After a couple of stiflingly linear--and thoroughly average--adventures, The Amazing Spider-Man (based off the movie of the same name) should’ve been Spidey’s triumphant homecoming. It's the first Spider-Man game in years to feature an open-world version of New York City, bringing the franchise back to its roots. But, instead, it's a repetitive adventure that’s barely saved from mediocrity by a couple of interesting concepts. And now it has arrived on the Wii U long after many had forgotten about the film.
Taking place in the same world as the new film, the game is set a few weeks after the movie’s end (WARNING: That means it's filled with movie spoilers). Thanks to Oscorp, there's an outbreak of animal men and a virus that's transforming the residents of New York City into similarly strange creatures. With the help of now-sane 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, mostly because we’d rather not repeat Spider-Man’s movie origin all over again. But this means that the main crisis of the movie has already been solved, so we’re stuck fighting a loser squad instead of an A-lister like The Lizard. For most boss battles you’re trading punches with personality-free versions of villains like Scorpion, Rhino, and Vermin that do little more than snarl and grunt--but fighting those chumps is far better than battling the bland robots that occupy the rest of the game. The writing occasionally spices up the flavorless robot encounters, usually with one of Spidey's mildly witty quips or a clever cameo by Bruce Campbell or Stan Lee.
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 multiple approaches to Spidey--which is fine, but not all that new.
The combat changes things up compared with past titles, although it does so by cribbing from another very famous comic 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 thrown in. It's also imprecise when compared to Arkham--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.
Unlike the wannabe Batman brawling, the exploration is pure Spider-Man. Swinging between buildings, patrolling the city for crime, and experiencing the Big Apple from 100 stories up... it all feels great, especially since the last couple of Spider-games ditched the open-world setting. 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. The new Web Rush ability streamlines the exploration of this bland metropolis. Web Rush slows time and shifting the camera to first-person, letting players web-zip to almost any spot Spidey can see with a directness that’s lacking in many open-world games.
The outdoor portions may be more open, but the indoor segments are painfully bland and restrictive. Those sections are set in dank sewers, empty office buildings, or otherwise broken-down areas, and indoor movement is shackled by the restrictive and unimaginative level design. Objectives are the usual "pull that lever, collect three of these things, fight the boss in a circular room," clichés.
This Wii U edition of the game might pull in some new players, but the game isn’t feeling all that fresh these days. The spotty combat and run-of-the-mill web swinging are intact, but the graphics seem marginally worse than they looked on the PS3/360. Mostly it’s minor stuff like randomly jaggy polygons, longer than average load times, and minor screen tearing. Amazing Spider-Man still looks like a current-gen game, just one that wasn’t fully optimized for the system.
The GamePad-specific functions are limited, but offer some mild convenience. The game supports off-screen play, while the city map and leveling HUD are relegated to the sub-screen during normal play, both of which are simple but useful. Outside of those superficial changes, the Ultimate Edition’s contains the small amount of DLC missions that accompanied the game to stores last July. The best had you playing as either loveable goofball Stan Lee or the rampaging Lizard, and the rest amount to little more than time trials and added costumes.
The Amazing Spider-Man is yet another franchise entry that's far too careful. There's still an intrinsic fun to being Spider-Man--but this is too close to what we've played before, only with less going for it than games like Web of Shadows or Ultimate Spider-Man. This does the trick if you’re dying for more action as Peter Parker or desperately need a new Wii U game, but a more fitting title for this would be "The Acceptable Spider-Man."