"Just how hard is it to make a Spider-Man game? You'd think it would be relatively simple to pull off. Let's face it - you've already got an extremely cool character and the choice of dozens of cool enemies, a wide variety of moves and methods of travel, a solid storyline, a worthy setting, and plenty of opportunities for little extras that please the fans. All you have to do is just throw the game together around these ideas and you're practically guaranteed a hit. Unfortunately, it seems th..."
Just how hard is it to make a Spider-Man game? You'd think it would be relatively simple to pull off. Let's face it - you've already got an extremely cool character and the choice of dozens of cool enemies, a wide variety of moves and methods of travel, a solid storyline, a worthy setting, and plenty of opportunities for little extras that please the fans. All you have to do is just throw the game together around these ideas and you're practically guaranteed a hit. Unfortunately, it seems that the developers intuitively know this, and just sleepwalk their way through the whole process. Time after time I've come across a Spidey game that could have been great if it weren't for this apparent strive for mediocrity. Alas, Activision and Treyarch continued this unfortunate tradition with their first Spidey game of this generation, creating a game that, although certainly not bad, felt less than completely enjoyable.
As we all know, this undertaking is loosely based off of the movie, which is loosely based off of Spidey's origins and his fights with the original Green Goblin. In other words, the plot is far removed from Spidey lore and is built around the levels in the game, so let's just forget about it. Suffice to say there will be the chase for the robber in the beginning, some nonsensical stuff in the middle, and an epic showdown at the end. During this time, you are either soaring through the skies, sweeping through some thugs, or struggling against a supervillain. There are 22 levels with a wide variety of styles, from stealth to just beating everyone in sight to boss levels to chasing people down, from the wide open expanses above New York to cramped corridors to open rooms, fighting wimps and robots and Vultures and Shockers and Goblins. Swing through the air, crawl on the ceiling, web up some foes, smack some others, and hide in the shadows. In other words, this game lets you do whatever a spider can.
So far, at least, it sounds like a good idea. But we might as well get to the worst aspect - the pathetic camera and controls. I can understand the problem; Spidey does make use of the walls and ceilings as well, and his agility and speed would make the game hard to follow. And yet, I can't count the number of times the camera messed me up, causing me to climb a wall I had no intention of getting near, turning me around at inopportune times, or causing general disorientation. It should be obvious that tight corridors wouldn't work with Spidey; so why are they in the game? I hate bad cameras, and whatever love I have of Spider-Man doesn't forgive this unfortunately poor planning. And with poor cameras comes poor control over your character. Spidey sadly moves at a relatively slow pace, and the lack of a strong lock-on feature (there is a lock-on, but it's fairly inadequate in many places) and poor camera makes the combat more difficult than it should be. The battle system sadly takes another hit with the combo system. By pressing various combinations of the punch, kick, and jump buttons, you perform different maneuvers. As nice as that sounds, it means the actions on screen aren't completely in sync with the buttons you're pressing, as the game checks to see if you're inputting a combo when all you really want to do is just punch the snot out of that guy. In the end, the nuts and bolts of the game could certainly use some work, and this unpolished makes the final product feel quite frustrating at times.
Fortunately, everything else seems to fit together rather well, or at least decently. The game offers quite a bit of variety, and said variety is most welcome. Each of the 22 levels are fairly short, so you won't get bored or frustrated too much (on the other hand, it means the game itself is quite short). And the game does a good job of mixing things up, tossing you into different situations at different times. Many of these situations can be quite fun, especially when you're swinging through the city. You have a significant amount of freedom up there, and fighting bosses is a blast. The lock on works well for the aerial levels, and the vast range of mobility and absolutely no combos means fighting consists of quick wits and a freedom to improvise - which is as it should be. Some of my happiest moments consisted of swinging high, letting go of my webline, crashing down towards the Vulture, kicking him in the face, twisting around to fire a few web bullets, and swinging to safety before going splat on the sidewalk. I should also point out a level located in a large building where you must protect citizens and aid policeman against a rabble of robbers. The wide open space insures that you never feel confined, and the sense of urgency due to the presence of others keeps you on your toes and gives you a sense of accomplishment. Even the stealth levels didn't annoy me much, as you can simply zip away frantically at top speeds if you get caught (which is far more fun that slowly sneaking around).
Unfortunately, that's not to say they were all fun to play. Needless to say, crawling around in some of those cramped quarters was not at all fun, and the boss fights on the ground could not compare to the joy of aerial combat. Any level which consisted of attacking tons of enemies was pretty bleh as well. It's not that they were bad ideas; it's just that the poor controls and poor camera and poor combat made them lost a lot of their luster. And then there was one level that should not have existed, one that is simply too stupid for words. See, you're supposed to chase the Goblin through New York, avoiding his bombs and mines as he tries to run away. Good idea in theory, but horribly implemented. See, the Goblin is much faster than you, meaning there is absolutely no way you can keep up by chasing him. Thus, you have to lose the level over and over until you memorize his path, and then just travel your own route to the end to insure he never stray far. Thus, instead of racing him, you are merely seeing how well you know the course... a stupid waste of time and one I despised. Surely the developers should have known better than that.
The ambiance of the game, from the graphics to the sounds to the extras and all that sort of mirror the gameplay - somewhat good yet still missing something. Spider-Man himself doesn't look too bad for a first generation game, and some of his fighting animations look nice. Likewise, the environments are well done, especially the lighting (which helps to highlight the somewhat creepy nature of Spider-Man. Unfortunately, his web swinging animation looks incredibly stupid, especially when you compare it to the breathtaking artwork of the comic books or even the more realistic yet still cool movies. The music is generally forgetful, but the voice acting isn't that bad (not great either, but when has it ever been?). But on the other hand, the developers felt the need to include Spidey's random quips and jokes, which are far from funny or even groan-able. And yes, there are plenty of extras in the game, from various levels of difficulty to minigames to extra costumes. It's a darn good thing too, considering how short the game is. But still, extras only go so far and can't improve an already mediocre game, so it's not something to celebrate or anything. Besides, the lack of the alien costume as an extra just reeks of negligence, so I won't give them any points for it anyway.
And so, my search for a quality Spider-Man game continues. Sure, the game's not bad, but it's certainly not something I'm anxious to play again. And it seemed so promising at times too - probably a good one-third of the levels were a blast and worthy enough to be kept. But the tedium, the frustration, and the poor quality of the rest of the stages made insured that the game ouls (or should) be forgotten. Can I blame Activision for seemingly going through the motions and not trying to make an excellent game, knowing it would sell well anyways? They are, after all, only there to make money. But the fact that they can get away with simply going through the motions when faced with such potential makes me think we Spidey fans will never get what we deserve.
Community review by mariner (October 25, 2004)
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