Friday, February 27, 2004

I beat Spider-Man: The Movie: The Game: The Cheese Sandwich: The Conspiracy. (highlight the white text for full review) But anyway, it was fun. Err, but it lacked direction, like a distinct gameplay mode.

The controls are colossal. On the “advanced” setting (which you need on to complete the game), one button webs up your enemies (using precious web fluid,) one fires a web-line into the nothingness above so that you can swing (which looks really weird, like in the old cartoons where he would swing on webs heading into the clouds), one button fires a web-line to use as a grappling hook (Spider-Man does not have the ability in the comics or movie to retract his webbing back into his web-shooters, but neither do his webs have the ability to stick to nothing so we’ll let it slide). (So to speak.) Finally, one button does miscellaneous web-stuff in combination with other buttons, one button jumps, one punches, one kicks, one locks the camera on to a target (use the right stick to switch targets), one slices bread, one makes your dinner, and one removes that stubborn ketchup stain.

But anyway! Over the course of the game, you will fight ferocious villains in silly costumes, scurry around for that precious power-up, and sneak past guards in some rather fun stealth missions. The graphics are beautiful, the animations are stunning, and the voice-work is authentic; but I kept not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing for a given level. Each game needs a simple gameplay dynamic to be fun; Sonic runs and weaves through robots, in Grand Theft Auto you run from cops, jack cars and kill people, and in Jet Grind Radio you run from cops and spraypaint stuff while doing tricks. (The best example of good simplicity in gameplay is Tetris: maneuver falling blocks into neat little rows. Prepare to lose hours and hours of time at work.) But in Spider-Man, you’re doing... what exactly? Mainly you just advance from area to area beating up bad guys, and as much as super-heroing occupies my personal fantasies, mindless brawling just isn’t much fun. But when a big crowd of thugs is advancing upon you, some with guns and some without, often it becomes a game of strategy as you decide where and when to use your web powers (remembering to conserve the precious fluid), which might be kind of fun, but with the controls at a PhD level it’s more of an experiment in quantum physics than a day at the races. Viewtiful Joe exemplified what should and shouldn’t be in a good brawler, and Joe this game ain’t, but I’m getting off-topic.

Sooo! While you’re deciding where you should apply 20 cc’s of web fluid, the dominant gameplay mode I often found was budgeting power-ups. Spider-Man, despite his spider-prowess, seems to have the proportionate power meter of a roly-poly. So you’ll have your webbed ass handed to you in a few hits if you don’t collect those spider-power-ups in a jiffy; and they’re often very limited. So, given that the fighting system is so clumsy (next paragraph) that there’s no way to defend your power meter entirely, you’ll have to take note of where and when you will inevitably lose a little bit of Spider-Health and where you should grab a Spider-Emblem to avoid becoming Spider-Carcass. So you’ll spend a good deal of time exploring to find these power-ups (as well as web fluid), which can actually be kind of fun, given that you can do whatever a spider can.

With punch and kick at your disposal, whenever you attack an enemy it becomes a one-on-one fighting game just like that. (Unless it becomes two- or three-on-one, which you must avoid, lest it become three-on-none, if you know what I’m saying.) You have plenty of combos at your disposal, and more to collect with the gold Spidey emblems, but the ones I found using the most were punch-punch-punch and kick-kick-kick, because they were the most dependable. Really, with about thirty thousand ways to fire your web, you can hardly be bothered to learn Martial Arts 101 all over again. But the fighting engine is so simplistic you’ll never be able to defend yourself from attack; just kick-kick-kick and pray. Phantasy Star Online and Viewtiful Joe both had elegant hack-and-slash gameplay where it was always the player’s fault when they got hit, but in the case of good old Spidey, losing health is an unavoidable part of the gameplay economics, and I find that really damn annoying (especially when trying to replay the game on harder modes; I can’t even pass level 3).

But, ah, the stealth levels. These are fun because your movement is so limited that it becomes a real challenge to be able to beat them even with all your spider-powers. There’s none of that silly brawling to be done because the robot guards can beat your ass all the way back to Treyarch, but I enjoyed studying the levels and figuring out how to beat them. Take your time; fools rush in where yeah yeah.

So, what did I think of Spider-Man? A whole silly lot of wasted potential. It was lots of fun getting to do whatever a spider can, but this is an example of a game that, like Jet Set Radio Future, you are capable of SO MUCH that the game becomes nearly pointless. So I hope the next Spidey game simplifies the controls and gives the player a set gameplay dynamic—not just “beat the bad guys,” and if it is, do it with some freaking class—because I think the game is a great concept with great overall design that lost its footing somewhere in the level design.

Leticia Score: 3/5. Beating up bad guys is significantly more fun than I make it sound, and the game really has solid control (if a little complex) and play design. But the proof is in the pudding, and games are truly made in the moment-to-moment playtime and not in the overall framework. I couldn’t help but feel Spider-Man was a tad rushed; so I hope Treyarch keeps this in mind and pours their heart and soul into the nuts and bolts of Spider-Man 2: The Movie: The Game: The Fruit Flies: The Spoiled Milk: The Tractor-Trailer.

(The review now continues, with some spoilers. I wish I could make this text even whiter but I can’t.)

I felt that the game, atmospherically, was lacking; I felt like pushy director was shoving me around from scene to scene with no regard to my personal growth as a super-hero. The game was also clumsily paced, with super-villians interrupting often with no purpose to the overall plot (again, like Jet Set Radio Future). But when I finished the game, and Spidey made a hilarious self-referential remark at the end, I started to feel like maybe this could have been done well; even though I felt like the game didn’t really follow my personal path as a superhero (as in, I felt pushed along), but perhaps it could have been directed more as though I was floating through Spidey’s personal dreamscape, being pushed from scene to scene as I got more and more precious glimpses of what it’s like to be in Spidey’s shoes. Such an approach would have been fascinating; I suggest Treyarch begin by cutting down on cheesy in-game voiceovers.

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