“Amazing” is hardly the word to describe the latest Spider-Man game. “Terrible” might actually be a more accurate description.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an inauspicious fail for Beenox, the Quebec City-based developer responsible for the previous trio of console games starring everyone’s favourite wall-crawler. Those efforts, from Shattered Dimensions (2010) and Edge of Time (2011) to the eponymous game tied the 2012 movie, at least served up enough Spidey-ness to please die-hard fans. This one? Not so much.
Terrible writing, outdated menus, frequent load times, repetitive missions and bugs galore – we’re not talking spiders – conspire to make this latest release a chore to play through. And the worst part is, Beenox has broken the cardinal if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it rule by messing with the one thing that made its previous games enjoyable: web-swinging.
In some of those earlier games, zipping along was a simple and elating affair. Spidey simply shot webs and, as in the cartoons, no one ever really cared what they were attaching to. The important thing is that he was able to move along swiftly and smoothly, with the occasional “yahoo!” or “whoo!” expressing the same rush the player might have been feeling.
The actual act of web-swinging is indeed more realistic in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, with Spidey shooting webs from his left and right wrists depending on which controller trigger is pressed. He also swings higher and further the longer the respective trigger is held, and he often gets caught without anything to latch onto if he’s up too high above the buildings.
This all works well if he swings in a straight line between New York’s cavernous skyscrapers. But if he gets up close to them or tries to navigate between some tight nooks and crannies… oh boy – that’s when the camera problems start.
Trying to navigate between different modes of locomotion – swinging, wall-crawling and running, and using Spider-Man’s slow-motion fast-dash “web rush” – is a frustrating mess because the camera either can’t keep up, or it reorients too quickly, making it extraordinarily easy to overshoot your intended targets. It’s annoying in innocuous situations, such as while trying to gather the hundreds of collectible comic book pages hidden around the city, but frequently deadly when battling a super-villain on a rooftop.
The fights also suffer from camera issues, which is too bad because they’re almost enjoyable. Spidey uses the same timing-based system as that found in the Batman Arkham games, where his spider-sense tells him when to dodge. He can also use his web shooters to gum up opponents, disarm their weapons or rush at them.
Yet, without any obvious way to lock onto enemies, I often found myself attacking lesser thugs while vainly trying to focus on the machine-gun-toting baddies that were busy blasting away at me.
It’s hard to enjoy a game when the fundamentals are so wonky, but it’s even more difficult when all the little accouterments are sub-par too. In cut scenes, Spider-Man often looks drunk when talking – he flails his arms and sways side-to-side, like he’s in a bad Rob Ford video. It’s obviously an artistic challenge to make a masked man look interesting while talking, which is partially why super-heroes often doff their masks in the movies, but in this case the animators clearly overdid it.
There are plenty of banal side missions to be found around New York, and they feel like they were rushed to pad out the already short seven-hour-or-so campaign. Spidey can stealthily infiltrate a Russian gangster hideout to find a new suit, beat up some thugs trying to break-and-enter, rescue citizens from a burning building and more. Success prompts a quick news report that recycles a few lines of audio over a still photo of the hero in action, plus a lowering of the J. Jonah Jameson-inspired “menace meter.” Dull, dull, dull.
The menu screens, where Spidey can listen to audio logs (is anyone else tired of this overused trope yet?) and upgrade his skills – did I mention overused tropes? – look like they’re out of 20-year-old game with their basic colours and square-ness. The dialogue is also exceptionally bad. Example: Thug says to Spider-Man, “You’re wanted alive or dead. Spoiler alert: I’m going with option two.” Even Stan Lee shows up to give you a lecture on what kind of Spider-Man you should be, while the Green Goblin comes off sounding like the Joker. Head-scratchers all around.
And then there are the glitches. Early in the game, I found myself in a burning building trying to save some citizens, except that Spidey couldn’t actually walk. I managed to move through the building and get outside by jamming on the jump button, which made Spider-Man look more like Frog-Man. Later on, a super-villain I was battling somehow got himself webbed up several times – with no help from me. Major bugs like these certainly give off the impression that the game was indeed rushed through production.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find a silver lining to The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The games industry was supposed to be past the days of these sorts of quick, movie tie-in cash grabs, but clearly Activision is giving that can one last kick. With nary a redeeming quality, it’s hard to see how this effort is going to pay off.