Spider-Man, possibly more than any other superhero, has always been a character that has seemed ideally suited to video games. Most of his abilities translate quite well to established gameplay concepts and the unique means by which he moves around makes for very compelling play. The history of Spider-Man games is very up and down, with some managing to capture the best parts of the character while others completely miss the point. The ones most fondly remembered are those which give the player an open world to swing around, such as Spider-Man 2. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the second consecutive movie tie-in game from Beenox after they had developed a wide variety of Spider-Man games last generation. Like the first Amazing Spider-Man, this is an open world game set in Manhattan.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is very interesting as a movie tie-in due to the fact that it has very little to do with the film. The previous game was set after the first film and mostly tried to present a story and world that could co-exist. This game, however, is sort of an alternate take on the story of the recent film. The game incorporates some elements of the film while also continuing off of the events of the last game by adding a bunch of original material taken from Spider-Man’s extensive history. This all comes together in a rather weird way, almost like what one would expect of an entirely original Spider-Man story but still including aspects from the latest film series. It often feels like both halves are holding the other back, with neither feeling like a part of the film universe nor a proper standalone Spider-Man story.
As for the story itself, it’s all over the place and often confounding in its execution. There’s really no main plot to speak of, with the game’s 14 main missions mostly serving as a separate story. There’s a through-line about Harry Osborn and the Kingpin establishing a private peacekeeping force, but this plot is forgotten for large stretches of time while other random things happen. Villains are introduced and defeated every half hour or so, almost making the game’s story play out more like a thirteen episode cartoon series rather than a singular story with a beginning, middle, and end. That wouldn’t be so bad if it were handled well, but it isn’t. There are developments that are completely glossed over, characters that come out of nowhere and then depart just as quickly, and worst of all, the stories simply aren’t very interesting.
Despite these narrative issues, one area The Amazing Spider-Man 2 succeeds in where nearly every other superhero game comes up short is in the way it handles the main character. A core component of superhero fiction, especially Spider-Man, is the dual nature of the character. The portrayal of Peter Parker’s everyday life versus his Spider-Man alternate have been a defining element in the comics, television series and films. However, when it comes to games Peter Parker is almost always left by the wayside as Spider-Man takes center stage. Even the much loved Batman: Arkham games mostly ignore the Bruce Wayne aspect of the character and focus squarely on Batman.
Obviously the reason for this is that the conflicts of superheroism is far more suited to gameplay over what the other half usually offers, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does a great job of giving some attention to the everyday character. The majority of the game is obviously spent as Spider-Man, but there are sequences where Peter takes off the suit and goes in as himself. These sequences involve mostly dialogue and picture taking, which while not as exciting as the game’s action, is a nice change of pace. Without these sequences, crucial exposition would either be missed or rushed through in phone calls or audio logs, which is a benefit to the game’s pacing. These may not be the best or most interesting parts of the game, but hopefully this will kick off a trend of more superhero games exploring the entire character rather than just the costumed half.
While the story is a bit of a mixed bag, the gameplay fares much better. As most would expect given both the series’ recent history and the current trend of the genre, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 borrows many of its mechanics from the Arkham games. The combat, in both the types of encounters and the manner in which you engage in them, is almost exactly like the Batman games. The game utilizes the group combat mechanics of flowing between multiple targets, using special moves, and countering incoming attacks that were made popular in Arkham Asylum back in 2009. In addition to the standard group combat there are also more than a few boss fights, which each have their own unique elements and mostly do a good job presenting you with a different encounters than the standard ones.
The game gets no points for originality, but the execution is good enough that it doesn’t really matter. It’s not quite as enjoyable as you’d find with the genuine article, with this game suffering from some camera issues as well just being slightly less smooth, but overall it’s one of the better imitations of what has become the gold standard in third person melee action. It even has stealth encounters that are almost exactly like the predator sequences from those games, which are similarly solid but not quite as good as the real thing.
In addition to the very Batman-esque combat, the other main aspect of gameplay is the traversal. Like the previous game, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is set in open world Manhattan, providing you with a big open city to swing around. Like many of the best Spider-Man games of the past, swinging across the city is among the most fun aspects of the game. The swinging straddles the line between being simplistic and complex perfectly, requiring a decent amount of skill from the player without making it a chore to move around.
You can control which hand fires the webbing as well, and while it’s quite generous, there at least needs to be something to latch onto in the area. As the game progresses you’ll even unlock new swinging moves such as a speed boost and slingshot launch, which further add to your ability to move with precision. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is among the best Spider-Man games in history when it comes to web-slinging, and is right up there with games such as Infamous: Second Son and Saints Row IV in terms of traversal around the city, being one of the more enjoyable open world explorations.
The city itself is decently presented, though is nothing special. There is of course iconic Manhattan imagery such as Times Square, Central Park, and the Empire State Building, but most of the world is a standard array of streets and buildings. As you make your way around the city you’ll come across many side activities such as stopping petty crime, saving people from burning buildings, and disarming bombs. There’s a decent amount of side content, but not much variety in the activities you’ll actually be performing. Open world games are usually characterized by a large volume of content, but with a story that can be completed in about six hours and pretty unimpressive side content, this game doesn’t share that distinction.
Presentation wise, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is nothing special, especially on new consoles. Character models outside of Spider-Man (even including Peter Parker) look quite bad, the textures are blurry and low on detail, and the voice acting is merely passable. The characters’ likenesses and voices to their movie counterparts are tenuous at best, and the cutscene animations are the motion capture equivalent of overacting to a degree you won’t see in many other games. Even on last generation consoles the visuals as seen on PS4 would be nothing special, but judged against other games on the system they are among the worst you’ll find.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not only a well above average movie licensed game, but a solid superhero game in its own right. The combat, while entirely unoriginal, is quite enjoyable and features a good sense of variety between its group encounters, stealth sequences, and boss fights. Web-slinging through the city is a blast and the inclusion of out-of-costume moments expands the game’s focus to explore more of the character than crime fighting. The story is more often than not a disorganized mess and the presentation is very last gen, but the other aspects of the game mostly make up for these shortcomings. It’s by no means a top tier open world game and can be completed in a very short amount of time, but great gameplay makes The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a solid package that’s worth playing.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4