you do it! And though the initial skill sets may seem a little basic at first, there's always the option to upgrade them later at some of the many shops that lay scattered around NYC. Very nice! Special mention must also be made of Treyarch's inclusion of a dual swing system that makes getting around the city accessible to both newbies and veteran gamers alike. Whereby one system will force players to be mindful of what they can connect their webbing to, the other will take that burden from them and allow for a more relaxed means of transportation. As Spiderman himself once said, a-WWWOOOHHHOOO...
It's as you swing from skyscraper to apartment building to major landmark that the many problems of life in the city begin to make themselves known. And being the super-hero that you are, it's up to you to set things straight. Between completing the many quests that forward the overall story arc, players can spend their time freely helping those in need and seeing that all is right with the world. Car jackings, bank robberies, muggings and helping the injured to hospital, such things may be mundane in the grand scheme of things, but they also go part and parcel with the spandex pants. Get used to it Bub! With all this free forming good will going on, it comes as a terrible disappointment to learn that Treyarch have, momentarily at least, tripped on their own webbing. For throughout Spiderman2's overly brief six hour plus challenge, the range of side quests is sadly very limited. And while they may certainly be considered fun and enjoyable, one can't help but wonder what could have been had Treyarch spent a bit more time developing this facet of the game. In the face of that however, there's still an impressive amount of things to do. Rather than helping the little people, players could always hunt down some of the hidden tokens that lay scattered around the city, complete a few of the speed challenges on offer, or simply take in the sights and sounds of the Big Apple. Yay for variety! Yay for choice!
Of course, Spiderman wouldn't be half the hero that he is if it wasn't for his highly tuned sense of danger. Alerting players to imminent peril, the spider sense appears as a brief aura around Spidey's head thereby allowing for some lightning quick reflex work. Before you brush this off as a plain and simple gimmick however, be warned. You will need your spider senses working over time if you hope to defeat Doc Ock, Rhino, Shocker and pals! Make no mistake about it, this is a serious gameplay element. Having taken their inspiration from the original source material, Treyarch have followed through with a surprisingly appropriate implementation of an old action genre staple... yes, that's right... it's the dreaded bullet time again. In their defence, the concept not only works incredibly well when used in tandem with the life saving spider sense, but it's also one hell of an appropriate idea. Dodging bullets may be one thing, but wait until you're faced with fending off all 4 of Doc Ock's tentacles while still finding time to web him up. Heh believe me, you'll be singing the praises of this heaven sent combination sooner rather than later...
While we're on the subject of the good doctor, players will no doubt enjoy the much hyped spectacle of seeing him in action. Fluid and lifelike, his attacks give new meaning to the word vicious while his smooth movements are without a doubt a joy to behold. And while the same could also be said for the other supporting characters, the every day Joe on the street has not been so lucky. Twitching and jittering to an invisible beat, they lack even the barest signs of polish as their non existent lip syncing and other assorted ''features'' have players swinging between fits of laughter and bouts of depression. Little problems such as these may not seem like much of an issue, but when viewed in contrast with the otherwise excellent levels of visual polish, players will invariably feel more than a little betrayed. Ultimately however, Spiderman2 is a game that will visually astound more often than not. Whether it's the beautifully shaded NYC skyline at sunset or the way the skyscrapers light up in the evening, players are sure to revel and frolic in the love being displayed here.
Rounding out Spiderman2's first class presentation is the very same star studded line-up of actors that brought the box office smash hit movie to life. Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane), Alfred Molina (Dr. Otto Octavius) and James Franco (Harry Osbourne) all do their job for the fanboy crowd in endowing their characters with a believable level of emotion and drama. Voiced to perfection, their performances serve as a reminder of how much better a game can sound when talented actors are involved. And the fact that much of what Toby has to say has been specially recorded for this game is a nice bonus too! Unfortunately once more however, the rush to release this game has resulted with the previously mentioned every day Joe getting the short end of the stick. Beyond laughable, the voice actors used in recording the wealth of supplemental dialogue make a mockery of the otherwise excellent audioscape. As every possible stereotype under the sun is given a work out, the game's credibility begins to take a beating that Octavius himself would have been proud to deliver. Oh well, at least the gameplay is still all that it could have been...
With great power comes great responsibility...
At the end of the day, the few small shortcuts taken haven't really hurt Spiderman2's chances of being remembered as a great game. In fact it's a testament to the game's overall design that everything has held up as well as it has. For it's the simple joys that matter the most, and the sense of freedom and responsibility experienced when swinging through NYC is simply too good for words. Combine this sandbox style play mechanic with a heavy dose of white hot web slinging action and suddenly we're talking an instant recipe for success. And while the movie's expanded story will draw players in, Spiderman2's lifelike rendition of NYC is sure to keep them coming back for more. Perhaps next time we will have a longer challenge and some better implemented bit characters, but for now Spiderman2 is a shining example of a license done right. The few minor presentation issues are guaranteed to pale into the trivial once the true joys of wearing spandex for a day have been experienced. Twist, somersault, and pose for the fans before swinging off into the sunset. Yes, this would be a childhood fantasy you're seeing now... check it out!
* The story perfectly captures and expands upon the concepts seen in the cinema
* Spiderman is a joy to control as his actions remain intuitive and simple at all times
* 2 different styles of swing action gives players a chance to pick their comfort zones
* The thorough training mode (voice by Bruce Campbell himself) is sure to prove beneficial
* Sandbox style play mechanics prove to be exactly what this license needed the most
* New York city has been brought to life in both a visually pleasing and technically impressive fashion
* Surprisingly, bullet time has been put to good effect... for a change
* Character animations are, for the most part, smooth and flawless
* Toby, Kristen, Alfred, they're all here and voicing their roles
* Come on, who doesn't want to be Spiderman for a day? You'll get to hang out with Black Cat!
* At a little over 6 hours, Spiderman2 could have used a little more meat on its bones
* Some extra variety in the side quests would have been appreciated
* The supporting characters would have benefited from an extra few levels of polish
Community review by midwinter (August 27, 2004)
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