Reviewed: June 15, 2002
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: April 16, 2002
Spider-Man is without a doubt one of the most beloved super-heroes of all time. Perhaps it’s everyone’s (or at least everyone who reads comic books) ability to relate to the nerdy kid in school who gets picked on, or perhaps it’s the reasonably plausible circumstances surrounding his transformation into our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. I think we all stand a much better chance of being bitten by a radioactive spider than coming into Bruce Wayne’s millions or finding our spaceship hidden in the cellar under the barn.
For whatever reasons you can identify with our favorite web-slinger, the recent box office records indicate that the entire country loves Spider-Man, so if you enjoyed the movie then grab your controller and get ready to save the world once again. It doesn’t matter which system you own. Spider-Man swings into stores on every format including the PC, and while all of them share the same core game, the Xbox easily offers up the best version of the lot with a few bonuses tossed in for some icing on an already tasty cake.
I was very pleased with last year’s version of Spider-Man on the PlayStation (PS1). It delivered some good graphics (for the system and the time), classic villains, and even had Stan Lee doing the narration. But the game still looked like a comic or at best, a Saturday morning cartoon. Now that we have a major motion picture with live action it is only deserving that Spidey get the next-gen treatment on next-gen systems.
Spider-Man, the game, is based on the movie, which is based on the comics. Like the movie, we begin our adventure as Peter Parker – already bitten, and trying to earn some cash by exploiting his arachnid powers in the wrestling arena. These cage matches make up a small part of your training – a very small part.
Your first actual mission has you tracking down the thugs who carjacked and killed your uncle - you are even wearing your first homemade costume. Then the story takes off on a series of adventures across the skies and inside various buildings as you battle famous super-villains from the comic books. While the movie only features the Green Goblin, the game pits you against many classic enemies like Shocker, Vulture, Scorpion, and an Xbox-exclusive enemy; Kraven the Hunter who appears on two Xbox-exclusive levels.
Spider-Man was designed by the wizards at Treyarch (Tony Hawk Pro Skater), and they have put a lot of work into this game. You can really tell that the designers, artists, and programmers are all Spidey fans, and that this project was truly a labor of love for all involved.
Both Activision and Treyarch worked closely with Columbia Pictures during the production of this game and were able to get some of the actors from the movie to reprise their roles in the game. Most notably, Toby Maguire delivers all the great one-liners for Peter/Spidey while Bruce Campbell is your host/narrator/trainer for much of the beginning of this game.
Of course it all boils down to “immersion” and gameplay. Just like the Superman movie claimed, “You will believe a man can fly”, after watching Spider-Man I truly believed a man could swing around New York City and climb brick walls. This was a great feeling and one that stuck with me after I had left the theater and started playing this game.
If you ever wondered how Spider-Man can control his swings through downtown New York, stick to walls, climb skyscrapers, or kick box like a pro, you will find out during the game's extensive training session. It’s broken up into several sections and more tutorials will appear throughout the game. You can choose to ignore any or all of them, but I highly recommend you don’t. Not only are these training sessions hilarious (thanks to the witty banter of Bruce Campbell), you actually learn how to play the game – something the manual could never teach you.
The tutorials are incredibly cool and take place in various locations that include the city skyline, a cage match in the wrestling arena, and some very awesome maneuvering training in a holographic training maze that looks like something taken from the X-Men mutant academy.
If you successfully completed all the initial training you should find it fairly easy to begin your crime-fighting career. Exercise those fingers, as you will be using every button on your controller, and probably wishing for a few more.
Spidey has over 30 attacks and special combos, although you only start with a few in the beginning. You will find additional combos scattered about the levels as pick-ups, and until you find them you cannot use them – even if you know the button combo. This is a nice feature that adds significant challenge to the game. You simply can’t go online or buy a guide to learn all the moves.
Gameplay consists of two main varieties; swinging high above the city or fighting inside buildings. Both offer their own distinct challenges, and while I prefer the outdoor missions there were several indoor levels I did enjoy – especially the Kraven level that offered some challenging environmental puzzles such as traps and a unique camera perspective.
Spidey moves like a dream with fluid control and silky smooth animation. The only problem I had that took me awhile to overcome was my vertical orientation while swinging. I inherently want to push forward on the stick when swinging forward but this only increased my altitude. I had to fight this urge and learn to simply use the swing button. My biggest thrill was learning how to abort a swing – free fall – do a 180 – and start heading back in the opposite direction. Once I mastered this technique I was the most maneuverable creature in the sky.
Spider-Man can also do some cool moves like zip lining and a vertical suspension (yo-yo). These are great for getting out of sticky (no pun intended) situations or dropping in on unsuspecting bad guys. Just aim and shoot and you will zip to the nearest wall or ceiling that is within web-range.
The game consists of a main story-based adventure that is split over several levels. Every few levels you will fight a boss and along the way you collect various power-ups and new combos. Each mission has a point reward system based on your performance and your power-up collection. These points are then used to unlock a multitude of secrets and extra features. There are mini-games, secret costumes, codes, and even an entire alternate game mode that lets you replay the entire game as the Green Goblin.
The difficulty factor slowly progresses throughout the game, as does your skill level. As long as you find (and learn to use) your new combos you should never have too much trouble defeating anybody. It might take you a few retries – especially for the later bosses, but it never gets frustrating except for one level where you have to deactivate several bombs scattered about the city. For me, that level was harder than any boss battle.
There is also a good mixture of tactics. You often need to prioritize your objectives, and there are a few levels that favor stealth over going in with web-shooters blazin’. Some levels require timing and movement skills like the one where you have to chase Vulture around town as he tries to knock over billboards and water towers. You must repair these hazards all the while keeping Vulture in sight or it’s “mission over”.
The visuals in Spider-Man are probably some of the best I’ve seen in any Xbox action game to date. The levels are huge and rendered out to the horizon with no fogging. Unlike last year’s PSX game that used a story element to obscure the ground with a green fog, you can now see the entire city with towering skyscrapers and even realistic traffic on the streets below. This sparked one of my most disappointing moments in the game when I realized I could not recreate my favorite swinging scene from the movie where Spidey swings down between the cars. Apparently FAA regulations limit our hero to a certain altitude, and if you fall below this arbitrary line you will fall and die.
Swinging around town in this massive 3D world is made simple by an amazing camera system that never faltered for a moment. The camera was in the right place at the right time 95% of the time and the other 5% required only a small adjustment with a simple tap of the camera stick. The smooth swooping and panning of the camera really captures what Spider-Man is all about. Of course if you want to experience the ultimate in “air sickness” then simply use the special code to play this game in first-person view. Just have a paper bag ready.
The intuitive Lock On system is great for aerial combat and performs much like a circle-strafe always keeping you and your opponent in the same view. During my initial battles with the Green Goblin I would make head-on passes and as we passed the camera would spin around so that I was swinging toward the screen with the Goblin in view behind me.
Indoors, the camera has a few more problems. Walls and ceilings become transparent well enough so you are always presented with a decent view of the action, but it can become very disorienting knowing where to move or where to shoot your zip line. One level I had problems with was chasing Vulture up to the top of a tower. As I made my way up this seemingly endless flight of stairs, the entire architecture would spin along with the camera and my orientation. With robots shooting at me and grenades falling from above and sections of stairs collapsing and walls burning it was all quite overwhelming.
The textures and level of detail in this game is stunning. For as many buildings as this city has, they never seemed to look repetitive. They either changed in height or texture design (or both) just enough to always provide something unique to see around every corner.
The power of the Xbox shines as it delivers a flawlessly fast and smooth framerate, beautiful lighting effects, and some of the best animated characters in video game history. You can actually see Spidey shifting his weight and pumping as he swings through town. The animation of his physical attacks rival anything from the latest fighting game. Levels are scaled well and full of interactive objects you can often pick-up and throw at your enemies.
Spider-Man delivers the total cinematic experience by combining some super-hero sound design with the visual eye candy. The Dolby Digital mix is very good yet not a true 5.1 design, or if it was they really need to boost the LFE because my sub never woofed once.
The speech is cleverly scripted and acted out by the stars of the actual movie. Toby Maguire delivers original dialog – not just samples from the movie, and Dafoe reprises his role as Norman Osborn (aka Green Goblin). Of course the biggest treat is Bruce Campbell who narrates the game and instructs you throughout the tutorial. Most of his lines are way better than Peter’s and delivered with impeccable timing. It’s great stuff that will have you replaying the tutorials as well as the main game.
Ambient sounds are done very well with assorted male and female voices yelling random cheers and insults at you as you swing around town defending their miserable existence. Of course you have your obligatory library of audio effects such as explosions, robot noises, etc. that are all excellent quality but don’t stand out enough to rave about in length.
The music is outstanding and taken from the motion picture score. It is cued by the current events unfolding on screen so it really adds to the emotional experience and your immersion in this adventure.
The main adventure of Spider-Man is a fairly short experience if you are playing it simply to get through the story. There are 24 levels and while some levels may take you up to 30 minutes to finish, you will often find that the “par time” for that level is often much less.
The designers’ intent is for you to play and replay these missions to earn all the points, find all the secrets, unlock the bonus items, and master your skills. The great thing is that all combos you have learned throughout the game can be used in previous levels. This makes some of those early boss battles a cakewalk when you can return with super-combos from the final levels of the game.
There are several costumes and hidden secrets you unlock by earning missions points or just simply beating the game on higher difficulty levels. One of these includes being able to replay the entire game as Green Goblin essentially giving you two full games in one. Even though the outcome is the same, the path you take to get there is totally unique, as is the concept of actually playing a super-villain.
There is also a wacky assortment of mini-games that you can unlock. These make great party games when friends come over and you don’t want to play the main game. My favorite has to be the bowling game where you actually fire webbing at bowling pins and it keeps score just like real bowling.
Ultimately, the best thing about Spider-Man is that you have so many attacks and super-powers that the possibilities of HOW you play this game are endless. You could play this game through a hundred times and never get bored and never do it the same way twice.
Everything you love about Spider-Man is in this game. Going back over my experience I cannot think of a single power or ability that wasn’t included. Sure I didn’t get to fight Octopus and I couldn’t buzz between cars during downtown rush hour, but there was more than enough to keep me busy and happy for the past several days and in the weeks to come.
The amazing visuals and cinematic camera angles actually put me in the role of Spider-Man, and the flawless controls made combat and movement as easy as any action game I have ever played. Spider-Man is the best super-hero action game currently available and easily one of the best action games you can get for your Xbox this year. Don’t miss it!