Reviewed: July 23, 2004
Released: June 28, 2004
Spider-Man…Spider-Man…friendly neighborhood Spider-Man…, huh…oh, sorry. I’ve been humming that ditty for about three weeks now, which is just about how long I’ve been playing Spider-Man 2, the latest game “spun” from our web-slinger’s feature summer blockbuster that is shattering box office records around the world.
If you haven’t seen the movie then stop reading this review and go see it now. I’ll wait. Not that you need to see the movie before playing the game mind you, but you owe it to yourself to see the “best super-hero movie of all time” - Roger Ebert. Actually, Spider-Man 2 (the game) does manage to follow the events of the movie, but it does so in such an innocuous way that experiencing either first will not spoil the other.
Expanding on the concepts and most certainly the scale of the 2002 Spider-Man game, Treyarch, was created a complete world, or at least a massive section of New York City, for you to live out your wildest Spider-Man fantasies without your mom screaming at you to take off those Spidey PJ’s and get off the roof.
More than just a game or a retelling of the events from the film, Spider-Man 2 is a “super-hero simulation” of what it would be like if you actually were Peter Parker. Rather than being led by the hand on a string of scripted missions you actually go to school, work at the local pizza parlor, freelance for the Bugle, and try to maintain a relationship with Mary Jane Watson.
Of course those haunting words of Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility”, will constantly put you in high demand as the single most sought-after crime fighter in the city. Apparently New York’s finest are unable to keep rampant criminal activity at bay, so it’s up to Spidey to swing into action and prove he is more than just a vigilante with an axe to grind.
Spider-Man 2 introduces several characters, which are old-favorites of the comics but have no bearing to the events from the film. Mysterio, Shocker, and the sexy Black Cat (move over Catwoman…grrrr…) all make an appearance along with cast regulars like Jonah Jameson, MJ, Harry, and movie villain, Doc Ock.
With a massive city crying for help, work, school, and relationships teetering on the edge of collapse, and super-villains lurking about, you and Spidey have your work cut out for you, but this is all routine in the day of the life of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Nearly every review so far has made mention of Grant Theft Auto, and while I can see some similarities as far as the open-ended gameplay and sheer scope of the city, when it comes to gameplay I would have to classify Spidey 2 as more of an RPG than anything else. Allow me to explain.
Spider-Man 2 is designed around chapters. Each chapter is very similar to Spider-Man increasing in a level of power and experience, as the challenges and number of enemies in each encounter increase and the game progresses. You are constantly earning Hero Points as you do good deeds, or loosing some if you fail a mission. A certain number of Hero Points are required before you can advance to the next chapter (i.e. leveling up), and you also spend these points to buy new and more powerful combat moves, combos, and aerial acrobatics.
This style of design is excellent as it forces you from rushing through the story. You are literally forced to explore the city, solve random crimes, search for secrets, and just have fun. The story elements are so cleverly woven into the real-time gameplay that at times it really seems you are living the life of Peter Parker. You’ll be running late for work and hear that cry for help from a lady getting her purse snatched and have to make some tough decisions.
Bruce Campbell (wrestling announcer from first movie and theater doorman in sequel, not to mention close friend of Sam Raimi) is back to guide you through the tutorial and voice the more than 200 hints scattered about the city. The tutorial is invaluable in getting you adept in the mechanics of swinging around the skyline as well as learning all of Spidey’s amazing combat moves and combos. You can further hone your skills in the arcade, which is home to four mini-games that are not only entertaining but also designed to improve your abilities for the “real world” outside.
You’ll spend most of the game swinging around the city so it’s important to master the art of swinging and acrobatics. Unlike the first game, you must now actually have an object above or nearby to swing from, so if you launch yourself into an open area with no buildings you might find yourself smacking some asphalt. Later in the game you can master the art of zip-swinging so you can swing horizontally from buildings and trees (like in Central Park). Skilled web-slingers can even target the occasional chopper and hang on for a spectacular tour of the city and possibly a trip to a secret destination.
Gameplay is so fluid it can make you motion sick. When you find your rhythm you will be swinging from building to building, running along walls, sprint-jumping, and performing trapeze-like swings from light poles before landing on the hood of a moving car to stop a carjacker. By design, the game eases you into most of these skills and gives you time to master them before you have enough Hero Points to buy more at the local Spidey Store.
Combat is simply amazing, and not only do you have numerous punch and kick combos, you can also integrate your web-slinging into the melee. A quick shot of the web will temporary stun and blind an enemy or you can spin them into a cocoon to disable them even longer. You can also snatch weapons from their hands or even lasso a thug and whip him around cowboy style, using him as a weapon. Rush attacks will launch an enemy into the air and you can jump up and meet him for a devastating mid-air combo assault.
Your Spidey Sense will warn you of imminent danger giving you time to dodge an attack or bullet and perhaps even counter with a follow-up move of your own. Later in the game you will almost certainly encounter seemingly impossible odds as a dozen or more thugs gang-up on you. This is where your Spider Reflexes come in. Similar to “bullet time” everything slows down and your attacks do extra damage. Additionally, you get advanced warning on incoming attacks, and there are even special combat that can only be done during this time-warping sequence.
All of this swinging and combat comes into play on the hundreds of missions scattered throughout the canyons of New York City. Missions come in two flavors; voluntary missions and random crimes. You trigger voluntary missions by interacting with the character noted with the green icon. Since you are agreeing to perform whatever task they require, failing a voluntary mission will actually deduct Hero Points from your total.
Voluntary missions might include a carjacking, armored truck heist, police gunfight, car chase, sinking boat, or window washer dangling from the side of a building. Oddly enough, the person requesting you to perform the mission might be several blocks away from the actual event so you have to race the clock just to get there then successfully complete the task. Other times, a cry for help is merely a trap to lure you into combat with a group of thugs lying in ambush.
There are also random events noted with a purple dot. These missions can be ignored or completed with no penalty for failure since they are more like “good deeds” than actual missions. These include retrieving a lost balloon for a child, retrieving a stolen purse, or chasing down and stopping a dangerous driver suffering from “road rage”. Oddly enough, even though he was an angry driver he becomes strangely subdued when you beat the crap out of his car and smugly tell him, “that’ll teach ya to drive more responsibly”. Spidey is going to need liability insurance when this game is over.
You will also have primary objectives associated with each chapter. Some of these are on a timer like capturing a bunch of photographs for a paper deadline, while others can be done whenever you feel ready to move on and advance the story. There is always one objective, to earn a certain amount of Hero Points, and this is what usually encourages the free exploration of the city.
There are plenty of other activities to occupy your time in the Big Apple. There are 20 Pizza Delivery missions that get progressively harder. The Bugle has 10 Photo missions that will have you racing to several waypoints to snap pictures of the city. If you can find Mary Jane’s apartment her door buzzer will offer 6 missions that will have you racing to keep a date with your redheaded love-interest.
There are over 200 Hint icons scattered about the city. Many of them repeat the same information but they all offer a small amount of Hero Points and a special title if you find them all. There are also 150 Challenge tokens scattered about the city. These range from easy to insane and all require you to race through checkpoints and perform special moves as designated. When you complete a Challenge a new MEGA Challenge becomes available. Completing all 300 challenges will be a lengthy endeavor.
Last but not least are exploration tokens that include Skyscraper, Secret, Hideout, and Buoy tokens. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of these scattered through the city, some obvious and others cleverly hidden away in back alleys or inside buildings. Even with a good strategy guide by your side you can expect countless hours of exploration to find them all.
As you can see, Spider-Man 2 is loaded with content, and the creative game design, and ever expanding combat and acrobatic styles will keep you playing long enough to experience most of it without ever getting bored. Sure, stopping that same armored truck robbery for the 47th time might seem repetitious but the “way” you stop it will always be different.
Spider-Man 2 is a game of such visual complexity and detail that only the Xbox has a chance at delivering the city of New York to the console market with any hope of success. Sure, the PS2 and GameCube versions offer a valiant attempt but much is lost in the more subtle details. The Xbox presents a powerful image of the New York skyline whether it be night or day, along the coast of the river, or in the box canyons of Manhattan.
It is obviously that all the main characters were given an extra dose of TLC as they were drawn and animated. Spidey has never looked or moved better as he swings from building to building and transitions into sprints, tumbles, or backflips. His combat and combos flow together better than any dedicated fighting game.
Black Cat is awesome, especially in her catlike animations and smooth movement, as is Mysterio and Doc Ock. Even your cigar-chewing boss, J.J. Jameson, and his flirty receptionist are accurately reproduced. Where the game does show some weakness is in the population. It seems that everyone is modeled after a few core meshes and textures and all the women in the game are downright ugly, wearing business suits and looking like reprocessed male characters.
The city textures are rather spectacular, especially in light of their simplicity. At any given time you aren’t likely to see any repeating textures or building models, so the entire city has a fixed and unique look about it. This helps you to recognize certain landmarks and learn your way around the city after 15-20 hours of gameplay. The city lights up at night (especially Times Square) in a realistic fashion with windows and flashing neon and billboard, and during the day the skyscrapers reflect their surroundings in a convincing yet simple reflection map.
Every now and then the skyscrapers and box-like construction will make way for an original piece of architecture like the cathedral or the towering Chrysler building or other specific landmarks. Even the Statue of Liberty is a reachable location if you are clever enough to find a way to reach it. If you climb to the top of the tower on the tallest building in New York you will see an impressive achievement in that there is no fogging and you can see detailed structures from one end of the island to the other.
The camera is flawless and there is even a lock-on function you can use to keep a particular enemy in focus during hectic combat. Otherwise, prepare yourself from some vertigo-inducing action, the likes you have never seen on any game to date. Free falling from 1,300 feet, performing twists and tumbles, then swinging from a nearby building arcing down through rush-hour traffic is no longer reserved for movie finales. You can really do it and it looks and feels just as cool.
Bruce Campbell kicks off the star-studded cast of talent with plenty of wisecracking tutorial assistance and more than 200 hint quotes. You just have to chuckle when he tells you to jump off the building and when you do he quips, “You do everything you’re told”. His delivery is priceless, even after you’ve heard over a hundred hints. Bruce will even interject some useful advice if the game senses that you are having problems in some area or another.
Tobey Maguire voices the role of Peter/Spidey and does a decent job. Some lines are better than others. When he’s doing lengthy narratives it sounds a bit better than when his one-liners simply appear at random and out of place. I’m sure reading these lines into a microphone and having them sound like they should within the context of the game is harder than it sounds.
The rest of the voice cast sounds as if they phoned in their dialogue while standing in line at the bank to cash their paychecks. Other than Black Cat, who sounds as awesome as she looks, MJ, JJ, Harry, and especially the citizens, range from below average to downright poor. At least there is an authentic hint of a New Yorker accent in the “intentionally cheesy” civilian dialogue.
Sound effects are suitably comic book inspired with thuds and whacks during combat and the zip of web-line as it shoot from your wrists. There is plenty of environmental noise like traffic and pedestrian chatter as well as the frequent shouts of “Menace”, “Get a job” or Buy a car” as you swing by over the envious pedestrian traffic.
The soundtrack is authentic Spidey material that never really rises above anything other than a backdrop for the game. There are a few energized sections during sequences like chasing Black Cat across the top of the city or frantically rescuing a bunch of victims from a sinking boat, but most of the time the music simply exists. Sometimes it will fade entirely away only to become very noticeable when it starts back up again for no particular reason.
Spider-Man 2 is a massive game. If you play it strictly for the chapters and the scripted events you can still expect a solid 12-15 hours of gameplay. I’m going to bet that if you are like me you are going to at least get partially caught up in the thrill of swinging around town and forgetting about the story for long periods of time. Casual gamers will easily get 20-30 hours from this title.
And then we have probably the most elaborate and comprehensive collection game in the history of collection games. If you add up every secret, challenge, hint, and mission in this game there are more than 1,000 things to do and collect. Vice City is a mini-game within a game compared to Spider-Man 2. Prepare to dedicate a month or more of solid gaming (100+ hours) to finish this game to 100% completion.
While there are no unlockable bonus items to reward your dedication, there are numerous titles and ranks you can earn and plenty of statistical information that is kept like your highest freefall, miles walked, gallons of web-fluid used, etc. It’s trivial stuff but I bet you find yourself comparing notes with your friends.
Action, adventure, mystery, intrigue, romance, combat, exploration; this game has it all, and at times dangerously approaches becoming a simulation. That’s just how immersed you will become as you take on the dual-identities of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. You’ll suffer with his inner conflict as you balance the issues of your daily domestic life with the responsibilities thrust upon you by your destiny.
Spider-Man 2 is a game of epic proportions, both in scale and content, and while I would have enjoyed a wider sampling of random crimes, the flexibility of the combat system makes each and every experience something new, even when it’s the same. There is also a subtle level of “mastery” at work here that will keep you playing long after the story is over. Perfecting that sequence of swings so you can finish that mega-challenge is more addicting than you think.
Prepare to dedicate a huge portion of your life to this title. It’s easy to pick-up and play, challenging to master, and downright impossible to put down. There will still be people playing this game when the movie eventually hits DVD and I’ll be one of them. Spider-Man 2, much like the movie, is the best super-hero experience of its kind and a game that should be in every Xbox owner’s library.