PC games adapted from movies haven't fared well in the past--nor have games based on comic books for that matter. But Spider-Man: The Movie, an action game released simultaneously for no less than five different gaming platforms including the PC, succeeds mostly in capturing the essence of Marvel Comics' popular superhero. That's in part because the development team at Treyarch simply built off the core gameplay of the previous Activision Spider-Man game released on the PC. As a result, Spider-Man: The Movie boasts some impressive graphics (and requires a high-end video card), but it has also inherited some of the older game's faults--the camera is incredibly difficult to deal with at times, even despite some extra camera options available in the PC version. Also, the control can be a little difficult to get used to, and the enemy AI can be pretty bad. Nevertheless, most Spider-Man fans will still have fun swinging in between (and mysteriously high up above) the game's massive skyscrapers or lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting villain. The convincing graphics will also help most Spider-Man fans look past most of the game's flaws.
If you've played the previous Activision Spider-Man game, then you'll be able to jump right into Spider-Man: The Movie, since most of the basic actions are nearly identical in both games. Unlike its console counterparts, the PC version actually lets you map keys to specific actions--however, this game was definitely designed for use with a gamepad. If you're stuck using a keyboard, then the controls in Spider-Man: The Movie are going to be much more difficult. Interestingly, the PC version lacks the option to switch between the two different types of web attacks and instead forces you to use the "enhanced" control mode designed by Treyarch, in which you press down a web-modifier button and a corresponding action button to perform one of Spider-Man's web attacks. This works well, and unlike with the default controls of the console versions, it prevents you from moving around when you're trying to pull off one of Spider-Man's special attacks, like the web dome or the web pull.
But inevitably, you'll encounter serious control problems that have nothing to do with the layout or how responsive Spider-Man is to your commands. Many of your frustrations with Spider-Man: The Movie will be directly linked to the game's camera, which sometimes seems to take on a life of its own regardless of which camera mode you choose. In the passive mode, the camera doesn't have a default position where it stays directly locked behind Spider-Man, so, for example, even when you're simply running down a hallway or across the rooftops, you'll find yourself perpetually having to adjust the camera and Spider-Man's direction. This problem is significantly magnified when you use the lock-on option. There are many moments in which you'll be heading in one direction and then all of a sudden switching to another so that the camera can compensate to keep both Spider-Man and the enemy onscreen at once. In the active mode, the camera attempts to stay directly behind Spider-Man, but since you'll be making so many sudden changes in direction, the camera can't quite keep up, and you'll still sometimes find yourself heading in an undesired direction.
The perspective works at least reasonably well in the outdoor areas and during missions that require stealth, which occur quite frequently near the end of the game. However, the stealth element isn't done nearly as well as in games like Metal Gear Solid or Thief, and more often than not, you'll find that taking the time to be stealthy just isn't worth the effort. Spider-Man can essentially hide himself in the shadows, but some shadows offer more cover than others do because you won't be fully hidden--unless the icon in the upper right-hand corner of the screen is completely shadowed. The stealth system is not only inconsistent, but also just doesn't make sense at times--clinging to a certain spot on a wall that's completely visible will shade the icon, while lurking in a shadow in a corner of the ceiling will not. If anything, this makes the game more time-consuming and challenging; however, there's no denying that Spider-Man's stealth sequences can be pretty awkward.
Thankfully, there are other types of gameplay that are much more fun. Most, if not all, of these occur in the outdoor levels, which unfortunately are less frequent (and shorter) than the indoor levels. There will be times when you'll wish the game wasn't based on the movie so that it could include more of these outdoor levels, with their fun high-flying action. On the other hand, the indoor levels fall victim to boring conventions--like those requiring you to find items and then backtrack through a level to use them--that at best sometimes give the illusion that the gameplay is deeper and more involved than it really is. It's unfortunate, because Spider-Man: The Movie probably would have been much more enjoyable without these indoor levels.
The basic action elements save Spider-Man: The Movie. The combat is fun and actually requires you to think a little and scan the environment for good places to take on groups of enemies. In some of the earlier levels, you'll have to take on five or six thugs at once, some of whom have guns, making it easy for them to stay back and fire at you while their buddies take swings. In situations like these, you'll find yourself looking for areas where you can take cover against gunfire and fight enemies hand-to-hand at the same time. Of course, in the same situation, you could use any one of Spider-Man's web abilities to help you out. Generally, there are several different ways to approach combat.
You can expand Spider-Man's fighting abilities by finding yellow Spider-Man icons that are scattered throughout each level. Each icon indicates the button combination to one of dozens of new moves that Spider-Man can execute. While it's not completely necessary, the game will be much easier for those who take the time to find these icons and learn how to use different combinations effectively. That's because as you progress through the game, the boss characters, and even some of the more powerful thugs, will start to block your combinations and even counter them if you continually use the same ones.
There are a quite a few surprises when it comes to the enemy AI in Spider-Man. The aforementioned hand-to-hand combat boss battles can be quite difficult, but even the weakest of enemies will sometimes foil you. If you jump on the back of a thug and stay there for too long, he'll run straight for a wall to knock you off his back. Unfortunately, the AI isn't all good--some enemies just walk around in circles even though they know exactly where you are, and others are incapable of opening certain types of doors, which gives you an easy escape route if you happen to be close to such a door.
Most of the enemy character models are reasonably detailed, considering there are usually five or six onscreen at once, but the real beauty of Spider-Man: The Movie is in the main character models and the outdoor environments. Spider-Man and the boss characters all look great, especially on high-end systems. You'll be able to see some really small details, such as the cloth pattern in Spider-Man's suit and the reflective surface on his eye patches, and you'll be impressed with his fluid animations. The outdoor environments are massive, with plenty of skyscrapers and smaller buildings dotting the landscape. Windows all reflect the surrounding scenery, sunlight shimmers off a nearby river, and traffic scurries far down along the streets below. You'll definitely be spending your first few moments of the game taking in all the detail and marveling at how much better the outdoor areas look than those in the previous Spider-Man games. The indoor levels aren't nearly as impressive, though they still feature plenty of clean textures and some decent lighting effects. For those who aren't equipped with the latest in computer hardware and have to use many of the default graphic settings, the special effects won't be as prominent and the frame rate will tend to fluctuate a little more--but the game will still look good and will certainly still be playable.
In keeping with the fact that this is a game adaptation of a movie, Activision was able to procure the services of both Toby Maguire and Willem Dafoe to voice Spider-Man and Norman Osborn, respectively. Disappointingly, Toby sounds as though he really doesn't want to be doing voice work for a video game. However, Dafoe's performance is actually quite energetic and entertaining enough that it saves the exchange that occurs between Spider-Man and Norman Osborn's alternate identity. Also, the music is surprisingly subdued for a game of this type. The tracks actually do a fairly good job of giving you the sense that you're playing through a video game version of a big-budget action movie, but most of the tracks are really short and none are particularly inspired.
Spider-Man: The Movie is really two Spider-Man games. The outdoor levels are much more fun and enjoyable than the indoor levels--so much that the game could have been considerably better had there simply been more of the former and less of the latter. To be fair, some of the indoor missions are entertaining in their own right. And even despite the camera problems and some of the other issues, most players will probably enjoy playing what ultimately turns out to be a graphically enhanced version of the previous Activision Spider-Man game, which faithfully captured the superhero's moves and antics to begin with. For good measure, the sheer number of extras--which are rewarded to you based on your performance in each mission and include things such as Spider-Man Bowling and production artwork--along with the high degree of challenge, should keep you busy for some time.