Spider-man has had ups and downs like most comic book characters when it comes to video games, although Spider-man was the first series to finally turn the tables by being the first hero to have a game that was actually really good. This generation has seen mostly dull entries, with each entry getting worse and worse. In order to breathe new life into the franchise, Activision has decided to liven things up with the addition of some new Spider-men thanks to the many spin-offs the comics have seen over the years.
While the Ultimate universe isn’t a big departure (and a bit of a cop out in my opinion), the Noir and 2099 universes are featured for the first time in a game. Amazing represents the main universe, where the game begins. Mysterio tries to steal the Tablet of Order and Chaos, it breaks during his fight with Spidey, and it shatters and spreads to the other dimensions. The wall crawler needs to track down the pieces, because his reality and the others depend on it (yup, no pressure as Spidey says). Some bad guys have gotten their hands on pieces of the tablet, and you’ll have to throw down with them to get collect all the pieces across the dimensions.
Each Spider-man is confined to his own levels, and each has different moves and abilities to use to get around and fight. Ultimate offers the various shape shifting abilities with the symbioite suit and a rage meter to increase your abilities. 2099 gives you a technologically enhanced Spidey with accelerated vision (read: bullet time) and some super fast moves. Noir places you in a monochromatic world where stealth is key, and you can perform stealth takedowns from the shadows. Amazing doesn’t get any special perks, but the original Spider-man still has his own moves. It was a smart move to not go with a sandbox city like the previous games, since it allows developers to change up the scenery (from jungles to oil rigs to power plants) and you’re not stuck rescuing balloons and stopping purse muggers for 40 hours.
For all the Spider-men, you can expect the following: things to break, lots of bad guys to pummel, civilians to save, and bosses to chase. Each level has a unique style and new enemies to stand in your way. Some villains are “new” in the sense that they haven’t been featured in the comics of a particular universe (such as 2099 Hobgoblin or Noir Hammerhead). None of these new additions feel out of place, and the rest of the casting is excellent.
The combat is typical action fair. Light and heavy attacks, launchers, upgradable moves, the whole shebang is there. The only thing to really note is that web slinging has be simplified to one button, which helps speeds up web slinging. Hit the trigger lightly to zip to the nearest available point, and hold to start swinging. The combo system is fairly free form, and you can string together attacks in just about any way you choose. It’s important to use the environment to your advantage, since there are plenty of objects you can throw at enemies, including enemies themselves. However, the targeting is a bit spotty, and becomes a big problem when you need to throw a specific item or dealing with enemies carrying shields, since you’ll usually end grabbing the wrong thing as you try to back off and make space. The camera is pretty lazy, and you’ll have to hit the reset button a lot to see where your foes are. And wall crawling? Don’t bother unless you REALLY have to, because the camera gets a mind of its own when you try. Combined with the lackluster targeting, the game could have used a month or two of extra development to iron these things out.
If there is a real star of this game, it's the clever writing and level design. One of the best conceived levels has you squaring off with the merc with a mouth, Deadpool, on his reality TV show. You’ll have to take out the cameras while battling onslaughts of his fans. The writing is at its tightest here and really gives the game more charm than previous games that tried to take themselves too seriously. The final Noir level places you in a carnival with fireworks exploding in the air, suddenly making the shadows not so safe. It keeps you on your toes and adds a lot to the atmosphere.
The story is fairly lighthearted, and it only exists to tie together all the universes and let you fight some of the best in Spider-man’s rouge gallery. Some reviews may complain about the story being cheesy or the jokes too much, but if you ask me, they’ve forgotten that comics weren’t always the heavy handed storylines of a Frank Miller graphic novel. The writers just wanted to have fun, calling on the spirit of the Golden Age. The last few games tried too hard at drama and we ended up with emo Spidey. While it would be nice to see more story bits for the Noir and 2099 universes (Noir especially, if you want to check out any spinoffs, this is one I highly recommend), to flesh out the characters, the story serves its purpose and is not trying to wow anyone with dramatic pieces. The graphics are a mixed bag. Each uses a different graphical style, but I have to admit cel shading is starting to look really last generation. Hopefully Capcom will license out the Marvel vs Capcom 3 engine so other comic book games can look as good. 2099 and Noir eschew the cel shaded look for more realistic graphics, and in turn look better than the Amazing and Ultimate. The Ultimate gets the worse treatment out of them all. In addition, except a few hang-ups with the graphics since glitches can and will happen. Thankfully none of them forced me to restart or got me killed.
Sound production doesn’t get much better than this. The cast of actors is great, and each Spider-man has a different actor: Neil Patrick Harris (Amazing) along with Josh Keaton (Ultimate), Christopher Daniel Barnes (Noir ) and Dan Gilvezan (2099). Additionally, the legendary Stan Lee stars as the game's narrator and Emmy Award-winning composer Jim Dooley has created an original orchestral score for the game. The villains also are very well done, and I promise you’ll find yourself busting a gut while playing this game.
There’s plenty of good and bad to say about this game. If I were to compare it to any recent action game, I’d say it reminds of the Force Unleashed. It’s a fun experience, but it wouldn’t be as likeable without the license attached to it since the gameplay doesn’t speak for itself. However, the game desperately wants to be Arkham Asylum, especially in the Noir levels. It could have been, if there was a bit more polish to the gameplay and a bit more creativity in the design. But if you’re an action junkie or a Spider-man fan, it’s definitely worth checking out. To all the true believers out there: Excelsior!
- Kyle McCluskey
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