Our friendly neighborhood wall crawler's cinematic reboot in last summer's The Amazing Spider-Man had us leaving theatres utterly torn. We're down with new interpretations and while the Spider-Man on-screen offered a lot of what we love about the character, the surrounding film was kind of a mess. The same can be said for Beenox's movie tie-in: one of the better Spideys of the medium is trapped in an often inconsistent world.
Because of the movie there is only so much creative leeway afforded to Beenox for their third webhead adventure, and setting The Amazing Spider-Man: Ultimate Edition after the credits roll — instead of retelling the events of the film — allows for more freedom in shaping the narrative. While on an after-hours tour of Oscorp with nanomachine specialist Alistair Smythe, Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey find themselves caught in the middle of a predictable outbreak of cross-species experiments and Smythe's robotic "solution" to the problem. The strife eventually breaks its way out of Oscorp and into the streets of New York, sending Spidey on a quest to find an antidote and save the city from Oscorp's menaces both biological and mechanical.
None of the film's actors lend their voice or likeness, which removes the game world a step from the silver screen, although the voice actors do a fairly decent job of it all the same; however, our enthusiasm is curbed somewhat by Parker’s constant repetition of stock phrases. The rogues gallery is restricted so as not to overshadow the film, using a number of B-tier terrors reimagined to fit this interpretation of Spider-Man's world. While it makes sense in this universe to see opponents like Rhino and Scorpion depicted as mad science experiments gone horribly awry, it's disappointing that these iconic foes feel so disposable; some characters, like Felicia Hardy, flirt with intriguing set-ups but fail to deliver on their promise.
Absent from the Wii and 3DS ports of the game, Ultimate Edition restores the city exploration found on other HD platforms to provide some much-needed cohesion to the world and a sense of place to the story beats. Whereas those versions suffered greatly from a feeling of confinement, Ultimate Edition is a much smoother and cohesive experience now that Spider-Man is more in his element. By default there’s far more to do as well: Across the city are petty crimes to stop, challenges to best, photos to take, citizens to rescue and an absurd amount of comic book pages to collect. For the most part these side activities are the exact same types that Spidey has had thrown at him in virtually every open-world game he’s starred in, so while they’re able to offer a break in the campaign there’s little excitement in actually undertaking them. Manhattan itself is fun to explore but it too suffers from fatigue; apart from some obvious landmarks, the overwhelming gloss and cramped size leave the city feeling somewhat limited over time.
Activities grow stale sooner than we’d like, so it’s fortuitous that Spider-Man himself is a joy to control; manoeuvring effortlessly, swinging and crawling around his environments with an agility and precision seldom seen in his games. The new web rush action is key: Holding R at any time, be it while crawling on the ceiling or soaring through the air, slows time to bring up a reticule that propels Spidey in virtually any desired direction upon release. The ability to turn on a dime is incredibly helpful when moving one of the most potentially disorienting superheroes, and it's used to great effect in both navigation and combat, letting you use stealth tactics to clear a room or go in fists ablaze with aerial strikes. The few airborne battles zooming through the city are particular highlights and something we would have liked to see more of to break up the campaign’s penchant for eventually monotonous corridor fisticuffs.
Web rush is such an obviously simple addition that it's hard to believe that it took dozens of 3D games to figure out, and in a lot of ways it feels like the Rosetta Stone for translating Spider-Man's inherent quirks into fluid and viable gameplay. The core problem may be now solved, but the implementation isn't quite perfect: there are so many web rush targets that it’s too easy to zip somewhere unintended, and Spidey’s overpowering strength and speed when navigating the city will often make precision platforming a chore. Web rush is a great building block, though, and one we see as key for future games.
Beenox has picked up a few things from previous games and the superhero genre at large; combat is streamlined and fluid, mimicking Batman: Arkham City's attack, dodge and special (read: web) triumvirate, allowing for far more acrobatic strikes than past games and a new dynamism to the camera during battles. Clobbering enemies as Spidey is as powerful as you would expect, however, which means that swaths of generic enemies pose little real threat. We have no doubt that Peter Parker would completely smoke a room full of thugs without breaking a sweat, but in a video game this sense of strength makes encounters too easy — and where Arkham's fisticuffs reward precise timing, The Amazing Spider-Man's lack of rhythm makes combat feel a touch heavy on mashing and simplicity.
Unless you're asleep at the wheel it's almost impossible to mess up, and even then zipping out of harm's way is as easy as a tap of L to web retreat towards the nearest surface to regain your footing. Spider-Man's abilities from the get-go are potent enough to make tech and ability upgrades seem almost trivial: Parker is powerful, yes, and the feel that nothing can touch you is fun, but it doesn't make for a sustainable balance to keep combat interesting throughout — no matter how cool it may look up front. Nor does it help that the hordes of generic enemies are predictable and dull, seldom offering much need for battle tactics of any kind beyond dodging when a spider-sense halo flashes.
While combat is fluid, the graphical presentation is less so. Flying around the city can knock down the frame-rate somewhat, and epidemic screen tearing tells us that The Amazing Spider-Man: Ultimate Edition could've used a little more time in the oven. Use of the GamePad is expected for a port such as this, and where it should add convenience tends to contribute frustration. Putting Parker’s smartphone on the touchscreen is a reasonable conceit that also helps clean up the main display, but because the GamePad has a resistive screen instead of a capacitive one, using it with your fingers dips into an uncanny valley for tech as your gestures never quite feel like they’re registering properly. Using your finger to scroll around the map is a chore, and navigating its menus is actually easier to do with buttons. Playing off-screen or with a Pro Controller sidesteps the issue, though.
This being the Ultimate Edition and all, all of the DLC from other platforms is included on the disc, adding some extra buck-bang. For the campaign this means that from the get-go Parker can don the “classic” suit modelled after the one worn in Sam Raimi’s trilogy, with additional challenges accessed from the main menu. Each comes with their own unique gameplay, be it a Rhino rampage or swinging around the city as Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee, as well as their own online leaderboards.
We put down our GamePad after our dozen hours swinging around with The Amazing Spider-Man: Ultimate Edition and came away with lots of opposing opinions. It does a great job of adapting Spider-Man's fluidity and agility to a simple control scheme begging for open areas, but then sticks him in dull, enclosed buildings and sewers for most of the campaign. Combat is pleasingly acrobatic yet wasted on generic grunts and B-tier villains that require little skill and yield little satisfaction. The story is passable, campy and clumsy but with sufficient intrigue as to lure Spidey fans into wanting to see where it may go; and its rendition of Manhattan is a pleasant arena that plays host to dull events. Much like the film on which it's based, we're more curious to see where the sequel may go now that the foundation is out of the way.