Review

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Greatest Of Ease?

The Amazing Spider-Man elbows players out of the way so the game can play itself.

By Scott Jones • June 27, 2012

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.

The Amazing Spider-Man

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 GameThe 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.

The Amazing Spider-Man

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.

The Amazing Spider-Man
Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Price: $60
Rating: T

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481 Responses to “The Greatest Of Ease?”

  1. Penis Van Lesbian says:

    Are ‘easy’ games the default now? I tried the SSX demo and it seemed almost impossible to face-plant. Assassin’s Creed looks great, but, likewise, running across rooftops is more impressive to watch than play.

    • Mike Ferraro says:

      In short, yes, designers err on the side of being too easy, usually because the producers hammer on them for it.  Nobody wants to ship a game with a difficulty dead-end in it for a significant portion of players. Outside of Japan, anyway.
      A lot of games that are too hard when they ship were considered too easy by the designers, who didn’t realize that their 2 years playing the game as experts is not an accurate gauge of how the target audience is going to find it. Which is why you want to constantly playtest the game with fresh players, it’s very sobering.

      It’s no small feat to make a game that can challenge the designers but is also beatable by their wife or young kid.  The only way to not piss the player off is if he knows that it’s his own choice that something is too difficult, and could scale it back or just give up on trying to get the 100% perfect ranking and come back later after he’s gotten better at the game (or his character is better developed).
      Difficulty settings are the primitive solution, user-chosen goals and challenges are a much more organic approach. Project Gotham 2 had you wager on each race the max difficulty you thought you could win at. Mario Kart has the different speed/difficulty classes, but also special rewards above the gold medal for coming in first every race, etc. Angry Birds has the star rankings that don’t affect advancement.

      That’s where games excel, when the player understands his performance level and has a reason to challenge himself on a replay. It’s especially effective when you discover late in the game that hidden extra ranks (platinum medal!) were possible the whole time. When you’re making a story game it’s tougher to keep the player feeling properly challenged. A difficulty select is common, but so is the game secretly cheating its difficulty up and down if it thinks you’re doing too badly/well (Each time you restart a checkpoint reduce the AI 5%, or racing game rubber-banding). People start to see through that though and get pissed; you’ve taken their choice away and made their success meaningless.

      • blue vodka lemonade says:

         I like the primitive solution! Give me “beginner” mode or give me death!

        The first two Max Payne games had adaptive difficulty, where it got harder as you played and then a little easier each time you died. It was a really great system, and made it so that just as you got frustrated with repeating a certain part, it would let up enough to let you through. While it probably also denied players the chance to “get better” at the game in some ways, it made for a very enjoyable game experience.

        • Mike Ferraro says:

          Yeah, story-driven games are more about maintaining the illusion of challenge than actually challenging the player with concrete goals.

          Max Payne 3 has some really stupid sections and they start gifting you more painkillers if you die more than a couple times on the same checkpoint.  I see that more as the game compensating for its own bad design than compensating for the player’s skill level.

  2. Effigy_Power says:

    It’s an interesting evolution in gaming. In the comment section of a game a few days ago we talked about how Perma-death is a thing of the past (I think it was in the Al Lowe article) due to the desire of developers to keep people playing and minimize frustration. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, there were after all plenty of games that were teeth-gnashingly difficult and made you replay huge chunks only to artificially keep the game-time up.
    Mind you, the loss of perma-death also made games a lot less scary and engaging. Knowing that you can quick-save at any time or that a level is studded with checkpoints can certainly take the challenge out of it. Fable went so far as to punish you with nothing more than the loss of some XP and a few (later removable) scars.
    Now, holding the players hand to such an extend that even mistakes are white-washed with cool maneuvers is a bit like the policy to not fail students anymore for bombing on tests. It may feel great to effortlessly zip through something, always in style and always successful, but it is a hollow experience, because without challenge nothing is achieved. The game (about a super-hero no less) becomes further unrelatable and a bit trivial, no matter how fun it can be.
    I feel that this hand-holding robs younger players, who don’t really know the draconically punishing games we grew up with, of an opportunity to be proud of beating a game. To be brutally honest, they might not even know what beating a game means, since so many games are designed to help you succeed rather than try and stop you from winning.
    Victory without opposition just seems a bit empty, I guess.

    PS: This is no judgement of this game in particular (which I haven’t played), but it does seem to be a growing factor to me.

    • PaganPoet says:

      Truly. Anyone else remember the first time they beat the Yellow Devil in the original MegaMan? I think I cried.

    • ToddG says:

      I respectfully disagree.  A game can be both punishingly difficult and keep you playing, and many modern games accomplish both with ease.  It’s just a matter of localizing the challenge and ensuring that, once the player bests a particular challenge, they don’t have to do it again.  This is what checkpoints and regenerating health are designed to do; they just ensure that a “just-good-enough” performance in one section of a game doesn’t punish you in the next, and most games will compensate for this by making the individual sections more difficult.  I understand that some game enthusiasts prefer the Homeworld method of never knowing if your performance on a level is good enough to be able to complete the next, but I’ve never understood it.  Anyway, all this to say that, in my experience, if a game is easy, it’s usually just because it’s easy, not because of the mechanisms it uses.

    • doyourealize says:

      Games need to find that happy medium. Since games have been able to be “saved” (am I right when I say the Legend of Zelda was the first console game with a save function?), it’s become necessary that perma-death go away, more or less. Even a six-hour game, as this game is, would be painful to play over if you died even a couple hours in. Contrast that to Super Mario Bros., which can be beaten in 5 minutes if you know what you’re doing. The only reason you’d ever come back is if you wanted to get through that next hurdle. If you beat it first try, what’s the point? (The artificial padding you speak of).

      The new Prince of Persia was lambasted for being too easy, but I really liked that game. Besides a terrific ending, the fact that you can’t die made me try new things I may not have if I knew Elika wouldn’t be there to lift me out of the sky.  Contrast that to Demon’s Souls, maybe my favorite game ever, which basically plays out like a succession of mini-SMBs. There’s no perma-death, but dying could set you back pretty far. The result is the certain pride you crave when you beat the game.

      Both of these games, I think, achieved their happy medium. The Amazing Spider-Man, along with Fable 2 and 3, which are almost like The Sims plus fighting, seems like it removes the player a little too much. Not to say it’s not a good game, because maybe it is.

      It’s not that the sense of accomplishment is lost by the lack of perma-death, rather that each game needs to strive for something that fits.

      • ToddG says:

        Man, that Prince of Persia discussion baffled me.  Everyone talked about it as if the illusion of “not dying” was some brand-new and awful thing to gaming. It was just a checkpoint system with the checkpoints really close together and the loading times removed.  You still had to be able to complete each series of jumps to progress, it’s just that those jumps were really easy.

        • BarbleBapkins says:

          YES! That whole “you can’t die in this game” malarkey was the most bizarre discussion I think I have ever heard about a videogame.  People were acting like if the little cut-scene that plays when you fall had shown you splat on the ground instead of being rescued by your companion, the game would have been more difficult because you can DIE.

    • George_Liquor says:

      Lucas Arts adventure games proved that removing the spectre of death does not ruin the challenge or fun of the game. Unlike the more murderous adventure games, (Al Lowe’s own Leisure Suit Larry will kill you just for crossing a road.) Lucas Arts games encouraged you to experiment, explore the environment, interact with characters and really engross yourself in the game’s world.

      • Merve says:

        I’m getting that feeling right now from Tales of Monkey Island. For example, the consequence for exploding a bomb in Guybrush’s pants is watching him jump and yell, “Ow, that kinda hurt.” But the puzzles are still, at times, devilishly clever, which makes the game challenging without the threat of death.

    • Zachary Moore says:

       I, for one, am glad that video games have gotten rid of perma-death, because there’s nothing I hate more in video games than doing the same thing over and over (it’s the same reason I don’t like grinding). It’s not fun, it’s frustrating and monotonous, and you end up playing the game to beat the game, not playing the game to play the game, if that makes sense.

      I think the solution is to allow players to fail in ways that don’t automatically result in death/starting over. It also helps when a game is designed so that there isn’t one right way to get past a certain section, so dying just means that you get to try a different strategy.

  3. Chris Holly says:

    “it’s a painfully insecure game that’s far more interested in being liked than it is in having any degree of depth.”

    That’s a pretty telling insight. This is a game:

    1) Developed by Beenox, whose last game Edge of Time was rightfully lambasted for being dull, derivative, and claustrophobic.

    2) That’s a tie-in to a movie franchise reboot that few, if any, were clamoring for (no matter how good said movie might be)

    3) That will forever be behind the Eternal 8 Ball O’ Spider-Man Games: “We REALLY Liked That Spider-Man 2 Game!”

    4) That will be inevitably compared to that other open-world superhero game with the bats and the city and the so forth.

    So yeah, I think this game by its nature is desperate to be liked, and a lot of the design choices a direct reflection of that.

    • Carlton_Hungus says:

      I’ve found the game moderately enjoyable.  The combat pretty much apes that of the Batman Arkham games, both in fighting and stealth, but not quite as smooth or good looking.  Zipping around faux-NYC is fun and looks pretty good, similar to flying around in Akrham City but different mechanics.  I definitely started the game on the hardest difficulty but it’s still pretty easy as long as you dodge frequently enough.

      I’d say it’s a solid B- or B, really good if you’re jonesing for more Arkham City gameplay and willing to settle for a slight decrease in quality.

  4. brian_jorgensen says:

    Outside of the awesome web swinging Spider-man 2 was a pretty buggy, piss poor excuse for an action game, though. I think that the holy grail of a holistically “amazing” Spidey game will forever be out of reach.

  5. eggbuerto says:

    From the videos I’ve seen of Spider-Man swinging around the city I assume the story revolves around him having perfected a new type of web that sticks to clouds.

  6. rvb1023 says:

    Is it sad that almost 10 years later they still can’t find a way to improve on the web-swinging from Spiderman 2?

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Have they made another game with those same web mechanics? I don’t understand why they don’t use that engine or whatever as a groundwork for every spiderman game ever. The swinging was the best part of Spiderman 2, the rest of it was pretty meh. Most of the game could easily be improved on, but that web swinging was the fucking greatest. 

      • TaumpyTearrs says:

        I was so dissapointed with Ultimate Spiderman for taking out half the web-swinging mechanics. It sounds like this takes the same dumbed down approach. Poops.

        All the unnecessary acrobatic moves you could unlock in Spider-Man 2 got you to the point where you could truly move like Spider-man, with all the flourishes like his extra flips and split-jumps and what not.

      • bendthebullet says:

        They specifically didn’t use those physics because they found that people would get motion sickness from the swinging with their more pulled-in camera.  So they made the logical choice of not pulling back the camera?

    • Worse, they’ve actually gone out of their way to make them “easy”. I really liked having separate left and right webshooters and no game has used the idea since.