Beenox Studios has a tough job—tasked with making superhero games featuring Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man, they are the shepherds to a franchise that has changed hands multiple times and has had titles which have run the gamut from mediocre to average. Moreover, each game in the franchise has toyed with new ideas and different design philosophies with respect to everyone’s favorite wall-crawler. Beenox’s latest release, The Amazing Spider-Man, also suffers under the added burden of being a tie-in product to the new film reboot from Sony Pictures. All of these issues work in tandem to create an atmosphere where a game like this would be prone to failure. However, Beenox’s new title does take the franchise in some very interesting new directions and does indeed allow you to do whatever a spider can. Even if your great powers come with no great responsibilities to challenge them.
The game’s story is set after the events of the film. Which means that anyone interested in playing this and seeing the film will probably want to watch the movie first (additionally, you may want to skip the remainder of this paragraph). The Amazing Spider-Man opens with Peter Parker being asked by his girlfriend, Gwen Stacey, to investigate some of the goings-on at Oscorp. Apparently, after the events of the film, the company is in damage control regarding the experiments of Dr. Curt Connors. As Parker walks through the lab with Gwen, we’re given a glimpse of some of the game’s major bad guys and meet the new head of Oscorp’s research, Alistair Smythe, who has made it his mission to eradicate all of the cross-species hybrids. Unfortunately, Spider-Man/Peter Parker’s presence in the lab causes all of the cross-species to react. Eventually, they escape from their holding cells and all hell breaks loose. One of them even infects Gwen and the scientists with a deadly virus before making its escape into Manhattan. From that moment on, the narrative becomes a race against time to stop the spread of the cross-species virus before it infects all of Manhattan.
While the story itself sounds like comic book boilerplate, it is well scripted and also includes some interesting winks and nods to the comic book mythos. Indeed, there’s also a pretty in-depth corporate conspiracy that plays out through some of the level collectibles such as audio logs and even photographs that can be taken after a camera is acquired. Also none of the actors from the film are in the game at all, but despite this the voice acting is well done and believable in terms of the depictions of the characters. In fact, we can add this game to the list of games featuring Nolan North as he plays Smythe. The story missions themselves play out within interior environments with a heavy emphasis on combat. However, unlike in Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, Spider-Man can use stealth tactics at any time to stick to the ceiling or wall and silently knock out an enemy. It’s a great way to eliminate some of the tougher enemies, but sadly the tactic lacks any means of threat assessment. I can understand why Spider-Man doesn’t have detective vision like Batman, but wouldn’t his spider sense tell him who the toughest enemy is or who the dudes with guns are? Further compounding this problem is the way the camera acts within some environments, making the stealth stuff stiff and, at times, awkward.
Outside of the main story, there are a plethora of side quests and content to delve into within the open world of Beenox’s take on the borough of Manhattan. TASM is indeed a return to the open world format of some of the previous entries within the franchise, and features some conceits and contrivances that make it more amenable to a Spider-Man game. One such contrivance is the way swinging around the city works this time. Instead of having to anchor a webline to a building in order to swing around, Beenox opted to just have the webbing anchor to some imaginary point and, as such, you can swing freely around the city intuitively without any real nuance. While this may sound like a step backward in realism, the animations for Spider-Man as he moves around in the air are fantastic. Everything moves at a crisp framerate and Spider-Man spins, flips, and even yells with joy while moving forward with his webbing. Call me childish, but the simple pleasure of moving around the city, while requiring no real skill, made me feel as powerful as Spider-Man. The only caveat to this is that the speed with which Spider-Man can traverse is usually at odds with the game’s draw distance. Therefore, don’t be surprised to see a lot of object pop-in and texture popping when you’re really on the move.
This sense of power is apparent in other gameplay systems as well. The basic combat usually devolves into mashing the attack button until a dodge prompt appears. Personally, I had no problems pulling off 40 or even 50-hit combos on groups of thugs consistently with the only real monkey wrenches being thugs with hard-hitting long-range attacks, or input lag when trying to press the dodge button. But when things really got crazy, the game also offers a quick Web Retreat button allow you to pull Spidey out of combat and find a place to hide so that his health can reacharge. TASM also introduces a new feature called Web Rush where holding the R1 button slows down time and causes phantom Spider-Man images appear within in the environment. By targeting one of these images and releasing the button Spider-Man automatically finds his way to that exact location. This further removes any skill from the traversal and can be used both indoors and out in the open world. In fact, successive Web Rushes can be chained together in the outdoor areas as there really is no cooldown timer on the ability. As such it removes any sense of urgency and skill from pinpoint traversal.
The Web Rush also factors into the boss fights where it can be used to send a strong, guided attack at an opponent. With a few key exceptions, every boss fight involved dodging or avoiding attacks then using Web Rush to initiate some kind of Quick Time Event minigame to deal damage. Outside of those moments, the boss fights reverted to the same button mashing combat used on the normal thugs within the game. Despite this simplicity though, the sense of scale within some of the boss encounters is very impressive. One boss battle against an enormous snake-like Spider Slayer robot had Spidey facing off against a skyscraper sized enemy. Again the animation and graphics for those moments are cool to see, with some good story hooks to keep players interested in seeing the experience through, even if they tend to devolve into some rather senseless button pressing.
There is also a two tiered experience system in which players gain XP to spend on character abilities such as combo modifiers or increased damage while the other tree uses tech parts to upgrade Spider-Man’s equipment. Overall, the leveling system adds a nice layer of depth to the experience, but given how simplistic the combat ends up being there are going to be few occasions where the tried and true method of simply punching an opponent into submission will not be enough. The game also includes unlockable extras such as additional costumes, full digital comic books, concept art and character bios.
It would be easy for me to say that the use of the word ‘Amazing‘ within the game’s title is a stretch, but Beenox’s latest foray into the world of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man features an interesting narrative that makes you feel like Spider-Man. Moreover, it’s a terrific starting point to build future installments from. However, I think that Beenox really needs to sit down and understand what makes Spider-Man an interesting character to play and find ways to accurately capture that feeling without overly simplifying the experience. We all know that it wouldn’t be an easy task, but after playing through the content of The Amazing Spider-Man I can say that I have faith in Beenox to improve their craft with the next installment. Indeed, as I’m sure the developer is well aware, with a great comic book license comes great responsibility.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Fluid animations for everything from swinging across Manhattan to beating up thugs.
+ Interesting story that players will want to finish.
– Game lacks any real challenge and makes you feel too powerful.