For the Activision-published Amazing Spider-Man movie tie-in game, developer Beenox operates under what I’ve come to call the “Tony Hawk Principle.” In simple terms, the Tony Hawk Principle states that your in-game avatar possesses all of the knowledge necessary to pull off awesome feats, and so it’s up to you as the player to simply guide him or her from one goal to the next. In the classic skateboarding series of games, the Tony Hawk Principle served to eliminate real-world concerns like balance and keep your skater’s feet firmly planted on the skateboard, save for those times that you, the player, landed funny. In the case of The Amazing Spider-Man, the Tony Hawk Principle keeps Spidey flying and swinging through the air like the super-powered pro that he is.
In other words, as long as you keep your fingers on the correct buttons, in-game Spider-Man will sail easily above the streets of an open-world re-envisioning of New York City. There’s no need to worry about anchor points for your webbing, gravity, or any of the other mundane details. Your virtual Spider-Man wants to stay in the air, wants to contort his body into flashy poses as he fights crime. The act of doing so has never been so easy or entertaining in a Spider-Man game before, and Beenox’s latest effort is a resounding success as a result.
The very first thing you should know going into this game: someone — maybe it was Sony Pictures, maybe it was Activision, maybe it was both — made the baffling decision to release The Amazing Spider-Man the video game a week before The Amazing Spider-Man the movie. It’s baffling because the game’s story serves as a sequel to the events of the film. Those who wish to remain completely spoiler-free before seeing Andrew Garfield’s rebooted Spidey swing into action have only one choice: hold off on playing until after the movie has been released.
I’ll attempt to paint a spoiler-free picture here of what you can expect from the game. With the Lizard menace now out of the picture, things are slowly returning to normal in Spidey’s New York City. The game opens with Peter Parker getting a personal tour of Oscorp’s nanotech research department, courtesy of Gwen Stacy. The new man in charge, Alistair Smythe, is spear-heading a project aimed at using the tiny robots, and their life-sized counterparts, to eradicate the remaining traces of Dr. Curt Connors’ work on cross-species hybrids.
One component of those clean-up efforts involves putting down Connors’ various living experiments, a plan that falls apart when Parker’s physical proximity to one of his fellow hybrid species triggers a response that results in the research facility being trashed, the experiments escaping, and the infection spreading across the entire city. Oh, and Gwen Stacy is bitten early on, adding a “damsel-in-distress” element to the story. It’s now up to Spider-Man to save the city from half-human monsters once again, and he turns to an unlikely source for help.
That’s really all I can say without spoiling key facts from the movie. The game’s story is a fun ride though, and it offers a broader glimpse into the newly rebooted Spider-Man movie universe. Familiar villains like Rhino and Scorpion are given a fresh treatment as escaped lab experiments. They were never criminals, or even humans of any kind, as they were in the comics. The hybrid villains that Spidey takes on in the new game were genetically constructed from the ground up using the animal DNA as a base. It’s a neat twist, and one that fits well with the story laid out in the upcoming movie.
Doing Whatever A Spider Can
Beenox went in and completely re-thought the approach to delivering an open-world Spider-Man game. The Treyarch efforts were solid in their own way, but the Beenox take refines that approach with an added bit of “oomph” to really convey the feeling to players that they’re stepping into the tights of a Marvel Comics superhero. Part of this is owed to the placement of the virtual camera, which sticks much tighter to this Spidey than it did to past video game Spider-Men (think Rocksteady’s Arkham games). Really though, the added “oomph” I mentioned can be summed up in two simple words: Web Rush.
Web Rush is a gameplay mechanic that really embraces the Tony Hawk Principle. To use it, you hold down the right bumper (on an Xbox 360 controller) to slow time down to a crawl for a brief period and jump into a first-person perspective. From here, you move around a set of crosshairs to pick out your “target” — maybe it’s an enemy or interactive object, maybe it’s just a destination — and then release your hold on RB. Once you let go of the button, Spider-Man takes over, automatically swinging, web-shooting, wall-running, and whatever else is necessary to close the distance to his destination. You can use Web Rush at any time, even while you’re in the middle of another Web Rush moment, and you can alternatively tap RB in real-time to activate it if you’re able to line up your target without relying on the slow-mo.
It’s a simple mechanic that amounts to a huge change in how you play the game. Since Web Rush can be activated at literally any moment, it ends up turning into a sort of gameplay multi-tool. You’ll use it in combat, to pause the action as you zero in on bigger threats and initiate distance-closing Web Strikes. You’ll use it to navigate narrow pathways surrounded by hazards, looking for ghostly, yellow Spider-Man phantoms — indicators of your possible landing points — to figure out the best routes. You’ll even use it just moving around high above the streets of the city, both for general traversal and to snatch the hundreds of collectible comic book pages that are scattered everywhere.
Then there’s the combat. Once again we turn to Rocksteady’s unique take on Batman in the two Arkham games. Combat in The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t as dependent upon rhythm or perfect timing, but it does feel remarkably similar in some ways. Spidey is a more agile hand-to-hand fighter than the Dark Knight, but players will still be timing their counter and dodge button presses to lines appearing above the superhero’s head, an in-game approximation of Spidey Sense. The range of moves you’ll unlock isn’t incredibly deep, but the focus in the game’s combat on combos coupled with Spidey’s slick, contextual animations serve to make fighting evil-doers endlessly rewarding.
Putting It All Together
All of these really well-designed mechanics come together in an open world adventure that delivers most of the time with highlighted “holy crap” moments peeking through every now and again. The Amazing Spider-Man hits its highest highs when you’re swinging around Manhattan. It’s a smaller version of the real-life island, but it’s jam-packed with buildings big enough for Spidey to swing between. Whether your chasing crooks in getaway cars, taking down muggers in an alley, or soaring through concrete canyons in pursuit of giant, Spider-Man-hating robots, the emergent elements mixed with the stellar technical execution — not to mention the gorgeously rendered cityscape — prove to be a potent mix.
Unfortunately, the chapter-based missions that are the focus of the game tend to rein things in a big way, sending Spidey through a variety of interior locations, some of which are visited more than once. While these sections of game are still built with variety in mind, in that you can effectively either stealth your way through or beat the stuffing out of everyone, the linear corridor crawls just aren’t Spidey’s specialty. It’s not that these sections are lousy; in fact, going the stealth route is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s just that you lose a bit of what makes The Amazing Spider-Man so compelling when you so frequently stuff the superhero into a set of rooms and hallways.
Props as well to Beenox for coming up with fun things to do around Manhattan. This Spider-Man doesn’t waste his time chasing lost balloons. You’ll investigate secret Oscorp labs, go on photo expeditions, participate in race-style XTreme Reporter events (with Bruce Campbell cheering you on!), and rescue citizens from various states of peril. These are fun diversions that only rarely feel tedious, such as when the late-game presents you with upwards of 20 (or more) “infected” citizens to rescue and ferry from various points in the city to medical centers. Also: don’t even bother unlocking the Spider-Tracers upgrade, or you’ll see those red “infected citizen” side mission icons joined by a bunch of blue “escaped mental patient” icons. These would have been fun in smaller numbers, but completionists will balk at having to ferry so many fools. Spider-Man is neither an ambulance nor a paddy wagon.
Beenox may stumble here and there on some of the minor details, but the dev team nonetheless managed to perfectly nail the experience of virtual web-slinging better than anyone has before. Those who harbor fond memories of swinging joyfully around Treyarch’s vision for an open-world Spider-Man game can expect a properly “next-gen” take on those core ideas here. It’s not always a perfect experience, but it’s a thoroughly entertaining one more often than not, thanks in large part to the game’s embrace of the Tony Hawk Principle. You handle all of the fine details, such as when to punch and when to swing, while The Amazing Spider-Man‘s Spider-Man invariably does whatever a spider can.
Score: 8 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Activision)