Oh Spidey, it’s certainly been a while. Last time we hung out in your universe you were cel-shaded and looked like a comic book. Well now you’ve got a fresh coat of paint and you’re back for more web-slinging fun… right? Kind of?
Developed by Treyarch, Spider-Man 3 places you directly in the boots of Spider-Man, A.K.A. Peter Parker. You’ve finally got the girl but you’ve lost your best friend due to a terrible misunderstanding. Now he’s seeking chaos, destruction, and revenge, along with nine other villains from both the Spider-Man 3 movie and Spider-Man comic books. It’s your job to save the day within the ten different storylines the game provides. The only issue with having so many different paths to take is that none of them actually feel meaningful, simply broken-up and arbitrary. These 10 different storylines consist of 42 separate missions, which vary wildly from incredibly frustrating to exceptionally fun. First off, try to avoid anything involving indoor areas; as the interior design is horrid for both the rate of Spider-Man’s movement and the camera system (it can’t be re-centered). Burning buildings are particularly impossible to navigate even with a theoretically agile Spider-Man. Oh, was it mentioned that there are over 20 miles of sewers and subways? We don’t care either.
GTA IV isn’t the only game coming to Manhattan this year
On the bright side, the exterior city itself – where you’ll be spending most of your time – is well designed and a blast to explore. The city is a massive 2.5 times larger than the one found in Spider-Man 2, with remarkably minimal load times. Between climbing skyscrapers and chasing down helicopters, Manhattan simply feels like one large playground. That is, a playground with crime and gangs. Three gangs roam the city: the girls of Arsenic Candy, the brutes of Apocalypse, and the martial artists of Order of the Dragon Tail. In addition to their own missions and challenges, simply fighting random crimes in gang controlled zones raises your popularity among the respective residents. Tackle a crime-ridden red zone and bring it down to orange, then yellow, finally arriving at a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man green.
Physically swinging around Manhattan feels unchanged from 2004’s Spider-Man 2. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as the web mechanic was well-executed then as it is now. Press and hold R2 while aiming with your left analog stick to release a web-line onto a building (or other various objects), boost using L2, then jump off your line with X. Rinse, wash, repeat. Other variations include tapping R2 for a web zip directly to an object, pressing both R2 and L2 simultaneously to release two web-lines to swing with (once you unlock it), and pressing up on the D-pad to attach a web to the ceiling of an indoor area.
Unfortunately, the sub-par combat of Spider-Man 2 still remains in 3 despite the addition of a few new attacks. There’s little skill involved, and despite how many diverse combo names Treyarch can come up with, Spider-Man 3 is without a doubt a button masher. It can be fun at times, but pales in comparison to anything with depth such as Devil May Cry. Hell, even last-gen’s The Matrix: Path of Neo has more complex combat than Spider-Man 3, and THAT was the definition of a button masher. There’s also the highly-touted "black suit", but it really doesn’t add too much even if Spidey does look like a badass wearing it.
Boss battles are an exercise in pain and aggravation. Bosses can dodge most straight-forward attacks, so the best strategy is to sit back, dodge, then get a hit or two in before retreating. Neither dying nor being a little girl is entertaining.
On a good note, interactive cutscenes seem to be all the rage ever since the original God of War. Treyarch was keen enough to introduce them to Spider-Man, and what a favor they do the title. Not only are these sequences enjoyable, but they make for some of the few times that Spider-Man 3 actually feels on par with other current action games.
A pain on the senses
Spider-Man 3 features characters with fairly high polygon counts but poor animations for everyone expect Spidey himself. What’s the use of a gorgeous enemy if it looks like a robot (unless you are actually fighting a robot). It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Treyarch simply stole the animations straight out of Spider-Man 2. Fortunately the title does boast some decent physics, with bodies flying ragdoll-style through the air after a particularly vicious uppercut.
The rest of the game looks acceptable. Buildings have nice reflections, the night sky is illuminated by the city lights, and cars and citizens look fine. What’s unacceptable is the chugging framerate and constant pop-in. Swinging through a heavily wooded area of Central Park, one would be lucky to achieve 15 frames per second. A complete lack of destructible environments is also disappointing.
Then along comes the audio. With voice-acting by all original movie actors, narration by Bruce Campbell, and cinematically epic Spidey music, one should expect good overall audio. Unfortunately, New York has gone mute. Not just the people, but the general hustle and bustle of Manhattan seems to be silent. People don’t generally react to your presence with words, simply walking right by you with no acknowledgment. The only things you’ll even hear are cars, and even those sound quieter than they should.
Then there are the bugs, glitches, and other general mistakes. During your stay in Manhattan, don’t be surprised if you see a pedestrian walk through a car, get stuck in a devious solid-looking wall, and witness Spider-Man climb on surfaces that aren’t actually there (over indented windows as if the wall was still flat and solid).
Spider-Man 3 is the epitome of a licensed movie game. It’s a fantastic concept with a lot of potential, yet still fails to deliver as an overall package. The big draws are exploring a well-designed open world and a lot of value between 42 missions and side challenges such as races, skydiving, disarming bombs, etc. (along with hundreds of hidden tokens to collect around the city to keep you hooked). However, the drawbacks just can’t be ignored: half of the missions are lame, the interior design is terrible, button mashing combat gets repetitive, the bosses are a pain, and the graphics and audio aren’t all that impressive. If you’re a big Spider-Man fan, then you’ve probably already bought the game; the rest of you should rent this before even considering a buy.