Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

TheAmazingSpiderMan2

Superhero video games can be a dicey proposition. Prior to Batman: Arkham Asylum, superhero titles were typically nothing more than licensed cash-ins. After Rocksteady’s Arkham series, there is now a pretty good chance that any superhero title will do whatever possible to ape their winning formula. When it comes to Spider-Man games, Beenox has had a mixed bag of releases over the last few years. 2012’s first The Amazing Spider-Man was solid, but not exceptional. Edge of Time before it wasn’t a whole lot to write home about either. Beenox’s newest movie tie-in release, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, follows in the footsteps of the previous game, but stumbles in several areas and feels less amazing than its name suggests it should be.

I’ve never understood the need to retell an origin story upon each successive release. Yet the opening to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 shows Peter Parker purposefully not stopping a thief as he runs from a local convenience market. The thief (almost as a matter of consequence) ends up killing Uncle Ben, Peter’s sole father figure, thus setting Parker on a revenge tale through the first half of the game. To me, Spider-Man has never been about revenge, but this plot device allows Kraven the Hunter to become a new father figure of sorts to Peter, so I’ll reluctantly accept this interpretation.

As Spider-Man tries to find the man who killed Uncle Ben, it becomes clear that there is a much bigger serial killer on the loose, the Carnage Killer. Kraven mentors Spider-Man by teaching him how to observe and track bad guys, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. This, of course, ends up setting the scene for a showdown between Spider-Man and Kraven, which then leads to the next bad guy to go after. And that is one of my problems with this game. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 uses an old school design philosophy of needing boss battles through every stage of the game, which allows for an almost inconsequential laundry list of bad guys to be thrown at Spider-Man seemingly for fan service alone. Shocker, Kraven, Black Cat, Kingpin, Green Goblin, Electro and Carnage appear throughout the game, but the relationship between Spider-Man and all of these supervillains is woven together with so little interest, that the game simply feels like it is checking off a back-of-the-box marketing list. Even though I don’t necessarily like the idea of the story taking Peter Parker down a dark revenge path, I do at least like how it sets Kraven up to be more of a father figure. Unfortunately, that aspect of the story is tossed aside and diminished with each new boss encounter.

Most of the charm in a Spider-Man story comes from his relationships with characters like Gwen Stacy, Aunt May, Mary Jane, Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn. However, Gwen, Mary Jane and Flash don’t make any appearances in the game. Aunt May is a barely present character model that is basically only ever seen if you want to go back home to change costumes. The relationship between Harry and Peter is nothing more than a plot device that comes across like a cheap and wasted opportunity. Harry’s tragedy feels forced and there isn’t any story arch built into the game. It’s almost as if the game assumes players have watched the movie and doesn’t bother with trying to provide any sense of character development of its own.

Continuing down the marketing checklist, the game provides a large number of collectibles to find throughout the city, ranging from 300 comic book pages to photographing various points of interest. Other collectibles include performing tasks to unlock concept art, character figurines, and costume variations. The open world of Manhattan also feels more like a bullet point feature than a living, breathing city. Swinging through the city is fun and improved upon to some degree from the previous title as webs attach to actual surfaces and swinging is done by choosing to cast a web from either the left or right hand, allowing for a better control of navigation. With Beenox tweaking the swing mechanic from the previous game, it does take a little getting used to and can feel a bit clumsy if your timing is off, but by the end of the game I found the greater diversity and control more satisfying. Unfortunately, the open world itself is disappointingly bland. Every neighborhood feels clean and devoid of character or charm.

Overall, the biggest problem that plagues the open world structure is the artificial menace that is put upon Spider-Man. A Task Force of highly armored personnel (along with killer drones and turrets) is created to find and take out everyone’s friendly neighborhood spider. A meter is visible throughout the open world indicating whether Spider-Man is heroic or not. When the meter drops into the red and is no longer viewed as heroic, the Task Force kicks into gear. The only way to keep the Task Force away is to constantly perform mundane (and highly repetitive) events such as disposing of bombs left in various locations, or rescuing citizens trapped in burning buildings or carjacking victims. Gangs also blockade themselves in shootouts and can only be stopped with Spider-Man’s help. 

All of these activities push the Heroic meter into the blue which removes Task Force oppression, but also provides a bonus to whichever suit Spider-Man is wearing. Each suit offers a different set of three bonuses, including enhancements to attributes like defense, damage, rate of web shooter, rate of health restoration or ionic power based on the ‘Hero or Menace’ reputation. Keeping the threat meter in the blue for a bonus is key to ensuring a boost is available during story missions. Choosing the best costume is also key to playing through story missions; however, switching out costumes is a drag because having to go home to change leads to some horrible load times. I played a digital download version on the PS4 and the load times always had me dreading going into a new areas.

While combat is passable, there isn’t much to it. Mashing the square button to attack and pressing triangle to dodge enemy attacks, L1 to pull weapons away from ranged enemies, and circle to shoot webs all just feels very mundane given the lack of variety in each enemy encounter. “Speedies,” as the game calls them, are some of the most annoying enemies in that they zoom from one part of the map to the next with incredible speed, only to be stopped by a well-timed web pull. Black Cat is a boss “speedy” and is probably the worst video game encounter I’ve faced in a long time. Spider-Man can enable his Detective Mode—er I mean Spider Sense–to see that Black Cat is a level above and two rooms away. She is seemingly far enough to allow for a brief moment to heal, but the moment that the heal function is enabled, boom, Black Cat appears and hits Spider-Man to disrupt the recovery process. Moments like this suck all of the limited fun out of this experience.

One aspect that almost redeems the rest of the combat is Spider-Man’s ability to crawl on any surface and quietly sneak about the environment. This allows the webhead to repel from a ceiling and stealthily take out enemies like a preying spider. To accommodate this play style, there are Russian gang hideouts throughout the city designed solely for stealth action. While these are fun, the dumb enemy AI makes each challenge laughably easy. Set in a very programmatic pattern, gang members patrol certain pathways which cross in front of other gang members. The only way a gang member becomes suspicious is if they directly spot Spider-Man. They never go into a panic or alert other remaining members when they patrol and don’t see a fellow gangster that was previously standing in that pathway. Because of this rigid AI routine, these challenges make for dull, repetitive filler material.

Fans of Spider-Man may be able to find some love for this game, but it is not something to rush out and pay full price to play. While not a buggy, broken experience, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a jumbled mix of movie tie-in and an attempt to be its own thing. Borrowing from the Arkham titles and trying to spin those familiar mechanics into something that fits into the Spider-Man world is a noble effort that ultimately falls short due to overly repetitive missions, flat characters that don’t have any strong connective ties, and a storyline that is not so amazing.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Open world web swinging is fun
+ Hundreds of collectible comic pages to read

Cons:
– Open world encounters are highly repetitive
– Combat doesn’t have any depth
– Boss battles feel inconsequential
– Flat characters and story

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also available for PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox
Release Date: 4/29/2014
Genre: Open world action-adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.