There exists a game in the superhero genre whose world is dark yet vibrant; whose combat balances the hero’s ultra-ordinary physical talents with genuine threats; and whose narrative plays out as both a homage to its source material and a compelling extension of its mythos. Rightly acclaimed, it is the standard by which all others must be judged, and a title of true significance whose influence will likely linger until force feedback costumes are de rigeur.
With The Amazing Spider-Man, Beenox has wisely chosen to build a game heavily reminiscent of the masterpiece Batman: Arkham City, and at a glance, many of its compelling elements appear to be in place here: an open world, free-flowing multiple-adversary combat, and a unique movement system that fits the character.
Quickly though, The Amazing Spider-Man’s flaws are unmasked.
The first (tingling) feeling that all is not right is felt as Spider-Man swings around Manhattan. If open world cities are a character unto themselves, this one is an accountancy major who enjoys yacht rock, Home Improvement reruns, and an efficient seven minutes of steady tempo missionary a week. What’s on offer here has all the character of a Time Crisis level, despite supposedly representing Manhattan – the arts degree-having, Jager-swilling, giant sunglasses and skinny jeans-sporting bohemian of the five boroughs family. He may be an insufferable twat, but at least he has more personality than a refrigerator, which is more than can be said here.
The city’s dullness is largely because it’s a desert gameplay-wise; there simply isn’t enough to do and there certainly isn’t anything to look at. Not that the game allows sightseeing anyway; attempts to stand on the edge of buildings and soak in the sprawl are thwarted because Spidey – perhaps aware of how much worse this game is than Shattered Dimensions – tosses himself from any ledge he is within throwing distance of. An open world requires content; a reason to explore further. The Amazing Spider-Man offers a handful of repeating side missions – defeat this mugger, chase this car, photograph these things – but all are so bland that it’s unlikely any will see repeat custom.
Much has been made of the new camera angle that is employed when Spidey swings about the city, and the lens’ proximity to Spidey as he makes long, sweeping arcs through the air does give things a nice roller-coaster feel and a twinge of welcome vertigo. However, two things actively work against this immersion: that Spidey fires his webs on the same upward angle even if there is nothing above him to suspend from, and that collision detection with buildings is essentially non-existent. This gives the web-swinging a green screen-like quality, and what could have made for a compelling play mechanic is instead reduced to a one-button no-fail exercise in tedium.
Were it not for one half-decent boss battle that takes place near the beginning of the game, external environments could have been dispensed with completely. Later boss fights in the city are glorified quick-time events or – in a design decision clearly made by the bluntest intellect on the Beenox team – see Spidey abandon his web-swings altogether despite having laser attacks he must vault over. That’s right, Spider-Man chooses to not use his web swinging ability. For no reason. In an open world game. While fighting a boss whose attacks he must quickly avoid somehow.
Indoors – specifically, in the sewers and one anonymous office building where the majority of the missions make place – things improve, but here a whole new set of problems surface. The main one is that the game is simply far too easy. A number of attacks are available to Spidey, but the only ones he really needs are web strike, which flings him bullet-like at adversaries, and web retreat, which catapults him backwards and up out of danger and effectively makes him invisible to enemies in the process. It’s the mother of all dodge buttons. The combination of these two moves will defeat 80 per cent of everything Spidey faces, with a further 19 per cent accepting their web-rush fate after some gentle web shooting brings their shields down.
However, this two-button full-frontal attack isn’t even the easiest way to best the game.When he is crawling on the ceiling, Spidey also has another trick up his sleeve: a stealth takedown. Eliminating enemies two at a time this way is extremely efficient, especially because every time Spidey is spotted, a single web retreat will throw his pursuers off his trail immediately.
Players seeking variety will dive down to ground level for some fisticuffs only to realise that the game’s Batman-alike combat requires neither the timing of that title, nor does it possess the nuance or depth. Button mashing here will get the job done perfectly, and it’s as tedious as the web rush yo-yo strategy. To spice things up, objects such as dumpsters or fire extinguishers may be hurled at baddies and the resulting animations are great, but for some reason the button prompt for such heroics often refuses to materialise until some bizarre combination of approach speed and angle have been achieved.
In fact, item interaction in the game is just flat-out broken. Turrets must be pulled from their housing to be deactivated, but good luck making that happen on a regular basis. Even when he is close enough for them to smell his breath, Spidey will inexplicably be denied the on-screen cue. What then follows is some awkward manoeuvring and flailing to achieve said QTE, hopefully before the turret wakes up and Spidey eats lead. Needless to say, deaths where the player can hardly be thought of as at fault are commonplace, as if Beenox realised at the last minute that its game was far too easy and they had best throw in some unfair deaths to at least give the illusion of the game being a challenge.
Smaller annoyances also hamper the experience. The Amazing Spider-Man is too directed by half, and insists on reminding the player exactly how to defeat each enemy every single time they are encountered. Checkpoints are invariably before lengthy cutscenes, “witty” catchphrases become tiring long before the finish line is in sight, the AI is horrendously stupid, and clear attempts at padding the game’s length are everywhere.
The game’s narrative barely deserves a mention. The most generic superhero tripe, it’s only notable for its terrible dialogue, choppiness, awful pacing, and climax-free final third.
Beenox is capable of making a decent Spider-Man game – in fact, they have made two already – so the culprit here is surely that this game was rushed out to coincide with the Amazing Spider-Man movie release. That publishers still prefer to push out woefully underdone games in this fashion despite years of high-profile tie-in failures is completely baffling. Beenox has proved it can do better, and the sketch of a vastly superior game is hidden amongst The Amazing Spider-Man’s quick-time events and challenge-averse gameplay. Here’s hoping more time is granted Beenox for the inevitable sequel.