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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Spiderman 2 (Xbox)



By Michael Palisano

Spiderman 2 takes the events from the film and adds an entirely new dimension to it with free-roaming gameplay and dozens of mini-quests. The plot is loosely based on this summer's box office smash, but also features many different elements as well. The controls are surprisingly intuitive, allowing players to swing through Manhattan effortlessly. The massive scope of Spiderman 2's virtual New York is astonishing, allowing you to climb the highest buildings or land down to ground level to fight crooks on the streets seamlessly. The developers have far exceeded what you'd expect from licensed titles, making Spiderman 2 an absolute must-purchase that brings the film to life effectively while maintaining a strong identity as a game.

Developed by Treyarch and published by Activision, Spiderman 2 on the Xbox is one of those rare movie-to-game titles that melds the interactive and cinematic mediums almost flawlessly. While it's based on the summer-blockbuster and features the voices of both Tobey MacGuire and Alfred Molina, Spiderman 2 never forgets the essential fact that it's a videogame. In fact, it's one of the best designed and highly polished video games to come along in quite some time. The game is set in Manhattan, and the designers haven't skimped, recreating the buildings and skyscrapers of the metropolis with a remarkable degree of detail. What's more impressive about this is the fact that Spidey can go anywhere on the island with no impediments whatsoever. This gives players a remarkable degree of freedom to play the game as they see fit. You can play through missions of the main storyline that mirror the plot or complete a number of side-quests to build up Spider-man's experience and abilities. What's remarkable about this non-linear approach is that it feels like an extension of the movie. You rarely feel restrained and Spiderman 2 always makes it seem like the choice is yours. As you travel around Manhattan's skyscrapers and landmarks, you'll see many question mark icons scattered around. These contain important information and tips. Most of the missions are straightforward with simple goals and measures, such as getting to a location before the timer runs out or rescuing a hostage. However, others are more complicated. As you play through missions in the main game, more of the game's story and plot are revealed in elaborate cinema sequences. These cut-scenes are well-produced and help you understand what's at stake as you play the game.

Adding to Spiderman 2's impressive freedom and scope is the fact that the controls are amazingly intuitive, allowing you to travel through the city effortlessly, rappelling on your webs with a great deal of speed. Spiderman's web-slinging abilities have been refined since Activision's first Spiderman movie game, this time he moves and controls more realistically with a greater flexibility. The improved physics model is quite impressive, giving you a better feel for the mechanics and effort that it takes to move between buildings. For example, Spidey can control his jumps by holding the jump button and springing for a massive leap. Players will also find the swinging takes more thought, as a building needs to be nearby in order for him to have something to lock onto. Otherwise, his powers won't work and he'll have to travel on foot. Despite the added complexity, the controls are much more robust, making it easier to get into a rhythm when swinging. This also lets you turn around much easier. Spiderman can use his special Spider-senses in order to locate danger. One new element in the game are the hero's new Spider Reflexes, where the screen blurs making time slow down. This allows him to move much quicker and dispatch enemies effortlessly. The feeling of flight and sensation of speed and control is quite astonishing, creating believable sensation of being Spider-Man. The non-linear nature of the game and freedom of movement around Manhattan only adds to the player's freedom, making it enjoyable to merely swing above and around the massive levels and explore the vast cityscape. This freedom also allows players to practice their techniques without pressure from timers or objectives.

Once you get on the ground and fight enemies, you'll also find a number of techniques. At the most basic level, Spiderman can kick or punch the more mundane enemies, but can also call on a number of combos and special moves such as a wrap, to make quick work out of the more difficult enemies. Spidey can also use these moves in succession to create combo moves, which earn him even more hero points. While the moves lists and combos are a bit limited at first, as you earn points, you can upgrade his fighting abilities to give him more powerful and effective skills. Some of the missions are quite elaborate and require you to traverse through quite a distance. Fortunately, Spiderman can use his handy map to figure out where he is and where the next objective is located. Unfortunately, while the game is highly polished for the most part, there are a few areas where it's not as coherent as it could have been. Fighting many of the street gangs is fun, but these characters quickly become repetitive and predictable, which lends the battles a bit of monotony. The boss battles are intense and challenging, but the characters tend to take too many cheap shots, which makes these battles more frustrating than they could have been. These are significant issues with the gameplay, but they aren't really enough to ruin the overall experience.

One of the biggest problems with most film-to-game translations is the fact that they're too linear, stripping away the element of surprise from the player. Spiderman 2 addresses this obstacle in a number of ways. While the main structure of the game follows the film's plot, players can diverge from this in the mini-games. Scattered throughout the city, Spidey will find pedestrians he can talk to, which usually gives him a heads-up on crimes in progress, such as a bank robbery or a mugging. Side quests also include delivering pizzas, rescuing innocent civilians and more. This definitely adds a new layer to the game, and since they're optional when it comes to completing the main game, they add a sense of freedom to the action. As an additional motivation, after Spidey confronts and beats these criminals, he earns "hero points" which he can then use in the store to purchase upgrades. These upgrades usually significantly increase his abilities such as webslinging and jumping and are quite helpful during the main game as well.

Helping to enhance the player's immersion into the environment, Spiderman 2's visuals and level designs are highly polished. The island of Manhattan is rendered spectacularly, with windows glistening and reflecting perfectly in the daylight, while glowing beautifully during the night sequences. Spidey's swinging and running are also impressively motion captured, bringing the film's kinetic energy to the Xbox console effectively. The game's elaborate cut scenes further bring players into Spiderman's world, as he interacts with friends such as Harry and Mary Jane and enemies like Doc Ock. All of the main characters including Spiderman are voiced by the same actors as they were in the film, including Kirsten Dunst and Tobey MacGuire. The game goes beyond the film to include other famous Spiderman villains such as Nightshade in more boss confrontations. One cool aspect of the game are Spidey's voice-overs while he's swinging, which add more color to the action. These thought bubbles are quite effective, without being intrusive on the action and gameplay. There's a high-degree of production polish evident throughout, giving the game the slick feel of a Hollywood blockbuster, which definitely makes for a smoother appearance that adds to the game's believability.

There have been many disastrous examples of what can go wrong on the journey from the box office to the game box, but Spiderman 2 represents what can potentially go right when developers effectively integrate cinematic elements onto a solid gameplay engine. While it is not a flawless game it's still an entertaining title that succeeds in capturing the spirit of the film more often than it falls short of the mark. Its high-degree of polish and intelligently designed levels makes Spiderman 2 an excellent template for developers to use in the future when Hollywood comes calling. Instead of mindlessly rehashing the events and plot of the film, Spiderman 2 adds side quests, events and characters that makes for a satisfying gaming experience that stands on its own. Many other crossover titles have tried to accomplish this, but Spiderman 2 succeeds as a full and satisfying extension of the movie. With it's large areas to explore, non-linear structure, seamless control system and challenging gameplay, Spiderman 2 is an outstanding title that should please both gamers and pop-culture fanatics.

Grade: A-

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