Two problems seem inescapable for Spider-Man games: 1) the web swinging is never going to be as fun as with Treyarch’s 2004 Spider-Man 2, and 2) it’s a superhero game, which means you have the superhero conundrum. This conundrum that I may have come up with just now is an issue with all superhero games in that, well, you’re a superhero. What fun is it to be the best without any challenge?
Of course, every Marvel and DC character has met his equal before and cooking up an original story or remixing some old ones that include said contemporaries isn’t too impeding. The challenge, then, is what do you do when you’re not fighting these proportionally powered foes? You can’t have a bunch of superpowered henchmen because that would defeat the purpose of having a main villain; you can’t just keep fighting the primary antagonist over and over again because holy crap would that get boring; and you can’t power down the hero because then you lose some of the main identifying attributes of the character.
There are, obviously, exceptions to all that (e.g. autonomous Iron Man suits, gadgetless Batman, etc.), but by and large, those problems kind of force your hand when you make a superhero video game.
The good news is that The Amazing Spider-Man comes close to overcoming these problems. The bad news is that The Amazing Spider-Man is sooo close to totally overcoming these problems.
Let’s start with the feel of being Spidey. For the first time since 2007, we return to a fully open and explorable (pseudo) Manhattan, and for the first time since 2008, we return to web swinging that’s fun. It can essentially be boiled down to holding down the right trigger to automatically shoot out a web, but it’s still unbelievably exhilarating to run to the top of a building, jump off the edge, and sling your way to safety just before you splatter all over the sidewalk below.
And while you are still given some swinging controls in regards to contorting physics to your will for midair redirects and the like, it’s still not the same amount as freedom as in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows or Spider-Man 2. Your webs don’t actually attach to anything in the physical world and instead just shoot out ambiguously into the air and rope around, I dunno, hopes and dreams? Bald eagles flying by? You definitely lose that sense of control and actually being Spider-Man, but given how bad the past few games represented our webbed hero, I’ll take it.
In a concession of losing that skill-based swinging, developers Beenox (the developers, actually, of the last two Spider-Man video games) have included something called Web Rush wherein you point Spidey in a direction (optionally going into a slowmo version of the utility), hit a button, and the game figures out the best way to get you there. It’s totally non-participatory, but if this means, running along the top of a bus, slingshotting yourself over a building, or swan-diving 30 stories to the ground before saving yourself with a web spritz, it just happens, and usually the most dramatic of ways possible.
And boy does this game know how to be dramatic. You’ll often find yourself at the eye-popping end of some rather elaborate camera swoops and swings, not only as Spider-Man shoots himself around the city but also during combat. Every flip and kick has a chance of getting some additional cinematic flourish and it really does add something to the otherwise trite fighting mechanics.
That’s not to say, however, that it isn’t satisfying, so long as you force yourself into larger fistfights. You can stealth around and sneak attack guards from the ceiling, pinning them down with your web, but that becomes fairly monotonous fairly quickly. Nothing, however, stops your from doing that except the impending sense of boredom, but the payoff is a fairly engaging fighting system. It’s what you might describe as a simplified Arkham system where you can just go to town on dudes with your attacks and every once in a while you’ll get an alert to dodge or counter.
It’s so similar, in fact, that you’ll eventually come across a shielded enemy that you’ll have to vault over to attack from behind. You even get XP commensurate with the number of enemies you defeat and the highest continuous combo you reached during the scuffle. The problem, though, is that you lose a lot of the offensive options that you gain with Batman’s gadgets. Spider-Man basically has punches, kicks, and various acrobatic kick-punch-flips that usually culminate in a takedown finale. It’s definitely fun just with the dodging, countering, and attacking (and additional contextual bits of combat for throwing crates and Web Rushing things or yourself into enemies), but it eventually feels a bit shallow.
The same can actually be said about the story in general. While in general, it’s a good tale of woe and whatnot, nothing is particularly revolutionary. You get some nice nods to some specific comic elements and characters, but it’s nothing you couldn’t have lived without. I don’t want to say anymore because there are a couple of times when you feel some significant impetus, but the story is definitely not the big pull here.
It’s also unfortunately laced a bit with spoilers in regards to the accompanying Marc Webb film of the same name (since the game takes place directly after the movie), so maybe hold off on playing this if you’re interested in watching the movie.
And while the voice acting is pretty darn good despite lacking any of the movie’s acting talent, the game has some incredibly repetitive quip dialogue. I know this is hurting him more than it hurts you, Spider-Man; you’re freaking Spider-Man. You don’t have to tell me that every single time I stomp on a dude’s head.
Canned animations also get repeated far too often. While the flips and dips you do while swinging around the city, you’ll see Spidey do the same pirouette at least 400 times by the time you finish the game. It gets a bit worse when Spider-Man locks into the same backwards jump kick four or five times in a row. It looks cool the first time, but when you see it back to back (to back to back to back), it just looks like Spider-Man trying to be Donkey-Man.
So while I can’t fully recommend that you play The Amazing Spider-Man right away, I can at least say with full confidence that you should play it eventually. The signs of life shown, while not enough to say that Spider-Man has roused from his video game coma, do point towards a playable recovery. So many things are headed in the right direction (traversal, combat, and presentation), but none of it is where it needs to be just yet. This third time wasn’t quite the home run we were all hoping for, but I’m hoping Beenox gets one more shot at the Wallcrawler. After this triple, I think they’ve earned it.