|Title||:||Spider-Man: The Movie|
|Platforms||:||Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
With great power comes great possibilities.
Spider-Man starred in one of the finest superhero video games ever a few years ago, but disappointed fans with a lackluster sequel. Our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler is again swinging from the pinnacles of perfection in a new, 128-bit game from publisher Activision and developer Treyarch (PlayStation 2 version reviewed here).
Though based on next month's movie, the game doesn't spoil the general plot for anyone already familiar with the Spider-Man saga. Players are given the rare opportunity to control the fabled web slinger from his origin, as he hunts the thug who murdered Uncle Ben. From there it's a tour-de-force of Spidey's rogues gallery, with special emphasis on the Green Goblin.
Spider-Man's versatile repertoire is yanked right from the pages of his comic book. He may not be able to spin a web any size, but he can certainly catch thieves just like flies. His web slingers can be fired as a weapon, used to create a defensive shield, or to tie up enemies. But primarily, Spidey slings from building to building, nook to cranny, and wall to wall, doing whatever a spider can.
Some levels place an unfortunate focus on fighting, with plenty of punch-kick power-ups for Spidey to acquire. But balancing this frustration are all-new, all-aerial levels. Whether it's battling a foe or racing across town to defuse bombs, this constant swinging suggests a sense of flight and freedom that only Spider-Man could have. The tight camera control serves our airborne icon well, allowing players to keep track of their surroundings, obstacles, and opponents.
Spider-Man's web of comic book-style gameplay ensnares not only level design, but also boss battles. From the the Shocker to the Vulture, you feel like you're really fighting Spidey's classic villains — not just some generic video game bosses. These nemeses appear in environments that allow them to take full advantage of their powers, making a fierce threat against the webhead's life. Such challenging scenarios preserve the intentions of Spider-Man's creators, making him and his foes a unique, memorable, and powerful cast, whether it's in a comic book or a video game.
This game does not greatly expand the gameplay of its predecessors, but it does more deeply explore aspects of Spider-Man's world. For example, this game makes more a web-slinger of Spidey than it does a wall-crawler. After the poor showing developer Vicarious Visions made in Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro, even this lack of innovation is acceptable in exchange for a return to excellent gameplay. The four difficulty settings make the game accessible to most gamers, though the loss of a "kid friendly" control scheme may deter younger gamers, who are now confronted with a plethora of web schemes. At "Normal" difficulty setting, most players will take only a day or two to put the Green Goblin in his place.
The PlayStation 2 brings the Big Apple to life like never before. Gone are the barren boulevards of previous games; Spider-Man is now a denizen of a bustling metropolis of citizens and vehicles, as usually viewed from on high among the towering buildings. Peter Parker's alter-ego swings from unseen precipices, flexing his honed muscles with each new web. Some character models are based a bit too much on Hollywood costumes, but the full-motion video sequence between levels are realistic enough.
The light soundtrack is somewhat reminiscent of John Williams' work. A lack of ambient sound from bustling city traffic is noticeable, as is the weird megaphone effect of impressed pedestrians calling out to the passing web slinger. Voice acting is provided by the stars of the movie. Tobey McGuire still sounds like an unconfident "Pleasantville" high school student — which is, admittedly, closer to Peter Parker's true nature than the mature adaptations we're used to. Spider-Man's spotlight is nearly stolen by the occasional narration of superstar Bruce Campbell and his typically wry sense of humor.
Radioactive blood does not a good game make, as the previous Spider-Man game demonstrated. But developer Treyarch has created a compelling action title that demonstrates their understanding of the wall crawler. Hey there — here comes Spider-Man!
This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 22-Apr-02