More like Spider Man 2: With cool new moves
First of all, Spidey's playground has not been drastically improved. It's the same New York you slung webs through in 2004's Spider-Man 2, complete with Roosevelt Island and a near-perfectly recreated Manhattan. Seeing as everyone's familiar with NY already, there's no great incentive to swing around and explore. Some additions, like the extra bridges, just lead to a vast nothingness. Granted, there's only so much you can do with a real-life city, but part of having one giant level in the game is making it interesting for the player. We've done this twice now, and improved graphics aren't enough of a reason to slap money down all over again.
On the plus side, the 360 version is hands-down better than the PS3 game. That version is wrought with sticky, choppy gameplay that sucks the web-slinging excitement right out of the air. At least here you can still enjoy flipping and flying all over the place. It's also worth noting that some areas of the 360 version actually look better than the PS3 version, yet with no overbearing slowdown.
Scoring points for smoother gameplay isn't exactly a key victory when the rest of the game is just like the last one in the series. Yes, the skyscrapers are quite daunting and looking out across the entire city is a rush, but once that initial impact is gone, you're left with Spider-Man 2 Plus Some New Moves. And even tough the 360 version moves along smoother than the PS3, both suffer from a surprisingly large amount of pop-in. If you're not familiar with the term, it means you'll be walking or swinging along when major details will suddenly pop in to existence in front of you, ranging from people and cars to whole buildings.
You know how city folk get scared and run away in Grand Theft Auto or Crackdown? None of that here. These zombified dolts keep walking in a straight line no matter what happens, be it Spidey and the New Goblin getting into a fireball tossing match or a gang war erupting in the streets. They'll blindly walk into walls, get stuck in corners, obstruct your path... the list keeps growing every time we play, and we're already at the end, after 15 painful hours.
Care for another other example of such nonsense? While fighting the New Goblin in the streets, you might come across an open air streetball court. Rather than flying into the court with his jet glider, the Goblin will hover around to the only part that's not fenced in and enter the proper way - by using the entrance.
The bosses are leftovers from last gen, with repeating attack patterns and unreasonable health bars that recharge because the situation calls for it. You get to see Kingpin, Lizard, Kraven, Scorpion, Rhino, Venom and Sandman, but fighting them is actually less fun than the underlings. It's also incredibly silly to watch a group of street toughs shrug off hits from a genetically enhanced superhero who can bench 10 tons. How many times do we have to watch dudes armed with stop signs push Spidey around? Most of the boss battles end with a "cineractive" cutscene. Even without the fancy name, you know what they are - taken from Shenmue or perhaps most notably now from God of War, these intense moments play themselves out while you hit buttons that are supposed to correlate with the on-screen action. Some may like the idea, some may not, but either way the button prompts don't match the action. At least in GoW the commands made sense - here they feel useless and arbitrary.
But before you can take down one of the big guys, you've got to get through the missions. Spider-Man 3 features multiple plot threads and you're able to pursue them in any order. It seems cool at first, but eventually you'll see that it's not open-ended and 80% of the missions have to be completed to move the story. The mission structure is not much different than before, either. Go here, guide Spidey through a horribly designed interior, flail around trying to fight waves of criminals while the camera does whatever it wants... yeah you know. Aside from a few clever bomb-disarming minigames, there's nothing that hasn't already been done to death.
Even the fighting is a mixed bag. Most of Spidey's new moves are hella cool with outstanding animations and the black costume's extra power is a cool bonus, but when one of your touted features is a "Rage Mode," you know the fighting is getting stale. Still, swinging dudes into breakable objects is super sweet. There are times when you can just let all your frustration go with an old-fashioned web lasso attack and break every bone in some unlucky bastard's body. Oh, and the skyscraper-spanning pile driver makes a triumphant return as well.
If you adored the last game like we did (along with Ultimate Spider-Man), you're going to be let down. Perhaps you won't mind the same-as-before gameplay, but we should expect more from a series that's generally done the movies justice. As it is, Spider-Man 3 is so by the numbers, so average that we just can't muster much enthusiasm. Comic fans'll hate the inconsistent power levels while hardcore gamers will balk at how routine it feels. Maybe the super-casual, movie-going audience won't mind, but the rest of us certainly should.