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Four games in one! Wait, no it isn't - one game in one!
on 13 April 2011
Much fanfare was made of the fact that you can play as four different Spider-Mans with their own gameplay, but the reality is far, far removed from the fantasy. This is a stale, boring button-mashing combat-oriented game.
You play as Spider-Man, but you might not actually realise that until you get pretty far into the game because there's no real webslinging (except for one level where it really works) and you can play pretty much the whole game without even realising you can wallclimb.
The game is split into four categories, where you play as Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Man Noir, explained by the fact that some artifact gets shattered and something or other about alternate dimensions and recollecting them. Amazing, Ultimate and 2099 are all very nearly completely identical in terms of gameplay in as much as they're all button mashing combat games. The biggest difference between the three is that Spider-Man wears different clothes.
In the Ultimate version, Spidey's wearing the Venom costume, so in addition to looking all sleek and black and cool, he has a RAGE meter. Because the kids today are angry and you've got to cater to that, right? So as you fight, this rage meter fills up and when it's full, you can start kicking some serious behind. In the 2099 version, you get basically the same thing but it's slow motion instead. The 2099 version also has this little minigame where you skydive, which plays kind of like a racing game except rather than steering around corners you are steering around obstacles in a straight line course.
The Amazing universe has nothing unique about it.
The Noir universe is the one that really stands out. It's a cooler, grittier (yes, I used THAT word) version of Spider-Man, that sort of has a `what if Spider-Man was Batman?' vibe to it, with everything being dark and black and white, and Spidey using fear and terror as tools (in the books I mean - there's no gameplay related to that), preying on his enemies, while his villains are mostly horrible freaks in the vein of Killer Croc. Vulture is particularly cool, being a hideous, freaky cannibal birdman.
So it stands to reason that this universe would play as a stealther, and that's more or less true. While you do need to stick to the shadows and take enemies down stealthily (something done easily thanks to being able to do it at range with your webs), not to mention your Spider agility means you can escape danger effortlessly, there are still more than a few occasions where you're forced into combat sequences with groups of enemies, which doesn't make much sense as these are the same enemies you were forced to flee from moments ago. Overall it's decent stealth, but the star of this universe is the universe itself.
In all versions, Spider-Man's Spider-Man-ness has been neutered because you're playing in small, linear environments. This is a world away from the Treyarch games of the PS2 era. You can web swing, and by targeting certain objects (by looking at them), you can web-zip onto them, but this is definitely not a game that is about webswinging, in any of the universes.
This is a game about combat.
The combat is super simple button mashing, and even though there's a HUGE selection of moves/combos available to you (as unlocks, you earn XP), the standard attacks are more than good enough to get you through the entire game. After the amazing rhythm-game style combat in Arkham Asylum, it's a little mindboggling that they didn't copy that, and obviously adapt it to better suit Spidey. Rather than relying on Spider-Man's speed and agility to dance between enemies and perform all kinds of acrobatic awesomeness (like, perhaps, Sands of Time), this is just button mashing with all the finesse of a Hulk smash.
And what really hurts the game is that that IS the game. Fight after fight after fight after fight, without even proper webswinging or missions or a city to explore or anything. It's just a straight line to the bosses. The one notable exception is a level set on an oil rig, which is a full blown open world level, albeit a small one. Here you can make proper use of the swinging around, which is cool and fun, and your objectives in that level are mostly not combat oriented which is great, though the combat is always forced on you sooner or later.
The bosses themselves are really quite awful, almost down to a man each consisting of dodging his or her attacks (simply by jumping out of the way most of the time), then countering. Then repeating. Again and again. And again and again and again. To be fair, some of the bosses are really cool as characters (Deadpool is laugh-out-loud funny), but that just plays in to the reality of this game: it exists just to introduce us to as many characters as possible, to sell as much merchandise as possible.
And that's fine by me, I'm too aware of it to be influenced by it and hopefully you are too, but it's just a pity this game itself is merchandise, no better than a lunchbox or poster. They could've done something really special with this game. If they'd really played up the four games in one idea, rather than go for the four different versions of one game in one idea, it could have been special.
I think the Amazing universe should've been oriented entirely to webswinging, the Ultimate universe should've been devoted entirely to combat (which needs improving), Noir is fine as is, but it should've had the combat removed entirely, while 2099 should've been dedicated entirely to a vastly expanded and improved version of the skydiving. If they had actually offered four games in one, so that getting to the next level actually offers something new, even if that new thing is not actually great, that would still have been a big improvement over the stale, endless button-mashing.
The only highlight here is the Noir universe, and while the gameplay is a far cry from great, or even good, frankly, it works well through its uniqueness, and had the whole game reflected that, this'd be a contender for a 4 star game.