After 2012's Amazing Spider-Man tie-in game presented some interesting ideas, I was really hoping that Beenox would have an opportunity to take the things they'd learned and apply them to a new, stand-alone Spider-Man game that would not be constrained to the plot and release schedule of a film tie-in. Sadly, that hasn't happened yet, and we have a new movie tie-in game that suffers from almost all of the problems associated with a movie tie-in.
Amazing Spider-Man 2, now with double the crappy story!
Once again, Beenox was smart enough to know better than to follow along with the movie's asinine plot and opted to write their own side-story. Unfortunately, this one isn't as well written or as well presented as the previous game. It could have been a good story, but plot is clumsily-executed, and the associations to the movie only drag it down further.
The Kingpin is comically (and ridiculously) oversized.
The bulk of the story is based around Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) using rising crime rates as an excuse to deploy his private anti-crime task force in New York city. His company partners with Oscorp (who supplies the task force with its tech), and sells the task force to the public as a way of stopping crime and ending the vigilante justice that has plagued the city. But secretly, the task force is really out to destroy rival crime bosses and give Kingpin a monopoly on New York's organized crime underworld.
There's another secondary plot about hunting down the serial killer Cletus Kasady, who is killing criminals. This plot is only barely tied to the Kingpin thread, but it takes center stage during a large chunk of the second act of the game, and almost seems to become the main story - almost as if the writers couldn't decide if they wanted the game to be about Kingpin or about Carnage.
Aside form a couple obligatory super villain boss fights with Electro and Green Goblin (Harry Osborn), the game has very little relation with the movie on which it is supposedly based. Spider-Man can uncover some documents that detail some of the plot threads from the movie (such as Max Dillon becoming Electro, Norman Osborn dying, and political maneuvers to overtake Oscorp), so these threads are only very loosely tied to the primary plot of the game. The only movie thread that actually receives any development in the game is Harry's attempts to use Spider-Man's blood to cure the disease inherited from his father. And this thread is just as stupid (if not more stupid) than it was in the movie.
Sadly, the strongest element of the movie's plot, the Gwen Stacy arc, is completely neglected in the game. In fact, Gwen Stacy is not referenced in the game at all (except in a description of Spider-Man's suit). This may be the result of the game's writers not knowing about what would happen to Gwen in the movie.
The game starts with Spider-Man attempting to hunt down Ben's killer, and in parts of the game, you can play as Peter Parker
Your friendly-neighborhood Peter Parker
A major gimmick of this game is that it allows the player to play as Peter Parker for small segments of the game. This addition feels pretty trivial, as you don't have to manage Peter's personal life or juggle his responsibilities as Spider-Man. There aren't any major gameplay mechanics centered around Peter besides just walking around and talking to people, which could all have been handled by cutscenes.
During some missions, you can engage in "conversation" with other characters. During these scenes, the player is given options for a "conversation tree" in which you can chose different questions to ask. This mechanic is outright stupid. You can chose all the options anyway, the conversation doesn't actually branch, and whatever topics you discuss will invariably lead to the same outcome. As far as I can tell, your questions in these conversations do not affect the game's story at all. You still do all the same missions, fight all the same enemies, and solve all the same challenges regardless of what information you gather from interrogations.
This mechanic is pointless and is just a waste of time!
Conversation trees are pointless: you can chose all the options anyway, and they don't effect missions or story.
Newton's Laws of Web Motion
One of my biggest complaints in the last game was the lack of proper web-swinging physics. Spider-Man could essentially "fly" through the air well above the city skyline, requiring no thought or effort from the player. To Beenox's credit, they addressed this complaint.
Web-swinging uses pseudo-physics that requires more active involvement from the player.
It's more rewarding than the prevoius game, but still not up to the level of earlier Spider-Man games.
Web swinging now utilizes abstract pseudo-physics. No more swinging freely above the skyline in most cases. Instead, Beenox tightened the requirements for being able to shoot webs (you have to be lower and closer to buildings), but the webs still don't actually physically connect to anything, nor is there an actual fulcrum of movement at the point of contact with a surface. Instead, the webs seem to attach to some arbitrary point inside the building geometry. The line rotates around that point, with the only collision being with Spider-Man's body. The webline itself isn't treated as a physical object in the game world.
You use the right and left shoulder buttons to shoot a web line in the respective direction, which you use for steering and maneuvering. This is a big improvement over the last game, as it does help to put the player more in the shoes of Spider-Man, since you have to be much more aware of your surroundings and deliberate in your movements.
Spider-Man can defy gravity, allowing him to swing in "straight lines" despite not having buildings across the street to alternate his swings from.
Unfortunately, even this abstract web-swinging is still very rough. Four things really hold the web-swinging mechanics back and prevent it from feeling superior to the previous games:
- The physics are a bit wonky. Spider-Man can defy gravity through sheer force of will. This leads to unpredictable outcomes and compounds the next problem...
- Spider-Man's movements (at least on the PS3) are rough and jagged. He changes directions in mid-air too easily, can easily overcompensate straight into walls, and rarely lands where you want him to land.
Web Rush ignores the requirement that the webs have a surface to stick to.
- The city is still poorly scaled and feels small. Single swings move Spider-Man across entire blocks, and a single jump can fling Spider-Man well over the top of buildings. This keeps Spidey far away from the ground (where the crimes he's supposed to be foiling are taking place) and minimizes the impact of the city's geography as an obstacle to movement.
- Webs do not interact realistically with the environment. They do not get caught, tangled, or broken by swinging through poles or trees.
There are also complete exceptions to the physics rules. When swinging in Central Park, your webs still seem to go straight up into the sky, and when in certain missions that take place in outdoor environments, you can still swing in mid-air. Additionally, you can still use the "Web Rush" mode to automatically move to any location, even if it requires shooting web-lines into thin air. In fact, this is still necessary in order to collect many of the comic page collectibles scattered around the game map. Despite its problems, the web-swinging is probably the highlight of the game. Without the restrictions of a movie release's deadlines, these problems could likely have been worked out and lead to a much better product.
An "open world" without the openness
But even if the web-swinging had been perfectly implemented, Beenox still completely butchered the design of the "open world". Free play in an open world only works if events in the world unfold dynamically and organically, with Spider-Man being able to see or hear a crime in progress, swoop in, beat up the bad guys, and swoop out, back on his way to his destination. Instead, Beenox implemented a system where every petty crime and side mission is marked on the map at pre-defined locations. Approaching the crime triggers a cutscene that initiates the encounter (completely eliminating any chance for the player to sneak in without being seen), and finishing the event causes a cutscene of a news broadcast. This pulls the player out of the experience, and it gets really tedious really fast!
Every side mission has an intro and an outro cutscene, which gets very tedious.
This is especially problematic, since a great deal of this game's story is based around the concept of Spider-Man battling the Kingpin's criminal network. Stopping crimes in progress is also an integral part of the "Hero or Menace" mechanic. If you successfully resolve side missions, your "Hero Score" increases, which provides you with modest rewards. If you ignore side missions, then your score goes down and you become a "menace" which will cause the Kingpin's high-tech mercenary police force to start attacking you on-sight. At least the run-ins with the mercenary police happen organically within the game world, instead of requiring cutscenes or being treated like full-blown missions.
Good luck even reaching these random missions before they expire and your Hero score goes down!
Events can also appear and disappear seemingly at random, and when they disappear, they count as "failed" missions for the purposes of you Hero score. But when this happens, they often appear half-way across the city, and you don't have time to even get to all of them - in fact, I'm lucky if I can get to any of them. At some points in the game's story, these side missions are constantly appearing, and this seems to be designed solely to lower your Hero score and force you to engage the Kingpin's Task Force. It's a confusing and frustrating mechanic!
As far as I can tell, the Hero or Menace system doesn't actually affect the story in any way. Just like the conversation trees, it doesn't seem to matter whether you are a hero or a menace. You'll still do the same missions, in the same order, against the same enemies, solving the same challenges. Again, this is a pointless and wasted mechanic.
Catching bad guys in your web
Another welcome improvement is in the stealth mechanics. In Amazing Spider-Man [game], the stealth features made the game a bit too easy. You could pick off enemies one by one from anywhere on the ceiling. Now, the stealth is much more restrictive. You have to get much closer to enemies in order to perform a stealth takedown. So if you're skulking around on the cealing or the rafters, you need to "rappel" on a webline in order to get close enough neutralize an enemy. This means that you have to be much more careful about where and when you make your move, since it's much easier for the enemies to spot you when you're rappelling.
The stealth gameplay is a lot more challenging and engaging with the new rappelling feature.
The stealth missions ended up being my favorite parts of the game, and I actually looked forward to the various stealth "hideout" side missions because it meant another opportunity to practice my stealth takedowns. This was assuming that the mission didn't glitch out, causing Spider-Man to spawn with enemies right in front of him, thus causing a mission failure. These missions were also very repetitive and I couldn't care less about the lame unlockable costumes that they awarded. Fortunately, they were fun enough on their own right.
It's also unfortunate that wall-crawling doesn't feel quite as comfortable as it did in the previous game. The camera wasn't quite as stable, and I had consistent issues with Spider-Man resisting crawling around corners or through doorways, as if an invisible wall was stopping him. Despite some minor problems, the wall-crawling mechanics remain solid and help to keep the player in a "Spider-Man mindset" when navigating the environment.
More gadgets, more silliness
Combat mechanics could also use some tightening. It's still far too easy to clear combat challenges by just mashing the "attack" button, with the occasional tap of the "dodge" button when your Spider-Sense flashes red. You can now dodge two simultaneous attacks, but doing so always seems to result in the same animation, so it lacks variety and gets boring to watch. Additionally, your Spider-sense doesn't give any indication of where a threat is coming from. It's easy enough to just dodge in most cases, but this is a problem when you're web-swinging around New York and you need to find the flying Task Force robot that is shooting at you.
There were a few scripted moments in which your Spider-sense causes the game to go into slow-motion, and you must manually move the camera around to find the source of the danger and then dodge it. It's a simplistic, but satisfying mechanic.
In an attempt to add more variety to the combat mechanics, Beenox added some new buffs to Spider-Man's webs. Early in the game, Spider-Man augments his webshooters with Shocker's seismic blast gauntlets. This allows you to charge a shockwave attack that is used to stun enemies and is required for fighting heavy enemies and some bosses. Another late-game buff is that Spider-Man's webs gain the ability to dissolve metal, which is used to destroy body armor on late-game enemies, and to unlock paths in some levels. For some reason, the webs don't dissolve the buildings in New York though...
Both of these mechanics feel unnecessary and silly. The previous games already had equivalent mechanics using Spider-Man's existing powers.
Oscorp mystery boxes sit for the whole game until you unlock power-up necessary to destroy them.
There are also Oscorp containers scattered around the city that you are clearly supposed to do something with. But you don't unlock the metal-dissolving buff to destroy them until late in the game, and in the meantime, what you're supposed to do remains a complete mystery. Why even put these boxes there to begin with? Why not wait until the relevant mission where you unlock the buff needed to destroy them and have a cutscene of Oscorp employees placing them around town so that you know that you are supposed to destroy them if you find them? Just another lazy mechanic.
One step forward, two steps back
Overall, this sequel feels like a step backward for Beenox. There's a few improvements (mostly in web-swinging and stealth mechanics), but everything else about the game feels rushed and poorly thought-out. The plot barely holds together, and new mechanics (including the web-swinging) feel clumsy and haphazard. With a little more time to iron out the rough edges, this could have been a solid super hero game.
I'm still hoping that Beenox gets another shot at making a stand-alone Spider-Man game on a full development time cycle. While I don't know that Beenox is quite up to the level of Rocksteady (developer of the Batman games), I do feel like they have enough talent, creativity, and passion for the Spider-Man source material to make a definitive Spider-Man game. They just need the time and freedom to tighten up the individual mechanics, fit them all together in a more stable package, and write their own story that isn't constrained to a movie's plot.