An inconsistent web.
Review written by
March 30th, 2013
Licensed games, especially film tie-ins, have always inhabited a tumultuous history. Save for a few diamonds in an otherwise apocalyptic rough, such titles usually belong in an eternal untouchable category, left to wither and die in the cold and lonely catacomb of amateur, rushed, and cheap design.
And why shouldn't they? After Capcom stopped developing Disney SNES games and EA dropped the James Bond license, our illustrious medium has managed to survive perfectly well, even thriving on original IPs and ideas while license games sink further and further into their deep and hollow abyss. No, I never have high expectations for games based on film. Years of cinema production study at NYU paired with a long and passionate relationship with video games has taught me how different the two media can and should be in order to thrive, and games that pull from cinematic themes and experiences are rarely strong enough to stand on their own merits.
So it was with tremendous surprise that, despite a number of perhaps expected shortcomings, The Amazing Spider-Man on Wii U is not the catastrophe it could have been. It is, dare I say, entirely enjoyable and sometimes exuberantly thrilling. Too bad the game's sharpest thrills come inconsistently, or buried behind overly drawn out sequences that fail to capture the joy and might of wielding such powers. But nonetheless, the game is fun and has some great ideas.
It should be noted that I have not seen the specific Spiderman film on which this game is based. In fact, I've never seen any Spiderman films, or read any of the comics. If you're looking for a review exposing the game's legitimacy based on matters of lore or accuracy, my words will speak no guidance. But if honest gameplay and content evaluation is what you seek, I hope I can be of service.
Set in what is clearly a heavily fictionalized New York, The Amazing Spiderman attempts to draw the player into a world of admittedly light chaos. Despite roaming mutants and near Reaper-sized robots, society seems to be functioning rather well. Of course, this universe bathes in a bright neon tone that reflects the comic on which it's loosely based. Peter Parker is a snarky, sarcastic hero at his best and the conflict isn't terribly serious, or at least the game's attitude towards its conflict isn't.
What this means is that you won't be weighed down by an overall atmosphere of dread and darkness like you are in, say, Infamous or the Arkham games, which possess far more sinister auras to accompany their open worlds. And yes, just like in the well-received Spiderman 2 game back in the previous generation, this game offers you an open, web-slinging playground to roam about and explore, complete with the occasional side mission and a near constant stream of collectible comic book pages.
Part of me wants to commend the open city for being the most legitimately enthralling element to the experience. Swinging from building to building and slowing down time is indeed a thrill, and I could happily spend hours searching for the scattered comic book pages. However, because you constantly soar over the city for just about every mission and minute of exploration, the city feels like a disconnected backdrop, instead of an active element or characters, like the cities in Grand Theft Auto or Assassin's Creed are. Generally, street exploration is extremely bland really shows that beyond the skyline there isn't much detailed work done to flesh out and characterize Manhattan.
As for the missions themselves, combat with human and mutant enemies is fun but simple. While you will certainly feel powerful thrusting enemies around and gluing them to the floor and ceiling with Spiderman's web does make for an adequate play experience, there really isn't much complexity to the combat beyond mashing Y and hitting X when an enemy lights up (alerting you to their attack). When hordes of enemies gang up on you, things can start to feel fairly hectic until you remember that at any time a button can send you retreating, out of both harms reach and their enemies' lines of sight. Both of these issues rob the combat of any meaningful challenge, and since Spiderman can cling to and crawl around any surface, its often too easy to stealth attack, retreat, and repeat the process until all the bad guys are down.
Unfortunately, the missions suffer further by feeling padded down with unnecessary length, especially when in interior locations. Outside of the sewers and buildings, however, missions get a whole lot more fun. A good example of this comes fairly early in the storyline when a pair of flying robots emerge to take Spiderman down, and you have to swing around and attack them. Despite only giving you short windows in which to attack, this battle was fresh and exhilarating, which only contrasts how tame and repetitive the other missions can be. It's a shame, because some of the action is truly great, it's just too sparse. I could name a handful of standout moments, but they ultimately come as a minority.
Presentation-wise, the game suffers a bit from likely having a low budget. Spiderman himself glows with a beautiful sheen and the city has bright shades and blooming light, and those two elements do come alive with the Wii U's hardware. However, just about everything else, from side character animation to interior level design lacks polish, and it certainly won't be the prettiest thing to play on your shiny Wii U. A few interesting ideas are played with, such as a deteriorating suit that takes visible wear the more damage you've taken (although that was something featured in Arkham Asylum, now that I think about it).
Speaking of Wii U, this ultimate edition of the game offers a number of improvements over the standard versions released on other consoles back in June. Namely, GamePad support allows for the full game to be played away from the TV, and the added DLC, which allows you to play some new challenges, try your hand as some of the villains, and even lets you control a superhero form of Stan Lee, generously comes on the disk. The Wii U version is also cheaper than the other versions were initially, priced at $40. All in all, I'd say this is the one to get, as the controls feel natural on the GamePad.
The sound design has noticeable quality but it has to be clarified that the actors from the film are not featured as voice actors. Luckily, Sam Riegel, who may be most notable for having played Teddie in the Persona series since Persona 4 Arena, does an adequate job of giving the character personality. But no sounds or tracks or voices are likely to impress.
Overall, The Amazing Spiderman is fun. Yes, it has noticeable presentation flaws and the action can be drawn out and repetitive. But the city grants the game a healthy dose of thrill and those nostalgic of Spiderman 2 will likely have a fantastic time roaming Manhattan and solving the ever-present problems of citizens. With license games, you could certainly do a lot worse.
Note that this review copy was provided by Activision for the purposes of this review. No additional gifts or bonuses were provided.
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