Genre : Action
Release Date: June 28, 2004
After a two year hiatus, Spidey is back with a vengeance. Activision has once again approached Treyarch, responsible for the previous "Spider-Man: The Movie," as well as "Die By The Sword" and "Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer." The Spider-Man 2 game coincides with the upcoming movie and brings you back to NYC's Manhattan district. Up until now, Activision has kept mum on the plot because the game and movie storylines intertwine, and Sony did not want the movie plot revealed. The gameplay lasts longer than the film, so in addition to the movie antagonist, you will also face villains like Shocker, Rhino, and you will sometimes get help from The Black Cat.
As soon as you play Spider-Man 2, you are confronted with two main differences over its predecessor. This time, Activision and Treyarch have opted for a completely free-roaming world, one which we have come to know and love in titles such as the GTA series and True Crime: Streets of LA. These were the titles I mentioned when asked about my initial impressions, and the Activision people gave me a funny look. The comparison was certainly not meant as a criticism; on the contrary, those series have sold millions of copies so the concept is not a bad one. Now WHY did I make that comparison? Well, tell me if this sounds familiar: Spider-Man 2 has non-linear gameplay, a free-roaming world where you can go anywhere you want, a storyline mode with missions, and as you roam around, randomly generated events – such as bank robberies, purse snatchings and other petty crimes – occur. I rest my case.
The other major addition in Spider-Man 2 is the map function. Unlike other titles which require you to exit the game, go to a menu, and select a top down flat 2D map before heading back to the action, there is no loading time when you hit the map button in SM2. The map is a 3D recreation of the site, so you can zoom in to get a better view of your immediate surroundings, or zoom out to have an overview of Manhattan, and zip back to the game, all without any hitches or loading time … VERY impressive. The map shows you various locations, shops and other useful information to guide you, and keep the game flow continuous.
A more subtle difference can be found in the tangled webs that Spidey weaves. In the initial game, his webs did not really “connect” to anything and attached themselves anywhere, even if it was mid-air. This time around, Treyarch has made sure that when you use Spidey's webs, they actually stick to the surrounding buildings, and if there are none, you are rudely introduced to the pavement (and yes you CAN die by falling off skyscrapers). Apart from the regular “one handed” webslinging you now also have a 2 handed version, due to Spidey’s sticky fingers (and feet) you can of course also crawl up walls and charge your jump meter to lunge ahead to adjacent rooftops.
Of course Spider-Man is all about the action, and SM2 does not disappoint in that department. The game has a main storyline where you are being led from event to event, but if you choose to just wander around the city, you will run into all sorts of oncoming crime, from helping a little girl get her balloon back, to stopping purse snatchers, carjackings, bank robbers and plenty more. Some of these crimes must be solved within a certain time limit, while others do not. As the events are randomly generated, you will just run into them, or civilians will tell you about something suspicious they saw and direct you to the location.
To cope with all of the action, Spider-Man has a slew of combos at his disposal, ranging from regular kicks and punches, to catching enemies in a web, pull them closer to finish them off or swing them around and knock them out. During the initial demo, Treyarch's producer Greg John caught one of the enemies in a websling, pulled him along, jumped up, wrapped him around a traffic light, and then proceeded to beat the crap out of him. Now THAT’S entertainment. Later on, during our own hands-on time, I tried to pull the same stunt but without any success. To be continued later! The game also sports rag-doll effects, although those are only implemented with NPC’s and no other objects, simply because there is no interaction with the environment.
These days, an action game without some sort of bullet time/slow motion effect is almost unthinkable. You not only have a Spider Sense, but you now also have Spider Reflexes that will allow you to basically slow down time, dodge bullets and perform combos to take out the surrounding enemies. Of course, there is a limit to the usage of the Spider Reflexes, as it depletes your “The Hero Meter,” which recharges automatically when you perform combos.
The crime solving is not “just” there but actually allows you to improve your own skills and combos. When successfully solving a crime or averting a disaster (we had two occurrences where we had to rescue people off a boat before it sank, or save a worker whose scaffold malfunctioned), you are awarded hero points, which can be traded in for various items such as increased speed and stronger, more complex combos. In total, you will be able to acquire over 25 combos, some of which behave differently when the Spider Reflexes are enabled. Other items will be unlockable in the stores, but Treyarch did not want to provide any further details on that.
Not all of the missions and events are action packed though, as you will also be able to earn hero points by delivering pizza (during which a very "cheesy" jingle plays in the background, reminiscent of the good old C-64) or just being sent out on assignment by the Daily Bugle. Oddly enough, while you can transform back and forth between Spider-Man and Peter Parker, the photography missions are being done as Spider-Man.
Overall, in terms of graphics, Treyarch did a most outstanding job, with a large and beautifully detailed city; crawling up the Empire State Building is a sight to behold. Unlike Activision's True Crime: Streets of LA, which was almost an exact copy of Los Angeles, some liberty has been taken in the recreation of the Downtown Manhattan. You will find familiar locations such as Central Park, the Garment District, the Empire State Building, Liberty Island (accessible when you hitch a ride hanging from a helicopter), and also more emotional locations, like the Twin Towers memorial. Apart from that, Manhattan seems to consist of mostly anonymous highrises, hotels, shops and so forth.
What also impressed was the extremely fluent camera control, often a frustrating problem in many other titles, but not so in Spider-Man 2. As you crawl up or down buildings, jump from one rooftop to the next or simply swing from building to building, the camera control was absolutely stunning. If you wanted to make yourself sick, you could twist and turn the camera controls like a madman and get nauseous … in style. The camera is always behind Spidey in a third-person perspective, but you can manually control and rotate it 360 degrees if you wanted to, giving you an immersive feeling if you crawl up a building and have the camera view down. You’d better not be afraid of heights!
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the press event, we are not able to judge the sound or effects in general, as the place was a mingling of 10 speaker systems blasting away, a deejay, and people talking in the background. For the voiceovers, Activision has gotten the full help of the movie cast so you can expect Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and company to be representing their own characters in the game, as well as Evil Dead's Bruce Campbell to give humorous background commentary.
To break away from the norm, we recently went from movie to game adaptations that mainly sucked to the other end of the spectrum, with last week’s Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. From what we have seen of the game, Spider-Man 2 will certainly fall into that same category, and Treyarch can pride itself on a job well done. With great graphics, a large city to explore, freedom of movement, a star-studded voice cast, excellent camera work, and plenty of action, Spider-Man 2 is sure to become a memorable title and will do justice to a great franchise…
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