Red Herb Review - The Amazing Spider-Man Video Game

If you find yourself roped into a conversation about Spider-Man and video gaming, you won’t go long before someone feels obligated to mention Treyarch’s 2004 Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in.  It’s as if a blood vessel will burst in their head if they’re unable to remind you how much they loved Spider-Man 2.  Before Rocksteady’s Arkham series showed us another plateau of potential, SM2 was widely considered the best superhero game of all time.  Why?  Simple.  Despite being Raimi’s organically webbed, Average Joe interpretation of Spider-Man, and despite having the cruel restrictions of a billion dollar movie license and a very limited amount of time to craft the title, the game managed the unthinkable: it got Spider-Man right.

The introduction of free roam gameplay into the superhero genre was a masterstroke of genius when it came to the Webslinger.  Having the freedom to swing across the tops of buildings only to be able to swoop to street level in half a second was exactly the type of thing Spider-Man should have been doing in video games all along.  Eight years later and our friendly neighborhood hero has been reinterpreted again and, once more, another licensed game has been borne.  Even though last generation’s city swinging adventures brought untold dimensions of playability to Spidey’s virtual outings, we’ve somehow strayed away from open world design this console cycle even though the technology practically caters to it.  But here enters Beenox with their third and probably most ambitious Spider-Man game, hoping to right the wrongs of the past.

Does Whatever a Spider Can…

The Amazing Spider-Man returns to us the open world freedom fans have been craving for oh-so-long.  And it’s back with a vengeance.  Webslinging is smooth, effortless, and most importantly, fun as all hell.  I’ve got a huge fondness for Beenox’s Shattered Dimensions and even (to a lesser extent) Edge of Time.  But swinging across a virtualized Manhattan, cutting through wind like a spandexed knife and slipping between towering buildings is this game’s absolute high point, setting itself proudly apart from its predecessors.  It’s not a fresh concept (Treyarch can tell you that) but it’s an extreme amount of fun and liable to be the first and most pressing feature at the forefront of your mind when it comes to gameplay.

The superb swinging is supplemented by one of the coolest additions to Spider-Man’s repertoire in recent memory: the Web Rush.  Holding down a shoulder button switches your viewpoint to behind Peter’s mask, slows the world around you to an almost standstill, and allows you to tactically choose where Spidey will zip to next.  A multitude of options are presented as glowing gold “potential Spider-Men” resting on light poles, rooftops corners, building sides – basically whatever you can stick Pete to.  Aim at your desired destination, release the button, and you’ll slingshot Spidey to that point in a flash.  The system is so easy to harness that you can clamber your way through the city – reaching absolutely any point – using Web Rush alone.

…And Then Settles for Whatever

Combat, on the other hand, very obviously didn’t get as much attention during development.  The attack/counter attack fight system is lifted from Batman: Arkham Asylum and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; if anything, Beenox should have riffed on Rocksteady more.  Combat is competent but feels lazy – no single encounter really calls for you to deviate tactic.  Most enemies (some bosses included) go down the same exact way and you’re never encouraged to mix it up with the different abilities you unlock.  Granted, Spider-Man’s animations are a sight to behold, especially during instant takedowns, it just ends up feeling a tad hollow, cool looking or not.  Combat opts for accessible fun over depth – like much of the game, as you’ll learn – but repetition sets in like gangrene after awhile.  The very same could be said of the sneaking aspects Beenox forces you to bear through repeatedly throughout the game.

If Batman’s sneaking was a painting fit for a museum, than Amazing Spider-Man’s sneaking is macaroni art fated for a fridge. I got a kick out of stringing up baddies to the ceiling the first dozen times but once you figure out that’s the only narrowly designed way to tackle stealth segments, it’ll take an unearthly amount of patience to stave off boredom.  Plus, stealth takes a turn for the cheap once you realize you can abuse that nifty Web Rush mechanic.  If armed thugs somehow catch you (which is an astonishing feat since their AI is one code strand short of turning their guns on themselves), you can tap a button for a quick Web Retreat to plant yourself to a wall, then use Web Rush to hop from surface to surface in order to both lose your enemies and make them completely forget about you in a matter of seconds (Spidey’s right; truly, no one ever looks up).  Challenge nonexistent, sneaking just becomes a claustrophobic, tedious affair that breaks up the fun of swinging out in the open.

Amazing Revisited

Though both share the same name, Beenox intended their video game adaptation to serve as a companion piece to Marc Webb’s reboot.  Picking up after the events of the film, Peter spends some time in Manhattan at a family friend’s apartment (spoiler: it’s Stan Lee’s apartment which…doesn’t need to make sense).  The primary characters of Pete, Gwen, and Dr. Curt Conners are prominently featured but not a single cast member from the movie reprises their role, which is a detriment because, no matter how you felt about the reboot, Andrew Garfield is a pretty spot on Spider-Man.  The new voice cast (including Mr. Steve Blum pulling a serviceable take on the Lizard) does well enough but characterize their parts differently than Webb’s vision, and the humdrum script only plays into further separating this adaptation tonally.

Plus, I doubt comic buffs will have much to love when it comes to the explaining away of famous villains’ origin stories.  Rogues gallery alumni like Rhino and Scorpion are depicted as mute genetic aberrations that are more animal than human (or, in some cases, not human at all), devoid of characterization and turned into hulking monsters.  Beenox treats Oscorp as if it were the Umbrella of the Amazing universe and on paper that doesn’t sound terrible (not to me anyway), but that doesn’t mean I want to see highly modern, extremely boring reinterpretations of bad guys.  I’d take a harder look at the Ultimate line to see how it’s done right, Beenox.  Although, kudos to your rendition of Spider Slayers.  Tangling with giant, sentient metal programmed to kill me never got boring.

The Places You’ll Go, the People You’ll Web

The outdoor segments in the city really are fantastic.It’s the same high flying thrills you’d find in Spider-Man 2 just coated in today’s visual flair (impressive visual flair at that).  Unfortunately for us, the side missions and emergencies present in digitized New York haven’t evolved much in the eight since that title.  Be it a car chase, a randomly appearing rooftop of snipers, or a sickly pedestrian vomiting noxious green emissions on the pavement, there’s no variance in how you approach these situations or how to complete them.  You’ll always go into the same quick-time with car chases, you’ll always have to do a stealth takedown on snipers, and sick people will always need to go to the same makeshift hospital tents.  But even despite these missions’ repetition, as long as I was flinging through the city, taking care of business in proper superhero fashion, I was having fun.  Beenox truly allows you to feel like Spider-Man and that’s – excuse the comic pun – marvelous.

That’s why it’s such a shame that these events – including an assortment of 700 comic pages floating about the city for you to collect (which is more addictive to do than it sounds) – are finite.  I can understand collectibles run dry; that makes sense.  What doesn’t make sense is that New York (or any major metropolis for that matter) can run out of crime.  You can literally expend the city of things to do and that’s a goddamn sin for an open world game.

More confusing is how the main story missions play out linearly.  The game schizophrenically switches to the same indoor level design of Beenox’s previous games and, I won’t knock Beenox’s skills when it comes to crafting fun and decently paced missions, but  it’s just jarring to have my wings clipped in between spells of webslinging freedom.

Short of Spectacular, South of Amazing, Still Definitely Spider-Man

At it’s best, the Amazing Spider-Man is a blast.  Even with an abundance of flaws and a dizzying lack of foresight put into giving the game longevity, it’s still one of the best Spider-Man games ever made, accomplishing the task put before Beenox to adequately remind us why Spider-Man 2 blew our little minds back when Tobey was wearing the tights.  Yes, it’s a linear ride, and it certainly has those rough, unpolished edges a game rushed to market is burdened with, but the biggest complaint resting on my mind as I plowed my way to the end of The Amazing Spider-Man was that I wanted more of it.

Just about a decade ago, 2002’s Spider-Man got itself a video game adaptation.  It, too, suffered from limited design but that didn’t stop it from being fun and certainly didn’t keep fans from embracing it.  Then, as we’ve mentioned, Spider-Man 2 came out and crushed it.  Beenox has laid the foundation for the kind of experience I want, here’s hoping they build something amazing on it next time.

[The Amazing Spider-Man was purchased and reviewed on the PS3 where I, of course, screwed with the date and time in order to unlock bonus costumes.  Now, the final upgrade in my game won’t unlock, denying me of 100% completion.  This hasn’t impacted my enjoyment of the game, just my enjoyment of life.

You can aslo find The Amazing Spider-Man on the DS, 3DS, PC, and Xbox 360.]

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