Good Movie, Bad Game
Spider-Man 3 is a lot like its predecessor, Spider-Man 2. Basically you have a large cityscape, i.e., New York, to run and swing around in, and you take on various missions and stop random crimes by fighting bad guys and solving simple puzzles. Spider-Man 3 has a very large environment but it’s pretty monotonous, really. Anyway, once you are in the game, you can swing around to your heart’s content and engage in forty-two missions, find over a hundred hidden tokens, engage criminals in dozens of random crimes, and go on various other ‘missions’ like swinging around the city with MJ to collect floating hearts. The freedom in Spider-Man 3 is nice, although expected.
After a brief tutorial that teaches you the basics, you are free to engage in about a dozen different missions from the get go. I started off with the first Apocalypse mission. No, this isn’t the same Apocalypse from the X-Men (unfortunately), but rather this is a just a generic gang that uses, among other things, street signs ripped right out of the ground, as weapons. Missions will have you doing various things ranging from beating up a gang to rescuing innocent people to defusing bombs. The variety is pretty good, and some of the sequences can bring about a brief sense of excitement. One of my favorite, albeit brief and nearly forgettable moments of the game, was stopping a runaway subway car. It was a simple button matching puzzle, whereby controller face buttons were shown on screen and you had to quickly tap the proper ones so that Spidey would shoot out more and more web to try to stop this thing. Other similar sequences involve you defusing bombs by either covering them in web or engaging in a little mini-game which involves you pressing buttons quickly and solving simple flow puzzles before pressing the ‘defuse’ button.
The meat of the game is really in getting around the city and engaging in melee combat with the hundreds of bad guys and the frustrating bosses. First of all, combat in Spider-Man 3 just isn’t good. It feels way too loose and sketchy; I always felt detached from my character, Spider-Man and I never felt like the controls were all that responsive. I just didn’t get that feeling that something like God of War gives. Part of this has to do with there not being a lock on system, which will really drive you up the wall, and part of it also has to do with the camera and the quirkiness of how Spider-Man moves around. There is a dodge system, rather than a hard and fast block, and it’s not enjoyable either. You have to wait for an enemy to attack and try to time your pressing of L1 and then the game goes into slow motion for a moment allowing you to return a hit. It doesn’t work well, especially against multiple enemies which you will almost always be facing. I felt like I was fighting the game as much as I was fighting the bad guys in the game, and it was a major letdown.
Other aspects of combat, again a very major part of the game, that aren’t too great are the combo and health systems. As far as I could tell, you can’t regain any health during a mission, and you don’t really have a lot to begin with. Boss fights are really tough and frustrating due to poor design and coding as well as the frustrating combat system. Good clean combos are tough to execute too; combat boils down to a frustrating button mashing frenzy that gets old fast. Things aren’t any more enjoyable with the black suit Spider-Man either, which you’ll unlock around six to eight hours of play. While more aggressive, the change in suit does nothing to make the combat any more enjoyable. By the time I unlocked him, I figured it was too late to really make a big difference anyway and that turned out to be the case.
One other perhaps smaller and more personal point about the missions I would like to add is that you can enter missions that you aren’t really prepared for. After defeating the first two Apocalypse missions, I tried the third. It took about ten minutes or so to get to the last part which had you facing the toughest the gang had to offer. Try as I might, at that point in the game, I was not able to even bring the Apocalypse leader to half health. Were I more patient, I might have been able to get a hit in, run out, get a hit in, and so forth, but at the time I didn’t do that. Moreover, however, that strategy turns out to be very crucial for most boss fights, making them an exercise in tediousness rather than being fun. Something else I did find out about this boss fight however was poor the AI was. The AI had the hardest time locating me after I ran around them and on to the other side of this small structure. When I went back to see how they were doing, they were all stacked up against the building, running in place. A couple managed to squeak through, but they ran up against an invisible wall; how silly.
The most fun aspect of the game for me was just in web slinging through the city. This alone is not nearly enough to make a good game, however. For what it’s worth though, as you do this as your primary means of transportation throughout the game, it works pretty well. Just press R2 near a structure and Spider-Man will shoot out some web, attach, and swing. You can aim in roughly what direction you want the web to go as well as go faster by pressing L2 (while running, crawling, or swinging).
Two other often used elements in the game are crawling and your Spider Sense. The Spider Sense sounds cool, but it isn’t impressive. When you press R3, the screen goes black and white and people and objects of interest are highlight different colors—red for bad guys or things, yellow for footprints or ‘hidden’ entrances, green for good guys. It’s not as cool as a feature as it could have been. Crawling on the sides of buildings is something you would expect, and it works fine except the camera can go bonkers at times, like if you are going from wall to ceiling or in and out of a window for example.
Spider-Man 3 doesn’t leave a lot of room for bragging rights in the gameplay arena, and it certainly doesn’t in the audio/video department either. Spider-Man 3 reminded me of an Xbox game; that’s the original Xbox, not the 360 mind you. The textures are flat, dull, and boring. The animations are choppy and the framerate chugs at times, although admittedly there are some nice animations during web-slinging and sometimes during combat. The cutscenes aren’t anything to write home about either. It just doesn’t look anything like a next gen title should, or certainly not anything I was hoping for or even expecting. I didn’t think it sounded too great either; the actors lend their voices, but they sound like cardboard cutouts reading the script instead of the actual actors. NPCs say the same things over and over again, too. The soundtrack is from the movie I believe, and it’s alright, but the game doesn’t come close to matching the more thrilling and exciting parts of the movie.
There is a lot to do in the game, with the dozens of hidden tokens and all the crime fighting missions you can go on and forty-two story missions, but its going to take a heck of a lot of tolerance and forgiveness to get through it, certainly more than I have the time or interest for. Oh, if you were wondering about the Collector’s Edition and the differences, there aren’t all that many. You get to play as ‘New Goblin,’ i.e., Harry, but you can only engage in races and not actual missions. You can fight in random crimes, but that’s it. Using the SIXAXIS tilt functions to control him works better than I expected it would, but I thought the packaging was a little misleading; it seems like you would have a lot more to do with this character besides just racing around. There is also a ‘collectible’ Lenticular Card in the box and some useless cast interviews. The Lenticular Card is one of those cards that normally came in cereal boxes where if you tilt it one way it shows one thing and something else if you tilt it another. All in all, the ‘standard’ Spider-Man 3 isn’t worth $60, much less nearly $70 for the Collector’s Edition.