Alongside the hotly anticipated film comes the video game adaptation of Spider-Man 3 for consoles. But be forewarned that not all versions offer the same gameplay experience. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, produced by longtime Spidey developer Treyarch, were essentially slightly upgraded versions of the previous Spider-Man movie games. The Wii and PlayStation 2 versions were put together by a different studio, Vicarious Visions, and are severely downgraded from the benchmark set by previous Spider-Man movie games. Sure, the Wii version throws in some new motion-sensing controls, and you still get to swing around inside a giant, open-ended version of New York City. But everything else about these iterations of Spider-Man 3 is ugly, clumsy, or utterly boring.
Spider-Man 3 is a tie-in to the film, though it doesn't do a particularly good job of emulating the film's plot. Yes, you get bits and pieces of the key story arcs involving major villains like Venom and Sandman, as well as Spider-Man's groovy (and evil) new black suit. You'll also get some added story chunks involving Lizard, Kraven, and a bunch of random New York City gangs that are floating about the town, causing varying forms of mayhem. However, it's all kind of a mess. There's no real cohesion between all the different plotlines, and while this was also a problem in the PS3 and 360 versions, it's twice as bad here because the Wii and PS2 versions are much shorter. So much of the story and character development are skipped over and so much of what's happening is flat-out boring that it's impossible to care about what's going on.
Spider-Man 3 on the Wii and PS2 uses the same core concept of Grand Theft Auto-meets-Spider-Man that the last few Spidey games have used. As you swing around the open-ended city of New York, you can opt to head toward specific story missions or to tackle random crimes that pop up from time to time. Previous Spider-Man games forced you to embark on side missions and solve random crimes to progress the story, but Spider-Man 3 is far less strict about this, and the story progresses more naturally. Still, the side ventures have their merit as a distraction from the main single-player game. Progressing through the main story is merely a roughly eight-hour endeavor, but tackling all the bonus material could easily double that number.
Good luck trying to work up the inspiration to play through all that stuff, though. As much content as there is to sift through, the thoroughly lackluster gameplay throws up a brick wall in front of any desire to experience it. The biggest culprit is the combat. The Wii and PS2 versions of Spider-Man 3 use a mechanically similar combo system to the one found in the PS3 and 360 versions, but the key difference is that you don't earn new moves automatically. Instead, you have to upgrade using experience points you gain from completing missions. The moves you earn aren't nearly as cool as the ones found in the PS3 and 360 versions, either. You get a few nifty moves here and there, but mostly you get upgrades to the existing combo trees that are rather flat, overall. Because most enemies don't put up a great fight, you'll find yourself using the same dull combat moves again and again, until you're too bored to put up with it.
The other key gameplay difference between these versions and the PS3 and 360 versions is the black suit. In the 360 and PS3 games, the symbiote suit is acquired late in the game and isn't much more than a costume change with one added move. Here, there's a much more elaborate relationship between Spider-Man and the new suit. When you put it on and start fighting with it, you'll find you do more damage more quickly. At the same time, as you do more damage, a meter starts to fill up at the bottom of the screen. This meter depicts how the suit is beginning to take over and feed off you. If you leave it on for too long, you're hosed, so you'll have to take it off after a bit; but to do so, you have to engage in a button-pressing minigame that gets longer each time you use the suit. Enemies are kind enough to stay away while you do this, but even with that courtesy, having to monitor that meter and deal with increasingly long bouts of rhythmic button pressing makes the suit more of a hassle to use than it needs to be.
Mission designs do much to drag the game down too. It's not that the game has terrible missions, but they're so boilerplate and so devoid of intrigue or unique qualities that it's near-on impossible to get into them. The missions involve a lot of running to point A, beating up bad guys, then running to point B, finding bombs and swinging them into the ocean or punching them as needed, then running to point C and fighting more bad guys, this time with guns, and so on and so forth. When you have a game with an interesting combat system and enemies that know more than a couple of basic reactive attacks, you can get away with missions like this. But that's not the case here. Boss fights don't do much to break up the monotony, with generally simplistic patterns that don't make for much of a battle.
Since this game is on both the PS2 and Wii, there are some key control differences to note. The PS2 version uses the fully standard control scheme, with no surprises to speak of. However, the Wii version includes a variety of gesture-based controls for everything from webslinging to fighting. To be fair, some effort clearly went into this control scheme, especially when it comes to webswinging. Flicking the Wii Remote or Nunchuk forward while pressing the B or Z button lets out a line of web, and you use the analog stick on the Nunchuk to steer. It takes some getting used to, but it's a very cool mechanic that works better than you'd expect (though the thrill of swinging around this city is much less than in previous Spider-Man games, for reasons we'll get to shortly).
On the opposite side of things are the combat controls. To put it bluntly, the combat in the Wii version borders on unplayable--not just because of the severely weak and unresponsive waving motions you have to do over and over again to pull off moves, but because the camera control is abysmal. You have to hold down the C button and tilt the Nunchuk in either direction to spin the camera. That isn't going to cut it when you're in the middle of a battle (especially boss battles), no matter how stupid the enemies are--especially when the camera moves as slowly as this one. In both versions of the game, the camera proves to be a challenge for other reasons as well. When you're wallcrawling or webswinging or fighting in tight areas, the camera tends to get rather jittery and cause you to lose sight of whom you're fighting or which way is up or down.
One other thing the Wii and PS2 versions have in common is that they are dog ugly. It's as though Vicarious Visions took the Spider-Man 2 graphics engine and proceeded to beat it with ugly sticks until there was almost nothing recognizable left. The city environment is a series of nondescript blocks that are supposed to represent buildings. The streets are sparsely populated, trees and grass look like something out of a PC game circa 1998, and even with everything low-res, the frame rate still chugs. It's extra crummy looking if you swing up real high or hit the top of one of the taller skyscrapers, because all the world textures disappear, leaving even more nondescript blocks behind than the ones that were already there. The Spider-Man character model at least looks decent up close, though the other character models look rather generic and sometimes are missing a face, or have props they're supposed to be holding in their hands clipping through their elbows. At the very least, the Wii version does look a touch crisper than the PS2 version, has slightly better lighting, and the frame rate isn't quite as chuggy. Cutscenes are either ripped directly from the 360 and PS3 versions (complete with tons of ugly artifacting) or use this version of the game's engine, meaning you'll get two different qualities of character models during cutscenes, depending on whether you're seeing something recycled from the other games or something exclusive to the Wii and PS2.
While it might seem like a big deal that much of the Spider-Man 3 film cast appears in this game, their performances aren't especially good. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson is the lone bright spot. Tobey Maguire gives a sleepy, generally OK performance as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and all the others (including James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, and Topher Grace) sound like they'd rather be anywhere else than recording this dialogue. It doesn't help that the dialogue is painful in most cases, especially the pedestrian dialogue. The random people that show up to talk to you either speak flatly with no emotion or try to ham it up with the most forced-sounding accents imaginable. At least the music's good, though audio does have a nasty tendency to cut out at seemingly random intervals.
Spider-Man 3 on the Wii and PS2 is ultimately a total washout. The badly cut-together storyline, nasty graphics, and dull-as-a-doornail gameplay all come together to create an experience that feels entirely haphazard. When you can't even make the sensation of webswinging freely through a major metropolis thrilling, or turn Spider-Man's array of nimble combat moves into something halfway entertaining, you know you've got a stinker on your hands. If you absolutely, positively must have a Spider-Man game to go along with your enjoyment of the film, look toward other versions of the game. The Wii and PS2 versions just don't cut it.