Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is the upcoming action game from Activision starring Marvel Comic's iconic webslinging hero. Though he had a bit of a rough run earlier this year in Spider-Man 3, Activision and Next Level games are cooking up an adventure that is shaping up to be a return to the hero's roots. Next Level is mixing a number of familiar gameplay elements into a package that offers some breezy fun. We had the chance to log in some time with a work-in-progress version of the Xbox 360 game and were pleased by what we saw. The version of the game we played let us pair Spidey up with Iron Fist, Venom, Green Goblin, and Sandman in levels spread out through Tokyo, Nepal, and Transylvania. We were also able to try out a level of the game's versus mode, which lets you duke it out against enemies. We hope the final game delivers on the sample's promise.
The game's story is very much in the comic vein, with a bucketload of coincidental happenings taking place in rapid succession in the game's opening cinematic that leads to Spidey teaming up with a number of notable foes. Those who've been keeping up on the webslinger's movie exploits should recognize the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Venom, and Sandman, as well as New Goblin, Harry Osborn. The threat that forces everyone to bond quickly is an outer space menace that comes in meteor form, crashing to Earth in several different spots and causing all sorts of trouble including but not limited to mind control, hordes of enemies attacking locals, and other nefarious stuff you'll discover. Your unlikely superteam is tapped by Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. to help out with the burgeoning problem, and thus a game is born. If it all sounds a little absurd, that's fine. The game seems to be in on the joke and takes a tongue-in-cheek approach that's a good fit for the action.
The game's structure is pretty straightforward and should feel comfortable for vets. Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier serves as your hub and features a pad that will teleport you to the various locales you'll visit in the game. Each locale will be made up of several areas for you to explore and clear. Before you head out for a mission you'll have the option to do some preparation and swap out buddies or spend "tech tokens" you'll earn over the course of the game to upgrade the characters. Spidey, being the star of the game, gets a few more upgrade options that let you beef up his various web abilities. Once you're set, you'll hop on a pad and pop down to an area with your sidekick and get to kicking butt. The levels we tried out revolved around either boss fights or exploration and butt kicking. The levels play out in old-school brawler fashion and require you to clear an area of enemies before moving on. In some cases you'll need to do some basic puzzle-solving and hit switches. For the intrepid player there are hidden areas and collectibles to be found as well, which will unlock bonus content and playable areas in versus mode. While you'll start out controlling Spidey, you'll be able to switch to your partner on the fly by pressing Y.
Combat in the game is breezy fun, offering a simple three-button system that lets you punch, kick, and grab. Though it's basic, the setup lets you string together flashy combos and work with your partner. Besides your dynamic duo's basic punches and kicks, you'll be able to perform charged moves as well as unique special attacks. On top of all that, you'll collect temporary power-ups you can use on the fly in battle. The collectibles are mapped to the D pad and include mega damage, invincibility, and a slick team attack that calls up a flashy cinematic that results in all onscreen enemies getting wiped "smart bomb" style. Overall the game has a nice feel to it that mixes Midway's Shaolin Monks, Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games, and Activision's own Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Though we'd like to see a deeper combo and character upgrade system, what's here is fun, so we can't hate on the simplicity too much.
The visuals in the game are clean and move smoothly. The game's art style is simple and obviously comic inspired. As a result you'll find stylized locales with modest detail and bright color palettes. A smattering of animated elements, such as moving platforms, weather effects, and neon signs, keep the backgrounds from being too static. Spidey and the gang look good and have a near-superdeformed look that's reminiscent of the Superhero Squad toys. The game sticks pretty close to look of the movie characters for Spidey, Venom, Sandman, Doc Ock, Green Goblin, and New Goblin. The other characters, such as Iron Fist, are done in a very similar style. Their animation does a good job of giving them some unique flavor. Venom is slow but runs with a hefty authority, while Iron Fist is lithe and wiry. The enemies we faced were a good deal more generic, but it's pretty much what you'd expect from mobs in a brawler.
The audio is pretty standard with incidental fight music kicking in and fading out based on the onscreen enemies. When you're in between mobs and just exploring, you'll get some ambient music tossed in for good measure. Sound effects are pretty standard so far and cover the basic punch, kick, and explosion bases. The key element in the game's audio is turning out to be the character voices. Spidey and company speak up often during a fight. As you'd expect, the webslinger is the standout with puns and quips aplenty. The rest of the gang don't really come packing the choice zingers Spider-Man has, but amid the straightforward talk, everyone throws out a quip or two.
Based on what we played, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is shaping up to be a simple, fun, arcadelike game. The levels we played were a good amount of fun and set up in decent chunks. There's always the danger of repetition overload in these kinds of brawlers but, as we saw with Marvel Ultimate Alliance, if you pack in enough cool stuff it doesn't matter too much. The game's younger slant and lack of online co-op could be a stumbling block for some, but if Next Level packs enough fun in here, it's something to look past. If you're hungering for a brawler or are a fan of Spidey and his rogues gallery, you'll do well to keep an eye out for Spider-Man: Friend or Foe when it ships this fall for the Xbox 360, PSP, DS, Wii, PS2, and PC.