Five-and-a-half thousand miles is a hell of a long way to travel to see a videogame, especially when the woman sitting next to you on the plane has arms the size of Venezuela. Folds of mottled flesh spilling over into your already miniscule portion of personal space is more horrifying than anything The Suffering has to offer and when you're served with a meal purporting to be sausage and mash but in fact looks like a brace of dog's todgers topped with baby sick, you begin to wonder if it wouldn't have been better to take that bar job at the local boozer after all. If only we had a superpower that allowed us to suck out human lard...
We finally make it to Los Angeles without being arrested for air rage. We're here for a first play of the second Spidey game on Xbox, the imaginatively titled Spider-Man 2. Up until now the game has been shrouded in secrecy, mainly due to the PR fascists at Sony Pictures and director Sam Raimi being overly precious about their new film. Jeez guys, Spidey's been around for over 40 years, it's not like the world has never heard of him - "What? A man bestowed with the ability of a... radioactive spider? He can crawl up buildings, you say? Like, wow, that's AMAZING!" Ah well. The important thing is this: it looks great.
The first thing to note is that Spider-Man has gone all Vice City/True Crime on us. Instead of a linear storyline that takes place in neatly sectioned levels, we're now given an impressively recreated Manhattan to swing around at our leisure. Missions can be tackled as and when you feel like it and if you'd rather attempt some of the myriad acrobatic challenges, potter around town helping out troubled citizens or you just want to take in the sunset from a lofty perch then that's absolutely peachy. And the city looks rather fabulous, stretching for miles in every direction. As cities tend to. The windows of towering skyscrapers glisten in the sunlight, cars buzz around the streets and pedestrians take their constitutionals in Central Park. It's a living, breathing environment and we're highly impressed. This is a definite improvement on Treyarch's last Spider-Man effort.
Spider-Man can now get down to street level, a feature distressingly absent from the previous instalment. Giving ol' sticky fingers the ability to walk on a pavement has opened a whole host of new gameplay features for Spidey fans. No exact numbers are bandied about by the developers but there are several hundred sub-missions to complete in addition to the main story mode, which itself follows and expands upon the plot of the movie. Treyarch have taken liberties with the script, adding familiar felons from the Marvel universe for Spidey to tackle but, and here comes the PR fascism again, aside from Shocker, Treyarch wont tell us which 'bosses' will be lining up for a beating. Harrumph.
The developers are keen to stress that they really want players to feel what it's like to be the wall-crawler. This means that, in addition to scrapping it out with ridiculously monikered uber-villains and unfolding the main plotline, you've also got to keep the streets safe. Dealing with every-day crimes like hold-ups, kidnappings and street brawls is as much a part of the game as the main adventure and as we pelted around the streets every other citizen was hailing us either in distress, appreciation or derision. Usually distress. "Spider-man! That man stole my knickers and put them on his head!"
Presumably there will be sections of the game where you discard your cozzie altogether and assume the role of Peter Parker (Parker temporarily renounces Spider-Man in the movie). Another way in which the feel of being the web slinging wonder has been boosted is with the swing. Although the control system remains essentially the same as that of the last game, the coders have worked hard to mirror Spidey's movement in the original film. They talk about stuff like 'gravity' and 'real-life laws of physics'. Huh? What's important is that Spidey's 'handling' is much improved. He feels a lot weightier under the thumbsticks and visually it's extremely satisfying.
As we explore Manhattan we have trouble turning corners, until discovering that el Webbo can now fire two strands of sticky stuff at the same time, one webline acting as steering device while the other continues to propel you forward. We also discover that you can shoot webbing at the underside of passing helicopters and hitch a ride across town. Must save a fortune. Aside from a new double-jump button, it's hard to find any appreciable difference in Spidey's other moves. Clambering up the side of a building has barely changed since those halcyon days on the first PlayStation.
Incredibly, before we really get stuck into the game proper the joypad is whisked away from us. Less than an hour of play and a bunch of questions circumnavigated with all the skill of Tony Blair at Question Time? What are you trying to hide, guys? The PR girl apologises and buys us a pint but we leave LA somewhat frustrated at the minimal amount of plot and character details we've been able to extract from Treyarch. However, from what we did see we're full of confidence that Spider-Man 2 will deliver the goods for Marvel-loving web heads everywhere.
Spider-Man 2 is released for Xbox, PS2, Gamecube, GBA and PC on 9 July