"The mysterious villain of Friend or Foe is harvesting symbiote-tainted meteors, the same type of alien symbiote that created Venom, and housing them inside an army of holographic enemies. Laws of physics be damned, you get to fight holograms."
I can only think of two possible reasons why Spider-Man: Friend or Foe was made. One option is the almighty dollar. With three blockbuster movies, a handful of animated series, and a face plastered on everything from backpacks to coffee mugs, Spider-Man is the cash cow of superheroes. As for the less sinister, second option, someone at Activision had the crazy notion that the greatest comic-based game of 2006, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, was too hard and violent for the youngsters. Perhaps it was a little of both.
Friend or Foe doesn’t just resemble Ultimate Alliance. It feels like a blatant rip-off. The combat, team system, and character customization were taken straight from Ultimate Alliance, but stripped down to their skeletal remains. At least The Masters of Evil aren’t the ones vying for world power this time around. The mysterious villain of Friend or Foe is harvesting symbiote-tainted meteors, the same type of alien symbiote that created Venom, and housing them inside an army of holographic enemies. Laws of physics be damned, you get to fight holograms.
Friend or Foe’s catchy little hook is the Sidekick system. Although Spider-Man traditionally flies solo, he’ll have to enlist the help of misfits and do-gooders like Dr. Octopus, Rhino, Silver Sable, and Green Goblin. Somehow, even Iron Fist and his yellow ballet booties made the cut. Which sidekick you bring along, and which of the two characters you directly control, is up to you. Unfortunately, who you choose for a sidekick matters very little. Each one has a basic melee attack, the same variety of grabs, and special attacks for both long and short range.
I expected Rhino, the overgrown brute, to be slow but devastating. No, he’s just slow.
Even the four additional limbs of Dr. Octopus don’t do anything special. He could be a swirling dervish of destruction, if he would use more than one of those limbs at a time. In Ultimate Alliance, every character had strengths and weaknesses that had to be accounted for. In Friend or Foe, there is no tactical advantage to picking one sidekick over another, so I went with favoritism and used Green Goblin for most of the missions. At least his long range attacks had the benefit of homing in on enemies.
Each sidekick can be upgraded via tokens collected from fallen enemies, but the upgrades only increase strength, health, defense, and unlock the second special attack. With branching skill-trees for a variety of web-based attacks, Spider-Man is the one character with any complexity. He is the star of the game, and I suppose Next Level Games assumed that everyone would want to play as him, but his special abilities make the simple combat into a mind-numbingly boring affair. All you have to do is grab an enemy, swing it round and round into other opponents, and repeat.
Phantoms, as the holographic enemies are so nefariously named, come in an amazing three varieties – Small, Medium, and Large. Small Phantoms do little more than buzz around in the air like harmless flies. Medium Phantoms are basic henchman, complete with one attack that they insist on using repeatedly, even when that attack is a long-range one and you’re standing a foot away. Large Phantoms are the only ones to watch out for. Depending on the level, some of them charge, some toss exploding globs, and others roll around like an electrified pinball. Either way, that’s all you get.
Ultimate Alliance only used a handful of enemy types per level, but every step of the way was a hard-fought battle that required skillful combos and teamwork. Careless players quickly found their teams stripped down to one hero against the world. In Friend or Foe, the battles are reduced to infrequent skirmishes between endless sets of platforms and vacant walkways. In the unfortunate event that your health drops to zero, or the very likely event that your teammate walks off a cliff, the character simply pops back into existence.
The villains of Friend or Foe are under the control of the symbiotes, so you have to bring them back to reality before you can recruit them. What better way to do that than pelt them with rocks? In keeping with Friend or Foe’s kid-friendly status, bosses are not beaten through actual hand-to-hand combat, but through successfully dodging their attacks and throwing conveniently placed objects at them. The boss-fights are challenging, but only because Next Level Games doesn’t seem to understand the difference between difficult and cheap. Fail to dodge an attack, and you can look forward to getting pummeled four or five more times before you can even stand up.
If Spider-Man: Friend or Foe only had more enemies, in more varieties, and sidekicks with unique fighting styles, it might have made for a fun little beat-em-up. Maybe then I wouldn’t have found myself mashing the same button over and over while flipping through a magazine, and wishing for Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (October 22, 2007)
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