Spider-man 2 seemed to me like the product of relentless scouring of Internet message boards, videogame reviews and fan input. To be this in tune with the audience is a badge of honor that the intuitive Treyarch developers should wear proudly. As a result, Spider-man 2 is not only the best superhero videogame I've ever played, but also the closest thing to a superhero simulator in existence.
In fact, GameCritics.com's very own Chi Kong Lui and yours truly commented on the apparent essence of the previous Spidey games—the feeling that you're just watching Spider-man, not becoming him. I myself wished for the ability to swing from the skyline to drop into a dark alley just to rescue a pretty, red-headed girl from getting her purse snatched. And being the game genies they now appear to be, Treyarch granted my wish.
But what makes the Spider-man games so intriguing anyway is inherent to Spidey's powers. Not one superhero in existence—and as a result, not one single superhero game in existence—has the ability to nose dive off the Empire State Building and, just before landing, swing from web to web safely and speedily. Any other developer with any other character would be hard pressed to bring to the table a similar experience, simply because there's nobody quite like Spider-man.
Swinging itself is already a very weird mode of transportation, using weight and inertia to guide you forward, up, left, right, over and under. But the previous games, much like the old cartoons, showed Spidey shooting and swinging miraculously from the air. This game puts an end to that nonsense. Spider-man needs an apparatus to shoot a web line. He needs a solid object to swing from, and once he lets go, the web line will hang loosely off the building, helicopter, George Washington Bridge, Statue of Liberty or wherever.
Almost every swinging scene in the two blockbuster films can be recreated in this game. It's almost miraculous how the developers were able to do it, but then again Treyarch has experience in making the Tony Hawk games. The Tony Hawk Pro Skater series is, of course, the series that made the impossible possible in videogames.Swinging, running on walls and jumping like Spider-man was once thought impossible. Never did I ever imagine it would feel as intuitive as it does here.
Some reviews have referred to this movie tie-in as "Grand Theft Spider-man." Granted, there are many similarities between the Grand Theft Auto series and this game. Both present large-scale, open-air environments that yield little to no loading times. (In Spidey's case, a large New York City stretches as far as the eye can see.) Both games have goal indicators in the on-screen maps. Both present gameplay that doesn't stop at the story's end.
But Spider-man can't do whatever a Tommy Vercetti can. He can't crush cars. Theoretically, he doesn't really kill anyone. He just saves people over and over again, which admittedly gets repetitious given the variety of help that is needed. Most missions are your typical stickup, while others include retrieving balloons for children, saving men in orange jumpsuits from falling, saving men from drowning, stopping break-ins and halting gang fights.
The limited variety hampers the game because the main forward drive in the game leans on saving as many people as you can for hero points. Hero points are accrued and used to purchase new moves for Spidey and pushes the story along. After saving the umpteenth orange jumpsuit man, the missions begin to get a bit mind numbing.
Despite the lack of variety in the missions, Spider-man 2 is still a remarkable step in the proverbial right direction. The game is exhilaratingly close to capturing that "superhero" feel of being responsible for lowering the crime rate of a city and helping defenseless denizens. I suppose the next big challenge for the developers is to now add weight on Spidey's shoulders—the real essence of this unique hero. It's all too easy to ignore a girl's cries for help in this game, and swinging by yields no consequence.
For instance, as Spidey, I was delivering pizzas and I was on the clock. A girl below was getting mugged and I decided to stop and tie the muggers up to the traffic light. I still made it to deliver my pizza, and the girl was safe. Later, the same situation occurred, but this time I ignored the plea for help just so my customer could get the pizza on time and I could finish the "time attack" mission. Whatever happened to that girl? Who knows? Who cares? I got my hero points.
I'd like to stress that I'm far from penalizing this game for not being even more ambitious than it already is. I'm only flattering myself that the developers may someday read this review and again go that extra mile. But before that ever happens, we all have Spider-man 2—a landmark superhero game that offers an experience not only unique to superhero games, but gaming in general.