So I planned on taking Spider-man 2 (and Gene's review) to task here; planned to gripe about the repetitiveness of the street crimes, the flighty combat, the lousy camera, etc. But…I can't do it. I like the game too damn much. Web-slinging my way around Manhattan is simply the most empowering videogame experience I've had in ages. I defeated Doc Ock over a week ago, but even now as I write this, I still feel the gravitational pull of the game. I'm still playing it endlessly, still exploring the nooks and crannies of the city, and still feeling those butterflies in my stomach each and every time I sling myself down Broadway through Times Square.
Spider-man 2 and I actually got off to a rough start. It was certainly easy enough to get myself off the ground and into the air, but staying there proved to be a bit tricky. My early efforts were not pretty. I spent more time kissing the street than I would have liked. It took a few somewhat painful nights for me to learn how to control Spider-man. I experimented, trying to figure out what I was capable of, what I could do. At first, I careened my way around the city, completely out of control. But with practice, in time, I was spending less time on the street and more time in the air. I learned to finesse my way through Manhattan. A little web-zip here, a little wall run there, and suddenly, with all the wonder and awe of a super hero realizing his own powers, I was skillfully sailing between the buildings like an old pro, and—if I do say so myself—I was looking unbelievably great doing so.
Being a super hero, at heart, is an alpha male fantasy. Super heroes have domains to protect; in the case of Peter Parker, it's New York City. Treyarch obviously spent a great deal of time and energy creating a videogame version New York, and they were wise to do so; the city is as much of a character in the game as Spider-man is. Once I mastered web-slinging, I actually felt as if I owned the city—all of it, every square inch. New York belonged to me; it became my domain. This sense of ownership, I believe, is the essence of the super hero experience, and Spider-man 2 captures it like no game has before.
The game also has a terrific sandbox quality. Depending on my mood, I could either goof around searching for skyscraper tokens and running timed web-slinging races, or else fight crime. I never felt pressured to do anything. Gene's wise to mention the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games. Spider-man 2, in spirit, feels like a descendant of those games, featuring a similar improvisational quality and sense of freedom. (And maybe my ears are deceiving me, but the game even recycles a few of the sound effects from Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2.) Like the Tony Hawk games, I found myself constantly searching the city for "lines," for alleys and avenues that were ripe for web-slinging.
It's certainly easy enough to find fault with Spider-man 2. The boss fights always felt hinky to me. The narrative felt a little thin and underdeveloped. Any time I was indoors, I felt like a cat trapped under a laundry basket; I couldn't wait to get outside again, back to the skyscrapers, where I felt most at home. But why complain? Give Treyarch the credit they deserve. Like Gene says, it does indeed seem as if they'd scoured Internet forums, trying to figure out what gamers wanted. And Treyarch deserves even more credit for the simple fact that instead of crafting this living, breathing comic book world, they could have simply produced a crummy Spider-man game and, based on the strength of the license, they would have sold a million copies anyway.
One of my standard criteria for measuring the worth of any videogame is the question of whether or not the world of the game is a world I want to be in. Spider-man 2, without question, has this quality in spades. There's something bright and vivid and breezy about the world of Spider-man 2. (In contrast, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, despite the indisputable quality of the game, was a world I couldn't wait to get out of.) Like I said, even though the game is technically finished for me, it's a world I'm reluctant to leave. I confess, I haven't—ahem—actually seen the Spider-man 2 movie yet (though I did see them filming scenes for the movie last year in Madison Square Park; a stunt-man dressed in a Spider-man suit hanging limp from a crane). I thought the first film was lousy, and I wasn't looking forward to the sequel at all. Credit Treyarch again for making a videogame of such high quality that I'm thinking about counting myself among the "true believers" again. I've got a ticket for a matinee this afternoon at the multiplex down the block.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.