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Spider-Man 2 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Spider-Man 2 (PlayStation 2) review

"Superhero games have this weird habit of sucking. "

Superhero games have this weird habit of sucking.

It’s weird, because they really don’t have much of an excuse to suck. In theory, making a game that lets you play as a superhero should be a license to print money; you’ve already got a solid fanbase and plenty of material to work with, so a good chunk of the work’s already done for you. Maybe that’s where the trouble comes in. Developers figure that, since there’s already an established fanbase who’ll buy the game on name alone, they can skimp on the gameplay, make a fart and call it perfume. And, more often than not, they’re right. Fanboys see ‘Superman’ on the title and the next thing they know, fifty bucks just disappear from their wallet, gone faster than a speeding bullet.

Spider-Man games in particular tend to fall flat, mostly because they don’t really capture the best parts of being the webslinger: Actually slinging webs. Back in the heydays of Sonic and Mario, Spidey games were all sidescrolling affairs; walking through the street, beating up waves of badly dressed thugs who, as near as I could tell, were only guilty of jaywalking across the street to fight you. Oh, and every level had you fighting a pattern-crazed boss at the end, an actual supervillain if you were lucky, just some powered up thug if you weren’t.

On the surface, those games weren’t all that bad. They were fun, brief little jaunts, some of the best beat-em-ups that have ever been made. But they weren’t true to the source material; they didn’t do what they should have done. They were Streets of Rage with spandex. More spandex, anyway. And webs. As a videogame, they succeeded. As a superhero game, they failed.

Spider-Man for the Playstation changed that. Turned out, all Spidey needed was another dimension to rock out with; 3-D fit him like a web-patterned glove. You could stick to wall, sneak around the ceiling, smash through objects, flip around with finesse…all the powers of Spider-Man without the nasty radioactive spider-bite and that ton of emotional baggage he always carries around. Plenty of boss battles to test the powers out with, imaginative levels with imaginative objectives to carry out, and more Easter eggs than…well, an Easter egg hunt. But it wasn’t quite perfect, still missing something.

Spider-Man the Movie was the next step up, bringing everything the first one had and much more besides. Better graphics, better enemies, better levels, better secrets, all coupled with the look of the movie and the. Still missing something.

But now, that certain missing something has become a certain found something. Spider-Man 2 has the one element that all the other Spider-Man games lacked, the one thing that bad ones would have needed to be good and that the good ones would have needed to be great: Freedom.

No restrictions, no rails, no set routes with invisible walls to hold you back; New York City is your own little virtual playground. You can go anywhere at anytime, and thanks to the intuitive web slinging system, you can always get there in style, swinging from building to building, running across the rooftops, crawling up windows, riding on top on cars…anything. This is the game Spider-Fans have been waiting for, the game we thought would never come, the one game that truly let’s you become Spider-Man. It took Treyarch seven years to nail down the formula, but they’ve finally hit gaming gold. Spider-Man 2 is the culmination.

At first, you can’t really appreciate the freedom. Once you start off webslinging, you probably won’t be able to get very high; the system takes a few minutes before you can really figure out how to push it, how to train your fingers so that every move follows another move and it all comes off seamless. You probably won’t even appreciate it then, when you finally get the gist of it and your swinging from building to building like a caffeinated Tarzan. But there will come a time when you feel the need to crawl your way up to the top of the Empire State building and just overlook the city, best done at night when the darkness falls and the streetlights rise. Then, as you the camera pans out to show miles and miles of boundless terrain, you’ll appreciate it.

New York City is huge. Simple word, yes, but there’s no better for it. Skyscrapers scrape the sky, tens of thousands of citizens walk the streets, ships and buoys float about the waters, helicopters zip through the air. It’s all very extensive, it’s all very vibrant, it’s all very alive. It’s all probably a lot less congested than the genuine article, but I’m not one to complain; having to simulate an accurate New York City would probably be enough to make tears stream out of my PS2’s disk drive. The world of Spider-Man 2 is more expansive than any other, and that’s a graphical feat in and of itself.

The PS2 isn’t exactly a graphical powerhouse; in order to hold a world this big, other departments have to take some hits: Spider-Man 2 does have some pixel problems. The buildings just look like jagged-edge boxes from a distance, but the closer you get, the smoother they become, and most of the time you’ll just be weaving your way between them, to close to even notice. It isn’t simple cut and paste like other games would do, either; each building has its own shape, style, and color, no two look alike. It’s gives the game variety, make the unreal feel real, and adds to the illusion that this isn’t just some virtual world. It’s a living, breathing city. Your city.

The citizens of New York City are all simple models, another example of give-and-take with the graphics. They speak without moving their mouths and have only a few set movements; beyond brushing past them on the sidewalk, they can’t even really be interacted with. What they lack in movement, they make up for in variety; it’s rare that you’ll ever see two matching models on the same street at the same time. They’re only walk-on roles, extras in the movie; just take them for what they are and you won’t even notice.

Spider-Man himself animates beautifully; there’s almost no limit to the things you can do while swinging through the air. Swan dives, loop-de-loops on a web vine, wall running, mid-air flips; all with the simple tap of a button, and it never gets old, not in the least. Many times I’ve found myself just swinging through the city, just trying out all the different ways I can get from point A to point B and even to point C if I feel like it. It’s the kind of thing Spider-Fans have dreamed of, and even if you’re just a casual fan of the webslinger and you don’t read comics (Uncultured swine!) you’ll be hard pressed to stop.

But…you do have to stop, eventually. There’s that pesky little ‘Power and Responsibility’ thing; you have to help people, and even if you didn’t, there’s still a story to get progressed, stupid supervillains to bash, and an arguably attractive redhead who’ll no doubt need to be saved repeatedly by whatever spandex-clad webslinging hero just so happens to be in the area at the time.

There are three ways you get to do superhero stuff:

1. You just happen to be swinging along, and you’ll stumble on a crime in progress. I use the word ‘crime’ loosely, because this might just involve you saving a runaway balloon for some kid on the street with slippery fingers. You might also stumble on some crooks trying to break into a building…from the top. How they got to the top of a twenty-story building that has no fire escape is anyone’s guess. I’d go with mutant powers myself, since it practically rains mutants in comic book New York.

2. You go to ground level and have a chat with the citizens of New York, find out what was so important that they had to call you down and interrupt you from a fun day of webslinging. It’s typical superhero stuff. Save a construction worker from falling off a building that wasn’t under construction in the first place. Stop a gang-war in progress, though how the gangs tell each other apart when they’re all twins is a mystery. You even get to save people from a sinking boat, because, you know, when I think of saving people who are in the middle of a river, I never think to call Aquaman or the Sub-Mariner or the Coast Guard or some superhero who can fly; no, Spider-Man is always the first guy who pops into my head.

3. You actually do story related stuff.

While the game could just stick to the story of Spider-Man 2 and have you fight a fat, crazy scientist with four extra arms and an odd love for sunglasses, that wouldn’t be much to work with; as fun as getting smacked around from four different sides is, you want a bit more. You get three additional supervillains to fight; Mysterio, (the world’s dumbest man dressed up with a fishbowl for a head) Shocker, (the world’s dumbest man dressed up in a quilt) and the Rhino (the world’s dumbest man…period) You also get to team up with the Black Cat, the world’s sexiest Goth chick, and whom Spider-Man eventually turns down so he can go with the love of his life, Mary Jane. Apparently, dressing in leather and speaking a double entrende every five sentences isn’t enough for Spidey, he wants a woman with ‘personality’ and ‘character’. Picky, picky.

The side characters, as lame and moronic as they can be at times, are perfect distractions from the main story; they turn what would normally be a three-hour tour into a longer affair, giving you something else to do besides beating up insane, octopedal scientists and purse snatchers. The boss battles all have some nice twists to them that go beyond the standard smash and bash; you’ve got to get a little creative to win, employ some strategy and timing.

When you first get to throw blows, you might find yourself a bit limited; Spidey doesn’t have much beyond the standard stuff near the beginning. Punch-kick combos, web blasts, etc…enough to get the job done, but not enough to get the job done in style. The game makes you work for it, trading in all the points you get doing community service for new moves. It’s a cheap little tactic to keep you coming back, but it works; the new attacks are well worth the price of admission. Nothing quite compares to stringing an opponent up to a lamppost and using him for a punching bag. Simple pleasures.

Not to rip off the current slow-mo Matrix craze in videogames or anything, but Spider-Man 2 does let you enter bullet time, bringing everything to a half-speed crawl. While it’s far from being an annoyance, it’s not exactly useful, either, especially since Spidey seems to slow down at the same rate everything else does. Dodging attacks isn’t really a problem if you have decent reflexes (the guns may make sounds like actual firearms, but don’t let it fool you…they’re actually firing Nerf arrows. At least, the stuff that comes out of them looks like Nerf arrows and moves just as fast) so you really don’t need the slowdown at all; more often than not it just gets used by accident, giving it the feel like of a tacked-on extra.

A Spider-Man game wouldn’t be a Spider-Man game without all the in-battle taunts; it’s a trademark of the character. Tobey Maguire handles the voice acting with some hit or miss joke, but he misses more often than he hits, bless him for trying. Kirsten Dunst also lends her voice, but the true talent comes from seasoned actor Alfred Molina, pouring just as much into his role in the videogame as he did in the movie, bringing a vigor that ellipses those other two whippersnappers and shows what experience counts for. And, always to be mentioned but never to be forgotten, Bruce Campbell lends his talent to game, just like in the original. Funny as ever, Bruce…excuse me, Mr. Campbell brings his patented humor to the table with every line, serving a full plate of advice with a light dash of wit for flavor. His inclusion isn’t a selling point by any definition, but it’s a welcome touch that any Campbell fan will appreciate.

Judging Spider-Man 2’s music is a tough call, because most of the time there isn’t any. There’s not so much as a drumbeat while Spidey swings through the city; the theme music might kick in randomly, but it’s low, so low you won’t hear it unless you’re trying to. Likewise, most of the cutscenes are silent, probably so you don’t have any trouble understanding the excessive villain banter. The only time the music really kicks in is when you do a street mission, and even then it’s just some mindless guitar track, a few fasted paced strums on the strings and taps on the drums to try and keep pace. While it won’t hamper the experience, the silence is just shaming; you can’t help but think of the music that could have been, the tracks that could have been a good addition to any day of webslinging. My suggestion? Make the most of the silence. Pop in your favorite CD and give Spider-Man 2 the soundtrack it deserves.

The biggest letdown is the secrets, or lack thereof. Spider-Man 2’s predecessors were famous for having kickass Easter eggs; alternate costumes, hidden missions, guest appearances. Hell, the first Spider-Man the Movie let you play the game over as the Green Goblin, goblin bombs, glider and everything. That’s why it’s such a disappointment when all Spider-Man 2 throws your way is a few awards, titles given for meeting criteria in the game. It wouldn’t be a big deal if this were the first in the series, if there wasn’t a legacy to follow after. But there is, and in the wake of the games that came before, Spider-Man 2 is lacking

Spider-Man 2 is a flawed game. Repetitious? Often. If you stick to the beaten path and just become the cities errand boy, you’ll get bored, mired down by the same missions done over and over. The story mode provides some fun, but it’s the gaming equivalent of a one-night stand; once it’s over, it’s over. Graphics? Impressive in detail, only decent in looks. Sound? Nonexistent at the worst, sub-par at the best.

So why a seven? Why give an average game an above average score?

If there’s ever been a game that can support itself on a single feature, Spider-Man 2 is that game. Even after Doctor Octopus takes a long swim in the East River and you can put the story mode to rest, you’ll still find yourself coming back every now and then, just to give the city a few quick swings. You’ll come back for the freedom, you’ll come back because Spider-Man 2 does what a superhero game is supposed to do: It makes you feel like a superhero. You don’t play as Spider-Man, you become him.

If you even mildly care about Spider-Man, this game belongs on your shelf, no excuses. If you don’t care, this game might not change your opinion. But give it a rent nonetheless; sate some curiosity. Look past the flaws, and you’ll find a game worthy of constant play, a game with more range and scale than any of its kind. Spider-Man 2 is the greatest superhero game ever made.

Hail to the king, baby.

lasthero's avatar
Community review by lasthero (June 14, 2005)

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