When I reviewed the first Spider-Man game back in 2002, I concluded that it was the perfect example of Summer fluff. It was action-packed, full of explosive effects, and easily forgotten immediately after it was put back on the shelf. Spider-Man was the type of game that could have been something incredible, had somebody been ambitious enough to go beyond the general cookie cutter action formula.
Although I was disappointed with the first Spider-Man, I still looked forward to the sequel, hoping that the two years would give them time to develop a game worthy enough for Peter Parker. Not only did Treyarch finally deliver a solid Spider-Man game, but they made one of the most ambitious movie ports to come out in a long, long time. Spider-Man 2 isn’t perfect, but it atones for just about every major problem I had with the original, and manages to be one of the most enjoyable games so far this year.
While the first game seemed intent on keeping you indoors, Spider-Man 2 opens up the entire Manhattan Island for you to explore. Seeing the success of games like Grand Theft Auto III and True Crime, Treyarch has opted for a more open-ended feel for this sequel. No longer are you tethered to a linear mission, when to finish the chapters is up to you. Although you are given a few tasks to complete in each chapter, most of the time you are in charge of when and how you want to go about finishing them. If you wanted to, you can spend the entire day busting random crime on the street or just exploring the skyscrapers above it all.
Patrolling the city for crime is a fun and exciting way to learn what Spidey can do, where everything is, and earn the all-important hero points (which can be used to buy extra abilities, tricks, and special items). But it’s these random crimes where the shine of the game starts to dull. For some odd reason, there are only six kinds of crimes in Manhattan. I’m not sure if the more interesting stuff happens in other areas of New York City, but there seems to be a general lack of diversity from the criminals in this game.
In one of the scenarios you have to find, and snag a group of criminals who are in the middle of a shoot out with the police. There is also one where the criminals have hijacked an armored car, tied up the drivers, and are in the process of stealing all the money. There’s one where you have to stop a high-speed police chase by landing on the hood of the car and punching the window until he gets out. There are also a few non-violent missions, which involve you rescuing a man who is about to fall off a tall building, rescuing people from a sinking boat, as well as simply rushing an injured civilian to the nearest hospital.
None of these missions are especially hard, and some can be fun once or twice … but Spider-Man 2 requires you to play them over and over. In most of the chapters one of the tasks you must accomplish is to earn a certain amount of hero points, which means that you will need to thwart these six crimes until you have enough points to move on. These crimes are generally short, and most will only take you a couple of minutes each to complete, but another six types of crimes would have gone a long way to keep the game from becoming so repetitive so quickly.
Anybody who has seen the movie will know exactly what to expect from this game, as most of the key scenes and plot points are recreated through cinemas here. If you’ve somehow missed the film, it tells the story of Peter Parker, a young man who has finally come to grips with his super powers only to find he can’t quite seem to balance out his personal life; be it love, family, or employment. Will Peter ever get his big break at the newspaper? Will he be able to make enough money to support aging aunt? And will he ever be able to express his feelings to Mary Jane? These are the questions posed in the Spider-Man 2 movie.
Of course, the game completely ignores all that stuff and gets right down to the Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock rivalry. Through a number of cut scenes, we see how Dr. Otto Octavius can go from a well-regarded scientist to a raving madman with menacing steel arms. As Spider-Man, it’s your job to make sure he doesn’t cause too much damage to the greater Manhattan area.
Perhaps anticipating the light story, Activision has wisely added more characters for Spider-Man to interact with. Not only will Spidey have to worry about Doc Ock, but also reoccurring bosses like Rhino and Shocker. The obnoxious Mysterio also manages to steal away several chapters, as does Black Cat, a female thief who consistently finds Spider-Man in vulnerable positions.
These side-stories add a lot of color to the otherwise black and white plot; had they been included in the movie they would have taken it in a completely different direction. For the most part these side-adventures are fun, but they have a tendency of feeling tacked on, and at least one of the stories is left without a proper conclusion. Still, without these diversions the game would be embarrassingly short, so I can’t complain about them too much.
In order to complete any of these missions, no matter how easy they are, Spider-Man will need to perform a lot of different special moves and combos. Thankfully Treyarch didn’t cut any corners when it came to what Spidey is capable of doing. This time around you will be able to learn new combos as well as a host of combat upgrades (which are conveniently kept in the pause menu for quick reference), much of which will be used frequently in the midst of battle.
Most of the kick and punch combos are pretty basic, but learning how to use the web to your advantage in the middle of a fight can be the difference between success and defeat. As you get better at wielding the web you’ll find it can do a lot more than just tying people up; you can use it to twirl crooks up in the air, or just hang them upside down from a light. Treyarch should be commended for employing so many techniques into the game, but the critic in me simply wants more.
Also new to Spider-Man 2 is a much enhanced dodge button, which pretty much does exactly what it sounds like. At first you won’t use it much, since you’ll be fighting simple street trash. But as you advance to the bosses, it will be imperative for you to use the dodge button to get out of their traps. Too many of these bosses (especially Doc Ock) use cheap methods to get rid of you, it’s only with some well-timed dodging that you’ll even have a chance to live to fight another day.
I should probably mention that there’s one other skill Spidey can use in his battle against evil, the spider reflexes! This mode makes everything real slow, and gives the game that Matrix bullet-time look. The problem is, I never found it to be very useful, and ultimately never used it after the first few chapters.
One of my major gripes about the 2002 Spider-Man game was the way the webbing never seemed to connect to anything when he was traveling from place to place. It seemed like no matter how clear the sky was, somehow Spidey was always able to connect the web to something. In this sequel Treyarch has gone back and completely reworked the way you swing. Now your web will need to connect with something -- be it a tree, building, or helicopter -- in order for you to swing. At first it will be frustrating, but as you get used to the way Spidey’s web works, you’ll definitely see the advantages to doing it this way. By the end of the game you will be zipping through the streets of Manhattan with all the speed and grace of the Spider-Man in the movies.
For the most part, this fictionalized version of Manhattan is a fun place to visit, but if you stay too long, you might start to notice a lack of diversity. Perhaps limited by the movie’s location, the city around Spider-Man just doesn’t seem as interesting as what was found in Vice City. Much of Manhattan is covered in large skyscrapers and little else. The various parts of the city are listed as you enter them, but since everything looks the same and ends up blurring together, chances are you’ll use your map more than your memory.
The look of the game will likely impress your friends as you’re swinging through the streets of Manhattan, but when you take a closer look you’ll find the graphics are a little rough around the edges. The shapes of the people on the street, and how they talk without even opening their mouth is well below what the Xbox is capable of.
Things go from bad to worse when you have to dress down to play Peter Parker, who ends up looking more like Harry Potter than Tobey Maguire. The animation for poor Peter is almost laughable, with only a couple of frames of running animation. It’s true that he doesn’t do much in this game, but that’s no excuse for the shoddy look given to him. On the other hand, Spider-Man, as well as the rest of the major characters, fare a bit better; with solid animation and a clean look.
The soundtrack is also fairly standard stuff, with a lot of the incidental music that sounds like it’s ripped out of the movie. It’s usually pretty light and airy, and I found myself not even noticing it a few times. What did strike me, though, was just how bad the voice acting is. It takes a certain type of actor to do good voice-over work, unfortunately, Spider-Man 2 doesn’t have a lot of those types of actors. Instead we get a half-asleep Tobey Maguire voicing his characters with as little excitement as possible. Kirsten Dunst, reprising her roll as Mary Jane, doesn’t fare much better. And don’t even get me started on Alfred Molina, who plays Doc Ock with so little emotion, you wonder if he’s trying to stamp out Spider-Man or just put him to sleep.
With all the big name talent in Spider-Man 2, you might find it funny that the best voice acting comes from none other than Bruce Campbell (of the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness series). Here Bruce is able show off his thespian talents … by reading the over 200 hint markers in the game. That’s right, he’s nothing more than your tour guide. But even then, he’s a welcome addition that brought a smile to my face every time I heard him talk.
Apparently the good people at Treyarch are fans of collecting stuff, because there’s more find here than just about any other game I can think of. Outside of the 213 hint markers ready by Bruce Campbell, there are 75 secret items, 150 skyscraper tokens, 130 Buoy tokens, and a couple dozen hideouts to locate. And let’s not forget about the 150 challenges to complete, which test all your skills, from jumping to swinging. There’s just a lot to do in Spider-Man 2, maybe too much.
It’s rare I get to recommend both a movie and its video game, but Spider-Man 2 is no normal movie port. It never quite reaches the potential it has, but it’s certainly a shot in the right direction. If you can get passed a little repetition and some frustrating boss battles, chances are you’ll find Manhattan to be a great place to spin your web.
Spider-Man 2 is that rare type of title where itâ€™s easy to recommend both the movie and the video game!