There is a popular saying, ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ that was coined to help those who had their likeness copied by others find a sense of humility. It’s an adage that is often said when we see people dress like their favourite movie star, singer or their favourite influential person. In the world of video games however, imitation is often frowned upon. A developer lifting and using gameplay elements and mechanics found in one game and replicating them in their own game could see backlash from the gaming community, describing them as devoid of any creative thought or original idea. In a very general sense this is what Beenox, developers of the latest Spider-Man video game, The Amazing Spider-Man, have done. On face value the team have seemingly lifted and re-used Rocksteady’s Batman ‘Arkham’ games.
For all that it is, The Amazing Spider-Man game is its own game. Never-mind that the combat plays incredibly similar, or that the photography side missions are a little too much like finding the Riddler Trophies or that Spidey’s suit becomes visibly torn and worn out during the course of a mission. When swinging through the streets of New York, soaring at the heights of skyscrapers, there is no doubt you are playing as Spider-Man. The game simply wears its obvious influences (and heart) on its sleeve.
The Amazing Spider-Man is a movie tie-in game. And while most movie tie-in games attempt to follow its films respective narrative, often in a very disjointed fashion, The Amazing Spider-Man takes place after the film, serving as a type of epilogue. Needless to say if you’re wanting to play the game and haven’t seen the film, it’s safe to say the end will be completely ruined within minutes of starting the game (so out of respect, I won’t get too much into the actual plot points, on both accounts).
For the most part I was excited to play the game because of this, since I’m not a fan of ‘playing through’ a movie I’ve just sat two or so hours through. I’d imagined Beenox were going to explore the newly established universe and flesh out some peripheral plot elements left unexplored in the film. I was extremely let down though when I came to realize the games plot follows what feels like a rather tacked on ‘fourth’ act for the film. The overall threat present in the movie itself is at the center of the games narrative, offering nothing new. It merely adds another series of events for Spider-Man to follow.
That’s not to say there aren’t any enjoyable moments throughout the story. It tends to pick up a little (though not much) when you cross paths with a few well established villains from Spidey’s rouges gallery, albeit re-imagined in the movies more ‘realistic’ universe. Sadly these moments are totally undermined by unimaginative boss fights, and the characters are so devoid of their respective personalities that only the most seasoned or core Spider fan will say, ‘oh, cool they featured this villain,’.
In past Spider-Man games, boss fights are an event that plug into the ‘comic book’ vibe that sits really well with the whole franchise. However, this isn’t the case here as most boss fights are simply just repetition of the same formula. When the game does break itself away from mediocrity it does so with one part good and two parts bad. During one standout boss fight mid-way through the game, you need to coax a particular villain into charging you only to avoid him long enough to create a web between two pillars, which allows you to ‘catch’ him. What sets this boss encounter apart from earlier ones is its using the enemies’ unique ability against itself, and combining different gameplay elements.
Much like with the rest of the game, moments of ingenuity, such as this boss fight, start to fall apart due to the games incredibly loose and sometimes uncontrollable camera. Trying to align yourself to trigger gameplay moments, such as casting a web to trap the aforementioned boss character, or move the camera around so you can easily see your enemies is a chore. You’ll forcibly try to move it, only to have it swing back to where it was, resulting in some frustratingly cheap deaths.
The combat system doesn’t help either. It’s relatively simple in design, attacking primarily with the X button, jumping with A, dodging with Y and performing special/heavy attacks with B if you build up enough of a combo multiplier. If you’ve played either Batman Arkham games you’ll feel at home with the combat in Amazing Spider-Man, despite it being a little underdeveloped. While you can certainly argue that gameplay in the Arkham games is just flashy button mashing, it’s certainly more than that. Enemies will crowd around you and come at you strategically, and the player will need to tap the buttons carefully, always acutely aware of someone coming up from behind in which case you are given just enough time to counter the attack.
Combat in The Amazing Spider-Man is a much more undefined version of this. For the most part it is exactly the same in terms of how it plays but feels sloppy due to having too much to contend to at once. Different variations of enemies will flock around you, each requiring a different tactic to defeat, but balancing all of the games different gameplay hooks can cause you to get lost in all of the chaos. For example certain enemies require you to web-shoot them so to disengage their force field, all the while dodging attacks from other enemies. This is all well and good but when you combine the finicky camera with the quick paced, almost rushed action and its recipe for disaster.
While borrowing a lot, Amazing Spider-Man does bring some unique gameplay elements to the table, such as Web Rush mode. During the game you can activate it by hitting the right shoulder button and the camera will shift to a first-person perspective, with time slowing down dramatically. Web Rush mode allows you to move around the environment by selecting the spot you want to jump/leap to. It also allows you to trigger unique gameplay mechanics, such as the aforementioned casting a web between two pillars, or using it to ‘web-strike’ enemies from walls or ceilings.
Another aspect I like, that actually compliments the games chaotic and at times flustering combat, is the ability to ‘web’ retreat at any given time. At any point in the game, be it swinging through New York or fighting a group of enemies, you can tap the left shoulder button to retreat to the closest wall/ceiling. This feature is incredibly helpful when you get overwhelmed, enabling you to retreat from battle and plan your next attack, be it webbing foes up preventing them from attacking, or web-striking and retreating over and over to tire enemies out.
For all the flack I give the game about its story or how the combat works, I’ve nothing but praise when it comes to swinging through the game’s New York City. It’s been a couple of years since this free-roaming element has featured in a Spidey game, and I’m glad to see it back with a vengeance. Beenox have obviously taken care to make it an overly enjoyable experience and you can literally spend hours just webbing through the city, even if camera issues is cause for some frustration. And just on the camera, it is pulled in to be tighter on Spidey than before. It can be jarring at first to see the camera pulled in so close; especially if you have fond memories of playing Spider-Man 2 on PS2/Xbox, but I assure you it works well and creates a very ‘cinematic’ experience.
Another element of past Spidey games which is back in full force are collectables and side missions, which there are plenty. At any given time your map can be chock full of little icons indicating various different mini-games or side missions, including breaking up a mugging, subduing criminals attempting to escape police by car and performing speed runs to collect flares before time is up. The sheer amount of these additional extras can be exhaustive, add to that, 700 comic books scattered around the map to collect and those who like to achieve 100% on open world games will certainly be hard pressed.
The city itself looks great, despite some textures looking a little rough. The finer details in the game aren’t the best but when you’re flinging through the air as Spider-Man, the world rushing past, you don’t really take much notice. I think there’s a heavy reliance on a blur effect to make everything blend a little nicer when you are in the swing of things (excuse the pun, but I couldn’t resist) so you don’t notice as much. As for the character models, well, they’re not all that good, with Spider-Man himself being the exception. Then again I’m not expecting a Spider-Man game to be a visual masterpiece.
As far as movie tie in’s go, The Amazing Spider-Man is one of the better ones. It attempts to break the mould by opting for a completely original story rather than simply following the story beats set out by its film counterpart. Sadly the actors from the film don’t lend their chops to the game, but the roles are filled with some decent voice acting. Where it falters however, is how the story feels too much like a tacked on ‘fourth act’. Despite that, the game does feel like a fully realized game on its own merits. Developer Beenox plays around within the new movie universe and brings in some villains that may never get featured in the films, as well as hint at a possible upcoming villain for the inventible sequel.
It’s a little disappointing that the game does try so hard to replicate Rocksteady’s Batman games, even if it does bring a few of its own unique gameplay mechanics to the table. This shouldn’t deter people at all, The Amazing Spider-Man is a downright fun game to play, and no doubt web-heads will find plenty to enjoy. I recommend it, if only for the thrill of web-slinging once again through New York City.