The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii-U, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
You’d think that the industry would have outgrown terrible movie-licensed games by this point, wouldn’t you? There have been a few sparkling gems amidst the morass of utter bilge – the Riddick games were fantastic, for example – and, yes, there has been a marked improvement over the years in terms of this dross not even making it to market. Condescending shame on Activision then for flying the tattered banner of mediocrity high with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – a game that oozes contractual obligation from every digital pore.
The first signs that all is not right in digital New York City are the bland menus and embarrassingly low-rent graphics that greet you as the game loads. Catch the Big Apple at the right angle and it looks passably next-gen; swing through the streets and the pop-in, flat textures and clipping soon obscures any sheen that may have been applied. Characters are dead-eyed waxworks of their on-screen counterparts, with the same reassurance in quality that a ‘licensed’ figure bought at Poundland inspires. Enemies all look the same – bandanna wearing thugs or non-descript soldiers – and even the arch-nemeses feel rote, with little of the detailed design to be found in the comparable Arkham games. All of this mediocrity means the PlayStation 4 could run this game in standby and yet loading takes forever, the percentage loaded hanging at 96% for just slightly too long.
It might seem unfair to judge the game against Rocksteady’s Arkham series, the current pinnacle of superhero games, but Beenox borrow so much from them you’d think Peter Parker was bitten by a bat instead of a spider. Combat is familiar, attacking with one button and countering telegraphed hits with another, but never feels more than rote and often annoying. Later parts of the game introduce new enemies who require a different approach, for example using your webs to pull them towards you or sonic blasters to daze them, but even this follows the Rocksteady method, albeit poorly.
When Spidey isn’t beating people up he’s trying to be stealthy – an aspect of the game that could have differentiated it from the crowd but instead feels broken thanks to some finicky controls. Fights are bad enough as it’s never quite clear who Spidey will target next; stealth sections require precision control over his movement, something nearly impossible. Although Spider Sense handily reveals each enemy’s cone of vision it’s the method of getting behind them that causes problems given there’s little in the way of a sneak mode. Spidey will tend to run full pelt at enemies and, if you’re lucky enough to get behind them, there’s every chance the game will rip the weapon out from their hands rather than initiate a stealth takedown, given the same button does both jobs. Crawling on walls should be a defining move but proves so disorientating you’re likely going to avoid this as much as possible.
Of course, Spider-Man wouldn’t be Spider-Man without web-swinging through the streets of Manhattan. Spidey’s webs now attach to the surrounding buildings – no more magical grapples in the sky! – and this in turn affects the physics of each swing, pulling you towards the anchor points. It’s a good idea but in practice it only causes the webswinging to feel cumbersome. Worse still, Beenox include a morality meter that paints Spidey as a Hero or Villain, requiring the player to deal with petty crimes constantly in order to keep it on the good side of the law. Should you be painted as a villain, potentially through failing a mission or simply because the story asks it, then cops will attempt to take you down. As the game progresses these cops become an ever more powerful task-force, throwing up all types of barriers that hinder what little fun webswinging could have been. Worse still are the controls on foot – jump and Spidey will blast meters into the sky, attempt to wall run and you’ll meander in totally the wrong direction. Pressing R1 slows time, allowing you to target your next position but it’s hit-and-miss in execution. Sometimes you’ll stop at your intended target, while at others Spidey will decide to blast off in another direction or not even manage to reach the destination in the first place.
These are just the mechanics of the game – the story layered on top of this shaky foundation is cripplingly thin and barely related to the movie. You meet Max Dillon, the main antagonist from the film, just twice – both moments lacking in meaning, drama or character. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a defining enemy in the game, just a short string of tedious missions and a steaming dollop of filler. There is no highpoint to the main story, just disappointment and the continued disgracing of a cultural icon. Every side activity is dull and repetitive; pulling criminals from cars or saving civilians from burning buildings soon becomes a chore, especially when the game fails you despite being inches from safe zones. None of this is interesting enough to hold your attention in the days of GTA V or Batman and little-uns will find it too difficult, lacking in the unfettered joy of discovery. Even the boss fights are reskinned clichés from the Big Book of Boss Moves. That is, they are when the game isn’t cheating; one fight sees your opponent hide, taunting you to find them. ‘Heal’ the game tells you, activated by the D-Pad, so you take the opportunity to patch up. Whoosh! Your opponent comes out of nowhere to kick you each time you try to do so. Turning on Spidey Sense reveals that she literally clips straight through walls to get to you – well done, Beenox, for including a fight that highlights not only poor design choices but bad mechanics too.
Blaming Beenox is easy though, when rather the problem lies with Activision. Everything about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is rushed; nothing is irrevocably broken but the whole package encapsulates the worst of movie tie-ins. Every so often there are nice touches - Stan Lee has more than a cameo as the owner of a rather meta comic store that is really a place to view unlocked bonuses – but these are few and far-between. The game has nothing to do with the film – nobody except Stan is voiced by their onscreen counterpart – and the main story is over and done with in less than seven hours. Even the audience it’s designed for will hate it, thanks to the totally artificial difficulty that stems from the ridiculous task-force and morality meter, purposefully added to impinge on the joy of traversing the open world. This type of game shouldn’t exist in this day and age but brand name alone will bring in the money. Lazy, shoddy and rushed this is a Spider that could do with a good blast of Raid.