Gamestyle Archive Intro: Daniel takes us on a unique perspective tour of New York as Spider-man in this game sequel. This review dates from September 2004.
To be honest, Spider-man 2 surprised Gamestyle. It isn’t every day a developer puts their best effort into a licensed videogame (knowing fans will soak it up regardless). But Activision brought their ‘A’ game for the web-slinger’s latest outing and in so doing went above and beyond the call of duty. Adopting an open approach, you are free to swing, jump and climb your way around an impressively huge rendition of New York City.
You ARE Spider-man; the city is yours to explore as you wish. And thanks to an absolutely superb web swinging system, getting around the city is one of the most enjoyable, exciting and downright addictive experiences Gamestyle has ever had. In spite of the seemingly complex nature of the web swinging (particularly if you choose ‘Manual Swinging’) a single button controls the whole thing. Pressing R2 fires out a web (assuming there is something for it to latch onto) and Spidey swoops into his swinging; pressing and holding the web button again fires a second web line, suspending you in mid-air. Release the button and you swing off ready to fire your web again and continue on like a pendulum. The result looks and feels exactly how it should – just like the movies. You can also jump between web lines to alter direction more quickly, use webs as zip lines to pull yourself forwards or hit the sprint button mid-swing for that extra burst of speed needed to find the upper reaches of the rooftops.
Spider-man’s super physical abilities also allow you to jump exceptionally high (with a charged-up jump); and it’s easy (not to mention controllable) to leap from rooftop to rooftop. Should you ever miss, slip or even fall you can quickly zip off a web to catch yourself or swing to safety at the last second. Spidey will receive damage if your fall to street level is too severe, but he can survive some pretty stomach-churning drops. In order to not infuriate the player, Spider-man 2 puts no limit on the amount of webbing you use. However, a limitation is put on a Matrix-like slow-motion gauge that fills up over time so you cannot abuse it. Alongside your ‘Spider-sense’ (which will warn you of impending attacks and allow you to dodge them by tapping the Circle button) this Matrix-like feature slows everything down around you, giving you time to dodge punches and bullets while making your own attacks more effective.
The technical aspects of Spider-man 2 both disappoint and intrigue in equal measure. On first glance, the city looks aesthetically appalling. Buildings look like cardboard; traffic fades in and out; pedestrians have numerous clones of themselves all over the place. But the draw distance is incredible. It’s the lack of detail that keeps everything running smoothly. Textures are applied as they’re needed; far away scenery is blocky until you reach it. Actually, the entire city is streamed into view as and when it is needed. More impressively the 3-dimensional nature of the game world dictates that this stream-in flows upwards as well as horizontally. Likewise, from a great height traffic is rendered flat; but when you get down nearer to street level cars transition to ‘true’ 3D versions. A clever motion blur effect does a reasonable job of convincing you that it is all happening in real-time. The cityscape is far more visually impressive once day fades into night (those bland textures are less obvious amongst the twinkling lights). Of course if you really want to top off an evening of adventure nothing beats watching the sun rise the next morning perched high atop a skyscraper.
The game is split into chapters each of which requires completion of certain mission objectives to advance. Usually these are simply a matter of getting somewhere in the city or buying an upgraded ability; but within each chapter you also have to acquire a certain amount of Hero Points. These Hero Points are what ensure that along with (your) great power comes great responsibility, because they are awarded for completing good deeds. Around the city opportunities to stop crime on the streets, chase down bank robbers, rescue people falling from buildings and generally clean up the city wait – all of which will award you Hero Points. Other than setting a required total of points to earn for each chapter you are free to pursue your crime fighting career in any way you want. If you don’t want to push the story along, you don’t have to. The only disadvantage to this is that you won’t be able to buy the new ability upgrades as they become available. Sooner or later you will probably end up going where it tells you to, if only to improve Spider-man’s powers.
Predictably enough, it is the story that forms the weakest link of the game. Loosely based on the events of the movie, you go up against Doctor Octopus as well as some other notorious villains chosen to give some variety. Voice work by Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Alfred Molina (as well as helpful hints by Bruce Campbell) help complete the movie to game connection. The Indoor ‘boss fights’ that are the centrepiece of the story hardly make use of the strengths of the swing system (it suddenly becomes quite fiddly in enclosed areas). A weak camera system only compounds the problem making targeting and fighting repetitive and dull. The only story sections that feel worthwhile take place out in the city again. Surely it would have been better not to shove unnecessary indoor bits into the game with such brilliant city-swinging possible. (Un)Fortunately the main plot of the game is all over pretty quickly; but even after this the city itself offers much to see and do. In addition to criminals to bust and citizens to save there are secret items hidden all over the city, on top of buildings, down alleyways and in obscure corners of the map.
A GTA-inspired status menu keeps stats on everything you’ve done: items collected, combat moves learned, upgrades received, criminals thwarted, pizzas delivered (Spidey as the pizza guy ranks high amongst the all-time mini-game list) and secrets found. The brilliance of it all is you can have fun just trying to be the best super-hero you can and always improving. There’s very little pressure and so much pleasure. It’s a dip-in/dip-out kind of game; the loading times are rarely of major concern and you can play for as long or as little as you like. Sadly that turned out to be less than Gamestyle had expected due to a lack variety in the random missions around town. Chasing a car down a highway might be fun, but how many times can you take the same man to a hospital or stop the exact same police shoot-out before you get bored with it? Similarly, Spidey’s wisecracks and banter with the pedestrians can begin to grate too. But these turn out to be the worst of the problems.
It doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights that the likes of Goldeneye and Bladerunner achieved as film/game tie-ins, but what Spider-man 2 does is create one of the best super-hero games of all time. If you can forgive the rough around the edges presentation and look past the repetition and occasional frustration, Spider-man 2 will not disappoint. It is literally leaps and bounds ahead of the first game and fully deserves all the success it will no doubt receive.
Gamestyle Score: 7/10