Spider-Man 3 marks the fourth game from developer Treyarch to feature Marvel's popular web-slinging superhero. So with Spider-Man 3 being the first game in the series to hit the current generation of consoles, you might expect something of a leap forward for the franchise--something to really wow Spider-Man fans and take the series in a new and exciting direction. No such luck, it seems. Spider-Man 3 is a lot like the last couple of Spider-Man games. Sure, it throws in a few new wrinkles to the combat system and adds some crazy God of War-esque contextual actions into the mix, but the core game is functionally the same as previous Spider-Man games, and the changes are a mixture of positive and problematic. Spider-Man 3 isn't altogether bad, but it has enough issues to prevent it from being wholly recommendable.
Spider-Man 3 ties itself into the new Spidey film by including some of the key story arcs from the movie. You'll see Peter Parker get his black suit as well as run into villains like Sandman, New Goblin, and Venom. But much like Spider-Man 2, the roster of villains doesn't end there. Scorpion, Lizard, Kingpin, and others all pop up in spots. While it makes sense for the developers to extend the scope of the story beyond that of the film, trouble arises when you realize that the film's plot is practically glossed over. There are 10 individual storylines to play through, but none of them are paced well, nor do they ever build up or deliver enough of a story to pull it all together into one cohesive plot. It's almost like a hastily cobbled together Spider-Man mixtape. You get all the villains, and none of the story exposition. There's about as much character depth and story perspective here as is in the film's trailer.
If you played any of the recent movie-licensed Spidey games, you'll feel right at home with Spider-Man 3 from the get-go. Like the previous games, Spider-Man 3 presents you with an open-world version of New York City to swing around in to your heart's content. Swinging works much as it did in Spider-Man 2, letting you latch onto nearby buildings and launch quick webs to zip around as you please. Swinging through the city is easily the best aspect of the entire game. The city isn't gigantic, but there's enough familiar scenery around to make you want to explore, and that the city looks excellent is a big plus. Buildings are nicely detailed, the streets are jam-packed with cars and pedestrians, and the game uses some nice lighting effects to give the sky, as well as reflections of the sun off buildings, a rather pretty glow.
As you swing around, you'll find open mission icons scattered throughout the city. Fortunately, you don't have to go hunting for them, as there is a city map that lets you target any mission icon available to you. Though Spider-Man 3 doesn't change its formula much from previous games, the one big change for the better this time around is the game's structure. No longer are you forced to complete random side missions to get new story missions to unlock. The story missions and side missions are treated independently from one another, so you need only beat story missions to unlock more story missions. The story itself is a good 10 to 12 hours long, even if you never engage in any of the side missions, so you're not forced to sit through padded content that just makes the game longer. Side missions are still worth doing if you need a change of pace from the story, and there's still plenty of random crime floating about the city to take care of. The one bummer is that few of these random crimes or side missions deviate very far from the ones found in earlier Spider-Man games, and the few that do don't really fit terribly well. Even some of the new story missions seem weirdly out of place. For example, why is Spider-Man now an expert at disarming bombs?
One other change to the game is the addition of contextual minigames. Clearly inspired by the gameplay of God of War, Spider-Man will now engage in scripted events of acrobatic and combative heroism, and all you have to do is press a few buttons in time with the icons that appear onscreen. One example is Spider-Man having to leap through an impossibly complex series of lasers that will trigger an alarm if hit. Just hit the buttons or analog stick movements that pop up, and you're good to go. These new sequences aren't a bad addition, though they could have been implemented better. There's often very little warning as to when one of these situations is about to pop up, so there tends to be a trial-and-error aspect to them. The icons can occasionally be difficult to discern, as well, specifically if the game is using analog-stick icons. If there's a lot of crazy action happening onscreen, it can be tough to see exactly which direction the game wants you to go, let alone act quickly enough to pull off the move. Fortunately, the game almost never starts you back any further than the beginning of the minigame sequence you just started, so the punishment for failure is minor.
Where Spider-Man 3 starts to lose its way is in combat. The basic combat engine doesn't feel markedly different from earlier games, as it focuses on button-mashing combos that upgrade over time and give you some unique special moves. The main problem stems from the game's overreliance on Spider-Man's bullet-time equivalent. By holding down the left bumper on the Xbox 360, or the L1 button on the PlayStation 3, Spidey goes into a slowed state that lets him automatically dodge incoming attacks. In combat against basic thugs, you only need to use this every once in a while, though when you do use it, you can clear an entire room in just a few seconds because the grunt enemies are so inept at fighting back. But against most bosses, you have to keep this button held down at all times to get much done. Some bosses can be whaled on sans the bullet time, but a few of the later bosses pretty much require it, making those fights a plodding chore. It gets even worse when the game tries to change things up on you. One of the more tedious, protracted boss fights pits you against a giant version of the Lizard, where you first have to toss him into a series of power generators using a clumsy spinning maneuver before you even get down to the dull business of beating him up.
Spider-Man 3's camera system is an even bigger problem. The camera doesn't know how to snap behind you if you have to run around in a circle to avoid enemy attacks, so you constantly have to readjust it. If you happen to readjust it in a tightly enclosed area, the camera freaks out and you lose all perspective of where you are or where the enemy went. It gets even worse during some of the missions that require you to swing around the city. There are multiple missions where you have to swing to a specific area in a certain amount of time, but getting the camera to line up so you have a clear shot of where you next need to swing is an exercise in futility. You'll end up failing far too many missions because of this. And if you're in a situation where you're crawling along a wall or ceiling, make sure you're not easily nauseated. The quick snaps of the camera and constant "Am I up or down?" perspective shifts make these parts vomit inducing.
Despite the fact that Spider-Man 3 is on the Xbox 360 and PS3, the game doesn't look like it's built for this generation of consoles. The city features the most detail, though it also has a few issues with texture popping. Most everything else looks slightly haggard in one way or another. The Spider-Man character model looks great, but all the other people look bug-eyed and mildly deformed. Some of the combat moves look neat, but the animations are jerky and stilted, as if transition animations are missing. You'll also encounter a lot of weird physics glitches as you play, especially during combat. Enemies will get hung up on walls or invisible pieces of the environment, objects don't break properly, and even Spidey sometimes gets stuck in or clips through walls or set pieces. The frame rate doesn't quite hold up, either. Neither version's frame rate is good, exactly, though the PS3 version is a bit chunkier. On the flipside, the PS3 version's character models look a bit smoother and less aliased than the 360's, so it's a matter of give and take.
The game's audio is mostly predictable, though it's decent enough for what the game requires. The biggest draw here is the involvement of the film's cast. Kirsten Dunst is nowhere to be found, but Tobey Maguire, James Franco, Thomas Hayden Church, Topher Grace, and J.K. Simmons all make appearances. Simmons seems to be the only one that's enthusiastic about reprising his role as J. Jonah Jameson. Maguire gives an OK, but generally, sleepy performance as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, and the remaining cast all seem like they'd rather be somewhere else. Bruce Campbell shows up yet again to play the narrator, though he generally comes across as superfluous and out of place. Sound effects and music are both solid, though once again, swinging through the city seems oddly silent. You get some nice whooshes of wind as you swing about, but the soundtrack either cuts out entirely or stays very quiet and understated as you swing. At least the music is good during fights.
In the end, Spider-Man 3 has its moments. Swinging through New York is as fun as it's ever been, and some of the new contextual action sequences are pretty cool. But for everything Spider-Man 3 does well, it does something else poorly. The camera and presentation issues, as well as the clumsy combat, all conspire to drag the experience down significantly. Spider-Man 3 isn't without merit, but unless you're one of those diehard Spider-Man fans that can't get enough of the swinging superhero, there's probably not enough to Spider-Man 3 to make it worth your time.