For over three decades Spider-Man has thrived in Marvel comic books and on animated television series. After a demonstration of a new technology in which a spider crept into a radiation beam and then bit Peter Parker's hand, the basis for the legendary superhero was born. Now LTI Gray Matter and Activision have released a computer game attempting to capture the essence of the famous mutant. This third-person action-adventure title is basically of the platform variety, but to succeed you need to be able to do a lot more than web slinging. Confronting a seemingly unending series of grotesque villains, you guide the red-and-blue clad arachnid through harrowing predicaments to save the world.
In this release Spider-Man finds himself in a fight, specifically to protect the people of New York. Appearing as journalist Peter Parker, Spider-Man attends a business meeting presided over by Otto Octavius, also known as Doctor Octopus. Suddenly an intruder dressed as Spider-Man breaks in and steals a special device from Octavius. After rival journalist Eddie Brock snaps some shots of the impostor, the camera is destroyed and Venom takes over Brock's body. Venom then turns his dastardly attention to Spider-Man himself. The story is true to the Spider-Man legacy, but it is not particularly subtle or engaging.
The game features 34 single player missions, in which you gather intelligence and spy on nefarious evil-doers, avoid the police, chase and battle numerous foes, and rescue hostages. All told, there are eight main locations within New York City, including skyscrapers, a bank, the Daily Bugle office, an underwater trench, the waterfront, a warehouse, and the sewer system. Often you have to use your special spider skills to get across wide chasms while moving high overhead in the metropolis. Indeed, if all the action just took place on street level, there would never be a need for many of Spider-Man's strengths. There is decent, if not spectacular, variety in the levels.
In the course of these challenges you encounter both helpful characters, such as Daredevil, Black Cat, and the Human Torch, as well as enemies, such as lizard men, aliens, Carnage, Mysterio, Rhino, Scorpion, Venom, and of course, Doctor Octopus. It takes different tactics to beat each of these adversaries, as each has a distinctive repulsive personality and utilizes differing approaches to combat. Sometimes the issue is not so much overcoming foes in battle but rather chasing them down before they elude you. Boss enemies are decidedly foreboding, particularly since they are inevitably much more powerful than you are. The strong personality and authenticity of the foes keeps them fun throughout.
To get from place to place, Spider-Man crawls up walls, zips across ceilings, casts webs, and swings from structure to structure with amazing grace and stamina. The early-warning Spider-Sense serves an absolutely crucial role by detecting enemies and threatening situations from a distance. The range of motion this web-crawler can undertake, combined with the hyper-sensitive detection system, provides you with an exceptionally multifaceted and fluid way of moving around and detecting foes. The result is that your cleverness is just as much evident in how you get to your destination -- and how you figure out where to go -- as in what you do when you get there.
Spider-Man can perform almost 20 specialized fighting moves in order to defeat his enemies. Some foes need to be fought from afar, while others need attacks at close range. In face-to-face battles, you may jump, kick, and punch your way to victory, even creating spiked gloves out of your web for extra effect. At longer distances, you may launch balls of webbing at enemies, use web-lines to pull them in any direction you wish, or create web shields for defense. These core moves can be linked into combinations which can catch even the most pesky adversaries by surprise. This arsenal appears to be more than adequate for the tasks at hand.
Several power-ups are available to help Spider-Man out; each power-up has a different function: the blue web-cartridges allow Spider-Man to execute his web attacks without losing too much of his webbing; the red and white heath cartridges restore your health as you progress; and the rare gold armor changes the costume and properties of Spider-Man for a brief time, increasing the amount of damage he does to his opponents while reducing the amount of damage an enemy can do to him. To obtain a power-up, you simply need to find a way to touch it, either directly or through your webbing. If Spider-Man has reached his carrying capacity for a certain item, the power-up will become transparent when you make contact with it. These pickups are not nearly as diverse as those in other titles of this type, but they do spice up the action a bit.
A number of important extra documentary features deserve special mention. The movie viewer allows you to watch any of the entertaining cutscenes that you have unlocked during the course of gameplay. Hidden throughout are a number of icons looking like comic books, and collecting these unlocks classic Spider-Man comic book covers. The character viewer gives you in-depth profiles of the bizarre assortment of characters in Spider-Man, including short but intriguing biographies. For long-time Spider-Man fans, these special informational elements are nearly priceless.
Spider-Man has four levels of difficulty: easy, where more clues and pick-ups are present, enemies take less damage, and Spider-Man can withstand more punishment; normal, where the average player faces more of a challenge; hard, where even the seasoned Spider-Man veteran will struggle due to tougher foes; and kid mode, where there is easy passage through each level. In addition, six diverse training modes offer the opportunity to test out your crime-fighting skills in a number of different training environments. The net effect is that the full range of players can enjoy this offering.
Each enemy in Spider-Man has its own unique artificial intelligence. Henchmen are dumb as they are supposed to be, and boss enemies are smarter, despite their heavy reliance on simply overpowering you and their tendency just to run at you and attack in a scripted manner. In other words, it takes just a little effort to defeat little guys, a lot to defeat big guys, and the amount of life you lose from hits is also adjusted appropriately.
The visuals, using a game engine developed by Neversoft, look quite impressive. The best part is that what you see is exactly reminiscent of the long-standing Spider-Man legacy. The depiction of Spider-Man and the boss foes is extremely authentic, but the other characters are a bit crude by comparison. Moreover, the insides of structures possess few objects and are sometimes rather mundane except for the hidden passages displayed. The cutscenes are well staged but a bit blocky when examined closely. While there are not a lot of special visual effects, the use of fog and water reflection are particularly noteworthy and well done.
The primary difference between this personal computer release and the earlier console versions is the availability of high resolutions and 32-bit color depth. Even at the highest settings, a unique combat system facilitates fluid motion in all of Spider-Man's movements.
Spider-Man has, however, severe camera problems. The viewing perspective can change unpredictably, often from floors to walls to ceilings, and it is not uncommon for you to become completely disoriented as you move around. In addition, items in the way frequently obstruct your sight, sometimes making you more vulnerable to attack than you need to be.
You may control Spider-Man with the keyboard, a joystick, or a gamepad. Given the console roots, it is perhaps no surprise that by far the easiest input device to use is the gamepad. The biggest problem is that, regardless of your means of input, the control system is significantly flawed. You may only rotate the main character in discrete increments of around 45 degrees, making lining up a jump or battling a foe -- or even worse a group of enemies -- extremely tricky.
The menu system is straightforward, with a cute spider-shaped cursor. But the save system is disappointing, as you get to record your progress not whenever you want, but rather after completing levels. There is a built-in option to input cheat codes if you get too frustrated.
The play screen has Spider-Man's health represented by a horizontal bar, while a vertical bar registers how much web fluid is left in his web cartridge. Occasionally a compass appears to show you which direction to go. This screen is well designed and extremely easy to interpret.
There is no multiplayer component in this game.
Spider-Man is a highly authentic and enjoyable release that fully captures the spirit of the comic book hero. The action is fast-paced and well-staged, and you really become absorbed in the virtual world of the famous arachnid. But two major deficiencies -- in the control system and the camera work -- almost succeed in ruining this title. While the replay value is not high, if what you want is to an action-packed romp through Spider-Man's world, you will find virtually complete fulfillment here.
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