It's the love child of Spider-Man 2 and Arkham City.
Americans disagree about plenty of things—the debt ceiling, gun control, religion, whether or not “Community” is still good now that Dan Harmon left—but there’s one thing that we can all agree on, no matter what stripe: Spider-Man 2 is an amazing game. Released at the same time as the Sam Raimi movie, Spider-Man 2 is an open-world game in which Peter Parker web-swings through the Big Apple with reckless abandon, running up the sides of buildings, collecting collectibles, beating up purse-snatchers, and battling villains high above the streets. No other game before or since has gotten the feeling of being Spider-Man so, so right… until now. Beenox, longtime Spider-Man video game developer, has reached back through time to steal a bit of Spider-Man 2’s mojo while also incorporating elements from Rocksteady’s excellent Batman: Arkham City. The results are pretty spectacular.
The game takes place several months after the events of the 2012 movie. Peter Parker is still working at Oscorp with Gwen Stacy, and an interesting interactive cut scene at the beginning of the game sets up the plot: it would seem that Curt Connors’ cross-species experiments kept going, and robotic engineer Alistair Smythe has been busy creating robots designed to destroy them should they ever escape (guess what happens). If you follow the comics, you’ll know that the robots are Spider Slayers—you’ll fight them and the wild cross-species creatures throughout the game. Most notably, Rhino and Scorpion are re-imagined as products of these cross-species experiments.
The gameplay is divided roughly into two parts: indoor segments and city exploration. Initially, you’ll be doing a lot more of the former, as that’s where your tutorials come in. Indoor environments are surprisingly diverse, but the gameplay is ripped straight from the Arkham games. Spider-Man fights thugs with a combination of straight attacks and parries, then uses his own version of a “takedown” on stunned enemies. Instead of grappling away from danger, Spider-Man web-zips. He can use objects in the environment to cause confusion or stun a group of enemies at once. Spider-Man uses a combination of physical and web-based attacks, and even stealth takedowns after a certain point. Our hero earns experience through finding collectibles and getting into fights. These experience points are used to upgrade your physical attacks or technology—just like Batman.
The game has some hiccups, however. The combat isn’t nearly as smooth and rhythm-based as it is in the Arkham games, so direct combat feels a little more hit-or-miss. The camera also doesn’t pull back when Spider-Man approaches a group of enemies, so it’s easy to get hit from just offscreen. I shouldn’t have to mess with the camera in the middle of a fistfight. While Batman’s got lots of gadgets to supplement his physical attacks, Spider-Man gets some webbing-based attacks but not much else, and since he can’t lock on to a target, I often found myself web-shooting the wrong guy. Combat’s not really a problem when it’s just you and one other dude, but in a crowd, it can get a little hairy.
When you’re swinging around Manhattan, the game is an absolute joy—I prefer it to the actual story-driven gameplay segments in buildings. Holding down the ZR button makes Peter swing through the city endlessly—all you have to do is steer with the left stick. You can crawl (or run) up any building, stop and see the sights on the ground level, and even walk from one location to the next if you want to. There’s plenty to do while you’re exploring, too: finding comic book pages (some of which fly around the city), beating up thugs, returning mental patients (who utter hilarious dialogue), and taking photographs are just a few of the addictive side quests you’ll take on. The city also makes great use of Spider-Man’s slow-motion “Web Rush” ability. Technically you can use it anytime, but it’s great for changing direction in mid-air. You hold down the R button to radically slow time, then aim at a spot and release the button to go in that direction. You can upgrade the amount of time Web Rush lasts, too. While it can be useful indoors (especially when your enemies are spread around), I found it much more useful for tracking down comic pages in the city.
The game is playable on both the Wii U GamePad and the Pro Controller. The GamePad basically displays your pause screen (which itself has many pages), but it’s most useful as a map. You can set waypoints organically as you fly through the city, although you’ll be looking down as you do (possibly missing comic pages in the process). I actually prefer playing on the Pro Controller; there’s nothing inherently wrong with the GamePad, this is just the kind of game I’d rather have a traditional controller in my hand to play (a bit like Darksiders II).
But it’s not all wine and roses for your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. For one thing, the film’s actors didn’t lend their voices (or, apparently, their likenesses) to any of the characters. You’ll never see Peter Parker, for instance, and Gwen Stacy looks nothing like Emma Stone. Whoever is voicing Spider-Man has made absolutely no attempt to imitate Andrew Garfield. It’s a little jarring when you consider that this game is basically a sequel to the film. However, this is not to say that the voice acting is bad—it’s quite good—just don’t expect to hear voices from the movie. More troublingly, the game features an awful lot of minor but noticeable screen tearing, especially when web-swinging through the city. Because this is basically a “Game of the Year” edition of Amazing Spider-Man, you get all the DLC on-disc, but none of it is particularly noteworthy—it amounts to challenge maps and the ability to complete city missions as Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, which is enjoyable for five minutes.
The unlockable content is nice but predictable. Collecting comic pages coalesces into actual digital comic books you can read from the main menu as well as character statues with well-written descriptions (just like the Arkham games). You’ll unlock concept art, too, but it’s a little annoying that you can’t just flip through it; you have to open one then close it before moving to the next. The comics are the most interesting bonus, but they’re a little hard to read sometimes.
Overall, however, I love this game. It provides a fun Spider-Man story and my favorite aspects of Spider-Man 2, but with better graphics and more things to do. Yeah, the combat could be better, but all things considered, that’s a minor complaint. If you have any love for Spider-Man, you owe it to yourself to check this game out.