There probably hasn't ever been a superhero who hasn't gone through the cycle of losing his/her powers, getting them back and becoming more powerful than ever. It's been the same for video game series devoted to costumed crimefighters. With Rocksteady Studios' Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Batman's currently enjoying the best titles ever made in his image after years of terrible, thrown-together efforts.
Meanwhile, it's been a transitional time for the Dark Knight's rival from Marvel Comics. The undisputed high point for the Web-Slinger's game appearances was Spider-Man 2: The Movie, a game that gave players a open-world Manhattan to swing through and fight crime in. Amazing Spider-Man revives some of the joys of that PS2 classic but also stumbles in how it tries to modernize the open-word superhero formula.
Note: There might be a few spoilers for the Amazing Spider-Man movie so you might want to read carefully from here on out.
There is indeed an open-world Manhattan in Amazing Spider-Man and swinging through it feels great. Dev studio Beenox animates the main character's signature means of travel beautifully, which pars well with their decision to bring the camera in closer to the action. This isn't the web-swinging of previous Spidey games, though, where you had to take care to attach your web anchors to actual structures. In ASM, you're always swinging, even if there isn't anything in sight that you could be tethered to. However, as freeing as the open-world swinging feels, you don't get a real sense of speed. You can't chain together a series of arcs to get from point A to point B any faster.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Platforms: Xbox 360 (version played), PS3
Released: June 26
Type of game: Third-person action/adventure.
What I played: Finished the main story quests in about 10 hours. Sampled various side mission for about two hours.
Two Things I Loved
- When you're fighting flying enemies in Amazing Spider-Man, the experience really feels like the entire city is a giant, gorgeous battleground.
- The soundtrack delivers nicely sweeping cinematic accompaniment to all the Spider-action. It's nice when things function the way they're supposed to.
Two Things I Hated
- Because you'll be fighting bad camera control, the stealth gameplay never feels satisfying.
- This version of New York City doesn't have much character, coming across as collection of skyscrapers with not much soul.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
- "Amazing Spider-Man is about half of what you want from a Spider-Man game ." -- Evan Narcisse, Kotaku.com
- "Please stop making > Spider-Man games every year, Activision. Take a break. Aunt May's favourite nephew deserves better." -- Evan Narcisse, Kotaku.com
But Beenox does introduce some welcome evolution to how players get around in this latest Spidey game. The key new mechanic in ASM is the Web Rush, the alternate-viewing mode that you can trigger with a bumper press. While in Web Rush, you can see available perch points and interactive elements in the environment. Web Rush lets you cover large distances very easily and quickly grab items like dumpsters or giant crates to smash into groups of foes. It also lets you sense enemies throughout the environment and unleashes special attacks from afar, sending Spidey leaping at turrets, robots or street thugs.
Amazing Spider-Man picks up where the movie of the same name leaves off, pitting Spider-Man against the outbreak of a virus that mutates people into vicious genetic hybrids. Peter Parker's fighting on two fronts, too, since he's also got to unhinged scientist Alistair Smythe's dangerous efforts to stop the plague by unleashing lethal robots across the city. You get a lot of snappy patter in the game's dialogue but voicework doesn't really stand out as anything special. A few moments in the plot stand out with regard to Peter's relationship with girlfriend Gwen Stacy but main villain Smythe doesn't make much of an impression.
Classic Spider-Man villains get re-interpreted as cross-species -- genetic fusions of man and animal that also spread a dangerous virus that threatens the lives of ordinary citizens. So, you'll be chasing Vermin, Rhino and Scorpion through sewers, secret labs and other locales. The plague that these villains also spread turns ordinary humans into infected enemies that Spider-Man will also have to take down.
The shadow of the Bat looms large over Amazing Spider-Man. Rocksteady's triumph in their Batman games wasn't strictly in inventing anything new. Rather, they executed various gameplay elements so deftly that the whole game felt well-crafted. Amazing Spider-Man uses the one-buttton combat template popularised by Rocksteady and also leans heavily on stealth segments. The pacing of the combat feels cramped in ASM and I never felt as strategic or unstoppable as I have in an Arkham game. Too often, I felt like I won fights simply by darting in and out and mashing buttons, rather than by a smart and quick deployment of attacks.
Stealth is clumsy and frustrating, largely due to the terrible camera control you get in indoor environments. Targeting thugs or infected enemies for stealth takedowns while crawling overhead was always confusing because a switch to first-person forces you to re-orient your position relative to you target. You don't feel quite like a deadly insectoid predator. While you do have the choice to use straight-up fisticuffs, sneaking along and stringing baddies up or using environmental elements like exploding oxygen tanks, those options quickly congeal into a conglomeration of repeated mechanics. It gets to feeling rote and doesn't have a strong overarching tonality to keep you invested.
As in the Spidey games that came before it, Amazing's version of New York City gets stuffed full of side quests. You can stop random crimes, stop bank robberies and car chases and search out secret Oscorp labs for upgrades. You'll also get photo challenges in every level, as well as in the open-world city, where you need to snap pics of Oscorp's shady practices or New York City weathering the destruction and recovery from various calamities. The aerial combat in some of these side missions feels great, though, and happens in speedy and thrilling sequences that feel just like an acrobatic Spider-fight should.
The elements of ASM that feel good quickly lose their ability to excite after being repeated over and over and the parts that don't work serve as reminders that other open-world superhero experiences feel more sharply tuned. The sense of flow generated by the combat and movement in ASM isn't as fluid and tight as in, say, Sucker Punch's Infamous games. While better than Beenox's last two Spider-Man games, Amazing Spider-Man comes across as a middling effort and will feel disposable to even the most hardcore Peter Parker fan.