When it was released back in 2001, Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro was a respectable follow-up to 2000’s Spider-Man from Activision, but it didn’t do that much new than the game it built upon. What everyone was really looking forward to was Spider-Man’s debut on the sixth generation of consoles which was already announced to be the game that would release next to Spider-Man’s debut on the big-screen in May of 2002. Taking over development from Neversoft and Vicarious Visions was developer Treyarch, those who ported Neversoft’s game to the Dreamcast, for the game simply titled Spider-Man based on the movie of the same name that would bring some significant changes to the established formula, while at the same time playing most things considerably safe.
Spider-Man follows the plot of the 2002 film about a teenager named Peter Parker getting bit by a genetically altered super-spider, learning lessons about power and responsibility, all the while combating the emergence of an emerald clad villain on a glider by the name of Green Goblin. The game does a decent job of summing up the events of the movie without being a slave to them, taking necessary parts that are best suited for an interactive experience while leaving everything else on the cutting room floor, so if you were expecting a mini-game where Peter has to take out the garbage and talk to MJ, you’re in the wrong place. Like the Spider-Man games that would come after it, the plot also expands what is found in the first movie with sub-plots starring familiar villains from the previous PSOne games like Shocker and Scorpion, while introducing the Vulture to a 3-D game for the first time. Treyarch did a really good job of organically spinning these characters into the narrative, giving them movie style upgrades that still retain their looks from the comics and other Spider-Man games.
Anyone who either played Spider-Man on the PSOne or its sequel will have no trouble wrapping their heads around how to control Spider-Man this time around for if they want, they can choose to set the controls the same way, right down to digital controls on the D-Pad. In many ways the direction pad almost feels more comfortable as when you control Spidey with the analog stick and move slightly in another direction, he turns very awkwardly like the game wasn’t designed with eight-way directional movement from anything other than a d-pad in mind.
A much better way to play the game is the new control scheme dubbed “enhanced controls” that removes up, down, left and right as modifiers for your web attacks, instead setting things up such that all you have to do is hold down the left trigger and hit a corresponding face button. In laying out the controls this way, it removes any type of error you may have come across when you accurately needed to activate your web-shield or fire an impact web. I started out playing this game on the Xbox original using the Type-S controller and didn’t find it that ideal compared to the much better GameCube controller or the Dualshock 2. This was due to the placement of the “black and white” buttons below the face buttons. One is used for locking onto an enemy while the other is used for the web-zip move, something you end up using a lot. Reaching it reliably is a pain and not as natural as any other console this game is on. Existing as we do now though, there is a solution. This game is 100% backwards compatible with the Xbox 360, where I restarted my file after playing only the opening levels on the original Xbox, and the 360’s controller layout where the black and white buttons are remapped to the left and right bumpers is ideal.
Outside of how the game plays control wise, the structure is not that different from the titles on the PSOne. A majority of the stages take place in interior environments where you have to sneak through vents, flip switches and collect keys to open doors. A stealth mechanic is introduced very early on where a Splinter Cell-esque shadow meter shows how well your hidden, but other than a stage early on and towards the end there’s never a reason to choose stealth over punch and kick combos. This is probably for the best, as this game is neither Splinter Cell nor Metal Gear Solid in terms of stealth. There’s no way to effectively take down an enemy, just crawl around them, though the AI you have to work around is pretty dimwitted anyway.
An area in where the PSOne titles failed to capture the essence of the Spider-Man character was in the field of web-slinging. You could swing on webs in Spider-Man and Enter Electro, but after two simple swings you were headed for the ground or to the closest rooftop. This game was the first that let you continuously swing around in an open outdoor environment, and for a first attempt it felt pretty good, but the mechanic hasn’t aged well. Holding the right trigger initiates web-slinging and the animation and movement is very jerky. Spider-Man almost stops in mid-air to initiate a second web-line and moves pretty slow, making levels where you have to chase bad guys like the Green Goblin and The Vulture feel less exciting than what they should be. You can also fight enemies in the air which can be pretty fun. Firing impact webs, dive kicking and even landing on a foe and punching them is all very satisfying, but the game fails to throw any new wrinkles as the game goes on, so after you’re first tussle with The Vulture where you will do all of these things, you’re more than prepared for what the Green Goblin can throw at you twice later on.
Normally I’d prefer to play this game on the GameCube for nostalgia’s sake as it was not only the first sixth generation console game I finished, but the first machine I had ever played this game on (I rented a GameCube from a local gas station a week after the movie came out). Playing on the original Xbox is the best way to go however, as there’s an extra mission exclusive to this version featuring Kraven the Hunter that gives an extra level and boss fight. It’s nothing ground breaking should you not have the hardware to play this version, nor are you really missing much, but it’s a nice little bonus to a really short game.
Like the two other games on console that came before it, a huge problem with this game is that it won’t take you very long to beat; Around three-to-four hours on the lowest difficulty setting, or one-to-two sittings. There is some minor replay value to be found in playing on other difficulties, however. You can unlock other costumes by playing on other difficulties, though they only number in two compared to the dozen or more found in the PSOne games. One of the cooler bonuses is the ability to play as the Green Goblin through the entire game where the plot is reworked as Harry donning the costume to try to figure out what happened to his father and using the identity for good. Playing as the character is nearly identical to controlling Spider-Man, but as opposed to web-based attacks you have access to the entire Goblin arsenal and fly around with the glider instead of web-slinging.
An interesting piece of trivia is that Harry Osborn, in the game’s cut-scenes as well as when you play as him after unlocking him, is played by none other than Josh Keaton, an actor who would provide the voice of Spider-Man on the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series, as well as in the Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time Spider-Man games from Beenox. Josh was originally supposed to play Spider-Man before they secured Tobey Maguire to do voice over work. After hearing Tobey’s delivery, you’ll really wish they kept Keaton in, and it’s so hard to hear the flat delivery knowing that somewhere there probably exists a sound file of much better work somewhere. Tobey tries to do his best version of the trademark banter with Spider-Man and his enemies, but the delivery is so monotone with no energy and it doesn’t feel like how Spider-Man should sound. The same can’t be said for his fellow cast mate, Willem Dafoe, who voices Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. He provides the same over-the-top cackling cartoonish super villainy that he did in the movie and you can tell he’s having a lot of fun.
Spider-Man is an evolution from what was produced on the PSOne, but at the same time it still very much feels too much like the PSOne titles despite being on far superior hardware. The introduction of actual web-slinging is a plus, but it’s far too simplistic compared to what Treayarch would go on to implement in just two short years after this games release. Clocking in at a couple of hours, this game won’t take you that long to complete but the replay value is decent enough to keep you coming back for more and overall if you liked the two console games that came before it like I did, chances are you’ll have fun with this game as well. Those who don’t have nostalgia for this game or want something more than what was on the PSOne are better off sticking to games like Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man.