Spider-Man is one of a number of comic book characters who have enjoyed quite a bit of attention when it comes to video games. Not all the names that have sprung from the pages of comics have appeared in the number of quality games Spider-Man has, though. Thanks to the webbed one's solid track record, it should come as no surprise that Treyarch's upcoming Spider-Man game looks as if it will make another strong entry in the lineage of games inspired by the venerable superhero.
Perhaps part of what makes Spider-Man games so engaging and fun to play is the colorful character and his interesting arsenal of augmented abilities. For those who aren't familiar with the story or the character, Spider-Man is the alter ego of one Peter Parker, a photographer and a generally upbeat and upstanding citizen. One day, he's bitten by a radioactive spider and gains many of the abilities of the mutated arachnid. The game follows the history set forth in the comic books, as we presume the movie will do.
The first thing you'll notice about the game when you start it up is that it's very sharp looking and does a great job of taking advantage of the PS2. The actual Spider-Man model is very detailed, and the city is nothing short of astonishing. Instead of the earth fading away into fog below you, as was the case in the PlayStation games published by Activision, you'll see the streets of the city below teeming with activity as automobile traffic flows in all directions. Unfortunately, you're not able to descend to the ground, but there are plenty of tall buildings and skyscrapers that will serve as the outdoor terrain.
In the levels where you find yourself in pursuit of a foe or objective in the skies above the city, you'll need to pay attention to the altimeter in the lower right corner of your screen. This meter is basically a bar that gives you an idea of how far up or down you can safely go. While ascending too high will only result in you hitting the proverbial glass ceiling, descending too far will result in your death, so the meter is something you'll want to pay attention to. There's plenty of room for you to maneuver between the ceiling and hard deck, though, and the sheer scope and size of New York is reflected very well in these levels. Much like in the PlayStation games by Neversoft and Vicarious Visions, you'll find yourself involved in a fair amount of rooftop jumping as you rid the city of thugs with no fear of heights.
As Spider-Man, you'll be able to swing in any direction using your webbing, which can mysteriously grab onto something up in the sky that nobody can ever see. (Our best guess is incredibly sturdy clouds.) In addition to the basic swinging that we saw in the PlayStation games, you'll also be able to control your ascent or decent by simply holding up or down on the left analog stick as you swing along. Making a quick jump to change directions is an easy endeavor as well, and this maneuver will be accompanied by a slick animation of Spider-Man doing a flip or performing some other acrobatic flourish. It all looks quite natural, and as you get used to the control, you'll quite literally be able to do things that only a spider can.
While it's not as romantic, falling is also a very useful technique, especially when used to evade foes or other forms of danger. To make things easier to keep track of, there is also a lock-on feature that fixes the camera angle on whatever enemy you've targeted. With this is in use, Spider-Man will remain in the center of the screen, but the camera will swing around him and keep your target onscreen at all times. This comes in handy when you find yourself engaging in what is probably the real highlight of the game: the aerial boss fights.
Ever wonder what it would be like to do battle with the Green Goblin or the Vulture at high altitudes? Thanks to Treyarch, you'll finally be able to do just that in a way that is both intuitive and quite fun. Requiring all the gameplay mechanics detailed above, these fights are unlike anything you've ever played before. They also tend to cover the whole city, which really makes them feel like epic clashes between two supernaturally powerful beings.
The learning curve for such endeavors is balanced about right, as the game eases you into the aerial battles slowly. Fighting the Vulture, for example, is an exercise in getting used to your maneuvering skills. After cornering him in his loft, he'll take off and start damaging various structures such as billboards and water towers. You'll have to pursue him and patch up the damage he does along the way by mending support beams with your webbing. Once you've caught up to him, you'll need to knock him out of the sky by punching, kicking, or dive-bombing him, though you can use your webbing as well. The great thing is that you can also cling onto him while he's still flying and deliver a few punches or kicks while he's trying to buck you off.
Fighting the Green Goblin is a much more intense endeavor. While he'll also wreak havoc on the city, he's much more focused on blowing you away with the arsenal of weapons that is housed on his goblin glider (the boomerang-shaped flying sled that he uses to get around). You'll spend just as much time defending yourself by evading his attacks as you will trying to pummel him. As with the Vulture, you'll be able to grab onto the Green Goblin in midair, but doing so has a much more dramatic result. Instead of just throwing an arm over him and hanging on, you'll actually stand on his goblin glider and exchange blows with him as you both careen wildly about the city.
All this is not to say that Spider-Man is any kind of a slouch on the ground, however--quite the contrary. The three-hit combo system used in the PlayStation titles has been significantly enhanced in this game. You'll initially start off with a limited number of combos, but as you progress through the game, you'll pick up gold spider icons that will add new combos to your list. Everything from elbow jabs to powerful uppercuts and even short juggles has been added to Spider-Man's list of moves, making for a robust array of attacks. Many of the gold spider icons appear just prior to or during a boss fight, and using the new move set in that fight will score you some style points at the end of the level.
Spider-Man's webbing has also been upgraded. Even when you're not swinging across the skyline of New York, you'll still be able to put your webs to good use in other ways. You'll be able to lob balls of impact webbing, wrap up enemies, and make punch pads and a protective case, just as you could in the PlayStation games. The web yank has been enhanced so that it now allows you to swing ensnared enemies around you, effectively using their bodies as a bludgeoning weapon. The zip line has also been significantly improved--it now lets you throw your webbing out in any direction instead of just straight up. All you need to do is hold any direction with the left analog stick, press the R2 trigger, and off you go. A targeting reticle can be brought up using the R3 button if you need to target specific areas when using the zip line. In addition to these two techniques, there is also the "yo-yo Spidey" move, where you can throw a zip line up to the ceiling and suspend yourself from it. You can move up and down this line once it's attached. If all these control options sound confusing, take heart--the control is divided into "classic" and "enhanced" modes, so people are allowed to decide how much time they want to spend learning how to move around.
The game also sports quite a bit of voice acting, ranging from the voice of Spider-Man and the myriad assortment of villains to the game narration by Bruce Campbell. Bruce Campbell's voice is strictly for the good of the gamer, as he helps you along by making sarcastic comments and teaching you the basics of movement early on. There are also a fair number of CG cutscenes spread throughout the game to keep things moving along at a nice pace. Tobey Maguire voices Spider-Man in all these sequences, and he also belts out Spider-Man's trademarked quips and jokes during the game.
It's clear that Treyarch wasn't content with merely bringing a Spider-Man game to the PS2, instead focusing on creating a game that would be enjoyable even without the license. The gameplay is intuitive and the formula is familiar, though it also helps that the game draws a lot from the upcoming movie. The build that we've been playing is nearly finished, and the game is scheduled for release in little over a week. Be sure to check in with us at that time for a full review.