Lights, Camera, Action Button! Spider-Man Swings In!
The game of Spider-Man 2 gets plenty of attention, and rightly so. With its physics and environments, as well as the ability to explore a digital recreation of New York City, it was highly impressive for its time and holds up today – but what of its predecessor?
Back before superhero films were the norm, the arrival of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film in 2002 was exciting. Though the beloved character had been a staple of many animated series, there had never been a live-action incarnation which got the feel of the character quite right.
That was until Tobey Maguire donned the trademark suit and, with the help of the best technology around, convincingly swung through the air and climbed walls just like everyone imagined the comic character would. Audiences were so excited they handed over nearly $1 billion at the box office. As such, sequels were inevitable and, of course, all of these films would have tie-in video games.
Published by Activision, the tie-in Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube game of Spider-Man was first released in April 2002, coinciding with the film’s world premiere. It was well reviewed but noted for a number of bugs beyond its hero, all of which become very evident when played out.
“Can Spider-Man Come Out to Play?”
Picking up Spider-Man, the controls will be familiar to anyone who has played a similar game before. Notable exceptions are there’s no defence command and web-slinging is nowhere near as fluid. The worst offender, though, is the camera, which is so bad at keeping up with the action it can actually dictate the direction Spider-Man goes.
If you have not played a Spider-Man game before, hints and instructions are littered throughout the game, given hilariously by Raimi regular Bruce Campbell. (“That’s the public service advice done… I’m gonna grab a ham sandwich”). The game also recruits two cast members of the film, Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe, to reprise their respective roles of Peter Parker and Norman Osborne.
Rather than being an open-world explorer, this game is on rails from start to finish. It begins with Peter Parker on the trail of the killer of his Uncle Ben, forgoing almost the entire first act of the film. It’s a nice touch that in this first level Pete is in his work-in-progress Spidey suit of a red balaclava and jeans. However, given that much of it takes place in confined spaces where it can be hard to evade enemies, it does drag on a bit too long.
Things pick up when the action moves outside and you can see what the game does best, recreating a vast and well-detailed New York skyline that is a joy to be in. Unfortunately there isn’t the option to explore, so exposure is limited, and it’s not long before Spider-Man heads back inside to round up villains on the loose.
“A Knack for Getting In Trouble”
Truth be told, Spider-Man was not the most action-packed film, with much screen time given over to Peter Parker’s character arc. The game seems to pick up on that, drafting in some of the webslinger’s rogues gallery to pad out the action. At the same time, a new sub-plot is introduced where Norman Osborne invents a clutter of robot spiders designed to find and destroy Spider-Man.
First up, Shocker and an army of goons storm Grand Central Station, one of the nicest locations in the game. Spidey has to first save the guards who come under attack from the henchmen, then chase Shocker himself through sewers and subway tunnels, avoiding his sound-wave attacks.
Once he has been apprehended, one of Spider-Man’s most underused enemies makes an appearance, the Vulture. After a pedestrian climb up an explosive-laden tower, there is a pursuit of Vulture across the game’s skyline as he tries to escape with stolen jewels.
The next encounter is with Scorpion, whose portrayal in this game is a much different one than that of the Spider-Man canon. He gains his armour as part of an OsCorp experiment, but unable to remove it, finds his sanity waning. When Spider-Man first comes across him, he is under attack from Osborne’s robot spiders. Our hero decides to help the troubled tough by fighting these enemies off. Then, rather ungratefully, Scorpion turns on him, and the most challenging of these three boss fights ensues.
These new villains dispatched, the story gets back on familiar territory. Osborne, now the Green Goblin, is causing havoc in in the New York skies aboard his trademark Goblin Glider. After rescuing Mary Jane from a random parade balloon (For context, this scene in the game did not happen during a parade), Spider-Man has to give chase and attack the Goblin when he gets the chance. This section showcases both the game’s biggest strengths – environments – and weaknesses – aerial combat.
“We’ve Got a Page One Problem”
It’s at this point Spider-Man runs out of steam and creativity; after re-hashing a very tired video game cliché – racing to bombs in time to diffuse them – Spider-Man is then attacked by a swarm of the Goblin’s “razor-bats” (flying oranges with blades on the sides). It is as uninteresting as it is annoying.
Here the Xbox version has a little diversion: Kraven the Hunter, in an attempt to catch Spider-Man, has holed up in the zoo, which he has redecorated and fitted with traps. It is a superior level, but absent from the PS2 version (Xbox players have all the fun!), which just skips to the discovery that the Goblin’s tech is from OsCorp.
Spider-Man decides to investigate and infiltrates the company’s headquarters. This gives you the very tricky task of sneaking past guards, alarms and security cameras – which are hard to get passed undetected, the control problems not helping. The security robots, who start shooting to kill as soon as you’re in sight, are particularly hard to avoid.
Those patient enough to get past all this security will discover OsCorp’s “Ultimate Weapon” – a giant robot. It comes to life shortly after its discovery and Spider-Man has to defeat it before it starts to run amok.
After doing so, he discovers Osborne is the Goblin and his plot to lure him into a final showdown by trying to make off with Mary Jane Watson. Thus the stage is set for the game’s more faithful recreation of the film’s conclusion.
As you may have already seen, Spider-Man is, at best, a loose adaptation of the film that inspired it. In fairness there weren’t that many crossover opportunities, but still the game makers haven’t been too creative when adapting the game for consoles. They’ve had to resort to new ideas and old clichés at the expense of staying faithful to the film. Some memorable moments – including the upside-down kiss – are entirely absent.
Spider-Man is challenging, but in the wrong ways. The issues with character controls and enemy AI make it harder than it should be, and players will end up having to navigate the game despite its bugs. There are some fun moments in the gameplay, but confined by frustrating tech issues, they are not as fun as they should be. This game had plenty of potential, but its promise was squandered by lacklustre execution and too many uninspired moments.