Neversoft’s Spider-Man and its Vicarious Vision’s developed sequel Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro were great first attempts at making the Spider-Man game that everyone dreamed of playing, but were held back by the limitations of the consoles that they were on. Spider-Man’s webs for example seemingly attached to the sky, there were more interior environments than exterior and you couldn’t freely move around New York City as only Spider-Man could given the linear nature of both of those outings. With new and more powerful consoles in the form of the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, there was perhaps for the first time some real expectations as to what would be the next chapter in the Spider-Man video game saga. In the days of the 8-16 bit era, players were happy to have a game simply with Spider-Man whether he was accurately represented or not, but Neversoft had shown us with just one game that it wasn’t okay just to slap on the license to just anything and call it a day.
2002’s Spider-Man, based on the first Sam Raimi film, was a good first outing from first time developer Treyarch (previously they only had ported 2000’s Spider-Man to the Dreamcast), but it was more of an evolution that revolution of the Spider-Man franchise. The control scheme was streamlined with secondary abilities now handled as trigger held modifiers as opposed to before when they were less accurate button and direction combinations, a rudimentary form of stealth gameplay was implemented and most importantly for the first time, aerial combat was present. When fighting villains like the Vulture and Green Goblin, you as Spider-Man were perpetually web-slinging in the air attacking with dive kicks, webbing, and if you were lucky, you could land on your enemy and attack them. It was amazing at the time, but even then things felt a little….off. Spider-Man was still attaching his webs to clouds and the way he transitioned from each web line was a far cry from how we imagined it from years of comics and cartoons.
With a better grasp on the at the time current generation of hardware, Treyarch accomplished in making a game that people only dreamed of with the release of 2004’s Spider-Man 2, and in a movie game no less. Placing the title character in the growing open-world playground genre, players were for the first time able to pick up their controller and experience the world as only Spider-Man could. No longer could you attach your web lines to the infinite nothingness, instead you had to strategically anchor them to physical buildings in the environment. You weren’t limited to levels but rather a recreation of New York City that you could travel from the top to the bottom of at your leisure, leaping off sky scrapers, letting gravity take control only to save your self at the last-minute with a pull of the trigger on your controller. As revolutionary as it was once upon a time, does Spider-Man 2 truly hold up despite the fact that a lot of games have arguably done what it did only better?
Though the structure of Spider-Man 2 couldn’t be more different from Treyarch’s first movie game, the way in which its story is told is more or less the same. It borrows story beats as well as set pieces from the film of the same name and features Doctor Octopus as the main antagonist but also throws in characters from the comics like a returning Shocker, and for the first time in a Spider-Man movie game, Rhino, Black Cat and Mysterio. Spider-Man 2 was more of a character drama that just so happened to also be a Spider-Man film and not best suited to an action-adventure video game, but the game does a good job of taking what it needs while still telling the basic same story. Three actors from the film: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Alfred Molina reprise their roles as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Mary Jane Watson and Otto Octavius/Doc Ock but of the three, Molina is the only one who sounds like they’re having any fun. Dunst is barely in the game and Maguire’s delivery of his lines doesn’t have the wit or energy that a character like Spider-Man should have and it would have been better to have future Spider-Man voice actor, Josh Keaton, bumped up from his role of Harry Osborn soundalike to the title character.
Spider-Man 2’s claim to fame when it was released was that it allowed players to web swing around an open-world New York City for the first time, and while games like Ultimate Spider-Man and Web of Shadows have arguably handled those ideas better, it’s still something that’s incredibly fun to do in Spider-Man 2 even today. There’s a learning curve to getting the most out of swinging like knowing when it pull the left trigger at the right arch of your swing to speed up or when to charge the jump button to get more height, but given a short amount of practice you’ll find yourself navigate the skyline of New York with relative ease and speed. Even though Spider-Man 2 is at this time approaching thirteen years of age, there’s still a surprising amount of detail found within the game’s recreation of New York City with all the landmarks you would expect and the city, while not as full as it could be, also feels alive with citizens walking the street going about their business and cars driving around that aren’t just taxis.
When you’re getting around in Spider-Man 2, it’s a blast, but when you’re not doing that, things aren’t as fun. A problem with Spider-Man 2, and it’s not just with this game but with most of the open-world takes on the character so I’m not just picking on this game, is that so much effort was put into getting web-slinging right that everything else is just an afterthought. Spider-Man 2 is divided into chapters where each will have a main mission and then it will require you to gather hero points (this game’s form of currency) as well. The way in which you gather most of your hero points is by doing side-missions of which there’s only a handful and they get really tedious, really fast. By the time you get to the final fight with Doc Ock you’ll have fought the same few thugs, protected the same armored car, brought the same few people to the hospital and stopped the same getaway car dozens of times. New wrinkles will be thrown in like stronger enemies and helicopters that have been chased instead of cars but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re more or less required to keep doing these mundane tasks repeatedly when you just went to get on with things. One year later in Ultimate Spider-Man there’s some catharsis to this as Venom has to consume someone who is crying for a balloon, one of the most cringe worthy activities here.
Hero points aren’t just used to progress the game, but also can be used to increase your web-slinging speed, raise your health and buy new moves. There’s a lot of moves to be unlocked and played around with, but overall it’s just simply not that fun to fight enemies in Spider-Man 2. The camera is way too close to Spider-Man, even when your on the city streets, and punches don’t connect like they feel they should. When you can pull off some of the advance moves that incorporate your webbing and acrobatics, you can tell that with just one more pass maybe the combat would almost work, but its way too hard to pull off the advanced moves reliably and it’s just as effective to fall back on some of the more basic ones to get you through. You can purchase moves that say you can go things like hang enemies from lamp posts, but good luck trying to pull it off when you’re surrounded by enemies and with Spider-Man often first choosing to go after an unconscious thug lying on the street.
A big problem with Spider-Man 2’s swinging mechanics is that while they’re great when you’re within New York City, they don’t offer the right precision during missions where you’re not out in the open and especially during boss fights. There’s a few missions that are part of a sub-plot where you’re fighting Mysterio and they’re easily among the worst and most frustrating in Spider-Man 2 (though they do have a terrific payoff). One has you inside where you have to wall-crawl on some panels to avoid lasers and the other tasks you with swinging to the statue of liberty via a series of floating balloons where falling into the water means starting over from the very beginning. In both of those examples it’s made clear to the player what they have to do, but executing on it is a clear test of your patience, especially the latter missions regarding the trip to the Statue of Liberty. It’s easy to grasp Spider-Man 2’s controls when your anchor is a side of a building where you have plenty of opportunities in which to catch yourself, but not so much when there’s a strict penalty for failure and you have to be very direct as to where your web-line goes to.
The bosses, save an outdoor brawl with the Rhino, don’t fare much better than the few story specific set-piece missions. The majority take place inside cramped spaces where it’s a chore keep track of the villain your up against. A villain like the Shocker shouldn’t pose much of a threat, yet he does when you’re wrestling with the game’s mechanics trying to reach him and losing track of him. There is a lock-on that you can activate by pressing down but it’s not very helpful and you’re better off having it turned off than on. The final battle with Doc Ock wherein you have to destroy a series of generators in order to attack him is evidence of it as the camera focuses on him while you’re trying to seek out things to destroy. Turning it off allows your eight-limbed nemesis to sneak up on you while you’re trying to get to very out-of-the-way places all the while a cascading energy beam is coming at you and it’s just as awful as it sounds.
One of the easiest way to play Spider-Man 2 is via backwards compatibility on the Xbox 360 which is how it was played for the purposes of this review. The triggers on the Xbox 360 feel great for the purposes of shooting your webs and picking up momentum and necessary functions that were once on not ideally placed black and white buttons of the original Xbox controller are placed on the bumpers which is much more comfortable. Of course if you already have a PS2 or a GameCube and a copy of this game both will be fine, but if you’re no longer in possession of those consoles or for some reason have never played Spider-Man 2, this is the easiest way to play the game.
Spider-Man 2 is a game with a lot of problems, from lackluster combat, uninteresting main missions and some not so great boss designs. All those problems however are much easier to swallow when you’re swinging through the streets of New York City as The Amazing Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 is a game that’s held on a high pedestal and placed on many a list of best super hero games of all time and while games have come over the years that do what it originally did only better, it’s still the first game to let you play as Spider-Man just as you envisioned him. A reason why this game still matters is that this game marks the last time, as of this writing anyway, that anyone has really done anything exciting and new with Spider-Man in a video game. Bigger maps have been added, new web-slinging tricks, better fight combat systems, larger bosses, etc,, but at the end of the day, they’re still just sharper recreations of Spider-Man 2. In that regards this could almost be considered the Super Mario 64 of Spider-Man games. Mario has got a water pack and shot to space but the game is still all about collecting star-shaped items.
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