This review was originally posted on a website I briefly served as Senior Editor.
Since he first arrived in movie theaters back in May of 2002, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s everyman superhero, Spider-Man, has garnered a reputation as a natural movie star, and one of the original heavy hitters in the modern age of superhero cinema. Bryan Singer’s original X-Men film in 2000 may have kicked off the current trend as we know it today, but it was Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man movie that managed to elevate the expectations around superhero films to stratospheric heights that remain to this day.
As with a lot of major movie blockbusters, studios want to try and cast a wide multimedia net, which more often than not includes a companion video game experience. Unlike some of the recent fare from Marvel Studios, each and every entry in the Spider-Man film franchise has garnered a multi-platform video game release, one of which being considered one of the best superhero video games ever made. That one arrived 10 years ago in the form of Treyarch and Activision’s Spider-Man 2, introducing the concept of an open-world New York City to Spidey gamers for the first time, and it knocked everybody’s socks off in the process. After a few hit-and-miss Spider-Man video games, the franchise jumped to a new primary developer, Beenox, and saw critical success with their first Spidey entry: a comic book based action game called Shattered Dimensions. When 2012 rolled around, Beenox revived the open-world NYC for the video game tied to the first Amazing Spider-Man feature film, and many gamers and fans largely saw it as a return to form for the webslinger on consoles.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Spider-Man’s back in theaters worldwide for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and with that film comes a brand new video game experience from Beenox. Building on the open-world architecture and play mechanics of the first game, you can tell that the developers actively listened to some of the concerns laid out by gamers for the 2012 game, since some of those more glaring problems are mostly fixed for this new one. Unfortunately, though, the developers have created several new problems in their stead, and though the game is largely fun on a basic level, there are a few places where it, unfortunately, trips up in the end.
Presentation, Differences Between Old-Gen and New-Gen, and Story
One place you can’t particularly fault the game on is in the visual department, but there’s a caveat that comes with that. I managed to play the game on both the old-gen Xbox 360, as well as on the new-gen Xbox One, and unsurprisingly the version on the newer console is much prettier to look at. In directly comparing the draw distance of some of the in-game models of New York’s buildings to the character model of Spider-Man himself, there’s a pretty significant difference in the detail present in Spidey’s costume, as well as how much of New York City can show up on the screen of the newer console when compared to the older one. For an Xbox 360 game, Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t particularly jaw-dropping, but given the size of the open-world and the side missions present on the game map at all times, it becomes easier to forgive. On the Xbox One, it’s also certainly not the graphical gem of the software library, but that may largely be because it was likely primarily developed with older hardware in mind.
There are some hiccups in the presentation present on both consoles, though, particularly when it comes to the lighting. When I was on the nighttime New York map trying to stop a petty crime while playing on the Xbox 360, I remember hoping that the Xbox One version would bring some much needed light to the map, since there were times where I was fighting a few common thugs and looking, literally, at a black screen. Unfortunately, I ran into this issue again on the Xbox One, so trading up for a new-gen version won’t help there. In any event, while there are some annoying bugs in enemy A.I. perhaps indicating a rush to get the game to market, swinging through New York is still the overall blast it was two years ago.
When it comes to the story, they chose to do something kind of weird with it. While the first Amazing Spider-Man game was designed as an epilogue to the events of the film, the game adaptation of Amazing Spider-Man 2 does something entirely different: it basically ignores the film it's based upon, which may be a first for any movie game I've ever played.
Don’t get me wrong, all the major new players show up like Electro and Harry Osborn/Green Goblin, but it’s very clear that the “continuity” of this game universe is The Amazing Spider-Man film, that film’s game, and this game. The actual film sequel itself doesn’t come into play, since the new story for the game instead decides to reinterpret some of the character interactions in such a way that the story is incompatible with the movie. So, if you find yourself really wanting to play the game before you see the film, you don’t really need to worry about it since they’re totally different narrative experiences. On top of this, the game’s story throws in classic Spidey comics characters like Detective DeWolff, photo assignments for J. Jonah Jameson, as well as clashes with other Spidey villains like Shocker, Kraven the Hunter, Wilson Fisk (aka the Kingpin), and Carnage. Oh, and a comic shop owner by the name of “Stan.”
The voice acting is uninspired and forgettable, except for Sam Riegel’s performance as Spider-Man, and Stan Lee’s performance as himself. A lot of the characters, particularly Carnage, manage to miss the mark, and the current video game series manages to drop a peg since it doesn’t feature any voices or likenesses of the film’s primary cast. From 2002-2007, all three Raimi-film games featured the voice and likeness of Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, in addition to specific games featuring Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, Alfred Molina as Doc Ock, Topher Grace as Venom, Thomas Haden Church as Sandman, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, and James Franco as Harry Osborn. The lack of an appropriate likeness of Andrew Garfield for the title role is particularly puzzling, especially since prior games could always be counted on to represent their films very well with the right personalities.
Back in 2012, I was actually pretty ecstatic about how the first Amazing Spider-Man game turned out. The combat was pretty simple and straightforward, webslinging was fun and responsive, the side quests were plentiful but not compulsory, and it helped inject some of the simple joy that’s so possible when you let Spidey do his thing in a free-roam environment.
The good news is that for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Beenox has made some logical alterations to the swinging mechanics. Although the first ASM game was largely praised for its treatment of this very important element, one aspect of the swinging that was criticized was that your webs didn’t actually need to attach to anything in order to get a successful swing. You could’ve just attached your web to a cloud and swung off of that, for all you knew. In the new game, you need to be able to swing from the actual structures of New York, which automatically makes you favor swinging a bit lower to the ground, since the higher reaching skyscrapers have a bit of distance between them. The result is something that seems more practical, but it also loses critical elements of both freedom and overall fun.
From there, Beenox piled on several new elements which manage to significantly hamper the experience overall. One of the more advertised new “features” of ASM2 is the “Hero or Menace” system. On principle it sounds pretty cool: you have a reputation meter that you fill up positively by doing good deeds in side missions, which can range from stopping a high-speed chase with a hostage, resolving a police deadlock, or saving civilians from precarious situations. If you ignore these events, then your hero meter can drop to the “menace” level – New Yorkers start to believe J. Jonah Jameson’s smear campaign against Spider-Man, and the Kingpin’s special crime task force will actively hunt and engage you in the middle of the city.
This is, by far, the worst mistake the game makes, because it removes the fun from the side missions and makes you feel like you need to scramble all over the map to get things done. On top of that, each of the events are time-sensitive, and spring up literally all over the city. So, if you’re on the far east side of the map and a bomb is about to go off on the far west side, you can speed swing and web rush all you like to try and get there, but the event is going to expire, and your meter will suffer for it regardless. This could’ve been easily fixed by enabling or disabling certain side missions based on the position of the player in the map, but instead it makes you feel like you have to drop whatever you’re doing to save the civilians, and if you’re off snagging collectibles or engaging in the story mode and are too far from the expiring event? Well, you’re just out of luck.
There’s also a philosophical conflict with that, since it basically means that you have to perform heroic acts just for your own PR. Any Spidey fan will tell you that this is a damaging oversimplification of Spider-Man’s manifesto of great power coming with great responsibility. Uncle Ben didn’t tell him that “being a hero means having good press.”
Combat is a mixed bag. While the basic system from the first game emerges, the flow is never quite on the mark, and the presence of a wonky camera that can’t seem to give you a good vantage point as you zip quickly between enemies does it no favors, either. While it’s far from the worst combat system ever devised, you can tell that Beenox has attempted to adopt the basic layout of the Batman: Arkham games into it, and because they draw a direct comparison by virtue of their design, it doesn’t hold a candle to Batman.
As awesome as the Arkham games are, in a weird way you can also make an argument that they kind of ruined superhero games, because many developers try to emulate that formula with mixed results. As far as a superhero game “aping” the Arkham combat formula, 2011’s Captain America: Super Soldier developed by Next Level Games managed to do it a little more effectively. Boss battles can be fun, if a little repetitive, but the bosses were never going to be the star of a game like this anyway, so it’s easy to give them a pass.
One area that I was happy to see ASM2 dabble in was stealth gameplay, which Beenox effectively did in their first Spidey game, 2010’s Shattered Dimensions. As you make your way through a Russian hideout, you can hang from the walls and take out unsuspecting enemies quietly. Spider-Man would be an effective stealth combatant given his ability to cling to surfaces, and for the most part the stealth gameplay in ASM2 is a welcome addition. While the enemy AI can get a little too hyper-aware of your location right out of the blue, there’s a solid foundation from which to build on here, and if Beenox indeed develops the inevitable game for The Amazing Spider-Man 3, then hopefully they’ll build on lessons learned here. (2017 Update: Oh, the days when we thought ASM3 would be a sure thing. How wrong we were!)
As of this moment, Spider-Man in video games peaked several years ago. While the building blocks of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 have the potential to lead to the definitive Spidey experience, the final product here falls a bit short of that lofty standard. Although it may seem that this review is largely negative, I’ve played far worse movie-game tie-ins, and actually enjoy ASM2 for what it is. Do I wish it was more than what it is? Kind of like the film it’s based on, yes, absolutely.
As the first major superhero game on the new generation of consoles, this should have been better. But hey, the game makes it easy to forget its faults as you effortlessly swing through New York City, getting some breathtaking views and spinning wildly in the air as you swing onward…
…until you get hunted down and killed by the task force for not stopping a B&E.