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Spider-Man 2 Review

By Jeff Buckland, 7/30/2004

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Treyarch delivered a slam dunk with the game adaptation of Spider-Man two years ago, directly in the face of those who believe it'd be another crappy movie-to-game license. It shipped on time, included plenty of style, and was generally all-around fun without feeling cheap like so many movie games before it.

For once, expectations were high for Spider-Man 2, and that's a rare occurrence for any game that's based on a summer movie. But Treyarch has taken a slightly different path this time around, delivering some great webslinging, high-flying antics with functional button-mash fighting. On top of this, the gameplay is open ended, allowing you to just cruise around the city and solve crimes. It's a great take on a formula that feels a bit like the later Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games or even Grand Theft Auto.

Spider-Man 2's most obvious unique feature is the ability to swing around the city with the webs you shoot out. Treyarch spent plenty of time here tweaking everything so that it only takes a couple of minutes to practice before you can fly around at high speed. At the same time, it does take a while to truly master all of Spider-Man's abilities, and you can build on these with new powers picked up at the Spidey store.

The fighting is a little more simplistic, as combat will usually degenerate into intense button mashing. It's not completely elementary, though, as the unlockable moves, RPG level system, and ability to dodge enemies' attacks with the Spidey sense button really make the action enjoyable. Spider-Man himself is way more powerful than most of his enemies, so the challenge will sometimes come from fighting groups of them. Still, the combat is mostly easy - this is not a difficult game by any means.

Treyarch has reproduced pretty much all of Manhattan here, and while I can't vouch for any sort of superb accuracy in the layout, the site does say it's geographically correct. The game includes many easily notable landmarks of New York City, including the Statue of Liberty, ground zero for the World Trade Center, Central Park, and more. The buildings do look pretty nice, and while they could have been better, the scope of this game's visuals makes it clear that Treyarch was dealing with some major technology constraints inherent to the Xbox. As you might have guessed, the Xbox version still winds up with the best visuals and frame rate; the view distance is large with plenty of detail all the time, and the gameplay is almost always smooth.

Spidey himself looks just about perfect, and his animations are stunning. He looks a little more like the comic book version of the character than the movie version, as his movements are somewhat more stylized - especially during fights. The huge amount of combos and moves you can do are all animated very well; to put it simply, Spider-Man has never looked this good in a game.

The enemies you fight and the citizens you'll talk to look terrible, however. They're made up of very few polygons and seem like they were all slapped together in a couple of hours. This really only amounts to a small nitpick, though, because the rest of the game just looks that good. If I can drop off of a building and fall a hundred stories, then fire a web and keep swinging all the way across the city without any load times, then I can put up with some ugly pedestrians a few hundred feet below me.

Spider-Man 2 does have a plot that loosely bases itself around the movie - Dr. Otto Octavius tries an experiment that (of course) goes awry, turning him into a raging psycho with four indestructible mechanical arms jutting out of his back. It's up to you, of course, to stop him while trying to juggle your friends, college classes, and Mary Jane Watson.

Then there are the open-ended missions which you'll have to complete to some extent throughout the game - this is where the game begins to show signs of faltering. There are only about six types of missions you'll have to do, and while each one seems like a pretty decent little bit of gameplay, the player will quickly tire of the lack of variety after doing each type many times over. The game will also commonly require you to earn "hero points" before advancing the plot, which means you'll need to do these things pretty often.

The actual combat is entertaining, but it lacks the depth seen in some games. Combine the somewhat lackluster mission system, and I'm willing to bet that some players will just plain get tired of it and quit playing. The extra moves you can do really are fun, and you can even power them up as you go, but the enemies stay as lifeless and stupid as ever. It's still fun as hell to swing around the city, explore, and do a bit of crimefighting here and there, but this game gives you a feeling of monotony that rivals even some massive multiplayer RPGs.

Since the game lasts far longer than the movie's two hours, Treyarch decided to kick in some of Spidey's comic book enemies (and friends) to liven things up. Mysterio, Black Cat, Rhino, and Shocker are here, and you'll need to fight a couple of them as bosses. The boss fights are overall much less button-mash and more find-the-right-timing-gimmick, and it works fairly well. The bosses are just about the only characters that supply any true challenge in the game - the rest of your enemies are just punching bags waiting for you to pummel them with your new moves.

There are a few things that Treyarch supplied to help increase the game's longevity, like their own equivalent of "hidden packages" - places you need to explore to fully complete the game. Add in pizza delivery missions, races to compete in, and many unlockable moves, and this game goes above and beyond just beating Doc Ock. It feels much like the endings of the Grand Theft Auto games where you actually still wanted to play after you beat it, but I must question just how many people will slog through the early monotony to get there.

Aurally, Spider-Man 2 is at the same time brilliant and terrible. Cult hero Bruce Campbell returns to give you a tutorial of the game, but he stays with you throughout (as a mentor of sorts, talking more to the player than to Spidey) with a huge amount of witty quips and funny lines. By far, his voice work is the best in the game.

The problem comes with the rest of the game's voice acting. Tobey Maguire does do Peter Parker's voice, but you can tell he just didn't put near enough effort into doing the job. Alfred Molina's Doc Ock fares better, but Kirsten Dunst ... she doesn't even sound like Mary Jane to me at all. I'd swear it's someone else playing the character, but IMDB is rarely wrong. Every other character is played by random game voice actors, and they are decidedly hit and miss.

The civilians also have plenty to say, but since their mouths don't even move when they talk, it's hard to take any of it seriously. Any amount of camp factor that Treyarch was trying for just falls flat and just becomes embarrassing. Despite the voice acting, the game's actual sound effects are pretty good. The ambience of Manhattan is decent, and the combat sounds are well-rounded and include plenty of kick. The music is snagged right from the movie, and it does its job quite nicely without becoming overbearing.

Spider-Man 2 is a genuinely fun game, as it has you swing from building to building, beating up criminals and chasing Doc Ock. Some of the repetitive gameplay can get dull after a while, but if you can look past that to the high replay value and the ton of great moves to screw around with, you'll find it's one of the better movie-licensed games out there.

Overall: 85%



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