It seems that the day of publishers trying to cash in on movies with full retail games is coming to an end as more and more films are met with free-to-play mobile to match their release date, trying to grab those caught up in the hype of opening weekend madness. Since the debut of the first Spider-Man film in 2002 (God I feel old…), Activision has been there to release a game starring the web-slinging wonder to stores, even producing one of the most beloved games starring the hero in 2004’s “Spider-Man 2.” With the launch of the Amazing Spider-Man 2, it may be time for Activision to rethink its strategy of trying to meet the opening weekend of future Spider-Man films.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the fourth film from Canadian developer Beenox and second movie tie-in game following 2012’s the Amazing Spider-Man. The story serves more as a sequel to the first “Amazing” game, itself a sort of pseudo sequel to the 2012 film than the film it’s based on, however the game’s story does spoil a few of the films plot points so if you’re planning to see the movie and play the game, I’d recommended seeing the film first. You won’t be playing this game for the story really though, for despite being credited to Superior Spider-Man collaborator Christos Gage and Spider-Man 2099 creator Peter David, it’s more of a series of loose connecting events bringing in villains from the film and comics than a full fledged engaging narrative.
Most people can forgive a weak story if the web-slinging mechanic is fun and I’m happy to say it is here. One of the primary complaints with the first “Amazing” outing was that Beenox did away with anchoring Spider-Man’s webs to buildings and instead let you swing with the greatest of ease…even if you’re in Central Park with no skyscrapers present whatsoever. You won’t get away with that here, as you have to be mindful of your surroundings to make sure there’s a building to attach a web line onto. Adding another layer to authenticity to the web-slinging experience, Spider-Man’s left and right web shooters are mapped to their corresponding triggers on the controller. It’s something that I’m surprised no one has tried in the past and I hope that whoever makes the next game in the franchise keeps with this new tradition. Rhythmically switching between triggers, hitting a building with your left web line to bank around a corner and lead on with your right just feels incredibly satisfying. This is bolstered by the returning web rush mechanic where you can zip to perches and slow down time to launch Spider-Man into some of the most breathtaking acrobatics ever.
What holds back the entire joy of swinging around as the titular hero is the most frustrating design decision ever implemented in a Spider-Man game, the “Hero or Menace” system. While playing in the open world, side missions populate on the map and completing them boosts your “heroic” status and the city of New York will view you as a hero. Ignoring side missions depletes the meter and if it falls low enough you land yourself in “Menace” territory where you’ll be attacked by drones, enemies, and have your swinging routes blocked off by obstacles. This takes away the relaxing fun of swinging around New York, a high point of even the worst Spider-Man games, as you’re always worried about keeping your meter filled up. It doesn’t help that the activities you need to accomplish to raise the meter become repetitive almost immediately, and you’ll steer away from longer, more difficult crimes in favor of short street fights to get you back in the air swinging. This doesn’t turn off even on completion of the game, so if you’re the type of gamer (like me) who likes gathering all the collectibles in an open world, which there are 300 here, you’re going to have to simply deal with it. My entire play through of this game I felt like I was being punished by Beenox for how I wanted to play it.
Outside of the tasks you’ll do to keep your heroic meter satisfied, one of the only other side-quests outside of Superman 64 style ring races are the hidden enemy lairs that will pop up on the map and they’re a welcome addition but few in number. You’re transported to a small level where the goal is to sneak around to reach Oscorp tech that will lead to a new costume. Having unlockable costumes is nothing new to a Spider-Man game, but an interesting element here is that the various suits have different attributes and can be leveled up by playing with them. One of the pre-order bonus suits for example, the Iron Spider, has resistance to ballistics and is great for the combat challenge activities, while the Scarlet Spider has added “coolness” (I’m not kidding) to help your heroic meter deplete faster. The costume system, much like the trigger swapping web swinging, needs to make its way into future Spider-Man games.
Similar to its predecessor, The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s combat is lifted straight out of Rocksteady’s “Arkham” games where you have one attack button and a counter button that you press when your spider sense icon appears on your head. Fighting feels solid, but I started this game on hard and had little to no problem racking up combos of 50 hits or higher. The bosses that you’ll face, of which there are quite a few taken from the popular rogues gallery, are more or less regular enemies with larger life bars, so you’ll have plenty of practice with standard goons by the time you reach them and are easily dispatched. Stealth, something Beenox has been infusing in their Spider-Man games since “Shattered Dimensions,” is an alternate route you can take opposed to fisticuffs, but you have to be fairly close to an enemy to trigger a take down and tracking enemies from a distance or rooftop is less intuitive here than its ever been. Experience gained from fights allows you to unlock new skills from a paltry list of upgrades, but none of them feel especially helpful with the exception of the upgrade that detects collectibles on the map.
Between the open world crimes, the story missions and bosses, Spider-Man will be firing out quips like they’re going out of style and you’ll be glad your TV remote has a mute option. The same few unfunny lines are repeated ad nauseam from voice actor Sam Riegel (returning as the voice of Peter Parker/Spider-Man from the first Amazing Spider-Man), who is a good voice actor don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t seem to fit the role like Josh Keaton did from “Shattered Dimensions” and “Edge of Time”, or even Drake Bell from the popular Disney series “Ultimate Spider-Man.”
Peter Parker gets some time out of the suit in parts of missions, but the only thing he ever serves to do is move the plot forward by walking to a character and starting a conversation, making you wonder why they even bothered to craft these sections as playable and not cutscenes. At the start of your first conversation, you’re given a choice to which topic you’ll address first, and at first you think that the outcome will branch out or change depending on your choices, similar to the Walking Dead or Mass Effect series, but it simply serves to determine what order you get the information in.
A friend asked me a few days ago what I though of the Amazing Spider-Man 2 and my immediate answer was “frustratingly disappointing.” There’s some great new ideas injected to Activision’s long running portfolio of Spider-Man games, held back by some baffling awful decisions made by a developer that has handled the character much better in previous games. At $69.99 on the current generation of systems, I can only recommended this chapter to the most die hard Spidey fans or to wait for an inevitable price drop. Maybe it’s time to call it quits on the movie tie-in business to give Beenox, or whoever handles the next Spider-Man game, the proper attention, detail and quality the character deserves to earn the “Amazing” adjective in the title.
COMIC FROM PENNY-ARCADE.COM