(Xbox 360 Review) The Amazing Spider-Man

Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 5 = Average

Video-game Spider-Man has had a strange run as of late. From battling zombie-like creatures in Web of Shadows to bouncing between astral planes in Shattered Dimensions and skipping around the timeline in Edge of Time, the wall-crawler has had some truly uncanny adventures over the past few years. And while they might have had their rough edges, they all had a flair that is completely absent in The Amazing Spider-Man, a thoroughly pedestrian affair from series standard-bearer Beenox.

Despite serving as an epilogue to the latest film reboot from Columbia Pictures, The Amazing Spider-Man shows every sign of being anchored to a predetermined storyline set well in advance. While the previous Spidey titles were imaginative, science-fiction-inspired forays that spanned multiple comic lines, this latest offering is tethered to a more mundane reality in which our hero has to find a cure for a cross-species virus created by Dr. Connors (The Lizard) and unleashed by Oscorp’s escaped experiments. In addition to dodging Oscorp’s dangerous cross-species-detecting robots, Spider-Man must also fulfill his role as hero by engaging in a number of activities, such as hauling sick citizens to ad-hoc field hospitals, returning escaped mental patients to the police, and looking for a cure to the virus.

If there’s a bright spot in the game’s shift to a more traditional approach, it’s that Beenox has returned to the free-roam open-world design pioneered by Treyarch. Manhattan is open for Spider-Man to explore from the beginning, and his apartment, which serves as a headquarters between missions, is located near the center of the borough. From Parker’s bedroom window, you will set out to rid the city of the spreading virus and clear the map of the various icons that represent the numerous side events, which include introducing would-be muggers to your mighty fists of justice, breaking into Oscorp labs and stealing tech, showing off for a Bruce Campbell-voiced reporter in two sets of Xtreme Challenges, assisting police to end high-speed chases, taking photos of hot spots, and breaking police deadlocks by subduing resisting criminals. All of these missions net experience, which go towards character unlocks, as well as gears (if the enemies are robots) and tech unlocks for augmenting Spider-Man’s suit. There are even magazines and comic book pages that can be collected for experience, with the latter forming full, readable comics available in the Extras menu.

After the shrunken world of Shattered Dimensions and claustrophobic areas of Edge of Time, The Amazing Spider-Man‘s free-roam design feels like a breath of fresh air. But that feeling is often fleeting due to the streamlined controls and side missions that feature a wide breadth but shallow depth.

Web-slinging can still be exhilarating, but as with so much of the game, it is largely automated. The mechanics are now more confined, with jumping and zipping being replaced by Web Rush. The action of swinging has devolved to the point where you do little more than pick the direction for Spider-Man to head towards, watering down one of the most important and engaging aspects of the hero. An especially annoying web-slinging quirk is the game’s tendency to have Spider-Man wait until the last second to shoot out a new line, undoubtedly aimed at milking the excitement of free-falling for all it’s worth, with the result being a drawn-out dramatic dip that can make aerial combat a bit of a pain. The internal rules of swinging are also inconsistently applied; Spider-Man is able to make connections with nonexistent buildings for several swings, and then suddenly not. Treyarch’s approach to swinging was more all-encompassing and satisfying, with the games providing a basic swing to get around quickly but also various, more hands-on techniques for those who wanted to really dig in and get more out of the system.

Thankfully, rushing helps to alleviate some of the shortcomings brought about by the focus on simplification. It’s similar to a slow-motion zip in that time slows down for a few seconds as you decide which of the pre-determined points, marked with a gold silhouette of Spider-Man’s body in the position he’ll be when he lands on the mark, you would like to go. If none of the displayed points are to your liking, you can also shift the view around until the silhouette becomes anchored on a more beneficial spot. As with zipping, Spider-Man travels in a direct route to the point in which he is sent, and since there are no meters or charging periods, it’s possible to quickly rush from one spot to the next. As handy as rushing is, and I do look forward to its evolution in future titles, it can also be inconsistent. There were times when I was unable to zip anywhere because no anchor points were highlighted, and other times, I was unable to go to any spots that were not established pre-set locations regardless of how far or much I shifted the view. These moments were random and often remedied by trying again a few seconds later, but that doesn’t help much whenever enemies are closing in and blasting away.

Providing a solid stable of side missions in an open-world environment is a problem for many developers, and it’s been a thorn in the side of Spidey developers since 2004’s Spider-Man 2. Beenox’s attempt to address the issue by providing a large number of event types but few variations within is an interesting one, but the inevitable repetitiveness dulls the effect. Beating up five muggers the first, second, third, and fourth time is the same experience as the twentieth, with the only difference between them being a few leather jackets and masks. I lost count of the amount of sick people I brought to aid stations, photographs I took, or fleeing cars that I webbed. The number of comic-book pages scattered throughout the city and floating amidst its skyline alone totals 500. That’s a lot of pages.

Some activities change, but just slightly. The getaway sequences add a second car, and later a third, while deadlock standoffs grow by a few more gunmen. But some of the side missions don’t require all that much of Spider-Man, or you, to begin with. The getaway chases involve a simple sequence of you zipping to the car and playing through a quick-time-event set, alternating between pressing B to web the front window then Y to dodge the passenger’s gunfire two or three times before the cars crash into a giant web that Spider-Man automatically creates. One set of the Xtreme Challenges doesn’t have you control Spider-Man at all but a hovering remote-controlled camera, keeping him in frame while he swings about the city showing off his agility. Of course, collecting comics, thwarting criminals, and making sure the sick receive treatment are optional, but the experience and gear they net go a long way in lessening the severity of the many repetitive explorative and combat elements.

And in The Amazing Spider-Man, there is a whole lot of repetition. Even combat falls flat, despite its strong track record throughout past titles. One of the reasons that combat is so unsatisfying this time around is because of the game’s preference for theatrics. Spider-Man’s arsenal is seemingly based off the same combo that, over time, fails to evolve into any sort of meaningful fighting system. Even when I was landing 15- to 16-hit combos over multiple enemies, I felt as though my inputs accounted for about a quarter of the moves, which makes for very monotonous encounters. With the unlockable move list being much more limited in practice than the array of thumbnails and power meters indicate, it ends up feeling as though you’re simply going through the motions as Spider-Man leaps from one encounter to the next. Some classics are included, such as slinging enemies around like a wrecking ball, as well as new signature finishes that end with unconscious enemies webbed to the floor, all of which garner extra experience, but it’s far from the webbed sledgehammers and string combos from before. This extends to the boss fights as well, which are a collection of uneventful battles mainly featuring C-grade villains that are about as exciting as breaking up a routine standoff.

Some of the game’s shortcomings make sense in the light of the confinements that Beenox had to work within. The encounters couldn’t be as outlandish as the Deadpool fight in Shattered Dimensions, for instance, but that’s small consolation whenever you’re knee-deep in the mundane. But what has no real explanation, other than simply favoring style over substance, are the instances where the game forces itself into a cinematic mold at the expense of gameplay. It isn’t uncommon to have to fight with sweeping camera shots that pan about the action as Spider-Man swings around and pummels the bad guys. The problem with this is how often the camera work isn’t conducive to Spider-Man swinging about and pummeling bad guys. It does no good to have a nice profile shot of the web-slinger whenever the danger is in front of him. Regardless of whether he’s brawling or just zipping about during one of the side missions, the camera frequently shifts itself into a position that is as eye-catching as it is unhelpful.

Basic movement can also be a chore. One of Spider-Man’s claims to fame is his outstanding agility, but the game goes overboard by exaggerating his movements to the point where something as simply jumping onto a ledge can be a problem. That’s because a jump isn’t just a jump; instead, it’s a giant leap that sends him hurling into the air, far higher and further than necessary. Walking near railings is also troublesome because of Spider-Man’s tendency to gravitate towards anything separating him and another area so that he can vault over it—sometimes to his death. The slightly stiffer controls with the shorter animations from before managed a decent balance between functionality and flair, but the new approach creates a disconnect between Spider-Man and his surroundings. All of these problems, from the shifting camera to the focus on flashy movements and animations, cause a host of frustrations in a game that isn’t nearly exciting enough to ask so much of your patience.

I would like to see some of the ideas introduced here make their way into subsequent releases, though. The ability to stealthily subdue enemies, and upgrade it so that multiple patrols can be cocooned and stuck to the ceiling, added an element of surprise here that was on par or superior to previous efforts. In-door areas in general were easier to navigate, and the ability to upgrade Spider-Man’s suit to better absorb acid and firearm damage made it well worth seeking out Oscorp’s labs and their hidden tech upgrades. As a longtime fan of the series, the bonus comics were also a treat. Unfortunately, a handful of positives aren’t enough to offset such a tedious and boring outing.

The Amazing Spider-Man is surprisingly technically sound for an open-world title, and it holds the germs of some interesting additions to the series, but that’s about the highest praise it elicits. Beenox’s previous Spider-Man titles, Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time, certainly had their problems, but they at least offered an interesting take on the franchise, rather than this, a series of boring, repetitive battles connected by a series of boring, repetitive side quests. At least web-slinging is back; it’s just a shame that it didn’t return in a better game.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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