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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 



   





Activision teams up with Marvel to bring the world-famous web-slinger to Xbox in an excellent game based on the blockbuster film. Mixing ground-based and aerial combat, Spider-Man allows the player to swing through the skies and fight bad guys on two fronts. It should come as no surprise that it follows the plot of the film closely, though the game adds a few villains and side-quests unseen on film. Itís highly polished and slick appearance is fantastic but the title suffers from overly complex controls and an awkward camera system. Are these flaws enough to ruin the experience? The Laser crawls through Spider-Manís latest gaming adventure and discovers the answers.

Players familiar with the highly-regarded Dreamcast and PS1 Spiderman games will find many similar gameplay mechanics in this title, which is to be expected since it comes from the same developer and publisher. It successfully builds on those gamesí basic framework by adding new abilities, a much more impressive aerial combat mode, better controls and vastly improved graphics. However, where it diverges is in the source material. This isnít based on the comic books but instead takes itís inspiration from the big-budget film. Spider-Man allows you to fill the webbed shoes of the famous superhero through 29 levels of enjoyable superhero action. Itís not flawless, but this is a solid attempt and one of the better superhero games to come along in some time. The main reason is despite the problems, the controls allow you to experience the sensation of flying and crawling up buildings and its at these moments where Spider-Man is absolutely exhilarating.

There are two styles of levels in the game, on the ground or in the air which gives the gameplay a good balance and keeps you interested. To be honest, the aerial levels are much more exciting, as youíd probably assume. In the air, you can swing above the canyons of New York City, gliding above the buildings and skyscrapers. Spidey can crawl up there sides and shoot webs anywhere. He can also use his Spider Sense to help him anticipate things that lie ahead. The game gives you a great sense of freedom in these modes. Below him, he can see the rooftops. Once he lands, the game switches back to the land mode, though he can still use his webs to get out of sticky situations. To help him along, Spidey has an onscreen compass when heís airborne, which is really quite helpful in locating the next objective. The ground based levels are fairly traditional kick and punch types though you also have to collect keys and other devices to open doors. In this mode, Spidey can crawl into a dark area and become invisible to opponents, and has several types of web-attacks he can use on opponents, including the Web-dome, which protects him from enemies and explodes at them as well. Spiderman can also use his webs to yank an opponent towards him or disable them amongst other special powers.

One of the cooler things about this game is that when you crawl on the ceiling, the camera switches to a nice transparent viewpoint allowing you to look below your character. You can also pick up objects and throw them at opponents. Spidey can also turn quickly, perform aerial attacks and drop on opponentsí heads which levels the odds when he faces a group of foes. He has several different types of web-attacks, including Impact and Ball webs, which can be used on airborne enemies. Once youíre airborne, things get more interesting. You can throw up webs anywhere on the levels and swing far above the world and can also use zip webs to traverse horizontally much faster. While turning can be accomplished with standard moves, the fastest way to do this is to drop the web line, reposition your character and shoot another web. This is much more intuitive and fun than it sounds and most players should be able to get the hang of it in no time. Additionally, the player has a limited amount of web-energy, which is used to create the webs, but can get more by collecting icons and power-ups that are scattered around each level. There are also health and other power-up icons in the game as well, which makes playing slightly easier.

As you progress through the game, Spider-Man gains new abilities and special moves, including an enhanced web-slinger and improved Spider Sense which allows you to dispatch opponents much faster. These special moves mainly apply in the ground but integrate into Spider-Manís existing move set naturally, making the action feel more like the comics/movies. The gameís missions are fairly interesting. Itís a bit slow initially, as you search for enemies on the rooftops, and battle through nondescript warehouses which can get tedious. Later on, youíll face more interesting tasks such as rescuing civilians, more complex levels and of course the boss battles with several enemies in dramatic and challenging confrontations. These can be quite difficult especially if you arenít completely familiar with the controls. This is where the camera system is the most glaring in its deficiencies and frequently gets in the way of the action. Since you need to adjust the camera on the fly while battling the opponents is incredibly annoying and frustrating and detracts from the gameplay significantly. The mitigating factor is that you face other foes besides the Green Goblin, such as the venerable Shocker and Vulture. This makes the game much more enjoyable and helps it transcend the usual interactive-movie label and is quite surprising given the contemporary trend of unimaginative licenses.

Surprisingly, there are two separate control interfaces offered, classic and advanced, but which mode you use doesnít really change the overall feel of the game much. While the simplified controls are nice they donít offer the flexibility that they should have, which is annoying, since either mode involves very tough tradeoffs. We just go for the advanced controls and put up with the awkwardness, since itís not to terrible once you get the hang of them. Whichever mode you decide, the gameís controls are quite versatile, in addition to swinging, you can do spin dashes and other maneuvers. You can also lock on to an opponent which is quite helpful, especially in the aerial modes where the enemies move faster and attack you. Why there are two modes of play is somewhat odd, since both seem to be mostly similar, with different styles and have little effect on the overall enjoyment of the game. An extensive training mode is included that will help you get the hang of things. While it takes awhile to master the ins and outs, players will find that the interface is versatile and intuitive once the become accustomed to the controls.

Spider-manís overall level design is superb, which an impressive momentum that helps to carry the player through the action with high motivation. Thereís a good balance between action and strategy, though good reflexes are more important in this title than puzzle-solving. The transitions between airborne and ground based combat are excellent. This is enhanced and some missions mix these modes nicely. Overall, the levels are large and expansive and allow you to play in an almost non-linear fashion. It still has strictly linear play, but there are so many options, itís hard to feel constrained. Each level is smartly designed and the common controls make for a seamless gameplay experience thatís both challenging and fun. While the combat with the ground based adversaries isnít as smooth as one would like, thanks to the tendency of them to cluster, it isnít terrible. One key to remember is that it pays to center the camera frequently and pay attention to the advice you recieve. The interface is generally good and makes performing the moves easy and intuitive. The camera system isnít perfect however, which can be a real pain sometimes, especially when youíre swinging. However, you can adjust it and the interface here is easy to understand and players can center the viewpoint behind Spiderman by pressing down on the right analog stick. This is fine in the slow sections, but unfortunately, doesnít work as well during the gameís more intense episodes, which is highly disappointing because it gets in the way of the action.

While the controls are far from perfect and there are some other gameplay rough spots, Spider-Man excels in other areas. The most immediate thing youíll notice is that the production values are superb. Unlike many other film-to-game titles, this game actually features the real voices of that stars of the movie. Tobey Maquire and William Defoe do the voice-over work in this title, which gives the game an excellent feel. The game runs at a smooth frame rate throughout and has some incredibly detailed and elaborate settings and uses special effects well, to make a game that is richly detailed and uses both night and day effects brilliantly. The titleís extensive light-sourcing, reflections, water effects and more to make for an eye-pleasing experience. Spidey himself has never looked better and moves with a realism and natural grace that makes the whole experience that much more exciting. The Goblinís menacing, irrational movements, spine-tingling taunts make the game even more intense, and contributes to the sense of height and speed that really sets this apart from other movie-tie-ins. You can tell a lot of thought and love has gone into the game and itís because of this that it captures the feel of the film. Danny Elfmanís musical score is also used extensively to punctuate the action and this adds even more to the gameís cinematic flair. From an aesthetic standpoint, this is an outstanding product and the craft is evident from the beginning to end.

Despite the visual polish and excellent cinematic feel, itís not enough to hide some pretty glaring flaws in the controls. Itís harder to control Spider-man than it should be and the learning curve is much steeper than it should be for an action game. However, while the controls are a little bit frustrating, itís not enough to completely ruin the game. It takes a while, and youíll have to slog through some tedious levels, some of the missions are dull, but as the plot picks up momentum, the gameplay likewise becomes much more engaging. but once you get the hang of the quirks, things get better. In fact, the controls should be your most difficult adversary since when you get down to the bone, itís not an overly difficult title, and the game is fairly enjoyable. Itís not perfect but Spiderman is an above-average gaming experience and should appeal to fans of both the comics and the film.




> Related Reviews:

Spiderman (PS1)
Batman Vengeance (Gamecube)

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