STAFF REVIEW of The Amazing Spider-Man (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012.
by Ken Laffrenier

The Amazing Spider-Man Box art The most commonly held fear in modern society is the fear of spiders. Even the term arachnophobia can create panic among a specific cross section of individuals (mostly spelling bee contestants). And while intensive surveys have identified that 58% of women and 28% of men have deep seated fears of spiders it is generally accepted that anyone with any common sense would prefer not to wake up with a family of arachnid dancing on their forehead!

While I can certainly enjoy the decades of entertainment value that the Spider-man franchise has brought to the world, someone should really look into the psychological impact that is created whenever a new piece of ?Spider? media is released. Consider this; would you enjoy thinking about a 5? 8? spider roaming through your neighborhood, how about the time it takes to clean up those giant webs, I mean sure they dissolve, but do you want to stare out your window as webs slowly evaporate and you can bet that every time you pull out a shoe to ?cleanse? your domicile of these eight legged scourge someone would be right there to educate you on arachnid rights! Hell, the very thought of Spider-man, while incredibly entertaining, has been the exposition for my not getting a place in midtown Manhattan.

So it is with trepidation that I introduce ?The Amazing Spider-man? video game for the Xbox 360. Canadian video game developer Beenox continues to set itself apart from its initial game porting origins by releasing another Spider-man game. Previous titles have included Spider-man: Edge of Time and Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions. It is worth noting that this title is only the eighth title to be developed by this relatively new studio.

When I first heard of this title being developed by the same studio that created the two previous Spider-man titles, I didn?t hold out much hope of returning to the glory days of the Spider-man 2 video game. Even when trailers for the game emerged and many began to speculate where this game may rate, my personal belief was that we were going to be treated to yet another movie tie-in/money grab lackluster game. And just as J. Jonah Jameson?s views are misplaced about ol? webhead, I was way off target on this one!

The game picks up shortly after the end of the Amazing Spider-man theatrical offering and very quickly spoils some major plot points of the movie. Lucky for you I will try to avoid much of that. Let?s just say that in the game Spider-man has to take down a criminal conspiracy, which involves fighting numerous bad guys and fantastic robots, while joining with an old foe, in order to save the girl, all while saving the city of Manhattan. Hope I didn?t give anything away?but realistically, you should have seen the movie by now!

The developers have gone to great lengths to ensure that The Amazing Spider-man is more than the typical movie tie-in; there is a great story being told throughout the course of the game. It could be argued that this entire game is simply setting up the premise to the next movie. In fact, the story has enough twists and turns that it would make for a great full length cartoon. Of course, this is still a video game, so there are a few ?tasks? that you can?t help but shake your head at, but these are simply included to extend gameplay or to introduce abilities and characters.

As with any great game, the playability extends beyond the core storyline. In true spidey fashion, you are tasked with helping out the NYPD deal with the many nefarious elements; taking out muggers, shutting down car chases and even breaking up shootouts. Other side missions include exploring sewers, rescuing ?injured? residents and even returning some inmates to an asylum.

Bringing order to the chaos is a detailed map of the island of Manhattan, which pinpoints all of these different activities, helping you to direct your actions to make the best use of your abilities. But the map is but a shadow of the game play environment. Finally, we have the open world Big Apple that we?ve been clamoring for since Spiderman 2. While not an inch by inch re-creation, your playground is one that showcases the many landmarks of Manhattan and goes to great lengths to immerse you into the scenery. But scale aside; it is the visual impact that lends credence to the scope of the game.

Visually the developers have created a very detailed, open-world environment that has reset the benchmark for all Spider-man games moving forward. The draw distances are near perfect, the light and shadows create stark contrasts and you get a real sense that you are in a living, breathing major metropolis. All of the character animations are on par and of course, spidey looks great taking center stage; even your webbing offers a ?realistic? look to it. Beenox has definitely been doing their homework as they have gone to great lengths to ensure that as Spider-man webs through the city streets you can feel the rush of adrenaline as the cityscape rushes by. Unfortunately, most of the core storyline takes place inside buildings or other confined quarters which doesn?t have the same sort of visual impact as offered ?outside?. The interior set pieces seem cluttered and overly complicated which tends to remind me of some of the previous titles.

I am really torn on my personal opinion of the control system as, early on, they tend to be hit and miss for the most part. Using the right stick for looking around is very sensitive; I found that it took me a couple of hours game time before I really began to take control. The camera does a great job of keeping you on target, except when you are indoors trying to evade attacks, you are then suddenly facing the wrong direction, on the ceiling, and getting hit regardless. Webbing, fighting, dodging, etc. each have their individual button mapping which initially had me underwhelmed, quickly became second nature which allowed me to take in more of the game without worry about what button to hit next.

A huge positive note regarding the controls is the addition of the Web Rush mode. Web Rush allows you to enter a sort of ?bullet time? mode which can be used in two distinct ways. First you can hold down the button, slowing time and allowing you to find your next best option whether; taking to the sky, webbing to a platform or attacking a foe. The other use is a ?quick? Web Rush, as you travel through the game you will see various ghost images of yourself in the distance as you would in the slowed down mode but you need only tap the button to instantly activate these options. At first I was put off by the lack of interactivity to pull off some of the moves but as the motions become more intuitive you can feel the instant gratification of initiating split second acrobatics.

In addition to the notes above I wanted to mention more about the combat system for The Amazing Spider-man. As soon as I encountered my first real melee, I was struck by how similar the style is to the Batman Arkham games. I?m not talking about when I pressed any buttons but even in the way you are placed in the middle of a group of attacking foes. Your attacks are varied when you press the button and a separate button allows you to dodge. You are made aware of when to dodge by the spider sense warning around your head (which I felt the Batman game had ?borrowed? from the Spider-man comics). As you successfully chain combos, other finishing moves are available via another button. Of course, the Beenox developers hinted to this inclusion early on as they were quick to point out the many hours of Batman gameplay they logged to fine tune the Spider-man release. Similarities don?t end there, the stealth attacks from the shadows play a heavy hand here as well; although having the option to encase your enemies in a web cocoon and hang them from the ceiling beats hanging thugs from cement gargoyles any day. All of this creates some straight forward and often easy fight sequences but there is a tremendous amount of enjoyment watching Spider-man rain down vengeance in his own unique style.

The title goes a long way to keep the player immersed in the finer details of the game; the little things like including additional costumes as Easter eggs to seek out and even the inclusion of a ?social media? feed ala Twitter in load screens have you constantly wondering where the game is going to go next or what other surprises are in store. Making a return to the Spider-man gaming world is the ever lovin? Bruce freakin? Campbell. Bruce means almost as much to the Spider-man video games as Peter Parker does, and he offers the kind of diatribes that Bruce is so well known for. This time round, he is the pilot of a large Zeppelin which hovers through the city offering various agility tests. Although we don?t see near enough of this star, I?m glad to see his unique humor has a home once again.

About the only major issue I have with this title is the sound itself. The actors from the movies don?t offer their voices to the game but their replacements do an outstanding job. With this in mind why are there so few recordings of Spider-man as he swings through the air; there are only so many times you can hear him exclaim ?alllriggghttt!!!? before you feeling like telling him to shut up. Of course, this isn?t the actors fault, simply a lack of foresight on the developer?s part. This isn?t the only senseless repetition on the part of sound in the game either, from the music to the bystanders, if you play for any more than an hour at a time you will have a strong sense of déjà vu. Realistically however, I would rather the developer?s treat the sound as an afterthought instead of the visuals or story.

The Spider-man franchise has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs. Beenox itself added two somewhat disappointing games and let?s face it; the Spider-man 3 movie was a supreme disappointment. But in the glow of these fading embers lies a new, Amazing Spider-man which looks to return the entire franchise to its days of glory. The game is absolutely stellar and with minor improvements could easily take on some of the heavy hitters. Truth be told, I am hoping that Beenox gets another kick at the can with a more detailed Manhattan and better sound design before the geniuses decide to add this to the Lego video game repertoire.

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.9 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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