Twelve years ago, Spider-Man 2 rewrote the rules for comic book- and comic book movie-inspired games by having our friendly, neighborhood wall-crawler fight crime in wide-open New York City. Now Spidey again has the run of the place in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which Beenox has made for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, and WiiU.
So why does it feel like both a step backwards and a step in the wrong direction?
Set two years after the events of the previous game (and movie), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has our hero trying to take down some street gangs who are fighting for control of Manhattan. But while this game’s plot overlaps with the new movie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s story actually set up as more of a sequel to the 2012 Amazing Spider-Man game.
It’s just too bad it doesn’t do what most video game sequels do, and build upon the previous game’s accomplishments while trying to fix its mistakes. Or at least not make them again. Granted, while it wasn’t the best Spider-Man game, The Amazing Spider-Man was still solid, and got a number of things right. But The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has flaws that are so basic, so fundamental, that it doesn’t just feel older than the previous game, it feels older than all of the Spidey games that have come out over the last dozen years.
Take the combat, which is usually fluid and full of button mash-ony goodness, but here feels stunted and sluggish. While Spidey used to beat the crap out of crowds of bad guys like he was Batman in Arkham City, here he struggles to keep up with my thumbs (though it did get a little better as the game progressed).
Similarly, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also disappoints when it comes to its bland visuals. Sure, everything runs smoothly, I never saw any instances of things slowing to a crawl, even when I was smacking multiple bad guys. But it’s so lacking in detail that the PlayStation 4 version looks more like a PS3 game…and even then not a good one.
Heck, even the lengthy load times make this feel like a twelve-year-old game.
Even when it tries something new, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fails to pull it off well. For instance, they’ve added some stealth mechanics, which lets you sneak up behind bad guys and take them out without their buddies being any the wiser. But while this mechanic works well, it ends up being rather pointless because most of the aforementioned bad guys are so dumb and such bad shots that even if they see you coming, they won’t hurt you much before you get close enough to smack them across the face. So instead of putting Spider-Man in situations where, like Batman in the Arkham games, you have to use stealth or you’ll die, Spidey can just treat these moments like any other fight in the game.
Then there’s the pointless change to how Spidey gets around. Unlike previous games, where you used one button to effortless swing from skyscraper to skyscraper — or non-existent skyscraper to non-existent skyscraper, as the case may be — here you use the left and right triggers to shoot webs from Spidey’s left and right wrists.
The thing is, aside from making you go slightly faster — and even then, only when you do it just right — there’s no real reason to use the two button approach. Sure, it doesn’t take long to acclimate, and it’s not like Spidey will fall down and go boom if you go LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, LEFT, LEFT, or something. But why did they bother changing a mechanic that already worked really well? As someone smarter than me once said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Similarly pointless are the Mass Effect-like conversations Spidey has on occasion. Except that while Mass Effect made it seem like what you said, and in what order you said it, was important, here it just seems like it doesn’t really matter because you’re not making a choice. You can say one of the things, two of them, all of them, or none, and say them in any order, the end result is still the same. Which just makes this aspect feel needlessly tacked on
Sadly, the same can also be said for many of the side missions and other things you can do around the city. While they do give you experience points, which you can use to upgrade certain skills, and they make you look better in the eyes of Manhattan’s citizens, they’re not particularly varied, usually play out the same, and most feel like pointless busy work.
It also doesn’t help that there’s far fewer of these secondary missions (save for the three hundred comic books you have to collect). While previous Spider-Man games had dozens of side quests at any given time, the map in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 typically only has a handful at any given time. Which is fitting since the city seems empty as well. There are so few pedestrians and cars that it’s like this game is set on a summer weekend when there’s also a religious holiday and eight other things that would get New Yorkers out of town. Which just makes this feel like it’s set in Generic City #421, not The Big Apple.
A lot of this scaling back makes me think that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is meant for people who are fans of the film and the character, but not games or even the Spider-man comics. Which would make sense, given its movie ties, were it not that most of the previous Spider-Man games were aimed at fans of the film and the character as well as games and comics.
Consider the aforementioned upgrade system. While I applaud Beenox for making the menu easy to understand, they could’ve added more depth to the selections. Instead, there’s just a linear path where you improve only the most basic of skills. The whole game just seems…simple.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the fact that they botched the reference to the old Spider-Man theme song.
But the big problem with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that it’s dull. The story is uninspired, the fights are rote, the artificial intelligence of the enemies doesn’t seem to function well, Spidey’s quips aren’t funny and repeat way too often, and the whole thing seems so dumbed down that after playing the game for less than twenty minutes I was already wondering if there was anything good on TV.
Often times, at the end of a fight, Spider-Man will taunt his fallen enemies by saying, “I almost just died just then…of boredom.” After playing The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I know exactly how he feels.