SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) – TREYARCH
The release of an inevitable tie-in game for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has reopened an old can of worms – the debate as to which is the web slinger’s best outing on consoles.
For most, the licensed games of the 1990s are near the top of the pile; in particular the side scrolling beat-em-up Maximum Carnage for the SNES, and the terrific PS1 installment simply called Spider Man (tapping into Spidey’s massive popularity during the decade, enhanced no doubt by the excellent animated series with that intro theme). Others have championed some of the more recent glut of titles produced under Activision’s hand that have somewhat paled in comparison to the quality of Rocksteady Studios Arkham games for Batman, including Web Of Shadows and the story hopping Shattered Dimensions.
For myself however, one game stands head and shoulders above the rest; a game that manages to perform the dual miracle of being a surprisingly playable movie tie-in, and more importantly nails that feeling of being the friendly neighbourhood wallcrawler – enter ‘the amazing’ Spider-Man 2 from 2004. Taking its main cues from Sam Raimi’s blockbuster film of the same year, in Spider-Man 2 players take control of Peter Parker and his alter ego to defend New York City from Dr Octopus and his experiment to create a sun from which limitless energy can be harnessed. Peter also fights to remain in the affections of his beloved Mary-Jane and to keep his secret from best friend Harry Osborn, grief stricken after the death of his father The Green Goblin in the first film.
As with all good Spider-Man games however, there are plenty of other subplots and villains thrown in just for the sake of it. Spidey has to fight the likes of Rhino, Shocker and Mysterio, resist the charms of jewel thief Black Cat, keep his job at the Daily Bugle by taking photos from the top of landmarks, and deliver pizza to the hungry inhabitants of Manhattan. All in a days work for a hero. To be honest, the game requires the other villains to flesh out what would otherwise be a pretty light story, but happily they provide the highlights of the game – the best moments are spent dueling with Mysterio as he uses a series of illusions to take over the Statue Of Liberty with aliens, or the banter between Spidey and Black Cat for example.
The reason why Spider-Man 2 is remembered so fondly by many however, is the controls for web-slinging. By pressing R2, as long as there is a solid object such as a building or tree to anchor himself from, Spidey will shoot a web and swing. From there the player can keep pressing R2 to move around, but by pressing X at the end of a swing, they will soar through the air and can then connect another web with a simple tap of R2. Holding down X while swinging will produce a bigger jump, and tapping L2 at the base of the swing will cause Spidey to boost forward. The system is wonderfully easy to use, and not only looks stylish but allows you to fly through the city at speed with considerable control. There are plenty of other tricks as well that can make Spidey into a full-on parkour master – tapping X while soaring allowing him to flip about and perform stylish tricks, pressing and holding R2 while swinging will suspend him in midair allowing him to slingshot forward, and by timing it right he can sprint up the side of skyscrapers. It’s indicative of the quality of the system that in the ten years since, not one Spider-Man game has improved upon it.
Similarly, combat with enemies is a hoot. By mashing the square button Spidey can deliver a set of punch and kicks that will defeat most enemies, pressing the circle button in time with an on-screen prompt allows him to dodge attacks and a tap of the triangle button will enable web based abilities. But by earning Hero Points (more on that in a bit) and purchasing move upgrades from stores, you can make simple battles into orchestrated ballets of skills. There’s a wide range of combos available all using a variation of face button inputs that allow you to variously knock enemies flying with a charged up ‘Hero Punch’, swing guys around in a web rodeo with the left analogue stick before attaching them to a lamp post, and my personal favourite – launching an emeny into the air with a kick to the jaw, stamping on them several times in midair, before catching them and delivering a spinning piledriver to their heads. Add to all of this the ability to enable ‘Spider Reflexes’ for a short amount of time (essentially slow motion where Spidey’s strength is also increased), and you rarely leave a battle without a smile on your face.
So the general controls do a fantastic job of capturing the feeling that you are Spider-Man – it’s just a shame then that the rest of the game fails to deliver upon this promise, a fact that not even the nostalgia goggles can eliminate from my memory. The playground in which to throw Spidey around is huge; a near scale recreation of the Big Apple (complete with famous landmarks including the Empire State Building and Central Park) that rivaled even Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for sheer size on the PlayStation 2. As big as the city is however, it feels kind of soulless. Don’t get me wrong – there is plenty to do, including activating over 200 hint and tricks icons scattered around the map, finding tokens on top of the tallest skyscrapers and buoys scattered around the island, performing an almost obnoxious amount of time trials, delivering pizza and helping citizens with random requests (all in the name of acquiring the hero points needed to upgrade and move onto the next chapter of the story). However, it all feels like a chore, and you’ll quickly tire of fetching bloody balloons for children and choose to just swing happily around the city instead. The fact that these side activities are the only thing left to do once the story is settled makes it all the more gloomy.
The massive city also comes with massive problems. In order to accommodate the sheer scale of the metropolis, it seems a large sacrifice was made on micro detail. Main characters aside, every citizen in New York looks terrifying with melted faces and blocky bodies. It also becomes difficult to ignore that the majority of the buildings look the same (although I digress, this isn’t too dissimilar to New York itself). There are further problems that niggle; the camera zoom on the map for example for whatever mystifying reason will not freely move to cover the entire area, meaning you have to keep opening the map after every couple of swings to ensure you are still going in the right direction which disrupts the all important flow of movement. There also appears to be some kind of glitch with the audio, meaning that the highly limited soundtrack off mission will only start playing after about 45 seconds of inactivity before fading away about a minute later. At least the vocal performances are decent; with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Alfred Molina reprising their roles from the film and usual Raimi collaborator Bruce Campbell doing a sterling job as the overlord Tour Guide who helps Spidey through the tutorials.
In retrospective, Spider-Man 2 is not quite the great game that people nowadays remember it to be. The necessary evil of including side activities to bulk out the game will forever be its downfall, but in the space of ten years nothing has bettered the perfection of that web-slinging mechanic and it is that which keeps the game fondly revered. Certainly at the time it was by far and away the best superhero game that money could buy, and it kept that honor for a long while until Arkham Asylum turned up which is no discredit at all. If you find yourself perhaps disillusioned by the current reboot of the franchise, then there a few better places to dive back into the past to relive the glory days than this.