Movie tie-in games are a dime a dozen, aren’t they? Very seldom are there good ones, and those that are usually aren’t tied to a specific movie release, but have had time to be polished and scrubbed (such as the brilliant Batman: Arkham series). This time around, and tied to the film release of Spider-Man 2, we have the video game. Does it fall into the same traps that so many tie-ins do, or will it be able to web-sling its way out of the mire of tie-in hell? Let’s find out.
The game’s story starts during the whole “murder of Uncle Ben” scene, giving some background to events. Time then skips forward two years, and Peter’s still looking for Ben’s killer. His investigation leads him to a network of arms smuggling thugs, and this in turn brings him to investigate events at Oscorp. This leads Spidey deeper and deeper into the web, bringing him face to face with some of his greatest foes. It’s clear, then, that storywise the game actually has little to do with the film, although events in the film are referenced in the game. It’s a strange mix, but I think a slight divorce from the film’s story is a good thing for the game.
Let me get this out the way from here and put your minds to rest: the game does NOT suck. Not entirely. It’s not as bad as “mediocre”. It’s actually pretty darn decent, and I say this begrudgingly. This isn’t to say, of course, that it’s the best movie tie-in in existence, but it’s definitely a good notch or two above the normal drivel that gets shovelled our way in an effort to cash in on a film’s release. As Spider-Man, you can web-sling your way around Manhattan quite freely. The web shots are assigned to the left and right controller shoulder buttons for the left and right hands respectively, giving the entire experience a bit more of an authentic feel. Furthermore, your travels across the city are actually constrained by logic: if there are no buildings for the webs to attach to, you can’t swing. Another, faster mode of travel is the web rush, where you pull yourself from point to point in quick succession. It’s faster than slinging, but definitely not as much fun. As Spidey slings around the city, or beats up thugs, he’ll say the most sarcastic things, which brings me to a point about characterization. This is one of thing that developer Beenox got so delightfully right. Spider-Man’s utterances are precisely the kinds of things he’d say, and also the kinds of thing that made him so endearing.
As you sling around town, (gleefully ignoring the main story in favour of the joy of just web-slinging around) missions pop up that you can perform, whether it be defeating a bunch of petty criminals in a back alley, taking photos of evidence, saving people from a burning building, or rescuing a hostage in a high-speed vehicle chase. The missions go away after a while, the assumption being that things resolved themselves for good or ill. The game has a hero meter, indicating whether Spider-Man is seen in the public eye as a hero or a menace. Miss enough missions, and your rating starts dipping. This directly affects the amount of points you acquire to level up abilities. And trust me, you’ll need those points. Each time you finish a mission, a short, trite news report comes on, telling you that the residents are thankful for Spider-Man’s deeds. It’s nice the first 20 or so times. It loses its appeal after the 50th time. And you’ll hear it a lot.
The story missions themselves, while not terrible, devolve into a kind of sameness after the first few bosses. You won’t be spending more than around 8 to 10 hours in this game on a single playthrough, either (provided you’re not hunting down every collectible the game has to offer—that endeavor will extend the play time a good few hours). The combat, while not as deep and complex as the Arkham series, is still saved by virtue of not being two things: a button mashing extravaganza, and a series of QTEs enough to make Castlevania blush. Make no mistake, there ARE QTEs here, but the entire combat mechanic doesn’t rely on them. One of the best collectibles I’ve ever seen in a game is the comic pages you’ll find scattered around NY, and these can be read as full on comics in Stan Lee’s comic store. And yes, as usual, Stan Lee himself voices his own character as he chats to Peter Parker. It’s a little weird in a very meta way, but if it works…
All that aside, the game can be somewhat glitchy, showing off some nice examples of unpolished code that hadn’t had enough time to go through a proper QA process. I didn’t encounter anything that broke the game enough for me to force a restart, but I imagine that’s only a matter of time. The game could probably have used a few more months of quality assurance, but as a tie-in, it’s inevitable that the development time was foreshortened.
So what we have here is a strange bug—a film tie-in that’s actually some fun to play, and an okay experience. Not unprecedented, but still odd. Up against other big budget games, it’s certainly a poorer selection. However, amongst film tie-ins, it’s by no means the worst. Even among Spider-Man video games it’s certainly somewhere front-of-middle.
And since I’m not sure quite how to finish this review, I figure the best would be to just leave you… hanging.
Final Score: 6.5 Amazing Spider-Prawns out of 10
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, Windows