Whenever he shows up late—to anything—one of the immutable laws of the comic book universe is that Spider-Man will make a joke about how he got stuck in traffic. Since his inception in 1962, Spider-Man has been a chatty counterpoint to the typically terse superhero ideal, delivering his tin-eared “zingers” as frequently as he doles out his acrobatic beat-downs. “Time to crash their party!” he says before confronting a gang of heavily armed thugs in The Amazing Spider-Man, pausing for a moment as if waiting for a rimshot that never arrives. Once the beat-down begins, he adds, in a DJ voice, “And the hits just keep on coming!”
Spider-Man’s perpetual patter means that players never have to guess at what his appetites and desires are. When he needs to get a vial of antidote to Gwen Stacy, he says (to no one in particular), “I need to get the antidote to Gwen!” Fail to get the antidote to the delivery point quickly enough, and Spider-Man will see fit to remind you of his need ad nauseam. There’s something endearing about his running monologue; he’s not unlike Anthony Michael Hall’s “Geek” character in Sixteen Candles, prattling on not because he necessarily has anything to say, but because he can’t tolerate his virginal loneliness in stoic silence for one second longer. In the lonely endeavor of playing a video game, he makes for good company.
One part movie tie-in and two parts spiritual successor to what I consider the finest Spider-Man game of all time—2004’s Spider-Man 2: The Game—The Amazing Spider-Man takes place in a virtual version of the island of Manhattan, complete with the usual landmarks, like Times Square and Central Park. The game alternates between an overworld—web-swinging about the New York skyline—and an underworld—the story-progressing missions which tend to be hermetically sealed underground or inside the city’s various buildings. The busy plot, which plays out over the course of a brief six hours or so, concerns biological experiments gone awry, plus there’s a robot army tossed in for good measure. Spider-Man, armed only with his pluck and web shooters, is caught in the middle of it all.
The defining moment of The Amazing Spider-Man is provided by an ability called “Web Rush.” When triggered, the game switches to a first-person point of view and time slows to a crawl. While in Web Rush mode, gold facsimiles of Spider-Man are scattered about, with each facsimile representing a potential destination he can zip to. For example, one might see a gold Spider-Man perched on a flagpole, another on a wall, and a third on the ceiling. Pan around the environment until you’ve located the gold Spider-Man facsimile of your choice, let go of the button, and Spider-Man instantly zips to the new location.
It took me around 20 minutes to get the hang of Web Rush, but after that, the pause-and-pick rhythm of using it became second nature. In addition to being a mode of travel, Web Rush can also be used when fighting enemies—target an enemy with it, and Spider-Man will deliver a near-instant kick to the head. Web Rush is so powerful and simple to use that, on the downside, it makes the game a bit too easy at times. Spamming enemies and bosses with Web Rush almost always gets the job done.
That’s the one big problem with The Amazing Spider-Man—it’s a game that often wants to push the player aside and play itself. The developers wrest control away from the player during what could be, or should be, key moments. What’s it like to battle a giant serpentine robot above Times Square? I couldn’t tell you, because instead of articulating this conflict in the game, the developers instead decided to turn this confrontation into a series of “press this button NOW!” prompts. The onscreen theatrics certainly look impressive—check out those high-definition fireballs—but you’re just hammering on a button repeatedly until the game tells you to stop doing so.
Web-swinging in 2004’s Spider-Man 2 was an acquired skill. It took days of practice—you had to learn the proper timing and how to gauge building height—before you started to actually move and feel like Spider-Man. Those first few nights with the game, I spent more time falling to the streets below and looking foolish than I did zipping through the air. Not so in The Amazing Spider-Man. In the opening moments of the game, you can simply hold down a button and steer with a joystick to unleash some vertigo-inducing acrobatics.
Even when I did, on occasion, fall to the street in The Amazing Spider-Man, an animation almost always kicked in so that Spider-Man, saving face, made a Nadia Comaneci-style landing, looking for all the world like he intended to fall to the street all along. That’s right—the game doesn’t have the guts to let me fall when I clearly deserve to fall. In the end, The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a bad or unplayable game; it’s a painfully insecure game that’s far more interested in being liked than it is in having any degree of depth.