"There are several other chases, each its own stage. And there are several levels where you wander around a warehouse, several stealth levels... in general, there are about four types of gameplay here, which gives the game a feel that you're playing various connected minigames. That's how it honestly feels. And most of those level styles aren't much fun."
Another license-based game is probably the last thing most people want to see right about now. And like most games of its kind, Spider-Man is being released on multiple systems, an attempt by Activision to capitalize on the upcoming movie of the exact same name. In this case, though, Activision is making a game from a series they've already been handling. There were previous versions on Nintendo systems, so it's not like this title was hastily thrown together. Therefore, one has a right to expect a certain level of quality. Unfortunately, that's exactly what we get: a certain level of quality, and namely a 'not so hot' one. While Spider-Man is far indeed from the travesty that often follows the decision to make a movie-based game, it has enough obvious flaws that one has to think it was rushed in order to beat the movie to its theatrical release.
The first thing I noticed when I saw the game at the store was that the cover looked very edgy. I liked that, so I bought the game for the GameCube, went home, and found that much like the casing, the title loses its shine once you get it out of the wrapper.
When first you start playing, assuming you're like me, you'll skip right past the game's offered training mode. That's probably a bad idea, but I was anxious to see the real game. I wanted to swing around on webbing, crawl up the sides of buildings, and look at the traffic in the streets far below. And as it turns out, I did just that.
At first, I was extremely excited. The visuals in the first stage are extremely nice. Clouds line the horizon and look extremely believable. Swing toward a glass-covered skyscraper and you'll see the skyline reflecting realistically. You land and you can swing the camera around and climb up its side, or you can look down to the street far below. There's not any noticeable pop-up no matter where you look, be it above, or out at the rooftops around you, or down to the streets far below where cars roll ant-like toward whatever destination they might have. It's all beautiful. Drop down far enough and you die, but ride slightly above that and you can hear voices carrying upward. For the first few minutes, I was enthralled.
Then the gameplay set in.
You soon realize that things aren't all they're cracked up to be. What looks exciting on the back of the packaging quickly loses its appeal. You are virtually flying. Spider-Man sends out his webbing and swings like Tarzan, but there's nothing to which one can imagine the webbing is attached. I know, I know: you're a superhero. But as Spider-Man aptly notes at one point, you shouldn't use bird or plane metaphors. That's the other guy. So why is he flying? Because the game developers were lazy, in my opinion. And because it helps them make some annoying levels later in the gamer. Er...enough about that for the moment.
The goal in the first stage is to dash from rooftop to rooftop, battling thugs and finding the story as it progresses. You're not Spider-Man yet, just Peter Parker. And you're trying to find out who killed your uncle. So you dash from place to place and eventually you find a thug, which is where the game starts to get more interesting. Spider-Man has at his disposal a fair selection of moves, unlocked as you find icons in the various stages. These are combinations of different buttons, but you don't have to know them all to have some fun. Land on a guy from above and you can ride about on his back, punching him until he falls. Great way to approach a gunman if he doesn't see you coming. Or you can web them up to momentarily stun them, or whatever. With all the violence and the tendency of the ESRB to give such titles a 't' rating, I'm not sure why Spider-Man slipped by with an 'e', but it did.
As you progress through the game, the story unfolds and eventually you are Spider-Man. All this means is a slight change in wardrobe, albeit a welcome one (the baggy, sagging pants just don't do it for me). You learn as you go, and you find one of the first problems with the game, the lock-on camera. This brainless wonder is wrong in so many ways. I used the 'enhanced' control scheme, which meant pressing 'up' on the 'c' stick to access it. Once you have, you basically keep the object in your sights, circling around it so you can fling webbing in its direction. Nice, until you want to switch. I found it nearly impossible to switch accurately, though the game says you can with ease. Therefore, the only time I could really use it was when I was in an aerial battle with a boss. This was especially true in the stage where you chase Vulture. As you fly through the area, he does damage to structures which you must repair with your webbing in order to save civilians. I set the camera on part of a sign he broke, fixed the part, and then the camera targeted Vulture in the distance rather than the other part of the sign. For the life of me, I couldn't get it down to the sign, which then collapsed. It sucked.
There are, unfortunately, several parts of the game that suck. You don't chase Vulture alone. There are several other chases, each its own stage. And there are several levels where you wander around a warehouse, several stealth levels... in general, there are about four types of gameplay here, which gives the game a feel that you're playing various connected minigames. That's how it honestly feels. And most of those level styles aren't much fun.
Near the end of the game, you sneak into a building and try to avoid detection. This had the potential to be really cool, and the developers almost pulled it off...except for the camera. See, that's an issue throughout the game, too. I complain about camera a lot, and the one here isn't particularly devastating to the gameplay, but in this case it's coupled with funky controls. Suppose you're crawling along a roof with a guard beneath you. That's normal. You swing your view around with the 'c' stick (noting with pleasure how the sound sourcing for surround sound appropriately changes so the guard is now complaining about his shoes from your left instead of your right) so you can see things better, then keep moving. Now you try and turn, but Spider-Man keeps going in the other direction. It's like the controls can't keep up. So you have to stop and wait for a second, then move from there. It's odd. I'm not sure why it's there, but it's a glitch no one ironed out even after testing. Odd, and it sometimes makes the game lose its excitement. Doesn't usually cripple gameplay, but it's an annoyance.
Another annoyance, and perhaps one more critical to the rating I gave the game, is the repetitive nature of the play. Almost everything about the title eventually will grate on your nerves, from the number of times a guard muses about what's for dinner to the number of times an area is re-used. In fact, there seem only about four or five different real areas in the game, despite numerous levels. Most textures quickly grow old and there are several points where you might see the same level 3 to 5 times. That's just insane. Sure, stages look nice, but you almost feel ripped off the third time you see a level with only minor differences from the last time you were present.
What's even worse is that the most enjoyable part of the game--the arial encounters--makes up about one tenth of the overall experience. Sometimes you're running through cramped quarters and wishing you were in the sky, then you're in the sky chasing someone and there's nothing to do but avoid projectiles until the next level where you finally get to fight. Such a shame. I think with another few months at the drawing board stage, this game could have been a gem.
But like I say, I suspect the developers were working to a deadline. Considering that's the likely case, they didn't do half bad. There are moments when you really are happy to be playing the game. They're just outnumbered by 'blah' or annoying moments. It's a shame, but my recommendation is that you definitely rent this but not buy it. The game's lifespan is about 6 hours all told, and probably a fair amount less. You can enjoy everything it has to offer in that time, which means you really don't want to buy it unless more elements come together for you in the package than did for me. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will be better.
Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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