The Amazing Spider-Man ReviewJoe Shaffer
No, I'm not a huge Spider-Man fan. Call me casual. However, when I start a Spider-Man game, I go instantly into comic nerd mode. That's when I keep my phone handy so I can Google various character names and pretend to be an expert, like I've been with Spider-Man since the beginning--never mind that Spidey predates my birth by about eighteen years. It's at that time that I want to feel like Spidey: I want to kick villainous tail, stomp a bunch of thugs, and swing all over New York city. Most of all, I want to be challenged like Spider-Man, thrust into a heated battle with a deadly supervillain and his horribly dressed henchmen. In other words, I want to feel like I'm playing the comic and not just a product cranked out for the sake of hype.
Amazing Spider-Man made a lousy first impression by ruining plot points from the film during the game's first cutscene. The game takes place after the movie, serving as an alternate sequel. In a way, the spoilers are understandable. If you haven't seen the movie, you have to know how important events turned out in order to delve into the game's plot. At the same time, I'd rather see those events unfold when I watch the movie rather than have a game spoil it for me.
But then Amazing Spider-Man made it up to me. After it was done boring me to tears with its ten minute introductory cutscene, it allowed me to play. There was a lot of potential behind the opening scenes. I really appreciate the intuitive controls. I didn't have to spend a terrible amount of time getting used to the core mechanics. What impressed me the most was the control response. Spider-Man handled a bit loosely, which was perfect. It gave our hero a much-needed spry feel. Every battle, every moment spent swinging across New York, even running down hallways... I felt like I was actually controlling Spidey.
Even a mediocre game can control competently, though. Show me what you've got, I thought.
Combat separates you from Spider-Man. For someone with mad skills like Peter Parker, you'd think the controls would allow for a Devil May Cryish level of complex combat. I could imagine punching the tar out of an enemy, upper cutting it into the air, grabbing it with my web, and reeling it back in for a devastating final blow. It would take a lot tricky button pressing and timing, but it would be worth it. Instead, the developers went with a simpler and more cliched approach. You can execute maneuvers similar to the one I described, but only after mashing the attack button ad naseam and hitting the web button to enact a "signature move." That's when the game takes over. Parker automatically begins kicking the crap out of the enemy, pulling off impressive luchador-like moves, and then finishes off the spectacle by webbing the bad guy to the ground, wall or ceiling. While this simplifies combat, it also takes away anything interesting about it. I came away from every battle feeling disconnected, like all I needed to do was the barest minimum and the game would reward me with the same flashy animations over and over again. It was more about pressing buttons when prompted than about executing skillful maneuvers, and it was quite desensitizing.
This doesn't mesh well with Amazing Spider-Man's biggest flaw: it's way too easy.
You can win almost any fight without breaking a sweat. You waltz into a battle, mash buttons, and walk out. Difficulty only rises if your opponents have guns, but even then dealing with them is cake. You have many factors at your disposal that give you unfair advantages. For instance, every fight takes place in an area with throwable objects like dumpsters, oxygen tanks, and vending machines. All you have to do is execute what's called a "web rush." By holding one of the shoulder buttons, you can websling into certain objects or enemies to interact with them. Time slows down while aiming your web for the rush, so there's no pressure whatsoever to get it right. Web rush into a throwable object and Spidey will leap into the air and toss it a certain distance behind him. Any enemies nailed by this--which is to say almost all of them, since they all tend to group together--are instantly knocked out. From there you get a few seconds to mash the web button like crazy and stick as many thugs to the ground as possible. With two simple maneuvers, you can take out up to five opponents. Since there are multiple throwable objects available in every fight, there's no actual combat skill required. Before long, the game becomes a repetitive affair in which you run from one dull fight to the next, performing the same actions.
By hitting one of the shoulder buttons, you can instantly retreat from combat. Non-boss enemies become unaware of your location and slip out of aggro. Never mind that you're in plain sight, enemies will forget that you're around and continue patrolling the area a la Metal Gear. From there you can recover your health by just sitting there, or crawl directly above an enemy to take them out with a stealth attack. From there you can escape again and start the process anew. You can win most of the battles by escaping and waiting. You're so empowered that there's no great threat. After I got about halfway through this game, most battles felt more like interruptions.
Boss battles are also overly easy. Most of them require the same actions: either mash the attack button or the web button until the enemy is vulnerable, then do a web rush at them. Repeat process until a climactic action sequence plays--one that you'd rather interact with than watch--and the game moves on. The only exception is one battle near the end of the game where you take on three Hunters simultaneous. This was the only scene where the game really came to life. Even though it was yet another mash-web-dash battle, it was actually quite tricky and entertaining.
Outside of the dry combat, there is the open world. Here is our last hope, our glorious bastion in which we search for the elusive challenge. Search as you might, you'll never find it. All of the diversions are as simple and repetitive as the campaign. Some diversions involve rescuing mental patients or ill people, rushing them from one point to another. Nothing abates you in these diversions. You just swing from one point to another many, many times over. You'll compete in "Xtreme" challenges where you have to move a camera while Spider-Man slings around New York, making sure he stays in the shot. Again, no ramp up in difficulty, and all you do is move a camera. Big whoop.
Just about every petty crime and car chase diversion is the same. The former has you beating up thugs trying to mug someone. The only element that differs from one petty crime to the next is the number of thugs. Beyond that, they're all button-mash cake walks. Stopping cars similarly never becomes more difficult. You websling onto a fugitive's car, mash the web button, dodge a shotgun blast, then finish the crooks off. The timing, difficulty, and factors are the same for every car, even when you have to capture multiple cars. If you've captured one car, you've captured them all.
I came away from The Amazing Spider-Man wishing I had played other games in the franchise instead. It's not that the game was incapable of entertaining, but mainly that it lacked anything interesting or challenging. What you have is a passable, yet easy and repetitive 3D brawler trapped inside of a dull open world that stars Spider-Man. It is as any license fan would fear: a ho-hum action game cranked out to hype a movie. Nothing more, nothing less.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.