Amazing Spider-man review: Spidey's best yet - but Batman can rest easy
29th Jun 2012 | 11:42
Every superhero has a power that developers need to nail. For Green Lantern it's the ability to construct literally anything imaginable - understandably, this is hard, and that's why there are no good Green Lantern games.
For Superman it's being an invincible ultra-being who's also morally perfect - again, developers struggle with that one. Batman needs to be vulnerable in light and powerful in darkness - a hard task, but one Rocksteady were more than up to in Arkham's Asylum and City. The lesson? Nail the power and you nail the game.
With The Amazing Spider-Man, Beenox have been wrapping their minds around the concept for the better part of two years - double that of their previous games Web of Shadows and Shattered Dimensions. And it shows. What's the first thing gamers do when a new Spider-Man game drops? They head to New York's tallest building, drink in the skyline, then jump right off. That's what being Spider-Man's about, and getting it right is imperative.
And Beenox fundamentally have. Web-swinging's been built from the ground up, a close third-person camera used to eye-watering effect as it blurs and shakes behind. You all but need goggles to keep out the bug splats. It's a more cinematic experience making last-gen's Spider-Man 2 franchise-high feel coldly detached by comparison.
Like Treyarch's 2004 gem, webs stick to buildings rather than vague spots in the sky. You'll hold the right trigger to swing automatically, and though it feels a little hands-off in comparison, skill comes from rhythmically releasing the button to swing at different heights, speeds and angles.
It's wildly balletic but still follows physics; find yourself without anything to swing on and you won't swing. That's where Web Rushing comes in, and the new technique revolutionises the wall-crawler's moves. Hold RB/R1 to momentarily freeze time, pick a spot on the scenery, then release.
When time starts you'll get there in the most extravagant way possible - across hoods of cars, over radio masts and around flag poles. You can pick objects in the immediate area, or distant shapes down long avenues to which you'll automatically chain together movie-quality moves to reach.
Again, some might accuse it of wrestling control from the player, but for those lacking the reaction times of a superhero it's essential in communicating superhuman speed and agility. It's impossible to be Spider-Man in realtime; Web Rushing's the workaround.
Traversal may have been overhauled but the core game draws on the same models of missions, (halt the getaway car with a street-sized web, save the girl from leather-jacketed tough guys) collectibles which reward with comic books and character models, and upgrade trees. That's not to say it's not improved - at least there's no delivering pizza.
Social media brings a new angle to story and character progression. During loading screens, convincing forum posts advance the plot ("Yo! I saw the Lizard last night 4 real!"), while your phone can be whipped out mid-swing to set waypoints and show emails. It makes the universe more believable.
Get to ground-level, however, and the immersion's ruined by a lifeless series of samey streets with driver-less cars and pedestrians with ridiculously overwrought reactions. Like a hive mind, crowds will often flee in apparent terror for no reason then at once immediately regain composure and resume AI routines. It's only a problem outside the story, which takes you indoors for a little stealth/combat.
Traversal of mental asylums, research labs and secret facilities is clumsier given the confines, but levels open out into wide and high hubs facilitating obvious attempts to ape Arkham City-style room-clearing. Those sections were perfect for Batman, making players at once vulnerable and badass, but for Spidey they're not such a good fit. There's plenty of spectacle but zero tension; there's nothing preventing you from slingshotting an explosive canister at a crowd then Web Rushing away.
In Arkham, guns were the ultimate deterrent, making careful planning a necessity. Here they're just annoying, even in combat sections which see you use a mix of luchador suplexes and breakdancing to take out Oscorp guards armed with stun batons and riot shields. It tries to champion timing, featuring a momentum meter rewarding with powerful attacks if the last one lands, but there's little of Batman's finesse or timing - despite it looking the absolute business.
The stealth and combat are lagging a bit behind Batman, then, but you can't say it's not a smart decision to follow Rocksteady's footsteps. You can, however, call up Beenox on the story itself. Set immediately after the film, the fates of Oscorp, The Lizard and Gwen Stacy are all explicitly detailed in the first five minutes. If it were a forum post, it would come with a big "SPOILER!" warning.
Yes, it's well-told epilogue introducing a few familiar baddies the movie couldn't accommodate (classic foes like Rhino, Vermin and Scorpion have been reimagined as cross-bred experiments), but it basically ruins the film. Save it until after you've seen it.