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Spider-Man 3

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision

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Xbox 360 Review - 'Spider-Man 3'

by Andrew Hayward on May 16, 2007 @ 4:46 a.m. PDT

Spider-Man 3 allows players to experience the actions of heroic red suit Spider-Man, and for the first time ever, his darker, more mysterious black suit persona. Set in a 3D side scrolling world and delivering complete touch screen handling, players must draw upon Spider-Man’s vast array of moves, attacks and upgrades as they choose their path and embark on a wide variety of city-based missions and multiple movie-based and original story arcs.

Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Release Date: May 4, 2007

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Not only was Spider-Man the only ongoing film-based franchise to deliver with any consistency, but it was also the only superhero spotlight that didn't regularly underwhelm or completely embarrass its hand-drawn heritage. Spider-Man 3 is not a complete embarrassment, though it plays host to many baffling missteps. Lacking visual style and flair, the game holds disappointment around every turn, from the generic, overstuffed narrative to the newly added action events that only frustrate and punish wannabe web-heads.

At nearly two-and-a-half hours of length, the "Spider-Man 3" film has been widely criticized for its overabundance of unnecessary content, so it's hardly a shock that the 12-hour game adaptation takes that concept to a new extreme. Of the 42 missions in Spider-Man 3, just a few are directly concerned with familiar scenes and story elements from the film, with the rest taken up by villains from the comics and ... well, filler. Scorpion and The Lizard each occupy a few missions with reasonable success, though the Kingpin saga concludes with one of the lousiest boss fights in recent memory (more on that later).

But aside from the film and comic-based missions, nearly everything else is stunningly dull, complete with stereotypical antagonists spawned from some B-grade Create-a-Villain Flash app. To say the game has 10 concurrent storylines is incredibly generous, as many of these lack depth or creative thought. Devoting nearly one-quarter of the missions to taking out a trio of ultra-silly street gangs was a huge mistake, as these "characters" fail to justify their existence in the Spider-Man universe. Whether it's the Hot Topic-loving Arsenic Candy girls or the Apocalypse street punks, the resulting question is always the same: "Why should I care?"

Sadly, the narrative woes do not end there. Police detective DeWolfe demands your assistance from time to time to nail a bunch of corrupt cops, and her "don't need anyone but myself" personality falls flat, as she repeatedly asks Spidey for help (but acts like she doesn't need it). Better to be forgettable than completely absurd, though — the Mad Bomber missions pit the wall-crawler against a once-powerful tycoon who now employs an army of jetpack-sporting goons to plant bombs around the city. Seriously? Carlyle and his high-flying henchmen seem woefully out of place, even in a game about a man who shoots webs from his wrists.

Luckily, those webs provide one of the game's few true highlights. Manhattan is larger than ever, and Spidey can weave between the skyscrapers with ease, whether gliding above the pedestrians or hanging with the pigeons near the rooftops. Unlike the Wii version, which requires actual physical movement (boo!), the right trigger on the Xbox 360 controller bears most of the responsibility, and whipping around the city will feel like second nature after a couple of quick splats on the pavement.

With such large environments (both Manhattan and many of the indoor settings), extra care has been devoted to navigational assistance. While a standard map inset gives insight into the whereabouts of nearby enemies and objectives, a large yellow or blue dot placed on the screen indicates the direction and distance to far-off locations. During chase sequences or jaunts to non-specific destinations, a hot-cold meter pops up to guide Spidey through the city streets and alleyways. Most notable, however, is the use of Spider Sense, which can be activated by clicking the right analog stick. Doing so will cast a dark sheen over the environments, highlighting nearby allies, foes, entrances, and key items. Think of it as infrared radar, albeit one that exists within Spidey's mind.

The combat engine in Spider-Man 3 allows for a plethora of visually amusing special attacks, including the Pinball, where Spidey defies gravity by bouncing between several nearby enemies. When not fighting crime, Peter Parker must spend his time cruising message boards and perfecting his ASCII art, as evidenced by his amusingly named ROFL Copter attack. About halfway through the game, Spidey will switch to his black symbiote suit, which improves his power and agility and allows him to make use of his rage meter to unleash fury on unfortunate aggressors. Regardless of his chosen outfit, Spider-Man will unlock additional skills and attacks throughout the game, by either completing missions or exploring the city.

Spider-Man 3 is mainly a button-masher, but Treyarch attempted to switch things up by introducing two key concepts: counterattacking by way of Spider-Reflexes and timed command-input sequences similar to those of God of War and Tomb Raider: Legend. While both are suitable additions to the Spider-Man formula, the execution of each feels oddly rigid and extremely limited.

When brawling or taking on a boss, a small yellow icon may appear above the head of an enemy. Quickly press the left shoulder button, and Spidey will avoid the impending attack, allowing him to execute an unblockable counterattack. Spider-Reflexes can be used at any time to slow down the scene and get a jump on the enemy, but there are many segments in which you must counterattack to do any damage at all. Dueling against the Kingpin is not especially difficult, but the pair of fights takes a solid 20 minutes to complete, as Spidey must wear him down one hit at a time. Dodge, attack, and repeat — about 80 times in each battle. Staying awake was the real challenge.

When entering an action-command sequence, the visual presentation will switch to that of a cut scene, and button commands will quickly pop up on screen. Little time is given to execute the command, but in non-battle situations (such as navigating the sewers), Spidey will be given unlimited attempts to memorize the commands and get it right. However, most of the boss fights conclude with one of these sequences, and failing it then may give the boss another shot to take you down. No leeway is given in these situations, and the sequences become mind-numbingly frustrating by the end of the game. Controller tossers, beware!

A number of recurring issues and unfortunate design decisions keep the game from being a fluid and purely enjoyable experience. Collision detection is a regular issue, and enemies will continue running into walls for several seconds at a time before heading in a different direction. Enemies who bear arms (be it a sword or a displaced street sign) are somehow able to avoid most direct attacks, which results in them floating around as you attempt to land punches. Taking photos is a relatively painless process, but chasing a helicopter around the city and being given a few seconds to get the perfect shot atop a skyscraper is just obnoxiously frustrating. The elements of a sharp experience are here, but it doesn't quite play out as expected.

What hurts the most is the camera, which wildly fluctuates depending on what you're doing. When swinging around the city, it hangs back and gives you a wide perspective, but grab onto a building, and it'll swoop in and limit the view. Any attempts to crawl sideways or onto an uneven surface will result in the camera shaking wildly, disorienting the player in the process. It only gets worse during combat, as the frantic movements of Spidey and his foes will often result in some unfortunate vantage points. Placing much of the combat within four walls was an odd choice, given the claustrophobic nature of the camera. Especially during boss battles, you will need to keep one thumb permanently lodged on the right analog stick to make constant adjustments.

The visual presentation of Spider-Man 3 falls in line with the half-hearted nature of the rest of the game. Spider-Man himself looks excellent, with a sleek exterior and a set of silky-smooth animations. Everyone else — bunk! During the cut scenes, the human characters resemble Claymation caricatures of the real-life actors, odd proportions and all. Cut scenes end abruptly with glitchy audio and visual snags that disrupt the continuity of the experience. Jagged polygons and unremarkable texture work plague the visual experience from start to finish, giving off the air of an unfinished project.

Manhattan loads quickly and can be fully explored without significant pop-in, but there's a very generic feel to it all. The cars all look the same, the pedestrians are largely passive and indifferent, and the neighborhoods lack distinct features. I really like what Treyarch did with the lighting and reflections on the thousands of skyscraper windows, but I'd love to see more work done to the ground level of the city. Don't just make it larger — make it better.

In addition to the mixed visuals, Spider-Man 3 simply suffers from a thoroughly unimpressive overall presentation. Fonts typically reserved for placeholder status pepper the entire game, from the drab menu screens to the little signs that pop up when you enter a neighborhood. While the voice acting isn't particularly bad, much of it seems to lack enthusiasm, especially in the second half of the game. Tobey Maguire's performance in particular seems to waver between missions in a game that desperately needs some kind of consistency.

Between Spider Sense and the web slinging, Spider-Man 3 offers a fairly comprehensive Spidey experience, but there's as much frustration as fun here. Spider-Man once stood for quality and cohesion, but there's little here to set it apart from the pack of feature film adaptations. It's not a thoroughly unpleasant adventure, though, and Achievement junkies should absolutely consider it for a weekend rental. Otherwise, stick to Crackdown for your super-powered, open-world-traversing needs.

Score: 6.0/10


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