Prerelease promotional material really soured my interest in this game to the point that I waited over 6 months to pick up a used copy cheap off eBay. And the movie ended up being sloppy and wrong on numerous levels. And Edge of Time had caused me to lose faith in Beenox’s competency as a developer of Spider-Man games.
So there was a lot stacked up against this game, and I went into it gritting my teeth and ready to be furious. Maybe I set the bar a little bit too low, but I ended up enjoying Amazing Spider-Man. It cut a lot of corners and is easy and boring, but there’s enough good ideas in here that I’m actually excited to see if Beenox gets another chance to hopefully knock one out of the park.
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Expanding on the movie’s universe
The first thing that Beenox did right was to decide that this game wouldn't be a direct retelling of the movie’s contrived, inconsistent, and hole-ridden narrative (maybe they read the script and new better?). They instead created a whole new story to act as a sequel to the film. This gave them the opportunity to introduce new villains and new scenarios that didn’t feel like simple fluff material.
While I dislike the direction that the movie took with Spider-Man’s origin, I really liked the direction that the writers went with this story. They redesigned several classic Spider-Man villains around the new concept of cross-species half-breeds, and managed to work even more villains into parts of the game’s backstory. Rhino, Scorpion, Vermin, and Iguana are all now cross-species half-breeds made from the same gene-manipulation techniques developed by Curt Connors, and which created Spider-Man and the Lizard.
The game acts as a sequel to the movie rather than a retelling. Which is good because we've already seen the Spider-Man origin a lot of times!
Furthermore, instead of basing the new narrative around a fiendish plot by a villainous mastermind to usurp Connors’ research (as one might expect), the plot revolves around cyberneticist Allistaire Smythe, who has been hired to head Oscorp’s research and development department and plans to use robots and nanomachines to destroy what remains of Connors’ specimens. The plot gets kicked off by an awkward first-person introduction scene that had me rolling my eyes in disgust every few minutes. But once the setup was complete, the rest of the plot moved along surprisingly well, and everything fit together into a nice, cohesive package, leading up to a satisfying and explosive multi-chapter finale!
After contact with Peter Parker causes the confined cross species to go berserk and escape containment, a virulent genetic virus is unleashed on the citizens of New York, forcing the island into CDC quarantine and causing Smythe to activate a series of robots (redesigns of the Spider-Slayers from the comics) to neutralize the outbreak. Unfortunately, Smythe’s plans don’t work out how he had intended, and he loses his mind following exposure to the cross species virus, resulting in his robots running amok through the city. Spidey decides to break Curt Connors out of prison in order to develop a cure for the virus.
It’s a pretty well-conceived and well-told story that provides a new spin on old characters and utilizes the source material of both the comics and the new movie to great effect.
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The actual gameplay is a bit more of a mixed bag. I always thought that the gameplay mechanics of Batman: Arkham Asylum could be translated or converted into a great Spider-Man game, and clearly, Beenox thought the same thing. While they adequately implemented a free-flow combat system similar to its Batman competitor, the completely dropped the ball with the open world mechanic that is uniquely "Spider-Man": web-swinging.
All the fun and challenge has been sucked out of web-swinging
The part of pre-release previews that killed my interest in the game was the web-swinging mechanic. It was obvious from several videos that no physics simulation was being applied to the game, and that Spider-Man would be allowed to web swing without regard to whether his webs were attached to anything or not.
The only restriction applied to Spider-Man’s web-swinging is that he must be within some minimum distance from a surface in the environment. This includes both the sides and tops of buildings, as well as the ground. Spider-Man can swing even while above the skyline or over the top of a park, with no taller buildings around. He can even web-swing off of the roof of the tallest buildings in the game.
Spider-Man can swing without anything nearby for his webs to stick to, including over the tops of parks and the city skyline itself.
This instantly pulls me out of the game experience everytime it happens.
There’s also no sense of mass or inertia to Spider-Man, as he can effortlessly stop and change direction in mid-air, and his web swings and jumps propel him incredibly fast and ridiculously high. This makes the whole city feel small in scale by comparison, since you can jump, zip, or swing across several city blocks in a single swift motion, and can sail over tall buildings with a single web swing. It really makes the city feel like a tiny toy or model, rather than a living city. Having only a handful of models and skins for civilians and cars doesn’t help.
For a game that goes so far to try to put the player in the shoes of Spider-Man by pulling the camera over his shoulder, providing first-person perspectives and cutscenes, and by implementing Move and Kinect support, Beenox completely dropped the ball with the simple act of navigating around the city. Nothing breaks my immersion faster than knowing that my web lines are being shot straight up into the sky.
On top of this, Spider-Man will continue to shoot webs and swing for as long as you hold down the R2 trigger. This all makes navigating around the compressed city feel way too easy. It takes all skill and thought out of maneuvering through the city and fighting enemies outdoors. You don’t have to scope out an area, plan your path of entry, or worry at all about environmental constraints.
To try to put how boring this is into perspective: imagine a Grand Theft Auto game in which you navigate from location to location by just hopping in a car, pointing it the general direction of your destination, holding the R2 button, and then watching and waiting.
Web Rush: getting where you want to go!
The traditional "web zip" mechanic has been overhauled into a new mode called "web rush". It’s practically the same thing as in previous games, except that now, holding the web rush button puts you in a first person bullet-time perspective to allow you to plan out exactly where you want to go. The game will highlight specific locations that you can zip to, and upon releasing the button, Spider-Man will use any means necessary to go there. This may require him to run across a wall, hop off the tops of passing cars, shoot multiple webs, or catapult himself into the air.
It’s fun to watch, but takes a lot of control away from the player and makes navigation a bit too easy. You can literally just stop time, point at a location, and then go there with the click of a button. And since Spidey’s webs don’t have to actually connect to a building, you can point yourself straight up into the air, effectively giving Spider-Man the power of flight!
Outdoors, this power is a bit exploitable and silly. But indoors, it actually becomes incredibly useful and opens up new avenues of gameplay by allowing Spider-Man to quickly navigate the environment and put himself in a tactically-sound position. It allows the player to be much more careful and deliberate in your movement while trying to navigate obstacles or sneak past enemies, and it works beautifully!
Effortless item collection ruins the best unlockables a comic book game could offer
What really annoys me about the new movement mechanics though, is that exploring the city yields an awesome reward. The city map is scattered with 700 semi-hidden comic book pages for you to collect. Collecting them unlocks quite possibly the single most awesome unlockable that could be included in a comic book game: digital versions of classic Spider-Man issues that you can read in their entirety. These include:
One of the best unlockable rewards ever!
- Amazing Fantasy #15 (first appearance of Spider-Man)
- Amazing Spider-Man #6 (first appearance of the Lizard)
- Amazing Spider-Man #31 (first appearances of Gwen Stacy)
- Amazing Spider-Man Annual #19 (first appearance of Allistaire Smythe)
- and more...
This is a collection quest that is actually worth scouring the city to complete! But the locomotion mechanics make finding and collecting these comic pages trivial, effortless, and thoroughly not fun! When you see one, you just point in their general direction and push a button, and BAM, you’ve got a comic page! There’s no trick to getting them; no obstacles to overcome; no puzzles to solve. The only challenge is that you’re usually moving so fast that it is easy to not notice them or swing by and out of range before you can react to the "Push R1 to collect comic book page" prompt.
And as if that weren’t easy enough: towards the end of the game, I suddenly acquired the ability to see their locations on my mini-map. What’s the point of an item-collection quest in which the location of the items are given to you, and collecting the item is as easy as looking at it? They might as well just give them to you at that point!
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A less-polished Spider-Man reskin of Arkham City
This game has some of the best wall-crawling mechanics and controls of any Spidey game yet!
The indoor levels are where the game begins to shine. Combat mechanics emulate the free-flow combat system of Arkham City, but the animations are a bit unpredictable and the lack of any gadgets takes away a lot of the variety present in Batman. Combat is competently implemented, and looks impressive by better emulating the swift acrobatic movement of the character, but I just never felt as in-control as I did in Batman.
In Batman, I always felt like the camera was perfectly-positioned to give me near-perfect situational awareness, so I always knew exactly where the threats were. When I hit a button, Batman responded exactly as I expected him to, so my button-pressing was always very deliberate and patient. The combat mechanics are relatively easy, but if you reduce yourself to just mashing "attack", then you'll over-commit your attacks, won't be able to counter or dodge, and will get owned really quickly. After clearing a room full of thugs without taking damage in Batman, I always felt a smug sense that “Yep, I did that! I a badass!”
In Amazing Spider-Man, however, that environmental awareness (ironically) just isn’t there. Perhaps it’s because the camera pans too close, or the range for attacks are too wide, but enemies had an annoying habit of attacking me from just off-screen and Spider-Man’s attacks frequently didn’t go where I expected them to go. When my Spider-sense went off, I usually didn’t know where the attack was coming from. I kept falling into the trap of just mashing Square and tapping triangle whenever my Spider-sense goes off.
Wait. Aren't "dodge" and "avoid" synonyms?
I found that even at the end of the game, I could still clear entire rooms of bad guys by just rapidly pressing "attack" without any deliberance or patience, and just tap "dodge" when I needed to. If I ever felt that anything that Spider-Man did was badass, it was only because the animators made a badass "signature move", which then gets totally spoiled by being repeated over and over again.
Unlike in Batman, your finishing moves cannot be interrupted, so using them is an easy way to slow down the pace of combat and reorient yourself, making most fights far too easy. The only real challenge came from ranged enemies that would attack from off-screen, or from un-dodgeable attacks.
To be a spider on these walls…
Perhaps the highlight of the game is the way that the aforementioned web rush feature excellently augments some improvements to wall-crawling mechanics. For the first time in a Spider-Man game, sticking to the walls is a viable mechanic for both exploration and combat, and I actually spent most of my time in the indoor levels on the wall or ceiling. A welcome new feature is the ability to click the left stick in order to toggle between crawling on all fours and "perching" on a wall. When perched, Spider-Man turns his body away from the wall, and the camera pans to an over-the-shoulder perspective. This gives you a bird’s eye view of the environment, and is incredibly useful for reconnaissance and planning.
Being able to perch on a wall to examine your surroundings is incredibly useful.
The web rush allows you to quickly and accurately move from surface to surface, so you can easily transition from floor to wall to ceiling to enemies and back to the wall or ceiling again. The camera is must better positioned than in Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time, and it moves much more fluidly and with much greater stability. Spider-Man doesn’t spaz out and start going around in circles whenever you crawl around a corner. In fact, crawling from wall to ceiling - or even through doorways - is seamless, intuitive, and doesn’t obstruct the camera at all!
In fact, wall-crawling is now so easy and intuitive that stealth takedowns are now the default method of taking out baddies. Since you’re not constrained to hiding in specific places (like on a rafter or a mounted gargoyle), you have completely free reign over the ceiling above the enemies’ heads, allowing you to follow them around the level and pick them off without any effort at all. This makes stealthing through a level feel a bit too easy and exploitative, especially since enemies are a bit too oblivious and don't notice the brightly-colored do-gooder crawling along the ceiling, even if you cast a friggin shadow right across their faces.
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I really want Beenox to get another shot at a non tie-in, unrushed Spidey game
Ironically: Immediately after I jotted down my note about how the game was glitch-free, I dropped off an infected civilian at a CDC outpost, then fell through the floor and got to swing under the city in this glitchy limbo.
I have a few other minor, technical complaints. You can’t access the cell phone menu or pause menu while the game is auto-saving (which happens every time you complete an objective, pick up a collectible, or defeat a group of enemies). Starting and finishing some of the side-missions in the city can also be awkward, since the game sometimes has to reload the city map for whatever reason. But these sorts of things are minor complaints that were just annoying rather than game-breaking.
There’s also a noticeable lack of artistic variety. Civilians all share just one or two models for each male and female. Police officers come in only two skins: a bald-headed, mustachioed male, and a pony-tailed brunette female. Enemies lack originality and all look bland and indistinct. Even the city itself lacks the sense of scale that a city-sandbox game typically has, and always feels like you’re just flying over a plastic model set (mostly due to the unrealistic web-swinging mechanics).
To Beenox’s credit, at least the game isn’t broken. All the of the mechanics and features are executed with a at least a bare minimum of technical competence. For a licensed movie tie-in that had to be completed under a strict, inflexible deadline, the game is surprisingly free of bugs, glitches, and crashes, and the framerate never once stuttered during my playtime.
The game is running on a fairly solid engine with fluid controls and some pretty good ideas. If Beenox didn’t have to cut so many corners in order to meet a movie-release deadline, this game could easily have crossed the threshold from competence into greatness. Beenox now has a track record of 2 out of 3 Spider-Man games being decent, and I hope they get another chance to make a non-movie-tie-in game that can take all the best aspects of Amazing and Shattered Dimensions, bring back physics-based web swinging, flesh-out the combat mechanics a bit more, add some Peter Parker personal drama, and maybe even bring Neil Patrick Harris back into the lead role.
This game is worth playing, as long as you keep your expectations rather reserved. I was pleasantly surprised.
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