Making movie tie-in video games has to be one hell of a difficult job. You’re restricted to the set parameters of the source material, plans can change at a moment’s notice, and the time crunch must be insane. I only say this because I want to be clear, that I understand the pressure that Thomas Wilson and his team at Beenox must have been under when making The Amazing Spider-Man 2. To deliver a game of this scale, to both last and current-gen consoles and in under two years, must have been a monumental undertaking. It also explains why the game feels rushed and in many ways somewhat disappointing.
I loved the first Amazing Spider-Man game when it came out in 2012—possibly more than it deserved. For whatever reason, I could overlook its flaws and I just got into that game hardcore. It’s still a game that I enjoy replaying from the start. Maybe my opinion was colored by my love for the movie (again, more than it deserved) because we were finally free of Sam Raimi, Toby Maguire and their irreverent, cornball take on one of my favorite comic book heroes. Maybe it was the love I could see that Beenox put into that game, the attention to detail that proved these people were real fans. Whatever it was, that movie and its corresponding game were a special one-two punch that made this longtime Spidey fanboy very happy.
My love for the first game makes the disappointing parts of its sequel all the more of a letdown, because as much as I wanted to love Amazing Spider-Man 2, it just falls short. It’s the same basic game I remember, but the added features and ideas actually change and detract from the original's beautifully elegant framework. Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not a bad game, but it is far too ambitious for its own good and its new ideas are rushed and awkwardly implemented.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 is built on the same basic framework as its predecessor. It’s an open sandbox that lets you explore a massive Manhattan hub-world, from which you can engage in story missions, random diversions and other miscellaneous activities. Once again there are hundreds of comic pages to collect, action figures to acquire and concept art to unlock. There have been a few minor structural changes: all of the collectibles are recorded for viewing at the Comic Stand, the comic shop of none other than Stan Lee who reprises his cameo from the first game.
The city is still basically the same but the structure has been overhauled since the first game to facilitate the new, more realistic web-swinging mechanics. You now use both left and right triggers to control Spidey’s left and right webshooters, so you’ll ideally want to alternate to establish an even swinging rhythm. Spidey’s weblines now attach to objects in the world instead of being anchored on vague points off in the distance. To accommodate this, the game’s Manhattan has a more grid-like layout and the streets are wider. It’s definitely more realistic but you can’t swing nearly as high or fast as you could in the first game. You’ll be swinging much closer to the streets, which takes some of the boundless exhilaration out of the experience.
The web rush mechanic returns to make managing Spidey’s breakneck speed a little easier. It’s still a godsend compared to the spastic imprecision of the old Treyarch games, but somehow web rush feels more finicky and touchy than it did in the first game. You can’t upgrade it for slower time perception anymore, and quick taps of the bumper will, again, typically have you overshooting your desired target by two blocks. Maybe it’s just me but it feels like the cursor doesn’t “stick” to interactive items, perch points and collectibles as well as it did in the first game.
All told, the tradeoffs for more realistic swinging are acceptable and the added skill it takes turns the swinging experience into something more active. Rather, it’s the game’s random mission structure where things start to legitimately break. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has many of the repeating side quests from the first game—car chase, police standoff, and citizens in distress—along with a couple new ones, including bomb disposal and burning buildings. However they aren’t doled out in batches as you progress in the story, but rather appear at random, and quickly expire after a short time.
This wouldn’t be a problem if these missions weren’t tied to the game’s asinine “hero or menace” system. Apparently Beenox thought Spider-Man needed a morality meter, and it might have worked given some more development time but, as is, the system is a mess. As you complete side quests your meter is pushed toward the hero side, which bestows stat bonuses to health, damage, and etc. If you ignore side quests and let them expire, you’ll fall into the menace side. When this happens New York will dispatch a task force to hunt you down. Apparently not solving every little crime everywhere at once makes Spidey a menace to society.
These task force jerks are a real pain in the neck too. They set up traps that fry your webshooters, sic robots on you and chase you around on Green Goblin-style gliders. They make just traversing the city a major headache, and the only way to keep them off your tail is to stay in that hero side of the morality meter. The problem is that this is next to impossible to maintain, at least for long. Side quests often expire too quickly for you to even reach them in time, and when you do complete one, oftentimes three more will time out clear across the city, dumping you back into menace territory.
The side quests are tedious too, repeating far too often. When you do finish one, you’re greeted with a horribly repetitive, unskippable news story cutscene as the city frantically loads in the background. The game literally forces you to perform the same handful of mind-numbing tasks over and over again in a Sisyphean attempt to keep the web-head in good standing. I can’t stand being manipulated into busywork so this mechanic just about ruined the game for me.
The rest isn’t nearly as bad, but it still shows signs of being rushed. The plot is an interesting animal; Beenox had no idea what Sony was doing with the movie series when they made their original tie-in game, so they understandably made some story choices that conflicted with the film sequel. To remedy this, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 the game is a direct sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man 1 the game, not the movie—the game series now officially exists in its own separate little continuity, which I think is pretty cool.
Or, it would be if the story worked as well as the filling-in-the-blanks interquel plot of the first game. Don’t get me wrong, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does some really interesting things with the story and throws some cool characters in, but again it all feels very rushed. In order to reduce spoilers, the game shifts focus away from the film’s villains and instead explores a gang war between the Kingpin, the Russian mob and a serial killer who is escalating hostilities by messily murdering criminals apparently at random. This lets the game’s plot explore some cool characters—like Kraven the Hunter—and territory in the general flavor and continuity of the new film series. But as a result the movie’s standout villains—Electro and Green Goblin—get short shrift.
The game takes way too long setting up the story in its short runtime, and then crams all of the big villains and boss fights into the last handful of missions. Black Cat, one of the most interesting characters from the first game, shows up for a boss battle and then promptly vanishes, only touching on her complicated relationship with Spidey. The end boss encounter is surprising in context, and while Spidey fans will no doubt see it coming very early, it’s still a daring move by Beenox to include such a character, especially before other customary establishing circumstances.
That said, the events in the film are hardly addressed in any depth, again to avoid the dreaded spoilers. Electro and Goblin are reduced to two rushed boss fights (with a little more of the film’s buildup for Harry Osborn included), and Gwen Stacy barely gets a passing mention. I know they didn’t want to spoil, but jeeze, she’s so important to the plot of the movie (and the overall film series so far) that I think including that big moment (you know which one!) would’ve really strengthened the game’s overall story arc. I wish they’d release games a day or two after the movie, instead of before, just so potential spoilers aren’t even an issue.
The meat and potatoes gameplay shows this same ambition but ultimate lack of focus. Combat strays too far from the Arkham-light system in the first game, and feels messy and repetitive as a result. You have to build up a 20-hit combo just to start executing special moves and there’s no way to upgrade that mechanic. The recharging health system has been replaced with a depleting health bar, and Spidey can only heal by escaping combat and using webbing to patch himself up. In concept, I love this idea as it’s one of the coolest moments from the first movie, but in practice it only works half the time. In boss fights you almost never have time to stop and heal up—in fact Black Cat intentionally interrupts you with cheap shots whenever you do this—so you’d better conserve that health during boss battles because there ain’t no way you’re recovering any.
The stealth system from the first game has seen some changes but again, it just doesn’t work that well. You have to rappel from the ceiling now to get in range for a stealth takedown, which is a lot clunkier than it needs to be. You also can’t nab more than one enemy at a time anymore. I miss being able to zip down, snatch two thugs and promptly glue them to the ceiling. Of course, the only time you’ll likely use stealth is when it’s forced on you. The game contains several enemy lairs where you must avoid detection and take out all enemies to acquire one of the game’s many fanservice-tastic costumes. The rest of the time, stealth is so awkward that you’ll likely just dive in and beat everyone to a pulp.
I liked that stealth was never an explicit requirement in the first game, just a very, very good idea when you were outnumbered. Here, it just seems forced. Getting the costumes isn’t necessary, per se, because all they do is add some stat buffs—no extra super powers like the cool costumes in the PS1 Spider-Man game. It’s nice that they do something though, and they sure do look cool.
Speaking of appearances, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is just as much a mixed bag in production values as it is in gameplay and story. Once again Spidey looks—no pun intended—amazing. In fact all of his costumes are incredibly textured and animated, from the standard red-and-blue from the movie to Spidey 2099, and even the controversial Miles Morales costume. They even included the homemade-looking costume from the first movie, which I really like even though it gets a lot of fan hate. You can tell that Beenox knows and loves the Spider Man comics because they’ve put a lot of care into these retro costumes. The rest of the characters don’t look as good, with some muddy textures and the jerky animations that plagued the original game. That said, I liked the approach they took to characters like Kraven, Kingpin and Black Cat’s more practical new suit.
The environment is a different story. Manhattan in The Amazing Spider-Man 1 was uncharacteristically bright and beautiful, packed with reflective buildings and most stunning with early morning daylight streaming between the skyscrapers. The city is comparatively flat and dull in the sequel. The sky is usually filled with hazy smog to assist with draw distance, and buildings have a real problem with texture pop-in. You’ll often stick to a skyscraper only to have an ugly, smeary texture staring you in the face for a good four seconds before a high-res surface loads in.
I know exactly why Beenox chose this tradeoff. The first game suffered from some pretty severe frame rate stutter and atrocious screen tearing. The sequel’s relatively bland environment keeps the action fast and fluid. To put it simply, Amazing Spider-Man’s New York looked its best in gleaming sunlight, while the city of Amazing Spider-Man 2 is most appealing cloaked in smoky night with all the lights on.
Music and voice acting fare better overall. Most of the cast from the first game return, including Sam Reigel as Spider-Man, Ali Hillis as Black Cat and Steve Blum playing Kraven this time instead of Dr. Connors. Kari Wahlgren is particularly missed as Gwen Stacy, another reason I’m pretty pissed that they just wrote her out of the story. Sumalee Montano is back as investigative reporter Whitney Chang, although her role has been cut back to one cutscene and voicing those annoying newsreel loading screens. It’s a real shame considering she was so interesting in the first game.
The returning cast is joined by Kevin Dorman as Harry Osborn, Michael A. Shepperd as Electro and J.B. Blanc as Kingpin. I’ll always consider the late, great Roscoe Lee Browne’s calm, intimidating portrayal in the '90s Spider-Man series as the definitive Kingpin, but Mr. Blanc puts a new spin on the character that I definitely appreciated. His Wilson Fisk is very confident, condescending and old-money, the kind of villain who makes you feel like a bug, which is appropriate considering Kingpin’s imposing size. All in all the voice actors do a great job, and again I wish the story was better written around them.
Samuel Laflamme’s score for the game isn’t as distinctive as the first game’s unique music, but it still fits quite well. Ironically his music has a lot more in common with James Horner’s score for the first movie than it does with Hanz Zimmer’s bizarre (but effective) score for the sequel, so in a strange way the new game’s music works well. My only issue is that the ambient music would just cut out randomly when I was swinging through the city. This of course is probably yet one more bug in the dynamix music mixing, and nothing that Mr. Laflamme did.
At the end of the day I’m really torn on whether to recommend this game. It’s a game that is clearly trying so hard to be more than the sum of its parts but there were still several aspects that really bothered me. It’s too bad because I know Beenox can make one hell of a good Spider-Man game, and given more time to develop the new ideas they put into The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I’m sure it could have been, well, amazing. It’s too bad because I really want to support Beenox, and this leads me to some very familiar apprehensions.
The chilling thing about this game is that I’ve seen Activision do this before, a couple years ago. After the success of GoldenEye 007 Reloaded, Activision pushed its developer, Eurocom, to release a 50th anniversary James Bond game in time for the new movie, Skyfall. The result was 007 Legends, an extremely ambitious game built on GoldenEye’s skeleton but crammed with clunky, half-finished and poorly executed ideas. The ironic and sad part is that the Skyfall sections of the game weren’t even ready for launch; they were released later, as free DLC. 007 Legends’ critical and commercial failure led to the closure of Eurocom. Activision’s impatience had sacrificed another highly talented studio.
I really, really hope this doesn’t happen to Beenox, because they’re finally hitting their stride with this franchise and they can make a great Spider-Man game, if given enough time. I’d argue that in a lot of ways, The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2 are, on paper, superior to Treyarch’s work on the Sam Raimi tie-in games. The original Spider-Man 2 has this undeserved gold standard status, just because it was the first open-world Spider-Man game and it’s the one that most people remember. Subsequent games like Treyarch’s Ultimate Spider-Man and Beenox’s first Amazing Spider-Man are just hands down better.
For that reason, I hope this game does well in spite of itself, or at least well enough to keep Beenox making Spider-Man games. Given enough time and better focus, I know Beenox can make a game for the inevitable third installment that is truly amazing.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.
Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile