Based on the 2002 movie starring Tobey Maguire as the comic book superhero, this video game version of Spider-Man: The Movie has players swinging through the streets of New York City on the lookout for arch-nemesis Green Goblin. Though built on the 3D engine used in previous Spider-Man titles, this version features a number of new enhancements.
Instead of fighting characters on the ground, players can now confront enemies in sky as the hero has more control over the use of his webbing. Spider-Man can rise or descend while swinging from building to building as well as cut and then reattach lines at any time to quickly escape from potential threats. He can also bank around buildings instead of traveling directly in a straight line.
Spidey will encounter Shocker, Vulture, and various robotic threats from Oscorp Industries based on situations from the movie as well as original encounters created specifically for the game. Spider-Man will once again be able to use his webbing, fists, and legs to subdue enemies, but the web-slinger has all-new combination attacks to help him survive long enough to face Green Goblin.
Spider-man carries quite a bit of weight and ethos that a lay person simply could not get from any one single source. True, the recent cinematic success of Spider-man gives mainstream people a taste of what the franchise is all about but little do people know that Spider-man, the franchise, spawned a legion of related heroes and heroines, much like another Marvel comic franchise, the X-Men. The PC edition of Spider-man is aptly called 'The Movie' because it follows the rise of the arachnid hero similar to the movie plotline but takes the liberty to flesh out these ancillary characters and also the battles between Spider-man and Oscorp spawned Green Goblin.
One of the things that struck me about the Spider-man movie adaptation was its sense of style. I'm not sure what to call it but it was certainly a lot different than previous comic book movies although many shots paid homage to The Matrix (as almost every other film does nowadays). In the PC game, there's a strong artistic use of light, especially since a lot of the levels take place during the night or in dark corners. The best example of use is in Grand Central when Spider-man faces off against Scorpion. There's also copious use of reflective lighting off superhero armor and dress during the cinematic sequences themselves. I loved how it danced off the various characters. It really looked much different from other games before it and brings vibrancy even though the palette is uniformly dark in some of the levels.
While consoles and past PC games tend to fog up most of the skyline, Treyarch's rendering on the PC is uncompromising in every sense. The city sequences that dominate the movie are but a small part in the game's storyline itself. The fact that I yearned level after level to swing around in Manhattan is testament to the effects of the graphics themselves. Many recognizable New York landmarks like the Chrysler Tower are also visible which makes Spider-man both a sightseeing trip as well as a novelty.
The levels themselves are heavily scripted and mixed in nature. You have various amounts of rescue the civilians, defuse or disarm bombs, duels with villains (and they need not be the Green Goblin) and even some stealth-like missions. For stealth approaches, luckily like all comic books, Spider-man can eschew all boundaries and simply assault the enemy with reckless abandon. What makes the levels interesting is not necessarily the combat, which is fun in itself. However, some of the levels are frightfully short, especially in easier difficulty settings. It is truly the story portrayed and the attachment you develop for the different characters that make the game special. When I said the game featured strong visual presentation, it is in every sense backed up by strong voiceover work particularly for our protagonist. Tobey Maguire was able to carry Spider-man's role because he had just the right amount of naiveté and understated presence. The latter was missing from his Cider House Rules performance. Here, Maguire resumes his role in the Spider-man game as the titular character, throwing out his cynical comments and wry sense of humor; the same type we found in the film and the same attitude we expect from the Spider-man character. Needless to say, the voiceover work by Maguire is, no pun intended, nothing short of amazing and adds volumes to the depth of the Spider-man character. The Green Goblin comes off much differently though. In the movie, it seemed like Norman Osborn was almost trapped by his forgivable obsession to keep his dignity and success. The Willem Defoe schizoid talk scene was classic. In the game though, Osborn comes off completely evil and totally unforgivable in trying to smite Spider-man.
While the scenes are dramatic, insightful and short, they can easily be lengthened by the fact that much of the time you'll be struggling with the controls. By default, Treyarch supports a mouse and keyboard scheme. The mouse allows you to look around, but curiously, not up or down. If you move up to the ledge of a building, sometimes you'd like to look down to see if you really want to jump off. In the PC version of Spider-man, you simply can't do that with the mouse. The keyboard layout uses the numeric keypad for webbing and attacks. The WASD combo we've come to know from first person shooters moves Spider-man around. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, I found Spider-man was a real tough game to play, especially if you don't have the controls down right. I thought I was just bad at platform games in general but after grabbing a gamepad controller, things got much easier. Still, there are a lot of controls to master in Spider-man. With his unique webbing ability, you can perform dozens of tricks or combos, which makes the fighting interesting as well as fun. Treyarch even rewards the right moves with style points, accrued similar to the kudos system of Project Gotham Racing.
Even with the gamepad controller, the gameplay was still more difficult than it should be due to camera issues. The camera, whether in active or passive mode, is simply too loose. Developers usually take control of the camera to provide some directorial shot but none of that happens here. The camera's laggardness provides nothing but frustration. Thus, most of the time, you'll be babysitting the camera as much as the game itself. Obviously, the developers knew this was going to happen. You have things like camera locks to help track certain targets (boss enemies, for example) but the controls are still yet to be desired. I think intuitive fun controls are the ones I don't have to learn myself but grow deeper and more sophisticated as you play it. They shouldn't be deep and sophisticated off the bat and require you to take a course to master it. That's just not what intuitiveness is all about. Granted, I'm awful at babysitting cameras since my 3D spatial grasp is admittedly poor, but Spider-man's gravity-defying stunts really exasperate the engine's inability to consistently provide an optimal view for gameplay.
This is quite a shame because Spider-man is a wonderful looking game. The artwork put into it is highly admirable. Pay close attention to the save game sequence-it's easily one of the slickest ones I've seen in some time and reminisces its comic book origins. The use of light, I have to stress again, is breathtaking and adds artistic style that simply has not been replicated so far. Look how it dances off the various characters and shines into windows. Finally, Maguire's speech is always performed to the tee; completely understated but commanding at the same time. His traits of honesty and frankness are always appreciated. I only wished the game was able to sign up all the other actors/actresses from the movie for the game since the cinematic story for the game is worthy of that kind of treatment. There's one moment in the film where Spider-man struggles to do basic web slinging and manages to barely swing across a chasm only to hit a building straight in the wall. That kind of frustration with the controls, unfortunately, tames an otherwise highly involving work of art.
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