Throughout his illustrious crime-fighting career on the comic page, Spider-Man has been described by numerous adjectives. Spectacular. Friendly. Ultimate. Superior. And of course… Amazing. His video game legacy however, hasn’t always been characterized by those same positive descriptors. Indeed, their quality features the same up and down pattern with which the webbed one traverses New York City. Now, veteran Spidey developer Beenox is back with movie tie-in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in an attempt to deliver a blockbuster gaming experience to rival the one movie-goers have been having at the theater. Read on to find out whether this game does live up to the “amazing” label or if it’s just amazingly disappointing.
With a handful of Spider-Man games under their belt like Spider-Man: Edge of Time and Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, or even the previous movie tie-in, it stands to reason that developer Beenox should be able to shoot a quality web game out of their… well, you know where webbing comes from… with their eyes closed. Perhaps that’s exactly what they tried to do with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 because something went horribly wrong here. Or perhaps they were too busy oiling up the Skylanders: Trap Team money machine they’ve been tasked with maintaining. Whatever the case, players who pick up this game are left with a Spider-Man experience that is only “amazing” in its ability to be absolutely mediocre.
So what went wrong here? Perhaps Beenox remembered that the 2004 version of Spider-Man 2 is widely regarded as one of the first steps in the right direction of not only the character but for licensed video games in general. It seems they were very nostalgic for that game since the new game almost completely lifts the ten-year-old design document straight from it: Let Spidey swing around in an open world, stop some crimes, save some civilians and complete missions that tell a story that only vaguely references the film it’s based on. They’ve not so much created a game, as they have a time machine that only goes back to 2004 and only lets the player get a hollow version of the feeling of playing that game from the past since it’s no longer exciting due to having already played it before. Ten years ago.
But there are those who love nostalgia, so let’s get into the real reasons why this web doesn’t stick this time around. First of all, as an industry, aren’t we past having a game that is tied to a movie but features none of the actual actors doing voice work and has character models that would maybe pass for the actors’ stunt doubles? If the player is being told that this is the movie tie-in, they expect at the very least to see and hear the actors and actresses that are in the movie. Activision may need to ask Kevin Spacey to share some of that Call of Duty money if it means getting Andrew Garfield and Dane DeHaan in a recording studio for a little voice-over work. It’s just disappointing as a fan to expect this as the most basic aspect of the game’s overall presentation, only to be met with the community theater version.
Changing gears to something a little more positive, most players love having the freedom to web-shoot their way across the open city in acrobatic style, going for the occasional wall-sprint, and swan diving off various skyscrapers only to shoot another web at the last second and swing away. That’s what these games are for, surely they got that right…right? It’s not so much that they got that part right, but it is definitely the part they got the least wrong as yes, zipping around New York can be an absolute blast with a couple caveats to note. First, the camera often refuses to be the player’s friend. Be prepared to look through Spidey’s legs and midsection, or just in the completely wrong direction during any fast-flying tight-turning situations. The camera issues are compounded by the fact that there is a bit more of a learning curve to the web-swinging.
Players who’ve been keeping up with Spidey’s digital adventures should adjust fine, but it may take a few trips around the city for lesser experienced swingers to become acclimated. Once they do, the swinging is still the most exhilarating part of the game. The ol’ Web-Head is beautifully animated as he spins, twirls, flips and dances his way across the New York skyline. Listening to the sounds of the city fade away as the player guides Spidey ever higher only to dive back in at the call of a siren or gunfire is indeed part of the total immersion package. This is the greatest part of the Spider-Man experience. If only the game stopped trying to get in the way. A final complaint is that there simply isn’t the same sense of speed during swinging that has been present in previous games. Even with all the necessary upgrades in place, it just feels like Spidey never really takes his foot off the breaks.
Speaking of the game getting in the way, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is presented as an open world game, but don’t be fooled. Despite giving the player a bunch of upgrades to try for, comics to collect, countless gang encounters to bust up, numerous citizens to rescue and loads of photos to take, this game would really appreciate it if the player just went ahead and stuck to the main narrative path. This is made abundantly clear by the Spider-Man voice over that is happy to remind the player over and over again what they need to be doing at any given moment to reach the main objective. Never mind he just rescued a burning building full of people, he has to get home to tell Aunt May something. And Peter/Spider-Man will talk to plenty of people, subjecting the player to dialogue options. Of course, these selections are rendered meaningless since each one can be picked and listened to until the conversation is done, highlighting it as a concept that was never quite finished or implemented. Just play the cut-scene and give me a skip button. It’s less insulting than the thinly veiled illusion of interactivity.
Another form of interaction that has been fun in past Spider-titles is throwing down and punching baddies in the face. Sadly this is another area that this game doesn’t get quite right. Jumping on the “let’s copy Arkham” bandwagon, players will hammer on the punch button until they see Spidey’s spider-sense flash and then, you guessed it, hit the counter button. This wouldn’t be terrible as Spider-Man’s fighting can get just as flashy as Batman’s, so letting the player worry more about managing the encounter rather than crazy combos does make sense here. Unfortunately, it just feels really stiff and sloppy here. The precision of movement and timing in the Arkham series that would translate well here is just nowhere to be found. Fights are often limited to only a few thugs at a time, and more often than not, the game pushes the player to take a stealthy approach, again much like the pointy-eared one. On paper it makes sense, but in its current execution it feels like a very shallow and unfinished copy.
But is the story at least good enough to keep one playing to the end? That all depends on how much you love the franchise. The game is only loosely tied to some of the plot points of the movie and handles the extra villains with all the finesse and subtlety of a Scooby-Doo episode. The twists are obvious, and the eventual encounters with the bosses offer less challenge than making a bowl of cereal. Some may get a kick out of seeing additional villains not seen in the film, but that’s about as far as the “wow factor” goes with the story.
After some of the forward progress made by Beenox themselves, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like a step backwards for the franchise and for the viability of open-world superhero games in general. It’s not really a game that’s broken, and at times, it’s quite beautiful, but it’s also far too happy with itself being so astoundingly average. Those who absolutely need their web-swinging fix may find themselves with just enough web-fluid to see it through. But for everyone else, they may find themselves walking away from a Spidey-suit-filled trashcan, whispering, “I’m Spider-Man… no more.”
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is currently available on all your game playing devices. The PS4 version was played for this review.