Most video games based on movies are terrible. They exist to promote the film, they rarely have enough time to be done right because their release is tied to the movie’s release date rather than its own schedule, and they’re usually cheap and disposable. However, there are exceptions such as GoldenEye 007, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, and Spider-Man 2.
But I want to draw special attention to Spider-Man 2 because it’s been 13 years since the game came out, and yet the Spider-Man games we’ve had since have been largely terrible. It would be like if Rockstar nailed the formula for Grand Theft Auto, realized everyone loved it, and then somehow failed to ever recapture the basic joys while still failing to improve on the parts that needed improvement (I’ll admit this isn’t a perfect analogy since Spider-Man has passed from developer to developer while Rockstar has always controlled GTA).
For those who never played Spider-Man 2, the game was released on various consoles in 2004 and loosely follows the plot of the Sam Raimi film of the same name. However, where the game really shines is the web-slinging mechanic. It puts you in an open-world New York City, and when you swing around the world, you really feel like you’re in control of Spider-Man’s movements. As you progress through the game, you unlock more moves you can do with your webs.
What’s even more impressive is that it always captures the sense of fun of being Spider-Man. While the tasks can certainly get repetitive (stop purse-snatcher, stop getaway car, stop bank robbers), there are other side-missions that are fairly imaginative and surprisingly enjoyable like retrieving a lost balloon for a small child or delivering pizzas before time runs out. While there are certainly more than enough bad guys to beat up, there are other things to do as Spider-Man that make you feel like the gigantic world is worth taking advantage of.
The game also benefits from Tobey Maguire’s voice acting, which helps give Spider-Man a distinct personality. You really feel like this is the character from the movie but without all of the sad brooding. It’s a fun, light-hearted game that feels like the best possible version of translating the movie to an interactive experience. Although it’s still packed with filler and repetitive side-missions, the core gameplay is solid—fun protagonist, open-world web-slinging, creative side-missions.
Since 2004, there have been eight console-based Spider-Man games: Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man 3, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Some of these games have tried to redo the open-world web-slinging and crime-fighting of Spider-Man 2, but they’ve all been poor imitators. No one said, “We nailed the web-slinging thing, now let’s just figure out the rest of the game around that.”
And I understand the challenges of programming for new consoles. Spider-Man 3 tries to do what Spider-Man 2 did, but it was trying to do it for a new generation of consoles and the game ran into a lot of bugs as a result (again, these games are meant to tie-in to promote the film, not exist as their own title where the game is ready when it’s ready). That being said, it’s been frustrating to see a new Spider-Man game released just about every year, and every year they disappoint.
Earlier this week, we got an in-depth look at Spider-Man, a Spider-Man game developed from the ground up for the PlayStation 4. It’s not tied to any Spider-Man movie or anything else that determines its release date. The footage we saw was a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s got the open-world web-slinging, which feels like a requirement at this point. The combat also seems to borrow heavily from the Batman: Arkham games, but that’s certainly better than the button-mashing that was present in Spider-Man 2. My main qualm with the footage shown is that there seems to be a heavy reliance on quicktime events, where you press a single button and just watch cinematics play out.
Hopefully, there’s far more to Spider-Man than that, and we’ll find out how deep the game is when it hits in 2018 (assuming it doesn’t get delayed). And if there are side missions where you have deliver some pizzas, that wouldn’t be the worst thing.