While there've been numerous passable titles developed in his name, most people would agree that modern console gaming hasn't given Spider-Man the treatment he deserves. Those who've had a chance to play the horde of 16-bit titles (almost all of which are derivative beat-'em-ups or awkward platformers) can attest to the fact that Spidey isn't represented very well in those games. And with good reason - the re-creation of a character with such a dynamic range of motion and an equally dynamic set of powers may have been beyond the scope of previous technology.
Now that Neversoft's had a go at it, though, Spider-Man fans should be pleased to know that the video game world has been blessed with an excellent framework on which to base future Spider-Man games - and an exceptional game to boot. Neversoft's Spider-Man was built around the engine that powered Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and that engine's ability to render such expansive environments was doubtlessly vital in creating the teeming, often precarious playgrounds in which Spidey and his loathsome villains now frolic. The game's systems - from Spider-Man's arsenal of abilities to the camera that follows him - are all wonderfully functional, but, of course, they're not without their warts.
Neversoft obviously went to great lengths in its attempt to faithfully re-create Spider-Man's myriad powers. As per the timeless theme, Spidey can indeed do anything a spider can: spin his web in a variety of ways, adhere to flat surfaces, and even detect danger, when his spider sense goes atingle. Spidey's web plays a large role in the game. He uses it to shield himself from enemy blows, swing from rooftop to rooftop, and, of course, entrap his foes. His web attacks are divided into two categories: combat related and mobility related. All of the web spinner's combat functions revolve around the use of the triangle button, which performs several different functions, depending on which D-pad direction is used in tandem with it. Hitting the triangle button on its own, for example, will shoot a trap web that entangles foes, while hitting up and triangle will issue forth impact webbing, which bludgeons them. Other tricks include the web shield, which protects Spidey from attacks before exploding and subsequently damaging all foes within its area; punch pads, which augment damage; and the web-yank, which allows Spidey to pull and tug enemies in a desired direction.
Outside of combat, though, is where Spidey's webs play their most vital role. The two right shoulder buttons allow Spidey to either swing to an adjacent platform or zip instantly to the ceiling (or floor, or opposite wall - depending on his originating point). The zip line is one of the game's coolest features, as it is accompanied by a dynamic camera change; for example, if Spidey zips up to the ceiling, the camera will realign itself to his capture his new position, allowing clear sight of the floor, which is now below his head.
Unfortunately, therein lies the source of the game's imperfections. First, it must be noted that Neversoft did an admirable job with the camera - to have anything even resembling a working camera following a character whose perspective changes so often and so drastically is nothing short of amazing. When Spider-Man's camera is functional, the play experience is right on, and you honestly do feel like you're the web head - crawling, zipping, and brawling your way though the Big Apple with all the corresponding power fantasies and feelings of euphoria intact. Sadly, though, the camera occasionally misbehaves, swinging a bit too wide during a brawl or focusing slightly behind where it should during a wall climb, capturing a piece of wall, as opposed to the web head crawling on it. Most frustrating, though, is when the camera inverts your perspective after the execution of a zip line - while it may seem as if nothing's amiss (as the subtle change in perspective will surely evade your notice), the controls will indeed be reversed, causing "up" to mean "down," and vice versa. Fortunately, these instances are few and far between, though prolonged play will undoubtedly yield some deaths due to them. While one is tempted to think that a camera-refocusing function would have solved this problem, the feature would have been too problematic to use in cases when Spider-Man isn't on the ground, which, as it happens, is a good portion of the game experience. Again, though, it bears mention that Neversoft's ability to tame the camera as well as it did is quite an accomplishment.
Spider-Man hits its marks in all other categories. Graphically, the characters are keenly animated and quite dynamic, making elegant use of modest poly counts. Cool effects abound - when in combat with a symbiote, for example, their bodies warp in many grotesque ways. There is a bit of texture warping present, but it can be forgiven when the sheer sizes of the environments are taken into consideration. The various cutscenes are fairly amusing - they're smattered with a handful of FMV sequences, which are presumably meant to allow for cameos by the likes of the Human Torch, Daredevil, and the Punisher.
The voice-over work in the game is great, as Spider-Man's repertoire of one-liners has been faithfully re-created. However, though fans of his quips are well provided for, after a few continues, Spidey's remarks start to get repetitive. Much of the supporting cast speaks as well, providing you with audible cues, and, generally, adding color to the experience. Sadly, the background music is fairly minimal most of time, picking up only when the action warrants it.
The level designs are richly varied and provide for a multitude of experiences. Some levels are combat heavy, others require you to speedily flee from certain threats, while many are focused on a seek-and-destroy objective. The landscapes are also widely disparate, ranging anywhere from cityscape rooftops and seedy warehouses to labyrinthine sewers. And there are certain levels that you'll end up seeing several times in order to open up all the game's additional extras (such as its costume changes, cover galleries, model viewers, and training modes).
Fans of the long-running comic series and players in search of the ever-elusive novel game would do themselves a favor by checking out Neversoft's Spider-Man. Though the game isn't perfect, it remains a wonderful accomplishment on the part of the developers, and it is simply very fun to play.