Published: 06-Jul-2012 15:52
By Angus Deacon
The mention of yet another movie tie-in videogame is usually met with grunts of disapproval and the rolling of eyes skywards. Especially considering Activision's last effort, Battleship, which was a dud across both mediums.
However, anyone who remembers the brilliant PS2 game based on the Spider-Man 2 movie knows this franchise has a lot of potential. And the good news is that winning formula has been revamped for the current-gen market in The Amazing Spider-Man.
The other bit of good news is this game doesn't clone the events of the movie of the same name. Instead, the game has been penned by Seamus Kevin Fahey (who wrote the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV series) to create an epilogue that follows on from the cinema experience.
This means gamers can play the game with only a couple of minor spoilers, but more importantly continue the saga of our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, Oscorp and Doctor Connor's scientific misdemeanours that appear in the film.
Over at E3 last month, I spoke to The Amazing Spider-Man's Executive Producer Brant Nicholas, who detailed the aim of letting players 'be Spidey' in the game. To accomplish this, the HUD is minimal (and can even be removed completely) with the camera tight to the action to help produce a cinematic feel. The game does its best to place you in the shiny red and blue suit and allow you to zip around an open-world Manhattan as the titular hero.
The cinematic aspect is a theme that permeates a lot of the game's aesthetics. When high atop a skyscraper near the edge of a 24-story drop, Spidey will automatically perch himself right on the cusp and kneel down in a superhero pose. Even when climbing walls, the way Spidey will turn and face out towards the camera when stationary makes for a Hollywood moment each time you do it.
Often you'll find yourself panning the camera around to admire Spidey's perfectly lit garb as he surveys the city streets below. One thing you'll definitely notice early on is how insanely tight that suit is... all we can say is Peter Parker ‘aint going to be having kids anytime soon, that's for sure.
All of this is packaged up neatly with a hefty array of character animations too, making every web-swing and acrobatic leap a joy to watch rather than mechanical and repetitive. Spidey moves in an appropriately fluid, organic manner that delivers the speed and agility seen in the movie.
While some of the animations of wall-climbing look a bit suspect, it's because we have been spoilt by the likes of Assassin's Creed and Uncharted. Considering the pace and 'super-human' abilities of our hero, casually zipping up walls with no attention to hand placements makes sense here.
However there are times where the camera angle feels too confined. In the developer's attempt to put you in the action, there is a side-effect of everything feeling claustrophobic. Turning for instance is occasionally clunky, especially in interior areas and Spidey will often take a number of steps before you're facing the right direction.
Judging distances can also be tricky considering your viewpoint is constantly hovering just above Spidey's shoulder. The game allows you to tweak the HUD options, so it's a shame they didn't allow for a couple of camera vantage points too.
As mentioned, The Amazing Spider-Man picks up after the end of the movie and continues the storyline of Dr Connor's inter-species experiments at Oscorp. Just like in the comic-books, Connor's obsession with merging human and animal DNA leads to horrifying hybrids of half-animal, half-men creatures. Fans of the comic-books will know this results in villains with uncreative names such as the Scorpion, the Rhino and the Lizard.
The game opens up with an interactive cinematic sequence where our hero Peter Parker is being shown through Oscorp's laboratories by love-interest Gwen Stacy. Naturally, all Hell breaks loose; in the form of these hybrid creatures who manage to escape the high security installation. It's up to Peter, or namely Spider-Man to hunt down and restrain these beasts as they run rampant through the streets of Manhattan.
As if this wasn't bad enough, these mutant creatures also have the potential to spread their DNA-altering disease via contact with humans too. Spidey now has to race against the clock to prevent the infection spreading throughout the city and to make matters worse, one of the contaminated is your beloved Gwen. Time is running out and Spidey will need all the help he can get, including aid from his old nemesis.
From here most of the game takes place in a sprawling Manhattan where Spidey is free to hoon around as he pleases. According to the developers, the city is modelled closely on the real-life counterpart except various buildings and structures have been moved around for 'legal reasons'.
While the city is populated with citizens and vehicles, it's hardly a bustling metropolis. But the limited pedestrian activity works fine considering the vast scale of the map. It's still fun swinging down low above car roof-tops and hearing the sparse bystanders yell out your name in admiration.
On top of the key storyline objectives scattered throughout the city, Spidey will also find a wealth of side activities to keep him busy. By hacking into the police radio communications and using a high-tech cell phone, Spidey can keep tabs on criminal activities taking place around town and swoop in to help. The game is also packed full of collectibles, including full-length digital comics of the webbed-wonder that can be viewed later from the menu screen.
To keep the gameplay varied, there are also numerous interior environment missions, where Spidey will be confined to small areas. Although these aren't as thrilling as the city-based missions, crawling through air-vents and adapting to the tight environments breaks up the pace nicely. They also act as plot devices, bringing Spidey to places like the Oscorp laboratories, a mental asylum or even his own apartment, which acts as a save hub to keep the storyline flowing.
The Amazing Spider-Man has a well conceived storyline which deserves credit for not simply rehashing the events of the movie. It's driven by some solid voice-acting as well, despite all of the actors in the film taking no part in the recordings for the game. All of Spidey's witty (often cheesy) one-liners are delivered well and even side characters like Alistair Smythe, Dr Connors and Felicia Hardy (aka Black Cat) are well cast here.
The combat and general control scheme in The Amazing Spider-Man does the job, but definitely lacks the finesse of rival comic-book related title, Batman: Arkham City.
Web swinging around town is done via the right trigger, allowing you to control your direction and the timing around the release of each swing. Players can also move around quickly targeting a surface and tapping the right shoulder button to zip straight to it. For more accurate navigation, holding down the shoulder button slows down time and brings up highlighted 'ghost' Spider-Man to show possible destinations. It sounds clunky, but the end result works well and gives you better control over Spidey's movement.
Fans will definitely get a buzz swinging between buildings; hearing Spidey whoop and holler as he performs death-defying acrobatics over Manhattan.
Combat is a simple yet enjoyable affair, with players stringing together combos and dodge attacks in a rhythmic manner by tapping either X or Y appropriately. The iconic 'Spidey-sense' warning lines above Spidey's head gives you notice of when to dodge and players can add in long ranged web-attacks and also quick web-shots to slow down or distract enemies.
Engaging in combat is nowhere near as slick as Arkham City, but the frantic pace and almost clumsy approach suits Spider-Man's style well. The game also works hard to ensure the variety of boss battles keeps the experience fresh, with early encounters ranging from lumbering gargantuan robots to a confined car-park duel with the Rhino.
Each one requires a different approach and is neatly capped with an engaging cinematic at the end. An impressive assortment of upgrades and new attacks that Spidey can unlock also help prevent the repetitive button-mashing gameplay that these games can endure.
The Amazing Spider-Man comes close to matching that feeling of awe I got when I first played Spider-Man 2 way back in 2004. I can only imagine it will be a lot more appealing immediately after watching the movie too (if it's as good as it looks in the trailer).
Those fans who do get a buzz out of it can also look forward to some interesting DLC, including extra costumes and challenge modes. One of the more bizarre DLC packs introduces Stan Lee (the legendary creator of many Marvel comics) into the game, who grabs Peter Parker's web-slingers and busts out into the city to track down his missing manuscript that blew out the window.
The gameplay is essentially the same as Spider-Man's except you're an eighty-five year old man in a shirt and tie. Fans of Stan Lee's genius can expect a wealth of funny and informative one-liners (recorded by the man himself) as he swings and pummels his way through Manhattan.
There is even a special bonus at the end to commemorate Spider-Man's 50th anniversary this year. I throughly enjoyed it, but I can't help but feel that Stan Lee has actually gone completely insane and that no-one has noticed. Someone needs to reach out and tell him that he doesn't need to cameo every single Marvel project.
Let's just give the poor chap a rest - hasn't he done enough for us comic-book geeks over the decades?
The Amazing Spider-Man
:: Publisher: Activision
:: Developer: Beenox
:: Format: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
:: Rating: M