In The Amazing Spider-Man, the webslinger dispenses quick wit almost as fast as he dispenses justice. More importantly, he gets room to show off his high-flying acrobatics with a freedom his last two outings were lacking. This time, Spidey has the whole of Manhattan as his playground. As you fling yourself above the city, swinging past skyscrapers and vaulting from towers, you get a dizzying sense of what it would be like to slip into the famous red and blue costume.
It's a joy when The Amazing Spider-Man thrusts you into this wide-open world. By holding down a single trigger, you propel webbing from your wrists, swinging in whichever direction you choose. Expectedly, you don't necessarily see the webbing attach to anything nearby, which is fine: the joyous locomotion is all in the name of fun. Yet the game does a great job of providing the illusion that the laws of physics still vaguely apply. When you swish through a park that isn't near tall buildings, you stay near the ground, practically brushing the grass underneath you. When surrounded by stately superstructures, you rise toward the heavens, from where you can look upon the entire city and admire its vibrancy.
Out here in the concrete wilds, The Amazing Spider-Man is at its best, simply because moving around is so much fun. Hundreds of collectible comic pages twinkle on rooftops and flutter in the air. They are simple but nice rewards for the act of locomotion. Come near a page, and you hear and see its telltale glimmer, and note the button prompt inviting you to fling toward it. These signs are enough to have you scanning the screen, searching for the elusive paper. But there's more to the game than webswinging, of course: most of the story-based missions take you off the streets and send you into the sewers and other such interiors. Out in Manhattan, most tasks are optional and involve picking up asylum escapees and returning them to their institution, beating up muggers, and so forth.
With a couple of exceptions, most of these tasks don't evolve in any way, and they become stale if you focus on them for too long. One minigame has you hovering a circle over Spidey as he flies through the air automatically; you're meant to keep him in view of the video camera that follows him. It isn't very challenging or fun, and in fact, on medium (Hero) difficulty, The Amazing Spider-Man is rarely challenging. Other tasks--rescuing sickly citizens and rushing them to a nearby makeshift hospital--are more enjoyable, in part because of the banter between Spider-Man and his poor passengers. ("No drooling on the suit, please!") But eventually, the voice samples repeat, and playing paramedic loses some of its appeal. Nevertheless, there are enough things to do that you'll be thrilled to have the chance to zoom through the air at top speed.
The missions that lead you through the story aren't as delightful as the open-world hijinks, though the story itself is as wonderfully absurd as any Spidey tale to come before it. The game begins (apparently) after the events of the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man film, with a tour of the Oscorp facility, where the corporation is winding down some unusual experiments. Well, not everything is on the up-and-up, and soon a viral outbreak has the city in turmoil. Peter/Spider-Man's response? Break out an asylum inmate who holds the key to a cure. With so many variables, it's no wonder that Spidey's plans don't follow their intended script, though he stays pretty upbeat throughout. Spider-Man is as funny here as he's ever been, cracking wise in even the most stressful situations. The dialogue is a good mix of seriousness and ridiculousness, making it easy to stick with the plot even when it goes so far over the top it spills into bizarre territory.
Story-driven chapters are notably more confining than the free-form gameplay that surrounds them. You investigate dull-looking sewers, where you notice technical drawbacks like heavy aliasing that go overlooked in Manhattan, which is saturated with color and personality. In the indoor spaces, you confront hazards like steam valves (clog them up with your web shots!) and pools of acid (navigate around them!). You must take a more cautious approach, holding down a button to slow down time, choosing a proper perch, and then releasing the button to leap to that spot. You can tap the button should you prefer a more fluid pace, but you risk zipping into the wrong position if you aren't careful.
That same button, when used on a guard, a robot, or some other meanie, has you rushing in to initiate combat. The influence of Batman: Arkham City is keenly felt when you bash on baddies, though Spidey's game isn't as fluid as Batman's. Nevertheless, the basics are similar: you tap attack buttons to pound on your foes, and when the right visual prompt appears, you press the dodge button to somersault out of the way. And like Bats, Spidey is particularly vulnerable to bullets, though you have a one-button escape move that allows you to quickly flee danger. You can even web-grab objects like vending machines and dumpsters and smash them on the ground, stunning nearby foes and allowing you to easily blanket them with webbing.
The similarities to that other superhero game are obvious in sections that encourage stealth. You can hover above an enemy or slink from behind and perform a sneak attack. Dropping from a beam, tapping a guard's shoulder, and then wrapping him up and sticking him to the ceiling is a hoot. The AI is mechanical, and not too keen--it's usually simple to zip out of danger and resume your predation.
The guards aren't imbeciles, though, and shine their flashlights about when they are aware of your presence, potentially giving you away if a beam lands on you. Another great touch: you aren't limited to roosting in predetermined areas. Though you can't necessarily stick to every surface, you can usually flit to the wall right over your target's head and wrap him up from there. It's a nice, flexible system.
These gameplay basics are fine, but the interior missions are much less compelling than events that occur in the open city. A lengthy section toward the end of the game is even more limiting than many of the missions that come before, losing most of the fun in favor of providing narrative tension. But even before this, avoiding alarm lasers and acid puddles isn't as enjoyable as most aboveground missions, and there are few opportunities to swing with abandon. While the combat is entertaining enough to watch, it is entirely too easy most of the time. There's a simple upgrade system in place in which you spend experience points on new moves and other improvements. But there's no real sense that you are getting more powerful. Battles are easy from beginning to end, and never feel radically different or require more finesse just because you level up your skills.
That's even true of most of the boss fights, which rarely require more than a single attempt. Fighting half-man, half-beast abominations isn't that compelling due to the ease of combat. Robot battles in the streets of Manhattan, on the other hand, make up for their lack of challenge with an incredible sense of speed and the illusion of public danger. Imagine any given scene in a superhero movie in which the superstar faces a menacing rival in the midst of a bustling metropolis. The Amazing Spider-Man deftly re-creates that brand of visual rush when you race after marauding machines and glide about gigantic automatons. The skill required often comes down to hitting the right button when prompted, but when the excellent movement mechanics collide with the urgency of a boss battle, the game is explosive.
Such moments are the exception rather than the rule in The Amazing Spider-Man. The game spends too much time in drab drains and boring science facilities, where its best assets are sidelined in favor of easy combat scenarios. But when developer Beenox gives Spidey room to soar, you get caught up in the pure elation of swinging through a spirited city, where helicopters hover overhead and well-wishers call out to you in the streets. And that elation is the best reason to don the suit once more and remind yourself that with great power comes good fun.