Activision's Spider-Man was initially released for the PlayStation, and a tightened-up N64 port followed in due order. While many third parties are starting to slowly distance themselves from Sega's Dreamcast, Activision has decided to release a Dreamcast port of the game as well. The result is altogether solid, if a bit no-frills. Textures have been cleaned up and solidified, and models have been fleshed out, but otherwise the game is essentially unchanged. This is, of course, good news to Dreamcast owners--Spider-Man was one of the best action games on any platform last year, and those without access to the previous versions are in for a treat.
Spider-Man video games haven't fared too well, historically. Being mostly either dull beat-'em-ups or sorry platformers, the games released in Spider-Man's honor did justice to neither the character nor gaming at large. Activision's game, however, changed all that--its Spider-Man game actually wrapped a successful game design around the character's myriad powers. The result was a game that was both deep and intriguing from a game-mechanics standpoint, and its presentation aptly captured the mood of the comic series. 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 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 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 webspinner's combat functions revolve around the use of the Y button, which performs several different functions, depending on which D-pad direction is used in tandem with it. Hitting the Y button on its own, for example, will shoot a trap web that entangles foes, while hitting up and Y 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 hand-to-hand damage; and the web yank, which lets Spidey pull and tug enemies in a desired direction.
Outside of combat, though, is where Spidey's webs play their most vital role. The right trigger lets Spidey swing to an adjacent platform, while the left trigger in tandem with the A button lets him hop 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 capture his new position, allowing clear sight of the floor.
Unfortunately, therein lies the source of the game's imperfections. First, it must be noted that the developers 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 webhead--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 webhead 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 because of this glitch. While you might be 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 the developers' ability to tame the camera as well as it did is quite an accomplishment. On the other hand, however, the fact that Treyarch didn't find time to tweak the camera a bit is a little disappointing.
Many aspects of the game's graphical presentation were optimized for the more-powerful Dreamcast hardware. As mentioned before, the models seem a bit more fleshed out and detailed. This is especially noticeable with Spider-Man himself, but many of the enemy and boss characters seem altogether more solid. Further, both the characters' skins and the environmental textures seem to have been reworked to varying degrees, and the effect is pleasing, especially to those who've played the game's earlier, more visually modest versions. The heavy texture warping found in the PlayStation version of Spider-Man is thankfully gone, as is the graphical haze that permeated the N64 version. Those new to the game, however, won't be wowed by any means--when compared to current-generation Dreamcast games, Spider-Man's graphics seem utilitarian. The game's various cutscenes remain amusing and well produced--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 models in the in-game cutscenes have also been improved, and they look a good deal better than those in previous versions.
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 the 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 Spider-Man. The Dreamcast version of the game is definitely the best one yet, though there really isn't enough in it to warrant a new look from those who've played the previous versions. Dreamcast owners who haven't, though, are urged to check it out--Spidey is definitely in top form.