"An Uneven Web"
After finishing up my playthrough of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for this review, I took a look at the GameDynamo review of the first TASM game, which I hadn’t played, and took note of the negative aspects mentioned: combat and stealth mechanics that get repetitive, poor enemy AI, blandly simple boss battles, a rather lifeless virtual Manhattan, and a tonal inconsistency between a dramatic plot and more traditional, quippy Spidey lightheartedness. “Egads,” thought I, “this matches up with the sequel perfectly.”
Not to say that TASM 2 is a carbon copy of TASM 1, as it does introduce some new ideas (depending on your definition) to shake things up, but with their second attempt to capitalize on a new Spidey movie, Activision and Beenox continue to make the same mistakes along with some new ones. This is even more frustrating considering what was good in the first game has been improved in the second.
By good I mean the simple act of getting around the concrete jungle of Manhattan. A number of tweaks to the webswinging mechanic, including the use of the trigger buttons to control each of Spider-Man’s hands and the fact that webs have to actually attach to an object, bring a real sense of believability and make navigating the city streets rather enjoyable. The Web Rush mechanic from the first game helps a lot too, as the precision webslinging it provides means even rooftops without any tall structures nearby can be maneuvered over with speedy ease.
At its best, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 lets you enjoy the freedom of exploring the city: swinging over moving vehicles at high speed, running up the walls of a skyscraper and then vaulting off the side to enjoy the thrill of freefalling, and keeping an eye out for collectible comic books and Spidey suits hidden in underground thug hideouts. This is the game at its most inspired and fun, but eventually everything else comes in and starts tossing wrenches into the gears.
The combat and stealth sequences fare best among the game’s problem areas. Though the Batman: Arkham inspiration is obvious, the counter-heavy “one-vs-many” combat finds fun uses for Spidey’s webs between all the punches and kicks, whether they be immobilizing enemies, pulling the weapons out of their hands, or using Web Rush to close the distance between Spidey and a thug. Moreover, these skills can be upgraded to provide extra perks in battle. It’s just frustrating that TASM 2’s combat is wasted on uninteresting boss fights and dull-as-grey-paint enemies that are only a real challenge when they come en masse. Stealth takedowns lend some variety as well as a stylish way to defeat goons fast, but after a few “Sneak into this enemy hideout and avoid detection OR FAIL” side missions they become quite tedious.
Then there’s the new reputation system, which comes in and bludgeons you on the web-laced head with small timed side-missions that pop up all over virtual Manhattan. These range from disposing bombs and rescuing hostages to fighting off thugs and carrying injured people to hospitals, and their simple and unvarying nature quickly make them a chore to deal with. But by ignoring them, Spidey’s rep quickly falls from “Hero” to “Menace”, at which point members of a high-tech task force take to the streets to hunt him down. It’s not fun, it’s just overbearing, and it makes it hard to focus on The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s story. There are few things more annoying than when the plot tells you, “Oh no, some heavily-armed thugs are about to attack a fancy gathering of rich people! DRAMA! GRAVITAS! Get swinging, hero!” only to have the need to keep your reputation up coerce you into beating down a group of petty crooks while Spider-Man spouts off the same limp wisecracks over and over again.
Just as well, ultimately, as the story isn’t much to invest in anyway. A rather standard comic book tale that sees Spider-Man try to get to the bottom of an attempt to take over New York City’s criminal underworld, the story throws Spidey (and, sometimes, Peter Parker in dull segments that mostly involve engaging in dull conversations to move the plot forward) from one setpiece to another, confronting classic Spidey villains like Kraven the Hunter, the Kingpin, and Electro in the process. For the most part, it’s a serviceable means to drive gameplay forward, but on its own the story isn’t much to draw you in. And when you have half-a-dozen side-missions vying for your attention and threatening to lower your reputation at any given moment, it can be hard to keep track of how Plot Point A affects Plot Point B.
The Amazing Spider-Man had plenty of problems, and that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 not only fails to address those problems, but creates some new ones with its half-baked morality system, is a disappointment. But for those flubs, the sheer fun of swinging around Manhattan and wailing on bad guys (in spite of their easiness) keep the gameplay engaging if not noteworthy. Let’s hope that by the time the next TASM movie comes out, Activision and Beenox will have ironed out the kinks in the formula to create a Spider-Man tie-in that is truly amazing.
GameDynamo's Score for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (X360)
A writer, journalist, and aspiring storyteller, Peter Grimm has been gaming since the days of the Nintendo 64, and reporting on the goings-on in the World of Gaming since late 2011. His base of writing operations is located within the void between Here and There, or so he would have you think.
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