And then it became wildly apparent. As I was swinging at 60 mph through the dense high-rises of Midtown Manhattan, I realized that -- Yes! -- Treyarch (developers of Spider-Man 3the game) have commendably captured the pulse of Spidey's web-slinging locomotion. It's a tireless ballet of concentric and eccentric muscle contractions, vaulting aerial somersaults, and spectacular leaps of vertical amplitude. Yet as the ten (count 'em: ten) different storylines proved memorable enough in variety, a mindless Tarzan-swing through New York's urban jungle was really the only thing that tapped into my gaming pleasure centers. Learning the nuances attached to Spidey's mobile ebb and flow was a game unto itself; mastering his agile dynamic was a secretly rewarding measure of progress.
Venom, Sandman, and the New Goblin aren't the toughest adversaries Spidey runs into, however. The top three enemies of the state are (in no particular order): comic-book slow Frame Rates, rusty Technical Issues, and underpaid Camera Angles. Although this nefarious trio never shows up in the movie, it makes dastardly appearances all throughout the video game.
Even on the lowest detail and resolution settings, it's impossible to push the frames to an acceptable, high-flying level. And while Spidey himself is modeled with a master's tools, the remainder of the Big Apple, from its skyscrapers to its sewers, is unremarkable save for the sheer acreage covered. But standing atop (or swinging along) any one of Manhattan's iconic locales certainly pays dividends; the Brooklyn Bridge, Flatiron Building, Times Square, Central Park, and many more landmarks are mainstay players in the endless roster of stately destinations. And your first scaling of the tallest constructions will provide some in-game rewards and out-of-game awe inspiring moments, no doubt. The choppy gameplay, though, makes it apparent why the architecture looks like it was popped out of featureless, plastic molds; any amount of character drawn into them would likely yield even slower movement rates during your Empire State sightseeing tour.
The instanced storyline missions will often take you indoors, and judging from the claustrophobic camera, the director behind it is dying to get back outside. A near-object fade would solve a multitude of problems, but instead the view slides up and around -- or worse, behind -- objects and walls as if Tony Hawk was filming the action from a skateboard-cam. It's a mess, and contributes to a lot of button-mashing and guesswork when it comes to engaging an elusive enemy. Throw in some visual pyrotechnics to fill up the full screen with splashy effects, and you might as well stick a fork in Spidey: he's done.
Even so, all things being relative, this Spider-Man shows ready improvement over its predecessor. The mission structure is straight forward and, as far as content is concerned, seems to be offering a wholehearted apology for Spider-Man 2's incessant balloon-saving fiascos. (If there was ever a city in need of an across-the-board ban on helium, it was New York in 2004's Spider-Man 2 game by Fizz Factor.)
Populating the streets are not only the movie villains, but a host of other baddies from Spider-Man's past, to include the imaginatively-named Lizard, Scorpion, and Rhino (did somebody unleash the Brooklyn Zoo on Spidey's hometown?) Also, several gangs rule the roost up and down the crime-ridden streets of Manhattan: the girl-gang Arsenic Candy, the Triad-inspired Dragon Tails, and the ensuing Apocalypse.
But Sir Spidey has a few tricks up his latex sleeves to ensure a rock 'em, sock 'em, beat-em-up good time. He packs a perverse number of fight combos, with enough jump-spin kicks, aerial slams, and aggressive webbing tactics to put his foes to shame; he performs like a Capoeira-trained breakdancer on amphetamines, throwing out webbing and whirling enemies around with sticky lassoes. It's hard to fault Treyarch for using the tools at the PC's disposal, but these multi-keyed combos are a bit radical for a keyboard-mouse duet and may perhaps feel more indigenous on a console controller. Regardless, fighting with the camera takes precedence and it only functions suitably when scrapping in wide, breathable arenas.
Many of the actors from the film were generous enough to work their voices into the game (with a notable exception being Kirsten "the Spider-Man movies would flop without me" Dunst). It's great hearing Tobey Maguire lend his boyish gawk to the game screen, and the incomparable Bruce Campbell waxes sardonic as a wise-cracking narrator. Throughout, the anthemic soundtrack intuitively feels its way around your flight schedule through the Capital of the World. That is, if the audio track hasn't completely choked, which it is prone to do during cut scenes where valuable dialogue is exchanged.
Still, all the pieces seem to be in place: The sandbox setting, the myriad missions, the at-your-own-pace storylines, the fully-rendered Manhattan, the crime to put down, the photo shoots for the Daily Bugle, etc. And still, one of the few times Spider-Man 3 unlocks any joie de vivre is, perhaps, when taking Mary Jane Watson on a piggyback thrillride over the city. (Sadly, Kirsten Dunst may have been right.) Otherwise, Spidey goes about his job, battering an appetizer menu of enemies, chasing down malcontents that seem to have their "badassitude" neutered, and generally grinding away while being ignored by a nonplussed populace of meandering Manhattanites.
By now, Spider-Man should be swinging for the fences when it comes to his own video games -- no other game character can even move like Spidey. None. But instead, he's leaps and bounds behind less superheroic fare, and he's fending off too many inner demons which, in this case, are castrated frame rates and multiple bugs choking up his web sights.
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