Release Date: May 4, 2007
In 2002, Columbia pictures and Marvel Comics brought the words "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" back to the world of celluloid. The film made hundreds of millions in the box office, worldwide, and turned Peter Parker into a household name. Of course, a licensed video game followed the movie, in the first of a slew of Spider-Man games published by Activision. Just this year, in May, Spidey made his third appearance on the big screen in "Spider-Man 3," and the accompanying new video game hit store shelves on that same day. The PlayStation 3 version of the game was also made available in a Collector's Edition that came with New Goblin as a playable character for an extra $10, (although now anyone who bought the regular edition can download New Goblin as an add-on from the PlayStation network). The new title builds upon the sandbox environment used in the 2004 game based on its film counterpart, "Spider-Man 2," but, unfortunately, most movie-based games use the term "based upon" very loosely, and this new Spidey outing is no different.
The outlying story behind the new movie and game involves an assortment of heroes, villains and familiar faces. A meteor lands on Earth, bringing with it an alien creature that's symbiotic in nature, and an escaped convict finds his way into the middle of a botched science experiment and has his chemical make-up turned into sand. These situations both lead toward bad guys for you to fight sooner or later, but the symbiote plays a different role, initially. Near the game's halfway point, the symbiote will attach itself to Peter Parker during his sleep in a cut scene, and you'll then be able to play as the Black-suited Spider-Man. While all of this is going on, Peter's ex-best friend, Harry Osborn, tries to kill him in his new guise as the Goblin, but ends up banging his head and losing his recent memories during the scuffle, only to regain his memory later on and vow revenge upon Parker once again.
This story may sound confusing and far too busy to keep you focused on entertaining yourself, but apparently Activision decided all of that wasn't enough. Over the course of the video game's tale, you'll fight cartoon-character gangs, with absurd names and outfits, Professor Connors mutated into his Lizard form (and all of his random lizard henchmen along with him), and you'll have it out with Kingpin and his goons. On top of all that, you'll rescue people from buildings, take pictures of giant, mechanized robots and other various objects, swing through the rooftops with Mary Jane, as she implores you to get, "Higher, Peter! Higher!" and then team up with a brain-washed Scorpion who, at first, tries to kill you. None of these extra occurrences happened in the film, and that's why I say this game is only loosely based upon it. The events that take place in the film are shuffled into a small handful of missions out of the game's 50+ mission total, and the new story additions are extremely exaggerated and terribly silly.
When you're swinging through the rooftops of New York City, though, Spider-Man 3 really shines. You can easily spend a few hours just exploring the large environment or climbing your way to the tops of the highest skyscrapers to perform a death-defying swan dive toward the pavement, only to send out a webline and swing away right before you splatter on the ground below. The web-swinging controls are easy to use and very intuitive, as you'll find yourself zipping around buildings and through cramped spaces at blinding speeds after you've spent a few hours with the game.
You'll spend most of your time swinging from one mission location to the next throughout the city, and this is made easier by the game's map functions. At anytime, you can pull up a map of the city, and highlighted on the map are points of interest and mission starting locations. If there's a specific mission you wish to take on, you can select it on the map and then when you exit back to the gameplay screen, an indicator will not only point you in the proper direction, but also track your distance from the location. This system makes it relatively easy to find your way around and keep things rolling, although there are the occasional instances when the arrow indicator will confuse you more than help you, as it will direct you through a wall and you can't figure out how to get around it or past it. You're not going to come across that problem very often, but when you do, it can be rather frustrating.
It would be nice if the occasional confused arrow indicator were the only problems Spider-Man 3 has, but beyond the exhilarating swinging mechanics, the title doesn't leave you with much else to get excited about. A lot of the missions include swinging your way to a certain location within a time limit and then figuring out which object in the area you need to manipulate with a press of the Square button. You're not always given the specific details, so often, you'll find yourself stumbling around, back-tracking, and trying to figure out your next move.
The misdirection problems are compounded even more during the title's many QTEs (Quick Time Events). When a QTE takes places, the game will move into a cinematic view, and different controller buttons will flash upon the screen. In order to successfully complete the QTEs, you'll have to be quick on the button presses because this game doesn't give you much time at all to complete them. On top of that, sometimes the game will flash a button making you think you just need to press it, when in actuality, they're expecting you to hold down the button and then release it at the proper time. Since you're not always entirely sure what you're supposed to do, the QTEs will eventually lead to much swearing — especially during the final boss fight where you must complete multiple QTEs in between the actual fighting, without missing a cue, or you'll be forced to start the entire fight over.
Sadly, I've yet to mention Spider-Man 3's biggest detractor yet — the sloppy, imbalanced combat. For the most part, you will find yourself mashing on buttons and hoping to survive whichever battle is currently taking place. It's very easy to die in this game, as Spidey really can't absorb that much damage, and you'll always find yourself outnumbered and underpowered. Even though Spider-Man is supposed to be able to lift cars over his head and survive being crushed by the Rhino, he can barely fight off a few average street punks in this game. A lot of the normal human adversaries will knock out large portions of your health bar with a few blows. There's a list of combo moves at your disposal, but most of them can either be blocked by your enemies or will simply fizzle out for no explained reason. What you'll find yourself doing a lot is running back and forth and landing the occasional punch or kick when you can, as a way to build up your Rage meter, which will unleash a powerful attack that usually hits all on-screen enemies.
Combat is made slightly easier by Black-suited Spidey's enhanced strength and speed, but you'll still find yourself on the end of a losing battle with the extra powers more often than you should. You're able to dodge enemy attacks by pressing the dodge button when you see an icon appear over your foe's head, but unless you're going up against a single enemy, you'll easily become overwhelmed and spend all your time dodging instead of landing successful attacks.
Spider-Man 3 has its positives and negatives, but the visuals are sort of a wash. The draw distance is really amazing, as you can see city lights and trees far off into the distance, and the amount of action taking place on-screen at any given time is fairly impressive, but the character models themselves definitely fail to impress. A lot of the enemies and citizens are oddly disproportioned and the game's character animations are overall very wonky. Spider-Man himself doesn't suffer from most of these graphical miscues, though we've definitely seen much better on the PlayStation 3. When it's night time in the video game, you can look past the visual hitches when you climb to the top of one of the tallest buildings in the city, and just spin the camera view around and take in the sights.
What's not so easy to look past is the overall poor quality of the voice-acting performances. You would think that since most of the film actors lend their talents to the game, that the voice-overs would be top notch. This is not the case, though, as it seems that most of the film actors just shrugged their way through the game's script without an ounce of effort. Some of the independent voice actors hired on just for the game deliver the goods, but that doesn't necessarily help matters much. At least the film's score is put to good use, as you'll be bobbing your head to the game's fully orchestrated soundtrack while you're cracking heads.
When you're traversing the city in Spider-Man 3, you'll wish that the rest of the game could live up to the amazing web-swinging mechanic's potential, but this is not the case. The game's additional story elements are beyond muddled, and the combat is so broken, you'll hope that you kept your receipt. Even worse are the Thrill Ride segments, where you swing Mary Jane through streets and buildings, trying to collect hearts and keep her happy by going higher or lower. I don't even believe there's a word to express how lame the Thrill Rides are. Additionally, anyone who spent the extra money on the Collector's Edition will be welcomed to shoddy Goblin glider controls that should be used as a future example of what not to do with the SixAxis motion sensing functions. While this title can easily offer a good 20-30 hours of gameplay, you'd have to be a masochist to subject yourself to that much overwhelming mediocrity. If you're a huge Spider-Man fan, this game may be for you. Anyone else will be content renting it and amusing themselves for a few hours exploring the Big Apple and returning it before the dullness sets in.
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