Batman: Arkham Asylum has set a lot of bars. Its combat system has been mimicked by developers across the industry, and the stealth mechanics inspired countless new "predator" stealth segments. One that is often overlooked is that it disproved the idea that a licensed game had to be lackluster. Arkham Asylum captured the idea of what it felt like to be Batman. Perhaps that is why it is so frustrating that Spider-Man video games have never quite achieved the same feeling. There have been countless Spider-Man games, and each one comes close to getting something right. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is frustrating because it comes remarkably close. It puts great effort into trying to capture the feeling of being Spider-Man, from web-slinging and high-energy combat to the constant battle against public opinion. While it does capture these elements, they aren't always fun.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 follows the adventures of everyone's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in the wake of the events of the previous movie and game. A city-wide crime wave has broken out, and a murderer known as the Carnage Killer is on the loose. As if that weren't bad enough, Wilson Fisk has teamed up with Oscorp to provide the city with a "task force" to quell the crime wave — and destroy Spider-Man. In the middle of this, Spidey must deal with the deadly illness plaguing his best friend, Harry Osborn. It's a greatest hits of Spider-Man villains, and it's up to the web-slinger to stop them before New York is doomed.
TASM2 roughly follows the film's plot. Electro and the Green Goblin show up, but that's about as much as it follows the movie. It's remarkably disjointed and kind of confusing. Attempting to mix the stand-alone film plot with the Kingpin and Carnage stories leads to a confusing morass where things occur for no reason. There are some extremely noticeable absences from the game, such as Peter Parker's love interest and supporting cast member, Gwen Stacy. She is mentioned once but is otherwise absent. Several climactic scenes from the film are removed or altered to compensate for her absence. It makes the game less likely to contain spoilers, but then it raises the question of why the developer went with the film plot at all. You could've removed Electro and the Green Goblin from the game and lost nothing.
The core gameplay is very similar to the previous title. You're given a big New York City to explore and must web-sling from location to location to complete quests. There are some noticeable changes to the web-swinging mechanics since the prior game. Webs attach to actual buildings and objects in the environment instead of an invisible skybox. This means you need to have a building around you to properly swing. There are some exceptions, with a few environments in separate locations that revert to the invisible skybox. The Web Rush mechanic from the prior game has also returned to allow you to zip to invisible points in mid-air. There are very few areas where web-swinging isn't automated, and there is little need to alternate your web swings. Once you unlock Web Boost, you'll probably use whichever button is more convenient at the moment.
Combat has been retuned, although it's debatable whether it's for the better. TASM2 uses the same Arkham Asylum-lite combat system as the first game but without any significant improvements. Combat is button-mashing at its most basic. Every fight can be won effortlessly by pounding the Square button and occasionally tapping the dodge button. You have a few other moves, but they're so awkwardly implemented that it is rather pointless. Aside from one main segment and several optional ones, you never have to avoid guns. You can dodge them like you do a regular attack. This is accurate to Spider-Man's skill set, but it makes the most threatening things in the game feel pretty lackluster.
Several enemies require you to use specific moves to weaken them, such as big brutes who require you to use Spider-Man's stolen Seismic Blast power to stun. You have to charge it up like a Mega Man gun before you can fire, interrupting the flow of combat so you'll almost never use it except against designated enemies. The same goes for the web shooters. Why web up an enemy when it is faster to punch them? You'll only use it against armored enemies, since your ionic webbing dissolves armor after a few shots.
As a result, fights are boring, and there's no sense of progression or development. From the beginning to the end of the game, you're fighting the same enemies and using the same tactics. The boss fights are generally fun to play, as each has a gimmick. You play hide-and-seek with Black Cat or taunt Kingpin into running into walls. Once you figure it how to defeat a boss, though, it's a matter of repeating it until they fall over. They could use multiple phases that grow increasingly complex.
Health recovery has been changed to a manual process, which is odd. To heal, you must stand on solid ground and remain still for a few minutes while Spider-Man patches himself up. This makes the game harder since you can't just run away and hide on a wall until you recover. The game is easy enough that it isn't a problem, and recovering after combat means you go into every fight with full health.
Combat is slightly modified by the costumes that you can equip. As you progress, you unlock iconic Spider-Man costumes, ranging from his The Amazing Spider-Man 1 costume to the new Ultimate Comics Spider-Man to the pretty obscure Slingers era. Each costume provides an advantage. The Vigilante costume makes you stealthier and lets you hit harder, while the Anti-Electro Suit lowers your electricity damage. Each suit levels up as you use it and grows stronger with every mission you complete. This rewards you for using your favorite suit, but it also discourages you from changing suits because the one you've been wearing the longest is significantly more powerful. The game is easy enough that this isn't a big problem. You also find tech pieces to upgrade your webshooters, which remain upgraded even if you switch costumes. It's not a bad system, but it'd be more fun if you could switch costumes without becoming weaker.
A bigger problem is the new hero and menace system. No matter how many times Spidey saves the day, the Daily Bugle will brand him a menace and villain. The game attempts to replicate this, and it's remarkably unenjoyable. If you stop random crimes, Spider-Man becomes a hero. If you fail to stop them, he becomes a menace. As a hero, his abilities power up and he gets stronger. As a menace, the city sends armored drones and soldiers to kill him. You'll want to be a hero 24/7, but there is only a handful of hero missions that you repeat again and again. After each one, you sit through a cut scene where Whitney Chang reports on your success. It's pretty easy to fill up your hero meter, which is why the game randomly empties your hero meter at set points in the story, forcing you to grind and refill it again. This also makes it difficult to gather the in-game collectibles (comic pages and photos) because you have to pause to stop crimes every so often. This amounts to a boring barrier that's designed to pad out the game.
The game needs padding, too. TASM2 is remarkably short and repetitive. The title is good about including a number of supervillains, but it rushes through them. The climactic showdown with Carnage feels more like a mid-game boss than a deadly epic battle against one of Spider-Man's most lethal foes. Major characters like Electro and the Green Goblin are dismissed out of hand. There are a few side missions that lengthen the game, including combat challenges and races, but there's little reason to do them. There are also a few pointless Peter Parker missions where you have to walk around and talk to people.
TASM2 is a cross-generation game, so I wasn't expecting it to take full advantage of the PS4's hardware. However, of the cross-generation ports I've seen on the PS4 so far, TASM2 feels like it has the least effort put into it. Frankly, this title would look unimpressive on a PS3, let alone next-generation hardware. Bad textures, ugly character models, awkward animations and other minor problems hold back the game. The voice acting is acceptable but repetitive. Spider-Man quips constantly, but he has only a few lines, so he repeats them endlessly. The quipping is also poorly implemented. First, Spidey begs Electro to stop fighting so he can help him, and then he drops quips that make fun of or insult Electro.
Perhaps the biggest problem with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that it doesn't stray much from the previous game's formula, and when it does, it actively detracts from the game. The boring Peter Parker segments and dealing with tedious street crimes seem like another step toward trying to make the game feel like Spider-Man without considering whether it would be any fun. The core gameplay hasn't changed much from the previous game, but every change feels like a step back — except perhaps the improved web-swinging. Add a nonsensical plot and lackluster graphics, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ends up feeling anything but amazing. It's a game for die-hard Spidey fans only.
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