With great power comes great responsibility. This is Spider-Man’s mantra, passed on to him by his uncle Ben before he died. It’s what Spidey and
Peter Parker live by. A shame then that Spider-Man developer, Beenox, doesn’t apply the same to their development process
That might sound harsh, but in the wake of the Batman: Arkham series, there’s no excuse for failed superhero games anymore. There’s no need to rely on licensing a product to an active greater media release, because the aforementioned series has broken that mold; exploring a purpose-built narrative to take advantage of what videogames can offer any such IP or popular franchise, and while The Amazing Spider-Man is easily better than the last few Spidey games released, and has a lot going for it, its ties to the forthcoming movie series reboot and blatant attempts at capturing what the recent Batman games did right, leaves it in a funny place.
That funny place is structure, because as an “open-world game”, Spider-Man does a bang-up job keeping you on-rails early on. Actually it does this deliberately... almost too
deliberately. Remember that Joker walk-in scene in Batman: Arkham Asylum? It’s pretty much recreated here, only with a lot less purpose, freedom and engagement. In fact the entire sequence, which took close to 10-minutes nearly broke the “Call to Action” element of the game, but got away with it because I knew what was eventually coming - the freedom to swing around Manhattan, unhinged and totally free as the Amazing Spider-Man.
Only that moment never came, at least not for another 20-minutes or so. At least in the Arkham Asylum intro I could freely move Batman about and *sort of* interact with characters with dialogue that was engaging and on-point. In Spider-Man though, the parallels are akin to a dog chasing a car. Heck, they even have a similar sequence to the first time you see Killer Croc in Arkham Asylum (an awesome moment, by the way), only here it’s with Rhino, and while certainly on-message, the sequence didn’t help in separating what Batman is, and did, and what Spider-Man is, and should be.
So surely the saving grace then is the moment you do get to finally swing around the city, free as a spider. Well truth be told, it was exhilarating. At first. But it also became very repetitive, very quickly. The city itself offers no life, and despite all the cars and peds below, it all felt and looked quite orchestrated
. The repetition didn’t stop there either. As you progress through the game, you gain the ability to listen in on police chatter so you can thwart petty crimes in back alleys, but honestly there’s no urgency here, or repercussions for non-action. I stood on a ledge above one of these crimes with no intention of stopping it. Unfortunately the game’s petty thugs are pretty damn patient, and nothing actually happened. So I jumped down into the thugs’ field of view where they reacted to my presence, but after I quickly removed myself from the scene they simply went back to staring, indefinitely, at their would-be target as he cowered just a few feet away.
There are distractions about the place, such as the 700 comic-book pages littered around the city, or the challenges offered by Bruce Campbell -- aka Blimpy Boy -- but they’re all a bit wafer-thin. Navigating the city is also a bit of an oddity. Web-slinging has gone back to its cloud-based roots from all those years ago where Spidey could apparently attach webs to thin air in order to get around. There are issues with swinging directly into the side of a building where sometimes you’ll just turn 180 degrees and swing back in the other direction, or you’ll start running up the side of the building, but again, in the opposite direction you were going, adding immeasurably to the disorientation part of the game, which in closed spaces crops up much more than it should, let along outdoors.
Honestly, I don’t know why, in such a giant
playground with giant
buildings like Manhattan, the team didn’t attempt to craft a purpose-built physics system that required players to think
like Spider-Man. Have each trigger on the controller set-up as Spidey’s left and right arms, respectively, and then have them use web-slinging the way the title-character does. If Rocksteady can create a physics and contextually-correct system for Batman to
glide through Gotham, then surely something can be done for Spider-Man and his city playground
But this brings me to another of the game’s greater shortcomings - real-world consistency. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far, especially in the superhero world, so viewers/players need foundations they can relate to - concepts that make sense to us from a basic human understanding of things, but the Amazing Spider-Man is void of these.
Early on in the game, when your hand-holding on-rails section is coming to an end, you’re forced to believe that hideous, dangerous-looking half man, half animal creatures (like Rhino and The Scorpion) simply aren’t enough of a threat for the scientists handling them -- cowardly nerds as I’ve come to learn over the years -- to want to run away from. Rather, they stand still, waving their arms around like they’re controlling some Kinect or Wii title for as long as it takes me to trigger their next set of animations, before they’re either killed or just drop to the ground by the force of, I don’t know, the sheer, evil glare of these apparently vicious abominations.
Moreover, combat, which should be a staple system in any
Spider-Man game, has taken a few things from Batman’s utility belt as well. There’s an evade/counter system in place now, and you essentially fight everyone in contextual arenas with a more nimble character who borrows much from the area-code of 619. But the depth throughout is as shallow as the personalities you’re fighting, and lends itself to more of a button-mashing experience than that of Batman’s brilliant timing and grace-laden game-changer. It’s just another area, among many, where Spidey has tried to borrow from the Bat and failed miserably. I’m no biologist, but last time I checked, Bats and Spiders aren't friends.
And that brings me to my last point - sticking feathers up your butt, does not make you a chicken
. The Batman parallels throughout this review aren’t part of some Marvel vs DC thing, because I actually love both characters, and am an avid reader of each of their comics - both old and new. Rather it’s that in trying to capture the critic and market success of Batman’s Arkham outings, everyone involved in the Amazing Spider-Man overlooked just why that game worked in the first place. And herein lies the rub: Batman succeeded because it was a game built around being
Batman, but Spider-Man’s latest adventure is more hung up on emulating the Batman success that it forgets to employ what it should mean
to be your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Everything from the combat, to the city; Spidey’s lacking animation trees, his reliance on technology over heightened senses, and beyond, leaves the experience a vacuous one, and one I hope the team learn from in the future.
There are a handful of decent ideas here, but nothing within is original. And there’s a serious lack of excitement; of tone and transition. The lack of a day/night system or dynamic weather, for one, keeps at bay what has the potential to be awesome. Beenox needs to stop spending so much time rendering the perfect Spider-Man avatar, and remember what it means to just be
the wall-crawler. I wanted to say otherwise, but the Amazing Spider-Man is not a wise investment.