There hasn’t been a great Spider-Man game since Treyarch’s 2004 Spider-Man 2. Fans of the character and that game have been waiting a long time for something to rival its quality. Since Spider-Man 2, we’ve had two open world games with Spider-Man 3 and Web of Shadows, both being nothing but a step down (in my humble opinion). French Canadian developer Beenox entered the scene in 2010 with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimension, dropping the open-world in favor of linear levels. Edge of Time released the following year, also linear.
It wasn’t until 2012 that the Spider-Man video game series once again became open-world. To coincide with the release of Sony Pictures’ film of the same name, Beenox brought Spider-Man back to New York City with free reign to swing above its streets. The first The Amazing Spider-Man game isn’t perfect, not by any means, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I would go so far to say it’s the best Spider-Man game since Spider-Man 2 – perhaps on par or lesser so than Ultimate Spider-Man.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 film is in theaters and with it comes another licensed tie-in game. Beenox has returned to release a new game to accompany the film, and unlike its predecessor, it’s not a sequel to the film, but more of a re-imagining of its key events and villains. Beenox has slowly been improving on their Spider-Man game formula, so the question is: does The Amazing Spider-Man 2 game excel where their previous games have not?
Well, yes and no.
TASM2 starts shortly before the death of Uncle Ben, which is the defining moment in Peter Parker’s life that pushed him to become a hero. The game’s story is odd in that it tries to not only adapt the film’s villains, but also reinforce the theme of right and wrong. For example, numerous bad guys try to convince Spider-Man that he’s no better than they are; that if he truly wants to help, he would put a stop to evil once and for all by killing. This theme is put at the forefront of the game prior to the introduction of the film’s villains Electro and Green Goblin. Once they’re dealt with, this theme is brought back – and shoved into your face – with the game’s last boss, a serial killer that hunts murderers. It’s out of place, but I would have been on board if it was handled better.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the story’s pacing in this game. The writing is arguably not very good, but the way the story progressed felt natural and unrushed, giving me time to acclimate to the adventure. After the Uncle Ben flashback, Peter is shown two years later, still in search of his uncle’s killer. This quest is the start of a larger series of events which draws in familiar faces from the series and film. Wilson Fisk – AKA the Kingpin – is shown to be making a move for OsCorp, which is now owned by Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborn. The events of the first TASM game are kept in mind, as cross-species creatures have not only caught the interest of Kraven the Hunter, but a rival company called Ravencroft.
My interest in the game’s pacing began to dwindle as it soon devolved into “here’s the bad guys from the movie in quick succession”. The character relationships which would make Electro and Green Goblin sympathetic enemies do not exist here; they’re quickly introduced and then surprise: they’re bad guys! It’s disappointing, as it feels as though Beenox was on a path to creating an original story – and then suddenly shoved in ties to the movie. In the end it all feels very messy.
Peter Parker / Spider-Man is once again voiced by Sam Riegel. While I’m a fan of his work and his voice, the dialogue doesn’t quite cut it. Spidey will often repeat the same jokes, sometimes even during moments when he’s supposed to be telling context-sensitive, story-specific dialogue. For example, Spidey is allegedly sympathetic towards Max Dillon, a man with low self esteem turned villain. Your encounter with him sees Spidey trying to make an emotional connection to Max; but his combat dialogue is filled with insults and jokes.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 advertises the fact that we can play as Peter Parker, and we can – but it’s nothing more than a few select story sequences where Spidey has to go somewhere as Peter Parker and not a superhero. Playing as Peter ranges from using his press credentials to get some information, talking to people like Stan Lee, owner of a comic store, or talking to his aunt May at home. Dialogue options are also in the game, allowing for the players to choose what questions they want to ask certain characters. It’s a very bare bones dialogue system, and does not branch into, or even affect, any tangible outcome.
Like its predecessor, TASM2 is an open-world game where players can swing around a virtual New York City. It feels as though Beenox have explored Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2 to improve the web-swinging mechanics. While it is not a system that shares the depth and complexity found in Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man’s webs now need to (or at least pretend to) make contact with buildings in order for him to do basic swinging. This change is actually quite nice and allows for enjoyable movement through the city. Combining swinging with the web zipping can become an enjoyable task worth mastering if you’re so inclined to develop a skill for it.
Combat, while visually more polished and fluid, remains similar to the first TASM game. In essence, combat is a lot like the Batman Arkham games. Spidey has no combos that the player can do conscientiously, and he must dodge enemy attacks when a visual indicator flashes above his head. There is also a spider sense mode that mimics Batman’s Detective Mode.
One noticeable combat improvement is that the focus on throwing objects at opponents, such as garbage bins, has been reduced, and combat centers around normal attacks, web zipping, disarming, and using webs to either restrain or stun enemies. It’s not a deep combat mechanic by any means, but it looks nice enough in motion.
A simple experience system exists within the game, which boosts Spidey’s suit’s natural abilities over time via level-ups and currency, which can be spent on improving spider sense vision, effectiveness of webs and web powerups, and speed of attacks. Leveling up each suit in the game will take some time, but while the investment is probably not worth the pursuit, it does add some benefits to suits other than a simple change in appearance.
Along with the game’s story mode come a hefty bunch of side missions available. Whereas the first game’s side missions quickly became repetitive, TASM2 offers a slightly better selection. Spidey can either engage in car chases (which is mostly recycled from previous games), save people from burning buildings, take photos for J. Jonah Jameson (or crime scenes), infiltrate Russian gang hideouts and generally just stop petty crimes.
Side-missions give Spidey heroic points which influence the public’s perception of him. Over the course of the story mode, circumstances place Spidey in a negative light, deeming him a menace, but side missions help to counteract this. The problem is that the side-missions deemed highly important and time sensitive seem poorly implemented. If they’re not dealt with soon enough (sometimes even ending upon your arrival), ‘menace’ points are, rather unfairly, acquired. This also occurs naturally over time and adds nothing to the gameplay other than persistent threats in the city or the praise of civilians. I didn’t bother too much trying to stay within a heroic light as it would take too long to change my alignment and has no meaningful effect on the game’s story – despite the plot’s focus on Spidey’s morality.
Unlike the first game, which sent players into a variety of sewers to kill a host of cross-species monsters, TASM2 thankfully does not. Enemy types range from standard goons, goons with guns, buff goons that need to be stunned, and accelerated speedy goons that run really fast. Some missions take place within levels that are not part of the open-world, but smaller self-contained maps that harken back to Beenox’s linear Spider-Man games. In most instances, I thought these levels worked well and added some variety and focus to the type of mission at hand.
Some missions require stealth mechanics that manage to emulate the Arkham games without feeling too much like a clumsy knockoff. Spidey can crawl on ceilings, rappel, and do stealth take-downs to clear a room without a brawl. Stealth missions may seem like they wouldn’t work well in this type of open-world game, but Beenox has shown some restraint by adding just enough stealth missions to the game to keep things varied but without relying too heavily on them.
Boss battles are fairly entertaining and spaced out well up until Electro and Goblin suddenly make an appearance. Characters like Shocker and Blackcat show up, but their roles are extremely brief and end without resolution. Kraven the Hunter offers up an easy, but interesting boss fight that made use of Spidey’s spider sense, as well as Blackcat who hides in between attack bursts. The Kingpin and the “surprise” villain all make use of different tactics, but nothing too complicated, ultimately making this game pretty easy overall.
New York City is littered with bonus unlockables for the truly invested player. Comic books can be located on rooftops (and flying in the sky), and their unlocks will net actual full comics to read. A bunch of bonus costumes, each with their own stats and bonuses, are also unlocked over the course of the game (or found in Russian sewer hideouts). Figures of characters can also be found. These unlocked bonuses will appear in both Peter’s home and Stan Lee’s comic book shop within the city.
Graphically, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is pretty but nothing amazing. The PC version ships with some extra bells and whistles in terms of post-processing effects and lighting improvements over its console counterparts, but even the PC and next-gen PS4 versions feel very much like a game made with last-generation consoles in mind. The PC version (which retails for less money than the console versions) feels grossly unoptimized. Personally, technical issues with the game revolved around an inconsistent framerate when attempting to play on max settings, and whilst I alleviated most of issues while keeping most effects on High, that did not seem the case for others. There was only one point in which my game’s performance slowed to a crawl, and it was during the boss fight with the Green Goblin. I actually had to shut down both the game and Steam to recover the 50% of my CPU that was being tasked …
I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as much as one can when entering with low expectations for the series, but I also hoped that it would be better than the previous game. Beenox is slowly improving themselves, but perhaps too slowly for the series to continue in the way that it is. Large chunks of this game – its story and relation to the film, and the amount of changes over the first game – feel rushed and unfinished, as if the bare minimum was accomplished either as a result of little time or resources. Interesting ideas in regards to the story are half-developed in favor of including the film’s villains, and I expected more improvements to the gameplay than we received.
Better? Yes. Enough? Not really.
Is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a better game than The Amazing Spider-Man? I believe so, but not by much. Your experience will vary depending on how much you’re expecting from Activision’s efforts, which don’t seem all too high. The PC version may or may not work for you, as the publisher seems to know considering its considerable price difference to the console versions.
Is it worth the money? I’d say yes, but that’s because I’m a fan of Spider-Man games. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is fun game, and I’m glad to be enjoying Spider-Man games again, but its a stark reminder we need to keep our expectations in check for the foreseeable future.