Does much more than a spider can.
While playing last year’s great Prince
of Persia, I found myself wondering where Prince got all his crazy moves and if someone informed Spider-Man, because he should have been sitting next to me taking notes. Like any decent Stan Lee-fearing comic book geek, I was vexed by the fact that none of the past three Spider-Man games (Spider-Man, Spider-Man
2: Enter Electro, Spider-Man: The Movie) had been able to bring such exquisite mobility to my living room.
Spider-Man 2, published by Activision and developed by Treyarch, is the best Spider-Man game ever made, arguably the best superhero game ever made, and definitely one of the coolest games I’ve played all year. Not bad for a guy with such a shoddy track record.
Consider the following: Spider-Man 2 presents you with an enormous, autonomous Manhattan, complete with the quarters, boroughs, districts, landmarks, sky-scrapers, giant ladies of liberty, sassy pedestrians and criminals. You can run around on the streets, swing in between buildings, or even climb up to the vertigo-inducing top of the Empire State Building for a full view of the city. Then you can jump off.
On your way down, you can shoot out a webby zip-line in any direction and then web-sling your way around town. While you take in the sights, feel free to bounce from building to building with your chargeable jump button, with perhaps a flip and a twist in between. You can sprint along rooftops and then hurtle yourself into space with exhilarating speed and grace.
Simply put, you get to be Spider-Man, and it rules.
But as the saying goes, with such great powers come great responsibilities, too. Though Spider-Man
2 is extremely open-ended, it progresses from beginning to end via a chapter system. In any given chapter, you’ll need to meet two objectives. One will involve collecting a given number of Hero Points.
To do so, you must patrol the city while watching out for citizens in trouble, who will let you know that a crime is being committed or that an accident is about to happen. You get Hero Points by foiling said crime or catastrophe, which are then used to buy Spidey powers, including combos, special attacks, web-swing speed upgrades and tons of other stuff. It gives the game some added depth and, more importantly, finally gives Spidey the awesome arsenal of moves and tricks he deserves.
The other half of each chapter requires completing a plot-based objective. While Spider-Man
2‘s plot follows the film’s overall story arc, it substitutes the movie’s
emphasis on Spider-Man’s hard-knock life for an interesting romance with The
Black Cat. This provides an entirely different yet equally compelling take on
the film’s dilemma, which allows the developers to elegantly toss in some classic
Spidey villains, including The
Rhino, The Shocker and Mysterio. The result is
well-woven within the fabric of the gameplay and is simply a great piece of Spider
story-telling. Stan would be proud.
Of course, in order to meet his objectives, Spider-Man has to get to them first, and this means lots of web-slinging. A notoriously tricky gameplay endeavor, swinging is handled pretty well here thanks to two web-slinging modes: Normal and Easy. In Normal mode, you’ll need to sling a web with one button and release it with another (the jump button). In Easy mode, you just press and release the web-sling button to make Spider-Man swing.
But swinging is only the tip of the iceberg, as Spider-Man’s mobility is astounding. The shear spatial joy of swooping through New York, then sprinting along a vertical wall to swan-dive off into free-space is ineffable.
Certain missions and catastrophes will test your uncanny skills. Spidey will deliver injured citizens to hospitals, uninjured pizzas to customers, escaped balloons to little kids, and frightened window washers to the safety of the sidewalks. There are also plenty of opportunities to deliver spider-kicks to bad-guy britches. In any given New York minute, a car is stolen, a purse is snatched, an armored car is knocked over, alien invaders harass the populace, gangs fight, and Spider-Man gets ambushed.
Fortunately, Spider-Man has more moves than Roy Jones Jr. and a much sturdier chin. In addition to upgradeable fisticuffs, he can shoot webs, yank his opponent into the air, into his grasp, or swing him in circles before dashing him into the street or a wall. In true comic book fashion, Spidey can even knock bad guys up into the air, punch foes as they fall, then kick off to slam them into the ground and launch our hero skyward. Then, he can fire a web down, yank the guy back into the air, and beat on him some more. It’s good, good stuff.
Spider-Man is also quick on defense thanks to his patented Spider Sense. When a foe is about to attack, Spider-Man’s head will flash. Press the button quickly enough, and you’ll dodge the incoming attack and gain the opportunity to counter. Spidey can even engage his Spider-Reflexes, which makes everything slow down in Spider-Man
2‘s version of bullet-time.
Taken together, the open-ended design, breathtaking cityscape and wickedly cool
Spidey abilities pack all kinds of superhero punch. But even an arachnid of
this caliber has a soft underbelly; specifically, the lack of mission variety.
Thanks to the robust moves list and awesome play mechanics, you probably won’t get as bored saving the same people and stopping the same crimes as you should, but there isn’t a side mission in the game that takes more than five minutes and none of them carry over into anything. All of the storytelling is reserved for the main objectives, leaving the auxiliary ones lifeless and flat.
2 isn’t very long and there’s only one play mode. This is slightly mitigated
by the fact that when you finish the story, you can keep on playing and collecting
Hero Points to unlock more bonuses, but the only real reason to keep playing
is to swing around and enjoy the virtual freedom. You will replay this game,
but it should still be longer.
The PS2 version is not the best looking Spider-Man 2 out there – particularly
in its generally low-quality detail work – but somehow it manages to hold up
well when you’re
swinging through the city or fighting crime. That’s actually more impressive
than it sounds when you consider the sheer size and realistic scope of Manhattan,
complete with a cool day/night cycle that actually changes the look of the
town as the buildings light up when the sun goes down. Spider-Man himself is
extremely well-animated and the framerate is smooth throughout the whole game.
The visual emphasis has been placed on allowing the player to swing through
a gigantic metropolis with no loading times, and in this, the folks at Treyarch
were wildly successful.
The sound is fairly understated, featuring strangely out-of-place heavy rock riffs during fights and pieces from the sweeping film score as you swing around town. Many of the real actors handle their own voices, including Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and even narration by Bruce Campbell, who handles Tutorial duties.
The goal of any superhero game is to make you feel like the hero, and by that standard, Spider-Man
2 is unrivaled. That it also happens to be a fantastic action game is icing on the cake, a true treat for both fans of the webslinger and general gamers alike.