Review by aludlam

"No, Spidey, not that way!"

LOOK OUT! It's the spider man!

Yes, spidey crawls out of his dank apartment to join us on the PS2 for a web-slinging, wise-cracking, beat-em-up good time. The game follows, roughly, the plot of the first movie (the Sam Raimi masterpiece, not the old Japanese live-action film). I say roughly, because your primary opponent is the green goblin, but the order of events is all jumbled up. This is actually a good thing, though, because if it followed the movie exactly, you'd have a pretty boring game. A couple of other notable super-villains from Spidey's world are thrown in for good measure to spice things up a bit.

I usually like to finish a game before I review it, but I haven't done so yet. I'll get to the reasons why in a few moments, but let's break things down to standard review format for the sake of simplicity.

I like them. Spidey is well represented, with great attention to detail in his costume and movements. His movie persona is replicated almost exactly, complete with wildly flailing limbs in his loose brawler-style combat. The environments are truly three-dimensional, as you can use your arachnid abilities to climb all over walls, ceiling, and everything in between. If there's a bridge, you can crawl on the underside of it. If there's a high stack of crates, you can cling to the side. Awesome. Enemies are also very well represented. The primary characters are faithfully represented, and the thugs have enough variety to make them interesting. You will see a few clone soldiers running around, but it's not that bad, and makes sense most of the time.

Excellent. Voices are done by the original actors in the film, and spiderman has a lot of witty dialogue that will crack you up. The green goblin sounds just as sinister as he did in the movie, and appropriate voice actors were chosen for the other villains. Aside from voices, the sounds of combat are well done. Shooting webs produces a familiar "thwip" kind of sound, beating up bad guys sounds like beating up bad guys, gunshots sound like they should, etc. Overall, the presentation in the game is top-notch.

Of course, presentation does not make a good game. A great presentation will augment a great game, but you've got to have a solid foundation or the presentation is worthless. Sadly, this installment of Spiderman has some problems that make the actual game a real chore.

For starters, the combat system is a little bit clunky. Hand-to-hand combat is accomplished by strings of buttons to make combos, but you have to find items to unlock the better combos, so you start off with a relatively small repertoire. It's just not that responsive. There's a lock-on function, but that only serves to keep the enemy on-screen, not to point you towards him. The controls are so fluid that you can literally run right past your intended target without ever connecting. You can also use webs in combat, but their potential is limited - they don't do much damage, and enemies will eventually break out of a tie-up web. Likewise, the combos themselves don't always go off. Perhaps this is due to the speed of the game (or maybe to my declining reflexes), but I have difficulty getting spidey to do exactly what I want him to do, and instead just start mashing buttons to get the job done.

The combat system isn't great, but it isn't terrible, either. What is terrible is the camera. You have partial control of the camera by way of the right analog stick, but the game automatically interprets location and tries to do its own thing. In this way, the game is aptly named - "Spiderman: the movie". The camera tries to swing in ways that would look good in a movie. Unfortunately, the camera mechanics that make cinematic gold result in video game garbage. Let's look at an example.

Let's say you're running down a hall, and there's an enemy at the end with a gun. You go barreling down the hallway, the camera at your back, ready to wreak furious arachnoid justice on the ne'er-do-well. As you run, the camera swivels around so you can catch a stunning profile of our hero in all his glory. Since the camera is now in a different direction, your forward-motion on the stick is re-interpreted to face away from the camera... and spidey makes a sharp angle turn to the right, causing him to latch onto the side of the wall and climb up to the ceiling. Amused, the goon at the end of the hall observes your crazy antics and pumps you full of lead.

That's the sort of thing I've experienced. The camera, doing whatever it wants, forces you to constantly adjust your movement pattern. The problem is compounded by the fact that a relatively light interaction with a wall causes you to leap on and start climbing. Our hero is a bit too sticky for his own good, and trying to maneuver him while on a wall, especially near the border of the camera, is well nigh impossible. So you have to drop off the wall and get whacked by thugs to reorient.

There are some other minor grievances. The outside levels that allow you to swing are a tad on the unrealistic side. Granted, you need a certain suspension of disbelief to call a teenager shooting spider webs realistic, but even in the context of the game it makes no sense. When you swing, you shoot your webs up in the air. You can do this anywhere, even on the very top of buildings. What exactly are your webs grabbing onto? A nearby blimp? A passing flock of seagulls? Madness! It's a sloppy shortcut that essentially turns webslinging into straight-out flying with less maneuverability. Sure, it's designed to be simple, but that also makes it less fun.

The level designs could also use a little work. Most games nowadays will allow you to save wherever you want, or at least save right before a difficult battle. Not so here. Some boss battles or difficult segments occur at the end of a 10-minute level. So if you don't figure it out the first time, you get to go back and do the boring 10-minute level again so you can get back to the difficult area and die again, ad nauseum until you get lucky or figure out what you're supposed to do. It's not the case every time, but it's a trend I've seen twice so far and I'm not even halfway through the game.

So, despite the excellent presentation, I've got to give Spiderman a 3. The camera mechanics and level design makes the game itself needlessly aggravating. I'll keep playing, because it's spider man, and spider man is cool. I play because I want to see the cutscenes and unlock goodies. If it were anything else, I'd chuck it and move on to something less frustrating.

Reviewer's Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Originally Posted: 07/06/05

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