Summer is here and we all know what this means...you guessed it, blockbuster movies and poor game tie-ins. Eager not to disappoint, our good friends at Activision bring us The Amazing Spider-Man and based on past form you shouldn’t expect much; oddly though it’s actually quite fun (well...some of it is).
There is clearly an awful lot of love at Beenox for Rocksteady's Batman series as this new Spiderman liberally borrows almost every aspect of those titles. The open world sandbox containing side missions, random events and collectibles, coupled with a main plot that focuses the player (always indoors) on the campaign missions. The combat, right down to the ‘sense’ animation above the head when a counter move is a possibility is taken in its entirety from the Rocksteady franchise. Some would say this isn’t entirely a bad thing if done right, but then that's the key, the Batman titles are so good, so polished and so damn borderline perfect that unless you nail it your game will come off as a cheap knock off.
So the scene is set, it’s new Spider-Man with new combat, new side missions, a ten hour plus campaign, new swinging mechanic and a nice little web rush mode that allows you to slow time while you pick a destination, all based on the solid award winning Batman template - fingers crossed then everyone...
The core plot of The Amazing Spider-Man follows directly on from the ending of the new movie. Literally the game begins just after the new movie ends and as a result if you haven’t seen the movie yet in the cinema, or like some you are waiting for the Blu-Ray (damn you) then the first ten minutes will completely spoil the key plot points for you. Without spoiling anything here, it’s a fair assumption that some bad things are going down and Spider-Man is ideally placed to sort them out, cue standard mission structure with little or no variation. The story itself splutters along pushing you forward from mission to mission but frankly it’s tough to really care as to why you are beating up some lizard men in an underground sewer, just enjoy the fact that you can punch them in the face, throw them in the air and then kick them before they land.
Which leads us nicely onto the combat and thus highlighting just how literally they tried to copy the Batman formula. Combat is essentially two key buttons, attack and counterattack, with a third ‘get me the hell out of here’ button option just in case things get a little out of hand. The latter is basically a big get out of jail free card and an option which you may call upon on maybe a handful of occasions throughout the game. It’s obvious to see why it is there as it makes the big battles more accessible and less of a challenge but it pretty much removes what little challenge was there in the first place. The actual hand to hand stuff is button mashing at its finest, spam a button enough times and bad things happen to people - sure there are combos but who cares when simply hammering a single button will get the job done, and have some cool OTT animations thrown in to boot. If you are really adventurous you can utilise a fourth button option (easy now) to strike targets from a distance. Worth noting that Batman hasn’t been mentioned for a few sentences so here we go again, takedowns and more importantly stealth takedowns are a core part of the experience - these involve you sneaking high above the bad guys, amazingly on strategically placed overhangs (beams usually) allowing you to wait until an enemy passes under, swoop down, pick them up and hang them from the ceiling. Sound familiar?
Overall the combat isn’t terrible, it’s just a bit bland and does not require any skill at all. The boss battles require a fair bit of skill but not fighting the bosses, fighting the camera. Some boss battles see you getting spammed continuously meaning you need to be constantly on the move, much easier said than down with the camera frantically swooping and re-adjusting around you as you move.
As you rank up you are treated to a variety of new moves along with some power improvements, very few of which you will really care about and you probably will not see much of a difference in the way in which you play the rest of the game. It’s nice to rank up, it’s lovely to add a new perk but the impact on your playthrough is quite limited, thus making the whole progression system a tad dull. The perks themselves are all standard fare which add very little to the experience, they add the odd move which will aid you on a higher difficulty but are really not something to strive for and there isn’t that “woo hoo I’ve levelled up” feeling.
Collectibles are a fairly consistent element of modern action games and not to be outdone they are present here too. Collectibles can be a worthy addition to a game, they can add a little bit of background story and help flesh the world out a little. Here they go one further and piecing them together actually rewards the player with actual exclusive in game comic books, surely a first for a game of this nature. Awesome right? Well it would be if they weren’t absolutely everywhere, constantly popping up as you swoop around giving you the nagging feeling early on as you want to ignore them but you just can’t. Worth noting that there are seven hundred within the game (yep not a misprint) so if you are the sort of gamer who has to collect them all then you really do need to commit to this. Note that unlike other titles in the genre there isn’t a nice perk you can unlock to reveal them all here so you will be searching for some time.
On the subject of swooping, easily the best and most fun element of the game is the web swinging and the newly introduced ‘web rush’ mode. There literally is nothing better in the game than swooping around, albeit miraculously as your web often doesn’t appear to be attached to anything except possibly a cloud. One of the longest side missions sees you picking up infected citizens and returning them to makeshift hospitals for treatment, on the face of it quite dull, but made a joy thanks to the swinging and swooping around the city. The main campaign missions and a fair percentage of the side missions take place indoors, in contained environments, this is a place where these wonderful swinging mechanics simply don’t fit, leaving you (at times) dizzy from the jumpy camera. As ever the biggest risk to you within the game is the camera, not the enemies and this is all the more evident indoors.
From a visual perspective it’s all quite serviceable if not spectacular; the city is nicely populated but lacks a certain visual flair - it’s all a tad bland, lacking a level of detail which would catapult the game from run of the mill cash in to steller title. That said it’s far from terrible and in parts, specifically epic boss battles, it does raise its game slightly. The audio is much the same, although repetition becomes a major annoyance on the side missions - sadly when asked to rescue a lot of sick city dwellers you are treated to one or two pieces of dialogue, mildly amusing the first few times, tedious and taking you out of the world you are trying to enjoy the twentieth time. Again though, it’s not horrible it just arguably could have used a bit more time and attention.
The Amazing Spider-Man is far from perfect mainly as it is trying so desperately to emulate the things that made Arkham Asylum/City utterly fantastic and it simply isn’t as good in any department - those are phenomenal games, expertly crafted and to be fair have set the bar very very high. It’s a shame that the game doesn’t excel at anything it attempts but that said there are some moments of genuine fun to be found and it is by no means terrible. The new web swinging is delightful and the new web rush mechanic makes the control over our hero both easy and fun. These moments of delight are unfortunately rare and overshadowed throughout by a consistent feeling that things have been dumbed down, leaving a bland, by the numbers summer blockbuster tie-in which reached for the stars (Batman) and fell quite some way short, closer to what is expected from such releases.