Platform | Release Date
360, PS3, Wii, PC | June 26, 2012
Developed by Beenox
Published by Activision
Harness Spider-Man’s powers with Manhattan as your playground! Go beyond Columbia Pictures’ feature film and find out what happens next in The Amazing Spider-Man video game, which brings Spider-Man’s free-roaming, web-slinging action back to New York City.
I’ve struggled to find a way to talk about The Amazing Spider-Man without first talking about Batman: Arkham City. It seems, frankly, impossible. I can imagine the design doc for this game starting with just three little words: “Arkham with Spider-Man.”
It’s not a terrible premise. Arkham City, like Arkham Asylum before it, was a revolution for superhero games. When the world uniformly agreed that we would never see a decent Batman game, Rocksteady proved us all wrong by applying tight combat, stealth, and a dripping wet atmosphere to a Metroidvania style game structure. The formula managed to finally make us feel like Batman. From Activision’s perspective, why wouldn’t you try to plug in Spidey and see what happens? That’s a sure-fire recipe for lightning in a bottle, right?
For a while, I kind of believed it was. One moment Peter Parker is taking a leisurely tour of Oscorp, watching as security prepares dozens of human/animal hybrids, like the Rhino and the Scorpion, for termination. The next moment, all hell breaks loose and the beasts are running loose through the city. At a casual glance, it seems like the start of Arkham Asylum; the hero’s upper-hand is accompanied by an ominous feeling that it’s temporary. But while Joker’s escape into the Asylum sets off his master plan for vengeance, the villains here feel like big dumb animals. Nothing is premeditated, no twists await. Find beast A. Punch it. Move on.
Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with punching beasts in the face for an entire game. If there’s truly engaging punch mechanics, we could have had a blast there. Arkham Asylum kept itself fresh by adding new gadgets that all had world-traversal and combat applications. The Amazing Spider-Man hands you all your tools at the start. In Arkham, Batman surveys a room, watches enemy patrol patterns, and plans his takedowns from the handful of gargoyles scattered throughout the area. Spider-Man walks along the ceiling until he’s directly over the enemy, drops down, and sticks him to the ceiling. It may sound cool, and like all Spidey’s tricks it very much is cool… but only the first dozen times.
There was a moment where Spidey is trying to track down one of these monsters in the sewers. He hits a central hub of some sort, with passages heading off in all eight directions. Following the one-button prompt, I managed to get Spider-Man to flip into the air, shoot web strands down each passage, join them in the middle, and then begin inspecting each strand for movement so he would know which corridor led to the rampaging enemy. I was enamored by the concept, so much so that I didn’t mind having next to no control over the event. Then I had to do the same trick three more times before the boss fight. Countless more trips to the sewers awaited after. Beenox had once again smashed a cool concept into the ground by forcing the player to rewatch the exact same sequence play out the exact same way over and over.
The Amazing Spider-Man is a prime example where an open-world layout fails. Short of a couple boss fights, nothing of consequence takes place out on the streets of Manhattan. The main story missions are so repetitive that it’s difficult to be excited about swinging across Manhattan to optionally do more of the same. You’re rewarded for side missions with experience points used to improve your web launchers and suit, but aside from the upgrade that allows you to stealth takedown two enemies simultaneously, none made a noticeable impact on play. In fact, the upgrade system does little besides speed up combat for players who run in webs blazing, which every instinct (and countless prompts) warn against. In less than a third of the game I’d turned my focus exclusively on finishing the main storyline, and my vow to stay out of the sewers meant I missed out on a handful of optional boss battles. Maybe there was a nugget of fun to be had down there, but the cost seemed to high.
For every optional boss fight, I’d need to slag through 20 minutes of the same sewer corridors, being attacked by the same throng of enemies, in the same way, and mashing the same button repeatedly to brute force my way through. After the first optional Oscorp lab showed up on my GPS, I learned to ignore them. Heading in there meant 15 minutes crawling around the ceiling in an open warehouse, performing stealth-takedowns over and over on the stupidest security force imaginable. My only reward would be some random suit upgrade technology that would make Spidey less vulnerable to things he only tended to encounter in other optional missions. Make no mistake, this is all filler. They give you more opportunity to get frustrated with the mechanics that don’t work, and tired of the few that do.
None of this is to say The Amazing Spider-Man is completely unredeemable. The outdoor battles against Oscorp’s massive slayer robots are as close as you’ll come to controlling the kind of acrobatic frenetic action seen in the films. Web-swinging in general can be a thrill, though every web seems to drag Spidey further downward towards the streets of Manhattan. Overall, the missteps are just far too numerous to outweigh. The Amazing Spider-Man is too easy, too repetitive, and too thoughtless to be truly enjoyed.