There are times when a game is clearly better than its big screen counterpart. Goldeneye. Riddick. These are games that clearly surpass the source material; groundbreaking games with far more ambition than the disposable popcorn fare that inspired them. There are far more times when the opposite is true; when great movies are translated terribly to the interactive medium. Generally in these cases the entire point of the movie is lost in translation, and you get something as meaningless and misguided as The Godfather game (if you’re lucky).
The Amazing Spiderman is a very unique case though. Based on a movie that is divisive amongst fans, this is itself a divisive game. Is this a lacklustre game based on a lacklustre movie? Is the game all that the movie should have been, or vice versa? I don’t think any of these are true. I hold the (possibly unique) opinion that both the game and movie of The Amazing Spiderman are just what the web slinger needed to compete with heroes like The Caped Crusader. Whether your clutching a controller at home or sitting in front of the big screen, The Amazing Spiderman is a great experience.
There’s no getting away from the aforementioned Caped Crusader when you start playing The Amazing Spiderman though. The shadow of Arkham Asylum looms large over this title from the opening moments, and even as Beenox add more and more elements tailored to Spiderman’s unique abilities as the game progresses, it’s always very clear that they have looked very closely at the two Arkham games and unashamedly lifted all the best bits. It’s easy enough to take great ideas from other games, but as titles like the very dull Captain America have proven, Rocksteady is such an amazing developer that simply taking their ideas may be easy, but executing them as brilliantly is very difficult. Beenox have cribbed ideas from Rocksteady better than any other dev so far, and they’ve even managed to add lots of great ideas of their own.
If you’ve played either of Beenox’s last two Spiderman games then you’ll probably feel at home, and sadly a little disappointed at the start of The Amazing Spiderman. There’s a weightlessness and lack of heft to Spiderman that remains from the previous titles. As you move through small areas it’s particularly noticeable; you move quickly but there’s a feeling of gliding over the terrain that initially makes you feel like your playing a budget title rather than a big-name release. This feeling is exacerbated early on by plain environments that are relatively enclosed, and my first reactions were not positive. Your first attempts at combat are also a rather luke-warm experience. These combat sequences play out almost exactly like Arkham Asylum/City, but Beenox can’t rival and fluidity and polish of animation display by Batman. Its not helped by the early robotic enemies who are the least engaging opponents you will face throughout the game.
It doesn’t take long for the nice little touches that are spread throughout the game to stay making themselves known though. While Batman (and I will need to keep mentioning him throughout this review) has his grapple hook, Spiderman has his web shooters. The flexibility that these add to every aspect of the game is huge. You can hold the right trigger to swing like….. Spiderman, moving quickly and easily through and environment. While running always feels a bit light and cheap, swinging feels amazing. Beenox have completely nailed the way that Spiderman should move in a game when swinging with his web shooters. As you swing, the animations on Spiderman himself are brilliant. You always feels on the edge of losing control and swinging low over the ground is one of the most viscerally satisfying experiences I’ve had in a game this year. This feeling is multiplied when you get to Manhattan and the game world opens up. Swinging through the big city, it feels like for the first time in a long time Someone has figured out exactly what we have all wanted from a Spiderman game, and they have given it to us.
While the acrobatics swinging of Spiderman gets you from A to B quickly, it’s not very accurate for reaching a specific spot. When swinging, the camera can be a little awkward when you are trying to land in a specific spot. Cleverly though, Beenox have included a web grapple move where you can shoot your web at a specific spot and zip straight there. While aiming your web the game goes into slow motion. This is a great addition. It lets you overcome the wildness of your swinging and be much more precise with your movements. You can even grapple straight to objects in the game world, such as the collectible comic books which are spread through the world. If these are floating in the air, webbing straight at them while present you with a QuickTime button press to grab them as you swing by. It’s a small touch, but it’s small touches like these that make this game more than an average movie tie-in.
There are lots more traversal options too. You can run straight up the side of buildings, pulling yourself upwards with rapid shots from your web shooter. This looks vaguely ridiculous, but it does help you move around quickly through the city. You can also jump to and climb on almost any surface in the game including the ceiling. This is most useful in the stealth sections. While Batman can avoid armed enemies by swinging on gargoyles, Spiderman can climb anywhere and this freedom allows for a great deal of options when approaching any section where you need to eliminate guards while remaining undetected. Your stealth attacks typically involve webbing enemies from above, but there are also many interactive items in the world that you can use to good effect. Again, this mirrors Spiderman’s traditional comic book combat style; he’s more likely to swing a dumpster with his webs and catapult it into a group of enemies than simply duke it out with them.
While the interactive elements in the environment are some of the best aspects of the combat, the rest is a mixed bag. Spiderman himself jumps around and executes some impressive acrobatic attacks, but the camera can be a little wayward and you spend more time than you would want moving it to frame the correct enemies. The counter system from the Arkham games is also present but it doesn’t work as well with less fluid animations and poorer feedback from the game of what exactly is happening. That being said the combat isn’t particularly difficult (except for a few misjudged difficulty spikes) and you have many special attacks and options when facing tough situations. You also level up as you go, unlocking new attacks and bonuses such as the obligatory “execute special moves when combo meter is only x5 instead of x8”.
Fighting robot enemies early on is a dispiriting experience, and each time they reappear they bring the whole game down. Whittling away their shields with webs while trying to fight human enemies who need to be countered is horrible and represents one of the frustrating difficulty spikes I mentioned above. Some of the boss fights however are thoroughly brilliant. An early encounter with a giant robot is a highlight. Swinging between it’s huge legs and targeting the joints with webs is kinetic and fun; it feels like one of the best boss fights from The God of War series.
Once the game opens up there’s a good amount of stuff to do within the city. Saving civilians from thugs, framing yourself well in video footage, finding comic books and chasing down speeding criminals in stolen cars are just a few of the typically iconic Spiderman tasks that you will be set. Between these missions you will return to your base, a New York flat, where you can replay missions, talk to npc’s or change into one of your other costumes, which you will unlock as you progress.
There’s a polish that’s present throughout the game that you wouldn’t expect a studio like Beenox could achieve with a game that has had such a short development cycle. Between levels you can read the “social messages” (eg tweets) of the people in the city showing what they think. It’s a small touch, but it adds to the atmosphere. The fact that Beenox thought to include little details like this while getting the big stuff (like a full open world, fairly good looking Manhattan) right too is amazing.
It’s not all perfect of course. The voice actors don’t sound much like their movie counterparts, the story is resolutely average and the soundtrack is forgettable. That being said, this is a game that’s far better than it has any right to be. Made by a studios whose last Spiderman game was very unambitious, it’s remarkable what Beenox have accomplished here. Perhaps the best Spiderman game made, certainly the best one for many years, the only question left is what could they have done if they had even more time. With the rough edges filed off and more time spent on animations and story, they could have taken The Dark Knight down. As it stands, it’s “amazing” that they are competing with Rocksteady at all. If you play two super hero games this year, make the second one The Amazing Spiderman.
8 Emma Stones gathering no moss out of 10