Reviewed: May 4, 2007
Released: May 4, 2007
I’m writing this review for Spider-Man 3 on the “high” of having just seen the midnight showing of the movie and coming off of nearly a week of solid web-slinging on multiple formats. How does this third installment in the action-packed Spidey series, and first venture to next-gen systems, stack up with its predecessors and even the other formats? Read on…
The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions are nearly identical (along with the PC version for that matter) in game material and presentation. They all feature 10 unique storylines along with missions derived from the plot of the film. In some instances, like the subway battle with Sandman, the action sequences are nearly identical from game to film. Treyarch packs in the superfluous material as well, but never fear…there are no kids who need balloons saving or injured pedestrians who need a free swing to the emergency room.
In this new vision of New York City Peter Parker has pretty much cleaned up the town and everyone is happy. His vigilante status has been replaced with the “hero” moniker, at least as far as the police are concerned. J. Jameson still has issues but seems to be coming around once you save him from some nasty kidnappers. Peter and M.J. are quite the item and Peter plans on popping the question. Everything is good in the Big Apple…or is it?
Gangs have moved into the city and are staking their claim to various sections. You’ll need to routinely fight these criminals to keep their hold on the city at bay, all the while partaking in numerous story missions that go several layers deep, exploring favorite characters from Spidey lore and even a few surprises. Spider-Man 3 doesn’t stray from its gaming roots and you still get to seek out numerous collectibles and mini-games hidden around this massively redesigned city about to become the ultimate playground.
The game doesn’t waste any time in starting off with a BANG as a chopper flies into frame and a building explodes. Welcome to the tutorial and guest narrator, Bruce Campbell, who will amuse and abuse (verbally) as you learn the ropes of the revamped combat system, Spidey Sense, the new dodge system complete with Matrix time warp, and the heavily integrated Cinematic Sequences, or what most gamers call QTE’s.
The tutorial lasts about 10-15 minutes and by the end you should be up to speed with everything you need to know to adequately wear the red and blue long-underwear. The most important features are the time-warping blocks and unblockable counterattacks that will quickly become a staple of every fight for the rest of the game, as well as the new Spidey Sense that turns the world a transparent black and white allowing you to see friends and foes and other items of interest, even through walls.
The Cinematic moments can make or break this game depending on your reflexes and the system you are playing on. The Xbox 360 isn’t too bad, but the PS3 has the most unforgiving timer in the history of reflex-button-pushing. I can understand how some designer fell in love with God of War and wanted to put a few hundred quick-response button sequences in the game, but at least give a superhero a chance. Thankfully the QTE’s use the same pattern every time and usually there is some adequate checkpoint use so you can gradually learn the sequences and get through them. Only those with true Spidey reflexes will do them the first time.
Another small issue I had with the game was the length of some missions combined with the number of enemies I must face prior to reaching a mid-level or final boss fight versus the amount of healing available, which is none for the most part. So ultimately, you get really deep into a level and your health has whittled away to a sliver of red and then you face the boss. Yeah…right! But, you can just die, restart from the checkpoint and your health is full. And since most bosses have heath bars that are 2-3 times bigger than yours, you may as well just take one for the team and start fresh. I would have much more preferred an auto-regenerating health system like the Wii version has.
So how about a typical day in the life of Spider-Man, with an entire city at your disposal the possibilities are nearly limitless. You can bring up the stunning 3D map of the city and filter your targets to mini-games, story missions, or crime fighting activities. At any given time there are at least two or more main story plot threads you can follow, and once complete they will unlock the next part in the sequence until you reach the final boss, and then a completely new thread is unlocked. There are 42 story missions in all. Some take a few minutes and some take thirty or more.
Missions are about two things; combat and movement. You need to be a master of swinging and zipping and jumping, which are all integral to the massively complex combat and combo system that evolves over the course of the entire game. You will continue to unlock devastating new moves and attacks, but whether you choose to memorize these elaborate button combos, or merely tap out random sequences of light, strong, and jump attacks with the occasional web-hit, is up to you. One thing is for certain, whether you know what you are doing or not, the action on the screen is phenomenal to watch.
I was delighting in the highly interactive combat that doesn’t feature a lot of HUD information. Other than a tiny health bar above each enemy’s head you are totally immersed in the combat. There is no target lock, but you only need to flick your controller in the direction of the intended enemy to move and attack. When using your super-attacks it is quite easy to aim Spidey and pinball your way around the room getting in some good licks on everyone.
There are plenty of fun diversions for Spidey to take part in when crime fighting gets you down. We all know how much fun it was to climb to the top of the tower on the Empire State Building. Now the designers reward your non-fear of heights with all-new Skydiving missions. Yep…Spidey can base-jump with the best of the extreme athletes, as you get to carefully guide him through numerous cloud rings and ultimately try to swing and land on one of three final platforms – all to the accompaniment of some totally appropriate and awesome opera music.
There are also the races through the city and some very annoying Mary Jane missions where you have to play taxi for the whiny redheaded…err…never mind. You’ll grow to hate your girlfriend as her endless shrieks of GO HIGHER…GO LOWER…GO FASTER…make more than your Spidey Sense tingle. Dump her in Queens…they’ll never find the body. Sadly, you’ll have to do at least the first mission to progress the story of the dark suit.
Ah yes…lest we forget, this newest tale of Spider-Man features an otherworldly black goo that latches onto Peter’s shoe after the first MJ thrill ride and follows him home. Only about 48% into the game (or about 10-12 hours), will the black substance turn into a new and sinister black costume that will bestow all new powers and a rage mode on our hero. Time to take a trip to the dark side.
Spider-Man 3 does a great job of mixing up the gameplay with frequent cinematic moments, often taking you by surprise, which can also lead to some failure and restarting from a checkpoint. Often, you’ll only need to hit a face button or a trigger or move the analog stick in a certain direction, and usually these sequences are no more than 3-5 buttons in length, with the exception of some prolonged fights like Harry (New Goblin) which is nearly 5 minutes of continuous reflex button matching. Even small moments like mashing some buttons to open a door or yank the hood off a car are all cause for quick reflexes and watching the screen for unexpected button prompts.
The game also introduces a clever bomb disposal mode where you must do all sorts of analog twirls, button presses, and sequence pattern matching to make your way through numerous layers of high-tech bomb innards to disarm these powerful explosives. These get progressively more difficult and reminded me of some of those puzzles from the old Dr. Brain games, especially where you have to connect two points by rotating pieces of conduit to form a continuous path.
And finally, we get to explore one of Peter’s skills, that of photography. While the last Spidey game had us delivering pizzas, we are now working for the Bugle and there is a lengthy tour of duty where you get to travel the city and take photos for the paper. Of course, using your Spidey skills will come in handy for most of these assignments, and you even get to use your camera to oust some dirty cops.
Yes, there is a whole lot to do in this latest Spidey adventure, and the game gives you some real freedom on deciding what you want to do and when. Obviously, some missions like the races and thrill rides work better when your skills have advanced to greater levels. There is no Spidey Store or purchasing of upgrades, but rather a natural progression of skills whereby you improve by doing, otherwise known as performance rewards. So if you can’t do something in particular, try something else and come back later.
I was amazed with the next-gen visuals on the Xbox 360, and you really have to look hard to see some very subtle differences between the PS3 and 360. Having both systems running side by side with Peter perched on the top of the Empire State Building you can easily see the PS3 has much more defined graphics, fewer jaggies, and a much greater draw distance, but it also has some framerate issues from time to time.
The Xbox 360 is far brighter, more colorful, and has no framerate issues, but it also masks the limited draw distance by blurring out the distant buildings and throwing in a layer of vaporous clouds. Actually, I thought the clouds were a stunning touch, especially at night when you are swinging through the dark sky and pass through the white mist lit only by the moon. It has a certain “Gotham” quality about it.
Technically, the 360 version supports 1080i and 1080p (for those of you with new Elite systems and HDMI) whereas the PS3 only supports 720p, making it even harder to dismiss those PS3 framerate issues. The PS3 has some serious contrast and color issues as well as just appearing to be ultra-realistic and washed out.
Textures on the 360 are fantastic, and if you take the time to study some of the random store windows you can read all sorts of fun and interesting signs about products and help wanted ads. The towering skyscrapers all have a realistic level of reflection about them and there is great use of natural lighting and shadows. An accelerated night and day cycle will keep things bright before going to an orangey glow and eventually night, when the city comes alive with lights and the flashing neon of Times Square.
Even Central Park has gotten much bigger and far more dense with hundreds of trees and moving branches and leaves that are perfect for zipping across. The city on a whole is more than two times the size of the previous game, but most of that is now indoor and underground locations. You’ll get to explore a massive subway system and a sewer system; all large enough to swing through just like you were outdoors. Numerous key buildings will also let you enter them, all without load times.
The Spidey model is unbelievably cool with more polygons than I care to count and fantastic texturing. I’m guessing this is the same model they used for the CG sequences in the movie because the animation and design is flawless. You will delight in just watching him swing and jump and especially pull off any of a few thousand combat moves and combos.
Major characters also look especially nice. I was blown away by Scorpion, whose new character model features more polygons in just his tail than most other characters have in total. There are a few oddities and many of the characters just have plain creepy eyes that bulge and stare lifelessly. Hair is also more plastic than fiber, but given the scope of the game and the fact that the movies are using the game engine, it’s a totally impressive presentation.
The soundtrack for the game is worthy of a film…for all I know it could be some of the same music. You have that epic hero fanfare that follows Spidey around, and some cinematic scoring for the cutscenes and emotional moments, and then you have this totally awesome “In the Heat of the Night” music while you zip around the night sky.
The voice acting is excellent with surprising performances by Toby, who plays a confident Spidey and a nerdy Peter, as well as Bruce Campbell who delivers some of the most priceless lines in the entire game. They even have console-specific one-liners and the Wii version may be just the best when it comes to humor, at least during the tutorial. J.K. Simmons turns in a character-matching performance for his J. Jameson character while Topher Grace and Thomas Haden Church lend their talents to the game. The rest of the supporting cast is handled with sound-alikes for the important people and just plain good actors for the rest of the population.
Spider-Man 3 has plenty of good sound effects but they seem to be limited to only the action portions of the game. There is very little ambient city noise, which is just plain wrong for NYC, especially when you can look down and see bumper-to-bumper traffic across the city grid and not hear a single horn honking. I also miss the occasional cheers and jeers from bystanders and Spidey swings through town and Peter’s witty responses.
All the important stuff is here like water, fire, rumbling trains, sifting sand, metallic pipes, echoes and reverbs, sickly thwacks as you punch an egg sack, and all sorts of thumps, oofs, and groans of endless combat. The Dolby Digital mix does a great job of putting you into all the action with great sounds and cinematic music.
If we break the game down to the laundry list of content we have 42 missions, 35 secret tokens, 75 gang tokens, 30 skyscraper tokens, 30 subway tokens, plus numerous races and skydiving competitions where you will want to settle for nothing less than gold.
Expect a solid 20-30 hours of gameplay, just for completing the story with maybe some minimal diversions into the extra content the city has to offer. And for those of you seeking fame on Xbox Live there are 1000 points to earn for your gamer score spread across 43 achievements. Most of these are earned through normal progression of the story and side-missions, but some are quite clever and require some dedication, especially if you want to ride on a car roof for 5 miles or splat into the ground 25 times. And you’ll really need to beef up those stats if you want to swing at 200mph and get gold in all the races.
Spider-Man 3 takes the franchise to new and exciting levels of technology and gameplay. New York has never looked better and the increased size and complexity really bring the Big Apple to life. I was glad to see all of those pointless side-missions vanish and get replaced with much more complex story and crime fighting missions. And while it may seem that Spidey is drafting on the current success of God of War II, there is no denying the fun and variety the new Cinematic moments provide.
I really had a blast playing Spider-Man 3. The combat is fun and intuitive allowing you to either memorize infinite combos or just mindlessly mash out random patterns and get amazing results either way. It almost becomes a rhythm game as you perfect the block-counterattack system, especially for the boss fights. And when you aren’t fighting some crazy mutant or saving the city from serial bombers, a casual swing through Manhattan at night is almost therapeutic.
Having just left the theater not more than a couple of hours ago, the movie is still fresh in my mind and I wasn’t terribly impressed. In fact, it seems the movie was trying too hard to emulate the video game. There were specific scenes of Spidey dodging debris or doing special moves where I half expected to see button symbols flash across the big screen. The entire fight with Sandman in the subway is a mirror of what you will do in the video game, only the fight in the game lasts about ten times longer than it did on screen.
Ultimately, anyone who loves Spider-Man is going to have a blast playing this new next-gen installment. Much like the movie, Spider-Man 3, the game, will be the thrill ride of the summer. Everything is bigger, better, and much more polished than the previous games. But most of all, Spider-Man 3 is fun, providing upwards of 30 hours of quality entertainment for anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming one of the world’s most beloved superheroes.