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The Amazing Spider-Man Review
Activision and Beenox have been cranking games out under the Spider-Man license for several years now, and they've all been fairly mediocre. That questionable track record, coupled with the fact that it's based on an upcoming film, might be enough to make you question The Amazing Spider-Man. It's a fair enough assumption; movie-based games have always had a reputation for being kind of lousy, and the developer's track record isn't the cleanest. That's why The Amazing Spider-Man comes as such a pleasant surprise. A return to form in many ways for the web-head, Amazing still isn't exactly, well, amazing, but it's the best game that Spidey's had in years and should serve as a great companion piece to the film.
Before you dive into this game, you should be aware that Beenox has positioned this as a sequel to the upcoming film, which is set to release in theaters this upcoming Tuesday. As such, there are actually spoilers for the movie in the opening hours of this game. And we're not talking stricly mild stuff, either. A death from the film is spoiled early on, as well as the fate of the main antagonist, The Lizard. Fans of the comics shouldn't exactly be shocked by any of these revelations (spoiler alert: The good guy wins!) but those looking to go into the film with a blank slate will want to steer clear of this game before seeing the movie.
That mild caveat aside, the story is about as strong as you could expect from a Spider-Man game. The cast of villains has, as so often is the case, been expanded from the world of the film, although you won't find yourself squaring off against quite as many niche characters as you did in, say, Web of Shadows. Rather than shoving a ton of villains down your throat during the opening hours, the game takes its time in establishing many of the antagonists just as the films typically do. This means that, with the exception of a Rhino battle early on in the game, you'll mostly be doing battle against sentry robots and mutants, a plague of which has been unleashed upon Manhattan. As the plague worsens and the sentry bots attack in full force, the story will open up a little and reveal some more truly formidable foes. It's a more measured tale than is told in most Spider-Man games, and it's all the better because of it.
The story will have you investigating locations ranging from Oscorp to the sewers, and everywhere in between. The story missions play out in instanced levels, many of which are quite large, but they are stitched together by an open world Manhattan that's open for exploration as soon as you boot the game up. The wall crawler hasn't been unleashed in an open world environment since 2008's Web of Shadows, and although Beenox's take on web swinging in the open world is a little less tactile than it has been in the past, the experience holds up to our fond memories of past Spider-Man games surprisingly well otherwise. It's just a shame that the developer felt the need to change how web swinging works; instead of alternating pressing the left and right shoulder buttons like in past games, you now simply hold down the right trigger while aiming Spidey forward. It's a little too automated for our tastes, but it's still more fun to guide Spider-Man around than most video game protagonists.
The city of Manhattan isn't exactly the sprawling playground that New York City and its various boroughs were in other games, but Beenox makes it feel deceptively large thanks to an array of side missions and collectibles. The collectibles in particular are a formidable undertaking, with a total of 700 comic books scattered about Manhattan. The comic books are just the beginning, though, as you'll end up collecting insane asylum escapees and infected patients as well. Some of these collectibles will be perched waiting for you on rooftops and street corners, while others will actually be flying around the city, testing your reflexes as much as your observational skills. There's a certain free-form fun to be had by simply zipping around the city grabbing all of the collectibles you can see.
The side missions do a decent enough job of fleshing out the world, but none of them go above and beyond the call of duty, either. You'll run into more muggings and fleeing criminals as you swing around Manhattan than you'll care to deal with. After the first few times, jumping onto a fleeing car and spattering its windshield with webbing as you dodge gunfire starts to lose its flair. Beating up on criminals is a great way to earn extra experience with which to purchase new moves and powers, and it serves to flesh out the open world in case you get bored of collecting or doing the longer missions, but aside from these mechanical functions the side missions serve little purpose in the grand scheme of things.
Luckily, the story-based missions pick up a lot of the slack left by the side content. When you choose to tackle one of these large undertakings, you will find yourself besieged by angry robots, mutants, and even human soldiers from all sides in often-chaotic, always-sylish combat. Fisticuffs in The Amazing Spider-Man are quite reminiscent of those in Rocksteady's Arkham games, but hey, if you're going to crib from somewhere, crib from the masters of the genre, right? A similar timing-based dodging and countering system makes up the crux of the combat, with well-timed dodges allowing you to hit and stun enemies before pulling off dynamic finishing moves. Certain enemies, such as the sentry drones, require a slightly different take on the dodge-and-punch strategy, which serves to shake things up just enough that the combat, like Spider-Man himself, remains dynamic.
While Spider-Man lacks the gadgets of someone like Batman, the game makes up for it by introducing the new Web Rush mode. Activated by holding down the right bumper, Web Rush allows Spider-Man to search the environment for new vantage points or weapons. While navigating the environment, it can be useful for finding hidden objects or getting to a certain location without going through the trouble of swinging. I found it to be much more useful in combat, though, where I would use it to target environmental hazards before unleashing them on my enemies. Smashing foes beneath filing cabinets, crates, and explosive barrels never ceased to be amusing.
Web Rush is accompanied by the Web Retreat maneuver, which is assigned to the left bumper. This function is handy in the game's new stealth-based encounters, which see Spider-Man crawling around walls and ceilings in search of the perfect vantage point from which to sneakily string up some enemies. The stealth gameplay is highly reminiscent of the Noir Spider-Man levels in Shattered Dimensions, but without the frustrating catch of instant failure if caught. Instead, when spotted, you can either use Web Retreat to zip to the nearest patch of shadow, or use Web Rush to fly like a bullet from the ceiling and begin combat. It's a very player-driven combat system in that you are very rarely forced to choose between stealth or direct combat.
Both forms of combat are supported by great animations that belie the simple inputs required to execute them. Even the simple punch, punch, punch combo typically ends in a flashy flourish that sends enemies flying through the air before coming crashing to the ground. A few of the animations outside of combat look a little unfinished, perhaps as a result of Beenox having to meet the film's release date, with the crawling animation used when traversing ventilation systems looking particularly rushed. During combat and traversal, though, Spider-Man has never looked better. This goes for the technical kick behind the game as well. Spider-Man and his city are both rendered in crisp detail that's impressive for an open-world licensed product such as this. It won't blow your mind, but the occasional touch, such as the rips that appear in Spider-Man's suit as a mission go on, serve to remind that this game is far from ugly.
Spider-Man's games have swung up and down on the spectrum of quality that it can be kind of exhausting. The wall-crawler has had a particularly forgettable stretch recently courtesy of Beenox, but with this latest outing he and his developers have finally hit their stride again. Is The Amazing Spider-Man going to change your perception of open-world superhero games? Absolutely not. Will it give you a solid week's worth of fun in these sparse summer months? Thanks to a fluid and flexible combat system, the answer is a confident "yes."