Activision mentioned, somewhat unofficially, the Spider-Man game for the PlayStation more than one year ago. Since then, we've managed to dig up quite a but of info, much coming from a visit with the developers at Neversoft.
We know, for instance, that the Spider-Man game is being built on the Tony Hawk Pro Boarder engine and that the first level is complete, at the time of this writing in mid-fall. As reported by EGM, as the level begins, Spidey stands atop a building looking out over the skyline of New York City. Something immediately looks right about the way he stands, the way he shifts his weight, the way he gently bobs up and down. He looks springy, sticky even.
Developers mentioned that motion capture was considered, initially, for the Spider-Man character, but then tossed aside, in lieu of making a character that moves like a comic book hero, not a real guy. So they built a model of Spider-Man, and animated it by hand. The character will bound around the 3D environments leaping into the air and using his signature web-swinging action (think Tenchu). EGM referred to the web-swinging feature as quite dramatic--zipping from building to building. The cityscapes are apparently quite notable, too--glossy skyscrapers and a decent depth of field (the Fantastic Four's building can be spotted off in the distance at one point). If you head over to the Four's building, suddenly you, as Spidey, will find yourself hanging out with The Human Torch (Johnny Storm).
You'll be able to move freely about the 3D environments, which is a complicated chore for developers, as Spider-Man, in theory, slinks along walls and climbs on ceilings; he doesn't just roam the floors. For example, in one scenario, Spidey falls through a skyscraper ceiling and drops into one of the gameplay environments. In a good game, the camera stays with you. That's the development team's goal--to keep it dynamic, in spite of its non-traditional exploration. EGM explained how this scene played out: The camera pulls down behind the hero before sliding back and panning up high as he leaps and sticks to the ceiling. The team has made use of some clever transparent textures to make sure that they can always keep the camera on Spidey if he gets into difficult-to-see places. Jump up onto the ceiling and you see transparent ceiling tiles for Spidey to cling to as he crawls along facing you. It takes a while to get used to at first--but it seems to work remarkably well.
On another note, how will Spider-sense play out? Dual Shock. When danger is near, the Dual Shock will tremble. And how will he handle his web? All sorts of ways: he'll swing from it, use it as a shield, use it to tie up enemies, cocoon himself, fire projectile webbing, and so on. But don't expect to kill with it, as Activision has to hold up the mantle of Marvel: No one dies, they only become disabled. As far as adapting comic book treatments, developers are going to try to squeeze as much in as possible, including villains. We know that including Doctor Octopus and the Lizard will make an appearance, thus far. We're not sure how the controls will work at this point, but combo moves will factor in as well. Developers said that the game will reflect a solid action environment while maintaining the feel of the comic books in story and depth. Spider-Man will sneak about, as various locations will be guarded by the bad guys. According to Activision, Neversoft's goal in this title is to make players feel as if they really are Spider-Man. This means being able to crawl along and swing from any skyscraper with complete ease, fling webs at enemies without a second thought, and get a true sense of surroundings with spider sense. After spending over an hour with the title, we'd have to say that Neversoft has succeeded. You can swing from building to building just by hitting the R2 button, and Spider-Man will automatically latch on to a building's side when he's close to it. This makes for moving around in the cityscapes perfectly easy. You can also pan around an environment in a first-person perspective using the L1 button. This can create quite the dizzying effect - imagine hanging off of the side of a 100 story building and peering down. But the first-person view can come in quite handy - as you look around you can also find a target that you'd like to project yourself toward and then web sling yourself to it.
When you are on a level environment (such as on, or inside, a building), you can walk around and fight enemies through web slinging or hand-to-hand combat. The game offers up a few different web attacks, such as one in which you launch a ball that covers an enemy, rendering him harmless, or one in which you place webbing on your fists to better bash others. There is also a defensive move in which you will cover yourself with web so as to deflect enemy fire - the completion of the move, however, is actually offensive, as remnants of your shield are fired on foes. The hand-to-hand combat includes the standard set of punch-and-kick moves.
The game features a spider compass of sorts in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen that indicates where you should be heading in order to complete your mission. In addition to this, you have spider sense that will often kick in to inform you of enemies in the vicinity. The spider sense comes in the form of arrows that point you in a direction. Throughout the game, the Marvel character Black Cat will also pop in to help guide you with advice and direction. And if that isn't enough help, there will sometimes be question-mark symbols that you can open for clues as to how to complete certain tasks.
One of the coolest features we came across in the game is that you can climb onto the ceiling when you are inside a building. When you do this, the camera moves to an overhead view, and the ceiling itself becomes mostly transparent, letting you see all of the action. Enemies won't be able to see you while you're climbing on the ceiling (unless they've spotted you before), and this allows for a whole unique element of stealth. When you're climbing on the ceiling you can still attack enemies. One of the coolest attacks we've seen from this position is one in which you sling webbing down onto your enemy, grab him with it, and swing him into a wall. This is one of the game's best attacks, and one you must see in action.
There will be plenty of Spider-Man's other enemies and characters that you will find in the title. At the end of one stage we battled The Scorpion, who posed little challenge to our mighty Spider skills. Currently, Activision and Neversoft are looking into several different characters to use as bosses - we suggested Dr. Octopus as an ideal boss to use. Wouldn't he look neat in 3D? Activision agreed, and said he's a possibility. Marvel fans can look forward to seeing some familiar faces and places throughout the game as well - in one area we actually swung our way to the Fantastic Four's Plaza building in the midst of some skyscrapers. Graphically, Spider-Man is a marvel (pun intended - ouch). It makes use of the Tony Hawk engine and once again stretches the limits of what the PlayStation is capable of. The city environments are incredibly vast, and everything remains clear and smooth as Spidey swings his way through them. And there are plenty of effects used such as transparencies for walls and items so the player's view of the action is not obstructed. We also noticed some classic Neversoft touches, such as a TV screen in one room that was playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Subtle, but cool.
Soundwise, most of what we heard was filler - the final version will feature voice talent from the TV show. In terms of music, what was there would often be triggered by enemies or events. There was one sequence in the game where you swung yourself up a building while helicopters attempted to gun you down - this had some upbeat techno-ish music playing in the background that fit nicely.
Activision states that there will be eight main levels in the game, all filled with many sublevels and missions.
Ben's Hands-on Impressions:
Spider-Man is easily one of my favorite comic-book characters, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, the engine that Activision's Spider-Man game runs on, is one of my favorite video games. Needless to say it's an excellent combination.
The build I played was very incomplete. It only featured one and a half levels, but it did a good job of demonstrating exactly what Neversoft is trying to do with the game. While there was only one boss in the build - the newly redesigned Scorpion - the opening screen featured mug shots of several of Spidey's most-hated nemeses: Venom, Carnage, the Rhino, and the Vulture, to name a few. Activision wouldn't comment on the villain roster, but I suspect that every villain pictured on the opening screen is due for an appearance in the game. I simply can't wait to see how Carnage looks, but I was somewhat saddened that some of the older, more notorious villains were missing. Where is the mug shot of Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, the Sandman, the HobGoblin, or even Electro or Kraven? Hopefully Neversoft won't neglect these older characters, and they'll find their way into the finished game.
I really liked the way the game played. You really feel like you're controlling the man-spider, as you're free to climb any surface and swing to almost any spot. If you happen to be on the ceiling of a building, the ceiling will turn transparent to show you the action of the room - complete with a little shadow to give you some perspective. This is an awesome effect, and it really gives you a scope of how large the environments in the game are.
While most superhero games seem somewhat out of character, Neversoft has done a great job of making this game right at home for Spider-Man fans. In Spider-Man, you'll actually have to think like the wall crawler, using all your powers to solve puzzles. Instead of simply blasting through doors, you'll have to climb through ventilation systems and find hidden switches.
I'm not so happy about one of Spidey's secret moves though. It's where he uses his webbing to create what Activision is calling "boxing gloves" on his hands. But they look more like spikes, and the whole claw thing reminds me too much of another Marvel superhero. I just don't think it's Spider-Man's style to punch people with webbing claws. Also, it would have been cool to see Neversoft stick small webbing flaps under Spidey's arms, to help him glide better, as seen in several of his comics.
There are some problems with Spider-Man, such as some difficult camera angles and sudden control reversals, but they should be ironed out by the time the game ships.