Much like the Spider-Man films needed a transfusion of fresh blood to revitalize the franchise, Activision's Spider-Man games were ready for a renewal. After a couple of stiflingly linear (and thoroughly average) adventures, The Amazing Spider-Man (based off the movie of the same name) should have been Spidey’s triumphant homecoming – the first Spider-Man game in years to feature an open-world version of New York City. Instead, it's a repetitive adventure that’s barely saved from mediocrity by a couple of interesting concepts.
Taking place in the same world as the new film, the game is set a few weeks after the movie ends. (WARNING: See the movie first or else this game will spoil much of the film for you.) Thanks to Oscorp and some accidental help from Spider-Man, there's an outbreak of of animal men and a cross-species virus that's transforming the residents of New York into strange creatures. With the help of Curt Connors, Spidey has to save the city’s denizens, including his girlfriend Gwen Stacy.
Having the game occur after the film is a plus, since we’d rather not repeat Spider-Man’s origin all over again. But since the main problems of the film’s plot have been solved, we’re stuck fighting a loser squad instead of A-listers like the Lizard. That means we're resigned to trading punches with personality-free versions of villains like Scorpion and Rhino or battling even more bland robots. Seriously, has there ever been a more overused enemy in comic book games than the generic robot? At least the writing is helped by Spidey's mildly witty quips along with some clever cameos by Bruce Campbell and others.
The core gameplay of a Spider-Man game is hard to get wrong, especially with a developer like Beenox on the job. Amazing is the team's third Spidey game in as many years – and like Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time, they stick closely to what Neversoft had pioneered in games like Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man. Spider-Man moves in all the ways we expected, swinging freely through the city, webbing up crooks and henchmen, sticking to walls, and generally doing whatever a spider can. His nimble movements are an amalgam of a dozen different approaches to Spidey – which is fine, just not all that new.
At least the combat changes things up compared with past titles, although it seems to crib from another very famous (non-Spidey) game. The flow of combat, with Spidey chaining punches and combos while dodging and countering with his Spider Sense, borrows very heavily from Batman's Arkham games. When standing in the very heavy shadow of the Bat, Spidey's fighting style can't help appearing the lesser of the two, even with quirky lucha libre moves to make Parker's more unique. It's imprecise compared to Arkham's genius approach to combat – and that complaint goes double for Amazing's stealth tactics, which tries hard to be like Batman and fails, lacking the precision to pull off little more than simply sticking an unsuspecting enemy to the ceiling. There's much Spidey can learn from Batman's stellar titles, but this poorly implemented and half-baked adoption ignores what makes Spidey great while trying to paste on a style that doesn't quite fit.
Unlike the wannabe Batman brawling, the exploration is pure Spider-Man. Swinging between buildings, patrolling the city for crime, and experiencing the Big Apple in ways only Spidey can... it all feels great, especially since the last couple of Spider-games – Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time – weren't open-world. But the more we experienced this virtual city that never sleeps, the more sterile it became. Missions popped up often, yet they were mainly slight variations on the same handful of experiences, like stopping petty crimes, carrying someone from one part of the city to another, or taking random photographs. Despite it being the most famous city in the world, Amazing's NYC has no character to it, with fancy graphics gussying up a city that would have felt average in 2007. Compared to recent open-world games like Prototype 2 or inFamous 2 (or even Spider-Man: Web of Shadows), this version of the Big Apple is sorely lacking.
Above: Check out this webtastic Spider-Man video
At least one gameplay element differentiates the exploration: the new Web Rush ability. Previously in Spider-Man titles, reaching a specific rooftop or area in the city could become pretty cumbersome, not to mention missing a timed goal by inches or starting a challenge by standing in the wrong spot. Web Rush removes much of that annoyance, as it slows time to a crawl and enters a first-person view, letting the player pick any spot in sight as Spider-Man's next destination. After picking your spot, Spidey web-zips straight to it with a welcome accuracy that's lacking in many open-world games.
Meanwhile, the indoor segments continue to suffer from a problem that's plagued Spider-Man games for years: they're bland and restrictive. Mostly set in dank sewers, empty office buildings, or otherwise broken-down areas, indoor movement is shackled by the restrictive, unimaginative (and ultimately boring) design. Objectives were set around the usual "pull that lever, collect three of these things, fight the boss in a circular room," clichés. This gameplay isn't "wrong" and still plays well enough; it's simply tired and lazy.
What's worse, the boss fights that feel the most rote of all, half of which are set in predictable underground areas or other restrictive settings instead of taking advantage of the open world and adding some much needed interest to the city. Then again, the occasional giant robot fights in the city are equally routine while simultaneously breaking the tenuous footing on reality that the source film attempts to establish. A city-wide viral outbreak we can believe, but Godzilla-sized, nondescript robots burrowing out of the ground and drilling through buildings? It felt like we had somehow started playing a Transformers game.
For the past few years we've been eagerly awaiting a Spider-Man game that offers something unique. Alas, with The Amazing Spider-Man, we get yet another game that's careful to not rock the boat. Nothing is broken or painful to play, and there's still an intrinsic fun to being a video game Spider-Man – but this is too much like what we've played before, only with less going for it than games like Web of Shadows or Ultimate Spider-Man. If you were dying for more action as Peter Parker this will do the trick, but a more fitting name for this game would be "The Acceptable Spider-Man."
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