Written by: Stoo

Date posted: March 1, 2004

Some webslinging, of course, although it's not clear exactly what the weblines are attaching to.

Some webslinging, of course, although it’s not clear exactly what the weblines are attaching to.

To begin I should make one thing clear – this review is not of the official game of the 2002 movie. I am in fact looking at an earlier title, ported from the PS1. Now, normally the words “console port” would be linked in my mind with “don’t touch with a 10-foot barge pole” but I did actually quite enjoy playing this on Rik’s Playstation, a few years back. Also I’m a big Spidey fan in general. So I thought this one should be worth leaving my reservations about ports aside, and tracking down a copy.

Spider-Man is a 3D 3rd-person perspective action title – not the sort of genre I’m normally interested in, but it would seem fairly obvious that this is the best means of portraying the adventures of Spidey. He’s a fairly dynamic kind of hero, webslinging his way across the city, leaping from one skyscraper to another, giving a good beating to various criminals and evildoers and rescuing hapless citizens from trouble. This really isn’t a complex game by any means; it’s just pure Spidey action across a linear series of levels with the odd very simple puzzle along the way.

Now, indulge me for a moment while I mention something of an engine-related disappointment I encountered in this game. What might you say is one of the most important factors of a Spidey game? I’d suggest that, since he spends so much time web-slinging around New York, we would want an accurate representation of that city. Gleaming skyscrapers of course, but also down at ground level we want traffic, parks, trains, random people, hot-dog vendors etc. However, there was in fact some rampant cheating by the developers here. At the start of the game we see two super-villains releasing some kind of gas into the city as part of their nefarious pans. This turns out to be a convenient excuse for the towers of New York to disappear into fog at their bases; there is in fact no ground at all on these levels! We’re faced with a kind of foggy void, out of which a few skyscrapers poke their way into the open. It’s quite surreal.

Then again, I can’t complain too hard here. A large-scale rendering of a city would be a pretty ambitious project, and the limited capabilities of the Playstation probably put severe restrictions on how realistic a depiction could be provided.. Especially when you consider how fast spidey can move, you would need to create a pretty huge open area. One that would take a lot of hardware muscle to create satisfactorily with all the detailing you might expect of a city. So we might have to forgive the developers for taking a shortcut on this matter, although it’s still a definite deficiency when played from a modern viewpoint.

Anyway, let’s move on to the Spidey-tastic action itself. One of his signature abilities is the wall-crawling; you can send Spidey climbing happily up sheer walls and scuttling across ceilings. Meanwhile, being a brave and heroic sort he carries no dedicated weaponry, generally preferring simple super-strength fisticuffs with his foes. So at the most basic level, fighting someone involves just hammering the punch and kick buttons.

Fighting the Scorpion.

Fighting the Scorpion.

However, Spidey does of course have his handy webbing to aid him in a number of ways. In combat you can ensnare enemies, leaving them briefly helpless while you give them a thorough pounding. Another cool trick is to snag them in a line, then yank it to one side and send the hapless criminal slamming into a handy wall. Webbing can be also used to create a shield, or spiked gloves for increased punching power.

Apart from kicking arse, the stuff also is used for Spidey’s famous webslinging ability. The idea being, an elastic web line is fired off and attached to something solid, allowing Spidey to either spring over to that spot or use the line to swing to some other location. There are in fact a number of different commands available, depending on whether you to directly aim the web line or just generally fire it away upwards to enable some swinging. It’s a pretty nifty trick, generally well-implemented and fun to use; whether swinging from one tower to another, or using it inside to quickly flick Spidey over a chasm, hastily escape an enemy and so on. The one criticism that when webslinging outside, the lines are in fact often just fired at and attached to non-existent objects out of your view, rather than attaching to any actual solid objects.

Now, as any good fan of the comics would tell you, the Spider-Man storylines can often get quite long and complex. They often involve factors like cloning, uncertain identities, and Peter Parker’s own emotional turmoil as he tries to balance family life, a job and being a superhero. Not so in this game; what story there is basically just serves as an excuse for Spidey to romp around the city finding various supervillains to tackle, for the time-honoured console tradition of “boss” fights (bashing in a lot of more mundane criminals in between). The Green Goblin, perhaps Spidey’s oldest and most important foe is notable in his absence here; perhaps the developers knew he was due to star in the major movie due a year or so later. However, plenty of Spidey’s other most famous enemies are present including Doctor Octopus (who apparently is German here), Rhino and Carnage. My own favourite Venom, psychotic vigilante and hero in his own mind, also turns up to make Spiderman’s life miserable.

There are a few more features in this game which attempt to add extra appeal for Spidey-fans. For example, scattered throughout the levels are covers of classic editions of the comic to find. Okay, that’s not especially exciting but more significantly, as you finish the game on various difficulty levels different costumes for Spidey are unlocked. Some grant bonuses to Spidey’s abilities, others have penalties to add challenge. For example, you can try playing in the famous black costume (which turned out to be an alien symbiote, and later became part of Venom) with unlimited webbing, or even have a go as Peter Parker in his everyday clothes. This feature adds just enough replayability to maybe warrant an extra couple of runs through the game – which is after all pretty short.

Time for the obligatory “let’s look at the graphics and sound” paragraph  (my reviews? formulaic? never!). The visuals are hardly cutting edge of course, but can at least be bumped up from muddy console-o-vision to a more PC suitable 1024×768. Even while understanding the hardware limitations, though, I feel I have to knock a half-point off the visuals score for the “empty void” style of the city. Meanwhile, there’s some pretty decent voice-acting; a bit over-the-top in places but it suits the general feel of the game, which is maybe closer to the 1990s TV cartoon than the comic itself.

Fighting bad guys on a rooftop.

Fighting bad guys on a rooftop.

So far, so good, and this game would be cruising to a solid (if not top-notch score) from FFG. Which I’m sure the various people involved in making this game would be excited to learn of. However, there is another issue clouding matters, with the problem of bugs rearing its ugly head. At least one or two of these can impact the game quite severely. For example, at one point an in-engine cutscene has Spidey chasing while chasing Venom across the interior skyscraper, while the camera pans across outside. At the end of this scene Venom jumps out through a window, and Spidey follows; presumably control is supposed to be returned to you here so you can resume the chase. However the instant Spidey leaves the skyscraper, instead of taking a leap to the next building (or giving you control to make that leap yourself), he merely falls out of the window and plummets to his death. This happened to me repeatedly, with no indication that I might be able to avoid such an ignominious end for our hero. In the end I had to use a level-skip cheat to get past this.

Problem being, when faced with definite bugs like that, I find myself getting paranoid elsewhere in the game. There were a few situations where I was repeatedly dying; was this down to my own incompetence or another bug? Should I keep trying or just screw it and cheat again as the situation is impassable? At any rate it’s hard to forgive bugs like the one mentioned above; surely a decent round of play-testing would catch such things. When in a cynical mood, I’m inclined to put this down to lazy porting.

Anyway, time to sum up. I do have a vision of what the “ideal” Spider-man game would be like; for one thing it would feature a huge, “living” city full of vehicles, houses, factories and people going about their business. The technology to do such things can’t be far off, as Grand Theft Auto 3 has already managed a lot of it. We just need to expand upwards! Also I would like to see more adventuring elements; interacting with people, hunting down clues as to where to find various enemies, and of course a decent storyline. This game is some way off from that vision; it really just has the core fundamentals I would expect in a Spidey- game, which are: webslinging and beating up villains. It is reasonably entertaining (bugs aside), just not especially lasting or involving. It doesn’t draw you in and fool you into thinking you’re in the world of the comics yourself, which is the kind of experience I would ultimately want from this sort of game, but it does at least give the gamer a chance to direct some authentic Spiderman-style arse-kicking. So to sum up: there’s not much substance to this game, certainly not enough to justify spending more than a few quid anyway, but fans of Spiderman and undemanding action alike should find some entertainment here.