The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is exactly the video game that the film deserves. Sony and Activision couldn’t have planned it better if they tried. Nowadays, Spider-Man’s existence outside of comic books isn’t for creative purposes, and the accepted level of quality is appalling on all fronts. Spider-Man is just another heartless entertainment commodity; your friendly neighbourhood superhero brand.
Have mercy on poor Beenox, for it is in an unenviable position caught in the middle of it all. In its first tie-in game for Sony’s cinematic reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man, the studio attempted to continue the film’s story and explore what happened afterwards. It was a sound plan at the time, but one with little long-term success: the events of the first movie game completely clash with those of the second film. There is no reconciliation — characters and events are interpreted in totally different ways between the two.
Trying to merge the narratives would be pointless. It’s appropriate, then, for the studio to throw their papers up in the air this second go around and make a game that doesn’t worry too much about being faithful to the source material. Beenox is simply following Sony’s lead here, hitting its deadlines and stocking store shelves; for a franchise which its current handlers are obsessed with turning into a huge cinematic universe, playing it this loose doesn’t inspire much hope for future quality.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a “parallel” telling of the events of the film instead of a straight re-telling of them. This cavalier approach has allowed Beenox the freedom to be selective and flexible about its cinematic influences, and flexible it is — major events from the film are wedged in to a narrative that really would be better off without them, but at least have the sense to unfold in a different way.
An unknown serial killer threatens New York City, with every strike causing all sorts of criminal unrest and mayhem that is spilling into the streets. The only clue left behind at each crime scene is a tag left on the wall in blood — “CK”. The crime wave has gotten so bad that the city has allowed Wilson Fisk to unleash a PMC (private military company) called the Task Force to maintain order. It’ll take web-heads all of two seconds to see where this is going, but it takes the game eight excruciating hours of shallow combat and swinging around the husk of New York to reach its predictable conclusion.
Spidey’s web-swinging has been tweaked in control, but the end result remains virtually the same. Instead of one trigger button to handle both wrist-shooters when swinging around, each trigger button now handles the corresponding wrist. As well, web-swinging requires a web to attach to a surface — a more significant change that affects how you navigate the city. Web Rush returns, allowing Spidey some precision in choosing where he zips to by holding down the right shoulder button. Spider-Man controls reasonably well in the air when making sweeping movements, but precision movement when outside of Web Rush or on foot is jittery and erratic. The slightest move sends him dashing, and it’s all too easy to run into an awkward and unintended spot.
Littered about the city are side missions that play into the new Hero or Menace system. The gist is that, by saving citizens and stopping crime, Spider-Man earns the public’s trust and the media says nice things about him. If too much crime is allowed to happen — because obviously Spider-Man is the only entity in the city that can do anything about crime — then the Task Force sics a bunch of drones on him. So, to not get shot at when minding his own business, Spidey has to complete the same rote tasks until the citizenry decides to get off his back. The meter is always sinking into Menace territory, so Spidey is essentially forced to partake in these activities. Were it as simple as jumping in, beating up some thugs, and taking off then that would be one thing — instead, players are forced to sit through brief little unstoppable cutscenes every single time. With load times bad enough as it is, these little breaks act more as a deterrent to helping out than anything else.
For a change, the story spends a good amount of time with Peter Parker as a Daily Bugle reporter, visiting locations and “interviewing” subjects with a clumsy conversation wheel. This is not L.A. Noire — conversations aren’t interrogations with multiple possible outcomes, so being able to choose what question to ask accomplishes nothing that a simple cutscene couldn’t do. Multi-choice dialogue like this only creates discord, especially when asking all of the questions is inevitable anyway.
The newfound focus on Parker makes the complete exclusion of Gwen Stacy from the game totally bizarre; she gets a passing mention once or twice but is otherwise completely absent. What makes this even more odd is that Gwen played a prominent role in the previous Amazing Spider-Man game and has a massive part in the new film, further separating this piece of software from any realm of cohesion with its greater universe and whittling away at its reason for existence.
A major problem with the Amazing Spider-Man game was its uninspiring rogue’s gallery, limiting Spidey’s encounters to weird cross-species versions of B- and C-list enemies so as not to overshadow big bads Alistair Smythe or the Lizard. With bigger foes in the movie and Beenox choosing to go its own way with Amazing 2, Spidey’s opponents have become significantly more interesting. Kingpin and Kraven the Hunter are given a solid, comic-faithful treatment, whereas foils like Green Goblin, Electro and Black Cat are shoe-horned in, relegated to disposable caricatures good for exactly one fight each.
None of the characters resemble their live-action counterparts from the film; Spidey’s voice work is solid but recycles the same one-liners all too much. Spider-man creator Stan Lee puts in a good cameo as the owner of a comic book shop that Parker can visit to read unlockable issues, view concept art, figurines, and engage in combat challenges.
Combat itself is a shallow and simplistic version of the Batman Arkham games, relying on timed button presses and dodging. Spidey can dis-arm enemies and either pull them around or zip towards them with his web shooters, and can sling up an enemy from the shadows with a stealth strike. Combat never changes, which makes beating up on the same gangster enemies over and over again an exercise in repetition. To mix combat up, a dozen or so unlockable costumes from Spidey’s history are littered throughout the city, each with it’s own abilities. For example, the 2099 suit is resistant to electricity, and by wearing it and earning XP this resistance will increase. The suits are a fun bit of fan service, and it’s nice to not have to buy DLC to get Scarlet Spider or Miles Morales’ black-and-red suit in the mix.
Much as the previous title, Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes basic use of the GamePad. Off-screen play is supported, and when playing on the big screen the GamePad is used as a non-interactive map.
A litany of technical issues and oddities riddle this release, including epidemic screen tearing, brutal load times, awkward stops and starts to the soundtrack, and practically nonexistent enemy AI. Even the fonts look oversized and out of place. These issues, along with half-baked implementation of mechanics like the dialogue wheel and erratic ground-movement control, point to a game that could have used some more time in the oven.
Beenox sure is trying to do well by the character, but it's becoming evident that the studio needs a rest from being the only one churning out Spider-Man titles on a sort-of-annual basis. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't take any real steps forward from its predecessor, and is made a further mess from its jarring world-building and frequent technical difficulty. This is a dull, drab, uninspired commercial of a game for a wreck of a film; as one of the most iconic pop-culture figures of the past 50+ years, Spidey deserves better. Considering his current direction and handlers, though, don't count on that happening any time soon.