Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Date: March 18, 2005
Buy 'SPIDER-MAN 2': PSP
Superheroes have a lot to smile about these days. There are movies, games, toys, and all manner of other goods out there helping to launch these comic book stars back into the limelight. With movies like X-Men, The Hulk, and The Fantastic Four all released or near release, the genre has never been str onger. One of the most popular and successful comic book superhero stars of late has been Spider-Man, as games across all systems and several huge movie releases featuring the webslinger have met with extreme success. Spider-Man 2 for the Sony PSP attempts to follow this recent trend of greatness.
Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero. He's just an ordinary guy until getting bit by a radioactive spider, which endows him with superhuman powers, including the ability to spin a web, stick to walls, and perform feats of superhuman strength. Part of Spider-Man's appeal is the fact that he's no different than most people. He works a menial job as a photographer for the newspaper, has girl troubles, and struggles with the same things we do. All of these things combine to make him the perfect protagonist for a game.
Spidey's latest outing is on the PSP, which seems to be the perfect place for him to swing, and for the most part, it is. The game is based almost directly on the movie of the same name. Doctor Otto Octavian is working on what amounts to a glorified science project that requires the use of robotic arms controlled by his mind. Of course, things go drastically wrong and the arms are fused to Octavian's body, turning him into the villainous Dr. Octopus. It's Spider-Man's job to save the day and rescue his lovely girlfriend Mary Jane.
The main game menu takes the form of Peter Parker's apartment, rendered in full 3D. It's really engaging, as each menu option takes the player to a different section of the apartment. This is the type of polish that goes a long way to helping a game look and feel like a well done production, and it's apparent that the developers took pains to get it right. It's nice to see a game like this really almost mirror the production values of the movie it is based on; it really feels like the movie, in game form.
A tutorial in a "virtual city" environment gives the player an idea of the game mechanics and how to get around, initiate combat, and perform all the other tricks that make up the gameplay. It does a good job, and once the tutorial is completed and the missions begin, the player should have a good grasp on how to perform Spider-Man's various moves. Punches, kicks, combos, web-swinging and other moves are all covered with a good degree of detail. This tutorial is available at any time from the main menu, should some practice be needed.
It's apparent once the actual missions start that the game is going to be visually impressive. A beautiful cityscape with skyscrapers, twinkling water, lens flare and reflections immediately set the graphical tone of the game. The models are fairly simplistic but look detailed, thanks to some good texture work. The effects of web attacks, punches, kicks, and gunfire are all well enacted, and so are the animations. There are some great lighting effects which look incredible, especially outdoors, and it's when the player takes Spidey outside and around the city that the graphics really shine. It's a bit depressing then, to see that the cut scenes are rendered in a cartoonish sort of CG, which ends up having the effect of an elaborate clay-animated movie. The characters all resemble their movie counterparts, but look childish in a way. Having the cut scenes use the game engine would have been a better move.
When playing the game, however, it's not likely that taking in the scenery will be high on the agenda. The camera seems to move of its own accord, and the only way to re-center it to a good location is by using the d-pad. This wouldn't be a problem in a slower paced game, but in Spider-Man 2, it can sometimes be fatal to take the time to stop controlling Spider-Man using the analog nub and fiddle with the camera via the d-pad.
Playing the game basically consists of going from one level to the next, defeating hordes of enemies until the final battle with Doc Ock is reached. Along the way, a few of Spider-Man's older enemies, such as Rhino and Mysterio, make appearances to allow for a short departure from the movie storyline. At certain points during the missions, a little icon featuring the "select" button will appear on the screen and offer a hint about what needs to be done next, or how to operate an apparatus. It's out of the way and doesn't interrupt the flow of the game, as the player can choose to ignore it if they want. After each level is completed, points are earned which can be used to unlock items and moves or enhance Spidey's powers in some way. It adds a bit of depth to an otherwise shallow game, but not enough to lengthen it considerably.
There are 20 different missions for the player to participate in, all of which are short. It will take only a few minutes to plow through each level, and once the end of the game is reached, there's almost no incentive to go back through and play again. It'll take the average gamer around four hours to beat the game, give or take. This is certainly a big drawback to any game, and especially for a handheld title. Players want to have this with them on the go, and while it's good that the missions are short enough to pick up and play quickly, it's horrible to be able to beat the game in one sitting. If the missions weren't as structured or there were a few more of them, that would add considerable value to the game. As it stands, however, there are no multiplayer modes and the extras aren't really anything special.
One nice thing about the Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in is that this game features the actors from the movie doing the voiceovers, which goes a long way to help this game feel a bit more polished. It's great to hear Tobey Maguire utter lines as Spider-Man, and Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus is always great. The other auditory aspects of the game are just as good; he gunfire, grunting of enemies, shots of webbing, crashing of objects, and the music are all great. The music repeats sometimes, but the game is so short that it doesn't really feel bothersome enough to turn off.
Spider-Man 2 for the PSP is a blueprint for a fantastic game. It has almost everything going for it, but right when the player settles into a groove, Doc Ock has been defeated and the game is over. Clean up some of the camera issues, add some length, and this could have been the PSP launch title to own, but as it is, the title is worth a weekend rental. The free Spider-Man 2 movie which was packed in with the PSP Value Pack has more long term value than this game. However, if this is a sneak peek at what we can expect from the team at Vicarious Visions in the future, then the future is looking very bright. Just don't pick this up for your 16-hour flight to Hong Kong, unless you want to be bitterly disappointed.
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