Spider-Man is certainly a looker, but can the game do the movie justice?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 12, 2002
Oh how I loved Spider-Man... the movie. Words cannot describe how incredibly cool it was to see ol' Webhead soar high and low through the busy streets of New York... in the movie. See, I have an unhealthy addiction to the goodness that Sam Raimi has wrought, but just as powerful is my revulsion at the job Treyarch has done taking over where Neversoft left off with the PSX introduction (we won't even get into the bomb that was the sequel). Spider-Man isn't an absolutely detestable game, but the faults it has unfortunately throw up a wall in front of all the good points that could have made the game an absolute blast to play.

It's tough to know where to start. Perhaps I should lay out all the good the game has first and foremost. Spider-Man's plain vanilla title has been concentrated from the previous mouthful of Spider-Man: The Movie The Game (or something to that effect). Without the direct connection, it might be a little tough to decode that the game is indeed based on the movie that was released early last May, but rest assured it is. Of course, squeezing a good two hours of action in to a game of equal length would hardly be worth the plastic the game was burned onto, so Treyarch wisely chose to mirror the storyline, but threw in big ol' chunks of original missions before the events of the movie to lengthen the whole experience and let you get used to controlling Spider-Man so that when you finally did go up with the movie's villain (that'd be the Green Goblin for those that aren't down), you'd be at least somewhat adept at his repertoire of moves.

This is a great idea in practice, since it opens up a whole host of possibilities for introducing a couple classic Spidey villains and offering a story that can parallel the movie but sneaks in with elements that expand on the back story leading up to major event points from the movie. Treyarch chose to bring in a pair of classic villains to confront Spider-Man: the archaic Vulture and hothead Shocker. Both are true to their comic roots, but then they weren't exactly the most complex villains Spidey's ever faced. There's also a couple of levels that include tormented wanna-be The Scorpion, but they aren't presented as classic boss battles (more like babysitting missions, in fact).

The whole process of unfolding Spider-Man's growth from clutzy, bumbling Peter Parker to full-fledged superhero is done well in the game, chronicling the same basic events that happen in the movie; Parker is bitten by a genetically engineered "super-spider" and gains spider-like powers like super strength, agility, incredibly stickiness that lets him cling to literally anything, and the ability to spin webs of any thickness or size from his wrists. Parker parlays these still-developing skills into a one-shot career as a pro wrestler, and quickly wins his first match, but refuses to stop a thief when the bookie for the wrestling match rips him off. That choice comes back to haunt him with the first set of missions as Parker chases the killer of his Uncle Ben to a warehouse and learns an all-too prevalent life lesson: with great power comes great responsibility.

The rest of the game diverts slightly from the movie proper, but manages to touch on scenes from the movie with generally similar recreations in the game world Treyarch has crafted. Things don't look the same as the movie per se, but you get a basic feeling of familiarity. The pre-rendered cutscenes often share plenty with similar ones from the movie, and it's obvious that the CG artists were privy to footage of the film (or at least storyboards) before it hit theatres. For the most part, this feeling of almost-but-not-quite similarity permeates the game as a whole, which is nice, but I found myself wishing things were a little closer to the movie in style and presentation, but what can one expect from a game that ships before the movie is released.

The problems in Spider-Man don't stem from lack of similarity to the movie they're based on, but rather the core gameplay and game setup, which is just ridiculously unbalanced and mismanaged (when was the last time you had to watch a loading screen for a good couple of seconds just to get to the save game screen?). The combat, mission objectives, controls and camera are often working in tandem against you, which is obviously frustrating to the point where it's eventually not worth playing to get the heaps of extras you can unlock after beating the game. The combination of enemies that can block when you can't and often deal an amazing amount of damage, a stiff and often unresponsive combo system for hand-to-hand duels. objectives that lead to endless repetition when you fail them (complete with a good 10 seconds of loading screen whenever you have to restart), and a camera system that you're constantly fighting with to see down halls - complemented by controls that are horribly unintuitive - leaves you with a needlessly frustrating game experience.

It isn't all bad, of course. The compass that guides you to your next destination leave little to guessing since it clearly displays both direction and elevation - a must when web swinging around the city. Spidey's moves, when pulled off right, have plenty of variety. The presentation during real-time cutscenes is clean and well-done with plenty of cinematic touches. Getting around in the open and crossing long distances is easily accomplished and the feel of a massive city to play around in is largely convincing. In fact, if it weren't for the clumsy controls and wiggy camera, Spider-Man would be a blast to play while swinging from skyscraper to skyscraper in the open city. Alas, it's faulted too many times by the aforementioned slip-ups.

Faults or no, nobody can really knock the game for being ugly. There's plenty to gawk at, and I'm continually impressed with the level of detail in the open city sections. The framerate generally keeps up to a semi-smooth level, and the little touches like the cars that zip along the roads far down below or the windows that reflect an image of the cityscape (it's not real-time on the PS2, but it's still pretty) are a nice touch. All of the texture work is top-notch, with a healthy spatter of detail on just about everything, especially the characters, which are shown off well in close-ups during real-time cutscenes. There are times when the game can get quite choppy, but they're few and far between. The main problem comes not from looks, but where you're looking, since the camera seems hell-bent on delivering the worst possible angle when clinging to ceilings and in tight spaces.

Particles or particle-like objects are used heavily for effect, both in blatant ways (like the weapons discharge from Gobbie's glider) and less obvious ones (like the chunks of flaming barrel post-explosion). Again, attention to detail on things like the angles tires bounce off of whatever you throw them at or debris strewn all over show there was genuine effort put into the game's visuals. In fact, it appears almost all of the effort went into the graphical and aural presentation.

Undoubtedly, though, Spider-Man's best quality is the audio. Somewhat ho-hum music that tries hard to be something epic in score and delivery, but falters and even resorts to stock, presumably royalty-free music clips for two of the levels aside, the content pumping out of your speakers is nothing but fantastic. The effects have plenty of punch, from the "slap" and "whap" of your fists connecting with an object to the "thiwp" and "zzzssshhh" of Spidey's webbing extending to little touches like the dull thud of Spidey's legs as they careen off of the side of a skyscraper have plenty of authentic punch.

Above all else is the voice acting, however. The fact that the game boasts the actual voices of Tobey Maguire and William Defoe is impressive on its own, but when you hear the banter between the two of them, and Maguire's lines when up against other enemies, it's utterly satisfying. In fact, so much of Spider-Man's appeal is the fact that he's always throwing a pithy comment or two out from under that red mask, no matter what situation he's in. I genuinely wish the lines in the game could have been used in the movie; they're really that good, and whoever wrote the dialogue deserves more praise than I can pile on here. The narrative from long-time Sam Raimi pal Bruce Campbell is especially amusing as he takes over for Spidey co-creator Stan Lee when taking you through the motions on the training level. It'd be easy to pass over the training levels if you've played the previous games since this version plays largely the same, but don't; you'll thank me after you've heard the narrative.

Don't... if you actually pick up this game. Possibly a rental, certainly not a buy, Spider-Man tries to pull off a movie-like experience, and while it succeeds on plenty of presentation levels, the actual gameplay is stunted over and over again with multiple problems that wreak havoc on any fun you could have had. It's got promise, and perhaps Treyarch will learn a thing or two about balance, but as it stands, there's just not a lot to enjoy with Spidey's next-gen swing.
The Verdict