Undoubtedly, the development of a superhero game must be a daunting task. The mere act of simultaneously conveying an awe-inspiring skillset alongside an indispensable sense of fragility represents just one dilemma which can stymie a studio. For Québec-based Beenox, the release of The Amazing Spider-Men for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 demonstrates that the studio has vigilantly studied efforts to bring powerful comic protagonists to life. At times, the title can be fantastically cinematic and thoroughly absorbing, as players confront both mutant monstrosities and resolute robots. Yet, Spider-Man’s intermittent control issue has the potential to disengage players from the game’s engaging story and inspired set-pieces. To paraphrase both Voltaire and Uncle Ben Parker, with great power comes the responsibility of great controls.
Few would argue with the developer’s decision to return the franchise to its open-world roots. For the first time since 2007’s lackluster Spider-Man 3, players are able to traverse a facsimile of the Big Apple’s busiest borough. While the game’s does take a number of creative geographic liberties, Manhattan is sufficiently stuffed, teaming with not only playtime pushing side missions, but also 700 comic book pages to collect. Unlike previous adaptations of Spidey’s al fresco swinging, players don’t have to worry about the hero’s weblines keeping him aloft. Instead, strands are adjoined to unseen structures, as if Peter Parker was circumnavigating his way through a giant biosphere. Without the apprehension of falling right out of the sky when a suitable surface can’t be found, Spider-Men does lose a bit of its nervous tension. Fortunately, gamers can still wait until the last moment to shoot out a life-saving line, skimming over the streets in dramatic fashion with the game’s camera in close pursuit.
Spidey’s new signature mechanic is the Web Rush, a move which rapidly ziplines the protagonist to a designated location. Initiated by holding down the right shoulder button, the game shifts into a slow-motion, first-person perspective as possible destinations are marked by a translucent, glowing Spider-Man icon. Amidst the game’s outdoor environments, Web Rush permits the procurement of a nearby collectable. During interior segments, the move allows the web head to access air ducts or retreat to strategic perches.
From these elevated posts, Spider-Man is able to get the drop on an oblivious foe, recalling Batman: Arkham Asylum’s surreptitious ambushes. Once descended on a group on enemies, The Amazing Spider-Man echoes the Dark Knight’s pugilistic confrontations, with well-timed button taps instigating wildly fluid combos or satisfying reversals. Along with Spidey’s Web Sense to warn of imminent attacks and the requirement to thwart reinforced opponents, the game fisticuffs may be too familiar to players who have completed Arkham Asylum, Arkham City and Captain America: Super Soldier. While the game’s boss sequences are typically involving, with the web slinger exploiting a raised rival’s weaknesses, they are not free of control impediment. The game’s first showdown, which tasks players with gumming up the leg joints of a giant spider-mech, had me Web Rushing right past the glowing vulnerable bits and directly into danger. Likewise, wall crawling can be disorienting especially when players are skulking across ceilings.
While the game’s camera does a good job at framing Spider-Man as he’s swinging through the city, the tight indoor perspective can be detrimental. Occasionally, players will find themselves surrounded by clusters of off-screen antagonists, each hoping to take a potshot and the red and blue wonder. Visually, the game varies from serviceable to remarkable, with the irregular jaggy environment offset by battles with gargantuan foes. Mirroring the aesthetic of the associated film, Spider-Man’s movements are extravagantly animated and graceful, although prone to repetition through the title’s eight hour playtime. Although The Amazing Spider-Man was unable to wrangle any voice talent from the movie, it matters little; Parker’s quips are consistently amusing and like the rest of the cast, competently delivered.
Beyond the aforementioned difficulty with an early boss, The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t exceedingly challenging when played on the (default) medium difficulty setting. Saving hapless citizens and beating up baddies does pay out experience which is used to upgrade Spidey’s abilities, but it’s barely necessary. What’s more, many of the improvements feel imperceptible, negating an incentive to complete the game’s numerous side missions and “Xteme Challenges” that feature entertaining commentary by Bruce Campbell. Still, for those seeking a virtuous value, Beenox’s Manhattan is brimming with supplemental content.
Despite having a number of key mechanics lifted right out of the Akham franchise and a few control issues, The Amazing Spider-Man habitually articulates what it’s like to be an agile, sinewy superhero. Elevated by a velocity and narrative cadence which trumps the efforts of franchise forerunners, the title is infinitely more enjoyable that the combination of Green Lantern, Thor and Iron Man’s interactive adaptations. Beenox’s latest Spider-Man may not be amazing, but it’s still one of the better comic-inspired titles in the last few years.