Spider-Man had run out of web-fluid. That's what most people thought after playing the last web-slinging game from Activision. Spider-Man: Edge of Time met with harsh reviews and felt like a rushed, muddled time-travelling mess. Where was all the freedom, fans asked? And what about the speed?
The evils of annualisation dealt Marvel Comics' most popular character a terrible setback, leaving Spidey's video game future battered and crumpled in a trash bin.
Thankfully, development studio Beenox did what Peter Parker do: they went back to the lab and mixed up some new, improved web fluid. And this new stuff? It's pretty impressive.
Taking a look at The Amazing Spider-Man last week at the Game Developers Conference, the first thing that struck me was the bright, inviting vistas of a newly re-imagined New York City. Forget far-future cityscapes. A Big Apple filled with cars, people and, most importantly, crooks is Spidey's best possible habitat and Beenox is building exactly that.
Beenox brings the in-game camera closer than ever to Spidey in Amazing Spider-Man. Dramatic angles track the character's locomotion across the rooftops, letting you see how Spidey's feet come just thisclose to scraping the pavement during a swing. You never really think of Spider-Man being in danger while he's going from place to place but the new camera tracking creates an adrenaline rush just from watching the hero make his way across the screen.
Movement across this virtual Manhattan's going to be completely different from previous Spider-Man games, thanks to a new mechanic called Web Rush. Web Rush lets players slow down time and enter an alternate view that highlights specific points in the environment. One button press sends you jumping and somersaulting to that place. It's semi-automatic locomotion and reminded me a bit of how Catwoman gets around in Batman: Arkham City.
Amazing also appears to have taken a few other cues from the Dark Knight's most recent games, too. Battling swarms of bad guys looked similar to the free-flow brawling in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, with contextual web finishers that bind enemies to the floor, wall or ceiling. But where Batman only utters terse grunts when he fights, expect to hear lots of trash talk from Spider-Man. Y'know, lines like "I'll leave your boys to your nap" at the end of a round of combat. One encounter showcased the game's interior environments as Spidey entered a secret Oscorp lab in search of Curt Connor's research. And using Web Rush in combat and stealth situations surrounds enemies with coloured auras that let you know who's ripe for more aggressive or silent takedowns.
While the movie's mechanical web-shooters will be upgradeable elements in the game, Beenox said that you won't have to be stocking up on web fluid to get around the city. You won't be playing as Peter Parker either. There will, however, be a Peter Parker apartment that serves as a hub as well as photography missions where the Daily Bugle employee uses his shutterbug skills.
Open-world design means side missions and you'll be chasing getaway cars across the map as well as helping out cops locked in standoffs with criminals. The car chase involved web-swinging, pouncing on cars and engaging some quick-time events to dodge, smash windshields apart and punch out a thug. Each chase ended the car stuck in a giant web spun between lamposts.
Elements of the open-world Manhattan will change depending on what's happening in the story. When things go bad, you'll see cloudy skies and crankiness in the game's faux Twitter feed. As for bosses, no footage of freshly-revealed villain the Iguana was shown but a quick snippet of a boss battle against the Rhino. A predictable pattern of charge-dodge-snare was shown, just like some Kotaku readers predicted in comments a while back.
It's impossible to avoid comparisons to Neversoft's franchise-best work on Spider-Man 2 a few years back but I can confidently say that Beenox's work looks like it's taking the best parts of that fan-favorite game and updating them for modern consoles. Amazing Spider-Man's going to serve as a sequel to the movie it's tethered to, so hopefully we'll get an expanded sense of the rebooted Spidey universe. The wall-crawler may be ready for a triumphant return after an uninspired stretch.