Spider-Man 2 Preview

We get an exclusive look at Activision and Treyarch's swinging movie tie-in.

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Activision's Treyarch-developed action game based on Spider-Man struck a chord with gamers when it was released in 2002. The game marked a bright light in an otherwise depressing landscape of games based on movies that didn't quite capture their source material very well. Treyarch's multiplatform game managed to serve up an experience that was a solid complement to the excellent film. With its follow-up, Spider-Man 2, Treyarch is aiming to top its previous effort and build on its solid first game. The result is an ambitious, open-ended game that looks extremely promising. We had the chance to get an exclusive look at a near-final version of the game, and we're pleased by what we've seen.

Spider-Man goes toe-to-toe with the malevolent Dr. Octopus, and a whole bunch of petty crooks, in Spider-Man 2.
Spider-Man goes toe-to-toe with the malevolent Dr. Octopus, and a whole bunch of petty crooks, in Spider-Man 2.

For anyone unfamiliar with Marvel's Spider-Man, we offer this brief primer: Spider-Man is one of the icons from Marvel Comics' sizable arsenal of characters who were brought to life in the late 1960s. The webslinging hero is actually Peter Parker, a nerdy high school student who is bitten by a radioactive spider and is granted superhuman strength and the ability to stick to walls. (Yes, kids, this was back in the days when radiation could do magical things to your body rather than just kill you quicker than a canary in a gassy mine.) Following the death of his uncle, young Peter sets out to fight crime in his homemade superhero outfit while living a normal life on the side. 2002's film and game of the same name introduced the webslinging hero to the masses and served as an excellent start to a movie and game series. Spider-Man 2 aims to have some fun with what has been established.

While details on the upcoming movie's plot have been kept to the basics, the latest trailer for the movie offers a pretty tantalizing glimpse of what to expect, which, in turn, serves as a good teaser for the game. Spider-Man 2 puts you in the role of young Peter as he lives through a new set of challenges. The game's story will take the same approach as its predecessor and will expand on the film's narrative.

The main tale will follow Peter Parker as he struggles to balance his normal life with the demands of stopping crime while wearing red and blue tights. His latest challenge is one Otto Octavius--aka Doctor Octopus, for comic fans in the know--a scientist at Oscorp who ends up with a few extra appendages and a rather shaky mental state following a work-related accident. The game will add a few extra villains to the mix to make things even more complicated for young Peter, so plan on seeing familiar faces, such as Mysterio and the Rhino, over the course of your adventure.

The tale will play out in an open-ended fashion that marks a distinct change from the first game, which followed a linear path through a series of levels. Spider-Man 2 will use a variation of Grand Theft Auto-style free-roaming gameplay and offer you a good degree of freedom. You'll have a fat chunk of Manhattan, from the financial district to Harlem, to explore in your adventures. You'll access missions by interacting with locals who are sporting specific icons above their heads. The missions you take on will come in three color-coded varieties: You'll find story-specific missions that will advance the plot, random missions that will crop up as you go about your business, and challenge missions that will test your inner Spider-Man by asking you to perform progressively harder feats of skill. You'll progress from chapter to chapter by completing the story-specific missions you're tasked with at the start of each chapter. Until you complete the missions, you can roam the city and take on whatever errands you like. Your main motivation for doing so, aside from the fact that it's pretty darn fun to zip around, is that you'll earn "hero points" you can redeem in stores for new moves and other unlockable content.

The new sequel will give you plenty of ways to beat the tar out of lawbreakers.
The new sequel will give you plenty of ways to beat the tar out of lawbreakers.

Spider-Man 2's play mechanics have changed some from the first game, though they are similar in spirit to the game's structure in that you're given an impressive amount of freedom. You'll have two types of webswinging--normal and easy--to choose from. Normal offers full manual control when you're swinging on a webline. While the system is somewhat similar to the classic and enhanced modes from the first game, you'll find that normal mode's manual control offers a great deal more control. The normal system is a little tricky at first, since you'll have to decide when to release your webline (usually at the height of a swing for maximum air) and fire off another, but once you get it down you'll find that zipping through the city and even making sharp turns is surprisingly easy.

Webswinging is given an extra bit of oomph, thanks to the new physics and momentum system added to the game, which allows you to use gravity to your advantage when webslinging. The game now takes into account where your weblines attach, so it's possible to hitch a ride on helicopters. The team has even thrown in support for dual-webline swinging, which adds a bit of depth to your travels.

When you're not soaring through the air via your webs, you'll find that Spidey's wall-crawling has been boosted a bit too. You'll now be able to run up walls in addition to crawling. You'll also be able to leap to incredible heights by holding down the jump button and charging the move--you won't be leaping over tall buildings in a single bound, but you'll get pretty high. As for combat, the original Spider-Man's simplistic brawling has been replaced with a versatile combo system that allows you to use Spidey's webs to start combos and perform air juggles and to even use wall-running to your advantage.

You'll be able to swing from the financial district to Harlem in the game's virtual recreation of Manhattan.
You'll be able to swing from the financial district to Harlem in the game's virtual recreation of Manhattan.

Your skills will grow as you progress, thanks to the variety of combos you'll purchase with your hero points. For comic fans wondering how Spidey's "spider sense" will be included in the mix, never fear, Spider-Man's sixth sense will take the form of a timing-based mechanic that requires you to press a context-sensitive button to avoid your foes and even counterattack them. It's even possible to slow down time for brief stretches, à la Max Payne's "bullet time," to help make using the move a little easier.

We were understandably curious to see how all of the above would work in the actual game, so we took to the streets in the Xbox version of the game. When you first start the game you'll be asked to input a name for your save file and choose between the normal or easy swinging options. Once that's sorted out, the game switches to a real-time cinema for some movie-style credits overlaid onto an impressive fly-through of the city. You'll be treated to some voice-over by Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, waxing poetic on life as a superhero. The cinematic ends with a tight and impressive close-up of Spidey's in-game model. The game then segues to actual gameplay and shows off the title of its first chapter: What Might Have Been. The first chapter opens with narration from the godlike Bruce Campbell, who is once again on hand to offer you pointers in the game.

After you go through the basics of sticking to walls and jumping, and you learn the destination marker system, which helps guide you around the city on your map, the game shifts to the next chapter. The second chapter in the game, A Day in the Life, runs you through the paces of webshooting and sprinting, which you can do on the ground or up walls. The chapter also introduces you to your "to do" list, which you can call up by pressing the start button. You will see your objectives for the current chapter and a zoomed-out view of the city, which is extremely useful for getting your bearings.

You can even incorporate your webbing into combo attacks this time around.
You can even incorporate your webbing into combo attacks this time around.

The chapter also introduces you to earning hero points by completing missions and spending them in the hero store. You'll also be tempted with an in-game arcade wherein you'll be able to play minigames of some kind. None of these were available, but we're curious as to what exactly they'll end up being. Once you're through with the tutorial elements of the second chapter, the game shifts to a CG movie showing Spidey going about his business in the city. As he passes by a building, the camera goes in a window, and we see Doctor Octavius by the ominous device shown in the trailers. While it obviously doesn't bode well for Spidey, virtual Alfred Molina looks pretty slick.

The third chapter, Punctuality Is the Thief of Time, starts to ease you into the game proper and finds Peter late for class. While taking a web-fueled shortcut seems like a good idea, stopping the theft of a mysterious briefcase turns out to be a hefty time sink. But there's still much to be gained from the experience as you learn more about the combat system and are introduced to the "change" icon, which you'll find in places where you need to swap the tights for civilian attire and go about your business as average dude Peter Parker. The downside of playing as Peter is that real life can often be a bigger pain than armed thugs, which you discover when you get to class. Peter's professor, Curt Connors (10 points for anyone who recognizes the name from the comic book), is none too pleased and offers a pretty severe tongue-lashing (there's a pun in there if you know who Connors is).

The theme of lateness continues in chapter three as Peter tries to go about his business and meet Mary Jane and Harry Osbourne but is, once again, delayed because of a crime he must stop. By the time you meet Mary Jane and Harry, a story cinematic moves the plot along and also does a bit of foreshadowing regarding Harry's insane hatred of Spidey, and Peter and Mary Jane's attraction to each other. You can't dwell on either development too long, because--you guessed it--there's another crime to be stopped. This time out you find yourself stopping a pack of thugs in an art gallery. The twist to this incident is that you get your first glimpse of the Black Cat, one of the other faces from the comic series who has been added to the game.

The new physics system will make your webslinging that much more fun.
The new physics system will make your webslinging that much more fun.

You'll eventually find yourself chasing the Cat through the rooftops in a chase sequence similar to the ones seen in the first game. You must stay within a certain distance of the Cat or risk failing the mission. The last chapter we tried finds Peter going about his business at the Daily Bugle, with boss J. Jonah Jameson sending him out to get photographs of Spider-Man. As you set out to capture some nice shots of yourself, you're attacked by robots, which is the first true aerial fight you'll have. The new combat system works nicely, even when you're miles above the streets.

As we played through the story-specific missions mentioned above, we also tried a few of the random missions that pop up during the game. They ranged from simple fare, such as stopping a mugging and retrieving a kid's balloon, to much more complicated tasks, such as stopping a moving car and rescuing someone from a sinking boat. There were also some timed missions. One has you trying to save a construction worker before he loses his grip and falls to the ground. However, while most of the city residents are good people worth helping, you'll also find some bad eggs who'll lead you into ambushes. Sadly, you don't have the option of pounding the folk who set you up.

The graphics in the Spider-Man 2 are looking good. The city offers a surprising amount of detail given its size. One of the most impressive touches is how the atmosphere changes based on the in-game clock. Treyarch has crafted two distinct versions of the city, for night and day, and has heaped on an impressive amount of lighting to help segue between the two. Spidey and the main cast of villains in the game don't suffer despite the high city detail, although Spider-Man does come out looking the best. His animation is especially nice when you're swinging on your weblines or just floating in the air after releasing your web. The little acrobatic flourishes we've seen in the trailers as he moves through the air have been added in the right places in the game and really give him a fluid grace that was lacking in the original game. The only slightly weak spot is the non-player characters on the street, who tend to blend together. All told, it's not that high a price to pay considering the overall high level of detail and the smooth frame rate.

Spider-Man will once again fight for truth, justice, and the American way later this month.
Spider-Man will once again fight for truth, justice, and the American way later this month.

The audio in the game is coming together to paint a rich picture of the city through sound. You'll hear a lot of ambient noise, such as cars, people talking, and police sirens, that re-creates the sounds of a city. The voice cast does a good job of re-creating their screen characters. Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Alfred Molina do a fine job emoting. Maguire also handles the stream of one-liners Spidey is known for like a punning pro.

Based on what we've played so far, Spider-Man 2 is shaping up to be a worthy sequel to its predecessor and a fine game in its own right. The expanded gameplay, new graphics engine, and movie-cast voice acting all add up to make for an impressive experience. The addition of characters from the comics helps the game ably walk the fine line between appealing to movie and comic fans alike, which is always tricky. If you're a fan of Spidey, you will most certainly want to keep an eye out for the game when it ships later this month for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. In the meantime, check out an exclusive developer interview on the game's media page.

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