Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

TheAmazingSpiderMan

A common perception about games that are released in conjunction with any blockbuster movie is that they are often forgettable cash-ins not worth playing.  Shortened development periods constrained by the release date of the movie often leave a tie-in game relatively empty and unpolished.  While a plot in a movie may work as a two hour non-interactive diversion, that same plot often can’t be stretched into a six, eight or even ten hour game without feeling completely hollow and overly repetitive.  So what happens when a game released at the same time as a blockbuster movie takes the themes from the film but continues the story from where the movie ends?  Beenox’s latest release, The Amazing Spider-Man, manages to tackle the movie tie-in as sort of a spiritual successor and offer gamers an ambitious yet flawed experience.

I watched the latest Spider-Man flick a week before the game arrived for my review and thus had time to digest both what I had watched in the packed theater and ponder a few reviews of the movie from outlets I trust.  I mention this because when I left the theater I was caught up in the surge of excitement from a crowd that cheered and laughed throughout the show.  It wasn’t until a day or so later that I began to question the weak plot points and also how the film requires an awful lot of suspension of disbelief in order for it to be enjoyable.  I don’t mean, “a guy bitten by a radioactive spider develops super powers” either.  I’m referring to how utterly convenient it is that a high school student who happens to be the budding love interest of our web-slinging hero also happens to work in a high tech science research firm that also allows interns to tour without any sort of security or administrative oversight.  This aspect of the movie is seriously one of the worst plot contrivances I’ve seen in a long time.

Unfortunately this plot point is also what is used to start the events which make up the majority of the new Beenox-developed superhero game.  Gwen Stacy works at Oscorp and just happens to give Peter Parker a tour of some of the research that is being shut down due to the events of the movie. During the course of shutting down the research projects, things go awry and cross-species experiments manage to escape. Additionally, the same virus that caused the mutations starts to spread throughout the city.  As a precaution, Oscorp quarantines all employees exposed during the shutdown mishap, and thus Spider-Man has a major dilemma. Does he save all of the citizens of New York, or does he come to the rescue of his girlfriend?

By now you’ve likely heard that The Amazing Spider-Man game would seem to crib many ideas from Batman: Arkham City.  Combat feels very similar to Batman’s latest game, where Spider-Man has one basic attack, and then when his spider sense tingles, players need to hit the dodge button to spring out of harm’s way.  As enemies are defeated, experience points are earned to put towards unlocking bonuses to Spider-Man’s web shooters, his suit as well as his stealth take downs.  That’s right, Spider-Man performs stealth take downs just like The Dark Knight. Also like Arkham City (and some former Spidey games), this game has an open world which, while not an exact replica of Manhattan, is a fairly decent rendition and offers a large web-swinging environment to explore.

As it would seem with any other open world game these days, this title also offers plenty of collectibles. Seven hundred to be exact.  Well 700 comic book pages.  Fortunately the comics are relatively easy to find and eventually respawn in many of the same locations.  Collecting the comic pages unlocks full comics that are accessed from the game’s main menu, and each unlocked comic retells the first appearance of many of the enemies encountered within the game.  Having so many pages to collect initially seems daunting, but the rate at which rewards are earned kept me motivated to grab the full set. By the time I had collected half of the 700 pages, I felt like I was too committed to stop, and fortunately after I had 500 these little yellow dots appeared on the mini-map to help identify where the last 200 pages were located.

Comic pages are not the only items that can be collected in the game.  Each story mission also has either hidden audio files, Oscorp manual sections, magazines, tech pieces or objects within the environment that can be photographed.  Some of the story mission collectibles are easy to spot and don’t require going too far out of your way to pick them up; however, the story missions contain some of the weaker and more frustrating aspects to the game and aren’t necessarily worth playing a second time to pick up missed items. I found several of the missions to end with an almost anti-satisfactory “I’m glad I’m never going to play that mission ever again” vibe, only to see the mission summary page splash up that I had missed one or two collectibles.  While some of the collectibles aren’t necessarily important to the overall story (ie magazine covers or tech components), the audio files do help flesh out character relationships.  I’m guessing that I missed a few collectibles due to the frantic nature of some of the battles in any given area. Where the open city portion of the game is just that–large, open and expansive–all of the story missions take place inside somewhat narrow or confined interiors, and these areas aren’t as fun to play in.

Spider-Man has the ability to web “retreat” which quickly pulls him away from a large group of enemies. More often than not, those enemies have ranged attacks and can shoot either with guns, lasers or acid. Even during close combat, Spider-Man can only really attack one enemy at a time yet the other five, six or even seven other enemies will be shooting at Spider-Man, giving the combat a bit of an unbalanced favor to the enemies.  Which is unfortunate, because the combat animations are a lot of fun to watch and are obviously inspired by many of the the signature moves found in the comics.  Due to the overwhelming odds against Spider-Man, instead of enjoying Spidey’s signature moves as he brawls against a gang of thugs, you’ll often find that the easiest and least frustrating method of getting by is to retreat to the shadows and wait for the enemies to stop being in an aggressive alert stance so you can swoop back in and stealth take down one or two by surprise before retreating to start the whole process over again until all enemies are dispatched.  While this strategy works, it just doesn’t feel like how Spider-Man would tackle bad guys in the comics.

I have two other minor quibbles with the game.  The first has to do with Spider-Man’s costume.  While the main costume looks just like the one from the movie, the idea of Spidey taking battle damage is exacerbated a bit too much (both in the movie and in the game) by the unnecessary quantity of shredded skin that becomes exposed.  To make matters worse, the camera sits back just enough to keep the focus on the gnarly looking battle wounds.  I understand Spider-Man’s costume would easily tear if there were too many rough encounters with enemies, but the need for showing raw, bruised flesh underneath the shredded costume is one attention to detail I could do without.

My second quibble with the game concerns the long load times.  I understand going from a huge open world to a detailed, instanced story level requires a substantial amount of data and assets to be swapped in the console’s memory, but if death occurs, reloading to the last checkpoint takes just a smidgen too long, especially if the checkpoint then reloads to a long expository cutscene.  Sure the loading screen gives players a Twitter-esque stream of New York citizens’ comments on the events in the game, but these don’t rotate enough and eventually become overly repetitious.

Don’t take my criticisms the wrong way, The Amazing Spider-Man is a good game. Compared to Beenox’s previous two Spider-Man titles, this game clearly comes out on top.  The web swinging in the open world is fun and the quips from Spider-Man and the citizens at large are spot on in capturing the snarky humor of the comic books.  Combat is mostly satisfying, too, with the exception of the reliance on retreating and stealth and the long load times incurred from the occasional but inevitable death.  The weakest aspect of the game, in my opinion, is how closely it continues off of the plot from the summer blockbuster movie.  If the game contained a more unique story that perhaps didn’t focus so heavily on Curt Connors or Alistair Smythe (both of whom are just not interesting or likable–even as villains or potential villains) then Beenox would have a more compelling game on its hands.

I hesitate in fully recommending The Amazing Spider-Man because there are too few must see “OMG” moments in the game and a few too many niggling flaws to overlook.  In addition, I’d say the story in Shattered Dimensions was stronger (at least it was original and not just a continuation of a weak movie plot).  The high marks in this game are the incidental things such as the open world web swinging and the mini-missions to help restore order within the city. While this is definitely the best Spider-Man game in the last few years and fans of the web-slinging superhero will likely be pleased overall, by no means is it an exceptional game you should be rushing out to buy.

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Pros:
+ Fun open city web swinging
+ Combat moves are well animated versions of the comics
+ Banter between Spider-Man and New York citizens is spot on

Cons:
- The main story and plot are too convenient and crib too much from the latest movie
- Combat relies too much on stealth for survival
- Long load times
- Almost too many incidental collectibles for the sake of replay value

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC, Xbox 360, Wii, DS and 3DS
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox
Release Date: 6/26/2012
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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.