Reviewed: October 3, 2007
Released: October 2, 2007
What’s this? A new Spider-Man videogame and no major film tie-in! That’s right, everybody’s favorite web-slinger is back, this time in an entirely original story inspired by the events of the last film with a presentation that borrows heavily on the look and flavor of the animated series and comics.
Spider-Man: Friend for Foe swings into town today in his latest adventure, and while the action gets started in New York, before this game is over Spidey will have seen more of the world than a piece of lost luggage. And borrowing on the ancient Arab proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, Spidey will be teaming up with the unlikeliest of sidekicks in his quest for more of those meteor fragments that gave birth to Venom.
It seems somebody has snatched up all the super villains and attached a strange medallion to them, not only making them far more aggressive, but also quite forgetful about how they got stuck in exotic places like Egypt, Nepal, Tokyo, Transylvania, and even a lush tropical island. They, along with a small army of holographic soldiers are searching for the missing meteor fragments, so Spidey teams up with Nick Fury, head of SHIELD, and with the help of a sassy computer, a flying fortress, and a growing gallery of former foes turned temporary friends, Spidey must travel the world, recover the meteor rocks, and defeat the mastermind behind this nefarious scheme.
Friend or Foe is an unapologetic brawler that works well when played alone and gets even better when played with a friend. I won’t lie, the gameplay is mindless for the most part, and while there are some pretty cool combos you can master, you can just as easily get by with mashing on the buttons. By the second chapter the combat mechanics will have become second nature and you can engage in idle conversations and not even really have to think about what you are doing.
Now a lot of you might think this is bad game design…not so. First, this game is designed for younger gamers in the 10-teen range, and for that audience, this is pure pick-up-and-play magic. Even if you are all thumbs (or no thumbs) you’ll feel like a superhero as you pull off these incredibly dynamic and animated moves with only two or three button taps.
Older gamers will likely tire with the combat, but the sense of exploration and discovery for the hidden areas, DNA canisters, and Keystone Doors will keep you pounding away at those evil holograms. This 40-something gamer had a hard time breaking away from finishing Friend or Foe in a single sitting. Thankfully, I spread it out across three days and about 10 hours.
My first time playing Friend of Foe I had the luxury of having somebody on hand to try out the co-op play, and we made it all the way through the Tokyo level in just over 90 minutes, but that included some serious backtracking for one particularly annoying hidden DNA tube. Cooperatively, the game plays like a dream with unique attacks and combos for each player depending on their chosen villain. You can even work together with one player holding a larger enemy while the other pummels them with submission damage. There are even team finishing moves.
Of course the real cinematic action kicks in when you unleash a Hero Strike. These are special combo attacks that you initiate by pushing up on the D-pad. You’ll need to have found (or purchased) a Hero Strike icon to do this attack, which starts off with an uber-cool cinematic followed by the equivalent of a smart bomb that takes care of anybody in the immediate area including sub-bosses.
The one thing that impressed me most was how well the computer took over when I was left to finish the last four countries by myself. Not only does the computer get very involved in the combat, it will frequently grab and hold the larger enemies so I can pummel them. If you get too far ahead or above your partner they will just warp to your side, meaning they don’t get stuck or left behind…at least not for long. And when it comes time to stand on those synchronized pressure plates to open doors, they know exactly where to go and what to do. The AI is brilliant.
There is a nice reward system in place. As you work your way through all 20 levels you will smash thousands of objects and dispatch thousands of holograms. As these vanish from existence they are replaced with glowing gold hero points you can use back on Fury’s ship to upgrade Spidey, his web abilities, and also boost the stats and special attacks of all the villains who will be joining your team. The amount of gold rewards, at least for combat, is increased by improving your combo meter, but don’t expect to max out the stats of everyone on a single pass through the game. I was able to max Spidey and Venom, but it would take at least one (possibly two) more trips through the game to max out the entire crew.
Spidey is always a part of whatever dynamic duo you choose to create for each mission, so it’s in your best interest to max his stats and web abilities quickly, even at the expense of player two, who will likely complain you are hogging all the points. While Spidey is always a part of each mission, you aren’t forced to play him. A simple tap of the Y button switches you over to the other character, but it doesn’t really matter since all rewards are pooled into a central fund.
Along the way you will uncover green (invincibility) and red (extra damage) crystals. You can store up to three each and trigger them by tapping left or right on the D-pad. Using them together makes for a few powerful moments of serious beat down action. You can also purchase health refills, but only on Fury’s ship between missions. I didn’t purchase a single one and seldom suffered from it. You will slowly refill Spidey’s health meter by collecting red orbs and many sidekicks have their own regeneration system. And even if you die, it only costs you some of your gold hero points to respawn back into the level.
So how about those sidekicks. Next Level really dug into the whole Spidey franchise to come up with all of your favorites and possibly a few surprises. You can't visit Egypt without the Sandman, and what would Transylvania be without everyone’s favorite vampire slayer, Blade. Throw in Ironfist, Prowler, Black Cat, Lizard, Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Venom, Rhino, Silver Sable, and even a few levels with Spidey in his black suit and you have a large and diverse cast of characters.
I found that it didn’t really matter who you took on each mission. There are no character specific puzzles or combat situations, so Ironfist can kill a vampire hologram just as easily as Blade. I thought this was some missed potential in game design. As it was, I simply played the most recently unlocked character on the next mission if for no other reason than to watch the custom animation sequence for the Hero Strike, then I would revert to whatever character(s) I had boosted their stats the highest.
The levels are quite large with four stages for each of the five chapters. These chapters each have their own theme that is carried across all the stages, culminating in a boss battle that usually relies on manipulating the environment rather than pure combat. The levels wrap around and have a lot of depth and height to them, so you can often look far ahead to where you are going or back at where you’ve been. Their design is linear, but there are often side paths and hidden rooms that you’ll need to watch closely for since the camera angles make for some interesting surprises.
You have no camera control, but the computer does just fine, often snapping 90-degrees when you make a turn, or pulling back or even popping up for an overhead view when you go inside an open building. No matter where the camera is, I never once had an issue with cheap off-screen attacks, and when playing co-op we never got in a fight for camera control. The camera just kept pulling out so we could both fight comfortably.
There are a few sneaky hidden items that will require you to move around to force the camera into revealing them, but a lot of these items are also revealed in the numerous cinematic fly-throughs. And I only recall one lapse in logical map layout (in Egypt) where the Keystone door was at the start of the level and the actual Keystone to open it was at the very end, prompting a massive trek back through an unpopulated level.
Speaking of sneaky and hidden items, not everything is inside a box, urn, or piece of furniture. You’ll want to stomp through trees, bushes, and check out fireplaces, statues, and doors. Often, you’ll get bonus gold orbs and more often than I would have thought, you’ll find that blue Hero Strike symbol, but you can only carry one at a time. Once you are comfortable in the knowledge that you can find these blue symbols several times each level you won’t be so afraid to use them.
The graphics in Spider-Man: Friend or Foe are awesome…for what they are. No, this game is not taxing all of the photo-realism, next-gen power of the 360 but it is creating what I can only call “a living comic book” or a valiant attempt at bringing an animated feature or TV show to virtual life. The opening movie will rock your world and then you are dumped into level after level of gorgeous themed scenery with fun designs and vibrant colors that literally pop off the screen.
The character designs are incredible, especially for Spidey, but even the supporting rogues gallery got the royal treatment with fun animations for running and jumping around and everybody has amazing combat routines, and when those Hero Strike movies kick in…well, let’s just say you will never get tired of seeing them no matter how many times you watch.
Enemy design is a bit weak. There are 20 varieties of enemy holograms, and while each type is distinct and pretty cool to look at, after you have killed them all a few hundred times you simply don’t care what you are looking at. You will certainly appreciate the details in design the first few times though, whether you are looking at a mummy-wrapped hologram or one that looks like a tropical island native, or even one that looks like an eviler version of Venom.
Friend or Foe probably has one of the best soundtracks of any fighter I have played all year…possibly the past several years. Each chapter has its own theme like the Egyptian flavor from that particular chapter or the haunting pipe organ music from Transylvania. Even better, when the ambient music changes into the energetic combat music, they even manage to work in those subtle themes, so you get to dispatch vampire holograms to some pretty cool techno beats mixed with sinister organ music. Another standout was the island level with some serious tribal percussion. The tribal holograms are restless tonight.
For sound effects you get a wide variety of environmental sounds like the wind howling in Egypt or the rushing waterfalls in Nepal, or the creepy sounds of the night in Transylvania. Expect a lot of combat noises for punches and kicks as well as the wet squishy sound of webs getting flung around. Boxes break, furniture splinters, and jars and urns shatter with perfect effects, all in a wonderful 3D surround mix.
And how about that voice acting…Spidey is better than ever, and in my opinion the guy who does this voice does it better than Tobey could have done. It hearkens back to the innocence of the animated series with plenty of bad jokes and fun banter with whatever partner he has taken along. There is also an ongoing and quite humorous situation involving Nick, Spidey, and the ship’s computer, who apparently has a “thing” for Spidey. Every villain is perfectly voiced and delivers a stunning performance for all their major dialogue and even the filler banter during gameplay.
Friend or Foe will take anywhere from 8-12 hours depending on if you are out to get the Achievement points for perfectly completing each chapter. That means you find all the DNA, the Keystone, and the Keystone door to unlock each arena. The tricky thing here is that you never really know when the stage is going to end – at least the first time. There are so many doors you walk through that lead to the next section, but once you exit the level, if you are short on any of the requirements you will need to replay that level. The good news is that you only need to find what you missed, plus you can upgrade your characters before replaying and collect even more gold points for additional upgrades.
In addition to the cooperative campaign mode there is also a Versus mode where you can battle it out with your favorite villains in any of the arenas you were able to unlock during the story mode. This is where the uniqueness of each character is revealed, and you really need to learn and master their individual abilities. While this will make for a few additional hours of multiplayer enjoyment, you probably won't spend more than a couple of days playing this multiplayer mode.
There are 12 Achievements ranging from perfectly completing all 5 chapters to fully upgrading all of Spidey’s web abilities in all three categories. You’ll also get points for getting a 4x combo and for doing your very first Hero Strike. The most difficult objective will be fully upgrading all 14 characters to max stats and bonus attacks. For a measly 75 points it might be hard to justify replaying the game two (possibly three) times to complete this ambitious goal.
Spider-Man: Friend or Foe totally worked for me. I had a fantastic time from start to finish, and even though the combat did get repetitive, the action was so fluid and intense that it never bothered me. I thought the combat was much better than even the major movie games, perhaps because there was less emphasis on swinging and wall climbing.
And for everybody who though Venom got shafted in the last movie (and the last game), you can now play him to your heart’s content. In fact, you’ll have a blast playing all of your favorite villains because we all know it’s a lot more fun to play the bad guy than the good guy, even when your foes become your friends.