Having just come off of reviewing
Spider-Man: Friend or Foe for the Xbox 360, I somewhat feared jumping right into playing this PSP version. I worried that everything I disliked about the console game would be made worse in this portable port, especially when it came to the graphics and extra modes. But I fought through my fears and tossed in the UMD of Friend or Foe and was surprised that this is not the same game I just played on Microsoft's next generation console. While it's true that both games are 3D brawlers and share the same story, the way the two versions go about handling the material is very different. That doesn't mean that one is better than the other, it's just that the two games are very different beasts.
Perhaps this has more to do with the fact that there are two completely different developers handling the two versions. While Next Level Games worked on the Xbox 360 game (along with the Wii, PC, and PlayStation 2 ports), Artificial Minds and Movement were responsible for the two handheld ports. This PSP game does share a lot of the assets found in the console titles (textures found in some of the levels, boss locations, character models and the voice acting), but at the end of the day this is a very different game than what you would find on the Xbox 360.
As I already explained, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is an old school arcade brawler along the lines of Rival Turf and that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade machine. As the game starts Spider-Man is accosted by some very familiar looking enemies, so in true Spidey fashion our hero swings into action and attempts to save the day. But as he investigates the situation he starts to realize that a lot of his former foes have been brainwashed and are completely unaware of their actions. As you might imagine, this does not sit well with these otherwise ruthless and evil villains, so everybody teams up to figure out just what is going on and destroy it once and for all. It's a story right out of a comic book, which is definitely the high point of Friend or Foe.
From there the game becomes extremely predictable, you, and a second character (that can be played by a friend or the computer), set off on tour of the world beating up swarms of bad guys and knocking the sense into some of the most popular Spider-Man villains of all time. The game consists of a number of different (yet similar) levels, including Tokyo, Tangaroa Island, Egypt, Transylvania and (exclusive to the PSP version of the game) Mediterranean Undercity. Along the way you will meet up with a number of friends (including Blade and Silver Sable) and have to deal with tons of brainwashed villains. The boss villains play like a who's who was of bad guys from the Spider-Man movies, they include (but are not limited to) everybody from Doc Ock to Venom to Sandman to the Green Goblin. By the end of the game you will have defeated (and teamed up) with most of the major characters from the three most recent Spider-Man movies, which isn't a bad thing if you're a kid who grew up enamored by what Sam Raimi was able to do with those films.
Each level is split up into several sub-levels, and each of those sub-levels have several areas to fight through. While the Xbox 360 levels are long and full of secret items and locations, the areas in this PSP version are extremely short, some are no more than five or six minutes long. I suspect you're probably still covering the same amount of area that you did in the console versions, but it's all split up into bite-size segments that are interrupted by annoying loading screens. It would be one thing if you could save between these small areas, but you actually have to wait until you finish a full level before you can save your progress and stop playing. I don't really see much of a benefit to the way the areas are set up, I would have preferred the larger levels over the constant loading screens.
Another way this handheld game differs from its console brothers is in the way you control the game. At first the game looks like it's going to play exactly the same as the Xbox 360 version, but you'll quickly realize that in some ways you have more control over the characters on the screen (while in other ways you have less). While the combat remains largely unchanged, it's worth mentioning that this PSP game features two attack buttons (up from the one button attack button on the consoles). On top of the two attack buttons (a light and strong attack), you also have a button that will allow you to use your webbing to pull enemies closer and link attacks together.
Unfortunately there are a few problems associated with the actual combat. The biggest problem is that your web attacks aren't very effective; in most situations they are all but useless. You also don't have as many different special moves as you did in the Xbox 360 port, so you can pretty much kiss away any concept of variety. And, like the console versions of the game, the combat in the handheld port is just a little too repetitive for its own good. It's not a stretch to say that every level plays out exactly the same way; you walk in one direction, fight a bunch of guys, walk a little further, fight some more guys, walk to the end of the level and then exit to the next stage. And what do you do in the next level? That's right; you do exactly the same thing you did before. From time to time the action will be broken up by a boss battle, but most of those fights feel exactly the same as the regular fights, only this time you need to use more strategy and attack when they are vulnerable.
Oddly enough this PSP game does the one thing I wished the Xbox 360 version would do, which is have some sort of penalty for when you die. You see, when you die in the console versions of the game you don't start over at the beginning of the level or lose a life, instead you pop right up mere feet from where you died, so you never have to worry about running out of health when playing through the game. Thankfully this problem has been rectified in this portable game. Now when you die there will be a countdown before you will respawn, if the second player dies before you respawn then the game will be over and you'll have to start at the beginning of the level. Having both characters die at the same time is rare, but it does happen and you will be penalized for it. Even though this whole dying thing is not handled in the best way possible, I'll give them credit for taking the game in the right direction.
The good news is that Spider-Man: Friend or Foe plays out in a fulfilling way. While the story is somewhat silly, the voice acting is solid and you'll probably be engaged enough with the mystery to see who (or what) is behind all of these nefarious acts. The one criticism I have surrounding the storytelling has to do with the cut-scenes, which aren't animated (like they are in the Xbox 360 version). Instead of watching these characters walk around and talk, we see still images move around the screen. The problem with this approach is that it doesn't look as good as the console cinemas, and it never quite looks like a real comic book panel (which would have been an interesting effect). Instead it just looks awkward, and since the PSP can handle these full cinemas I don't see why they chose to scale down the look.
Speaking of scaling down the look, the graphics in this portable version just aren't very good. Don't get me wrong, the Xbox 360 game was far from the best looking title on the system (put up against BioShock it's hard to believe the two are on the same system), but I know for a fact that the PSP can push better visuals than this. Most of the levels looks boring and bland, and even the most interesting levels get bogged down by too many similar textures. The animation is also surprisingly stiff; the game never looks or feels very fluid. It's certainly not the worst looking PSP game on the market, but it's definitely no showpiece for what the portable can do.
Like the console versions, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe on the PSP is at its best when you experience it with a friend. Unfortunately it's not nearly as easy to get your friend into a game (and then kick them out). But if you can get over the limited two-player control you will find that this can be a rather exciting multiplayer experience. One noticeable omission is the lack of team-up moves, the kind of moves where both players work together to perform an extra powerful attack. It feels like there could have been a lot more done with the two-player modes, but at least we have the option to play the game with a friend.
Believe it or not, Friend or Foe is not the only Spider-Man game coming out this month from Activision. Just a couple weeks ago the company finally released the PSP version of Spider-Man 3 (only five months after the other versions), and now we're here reviewing Friend or Foe. While this game is nowhere near as deep as other Spider-Man adventures, it is a nice diversion from the more serious comic book games we've been seeing lately. The problem is that the game is just too repetitive for its own good. While I definitely enjoyed the story and the large amount of characters, the overall game just doesn't come together in a way that is very appealing. I do like that this game is different from the Xbox 360 version, but with a few more improvements Friend or Foe could have been a title worth talking about.
Friend or Foe may be different from the Xbox 360 version, but in some ways it's no better or worse. While I still like the strong voice acting and the large cast of characters, part of me wishes that Activision could have done more to take this from an average 3D brawler into something truly exciting. But they didn't, and that's why Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is just another average action game that doesn't even to break new ground.