Looking Back on: Spider-Man the Movie (Microsoft Xbox)

Spider-Man (This was originally posted on YHCOR.)
Console: X-BOX (and others). (Sigh X-BOX)
Genre: Action.
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision (though, in Japan, oddly, it’s Capcom.) (That’s actually pretty common, I’ve discovered; companies who don’t have a publishing presence as such in another country will often just rely on other companies who are entrenched in said country, so for example, NIS publishes a lot of Atlus games in Europe these days. Why NIS has a publishing presence in Europe but not Atlus is beyond me but just go with it.)

Back in the early 80’s, I used to get up every morning before school started to watch the Spider-Man cartoon while I ate my breakfast. (In this case I’m talking about the old 70’s Spider-Man cartoon, which coined the theme song we all know and love, but was also ass. On Saturdays I watched Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, which older readers will know teamed Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar to fight evil, and younger readers will only recognize because Marvel just recently killed them all in the modern comics, because they hate me and never want my money again.) I’d sit in front of the TV, transfixed on the exploits of the webbed wall crawler, watching him beat up bad guy after bad guy, only to save the day at the end, just in time for me to go to school. I’d often sing along to the words of the theme song, making a complete fool of myself as I belted out “Look out, here comes the Spider-MAN!” Of course, I was six at the time, so it was acceptable, I suppose… (Judging by how often I got beat up, probably not.)

The point of all of that, in case you were scratching your head wondering what’s wrong with me, is that I love Spider-Man. (After a decade of Marvel treating his comic incarnation like Jennifer Hills, I’ve decided I love Spider-Man a lot less than I used to.) He’s a fantastic comic book character, and I’ve always enjoyed the idea that a typical high-school nerd could make something of himself, which has always been the underlying message of the comic, really. (You can perhaps understand why a nerd would find that appealing.) So when the movie was announced not too long ago, I was understandably excited, and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.

When the game was announced, however, I wasn’t as enthusiastic… on one hand, I was sure the game would be good, but on the other, games based on movies are often putrid, made only to take advantage of the license they’re based on to cash in on a few dollars from fans. When Treyarch was announced as heading up the game, I was more convinced, since they headed up the original Spider-Man game that came out a few years prior, but I was still a little worried.

Thankfully, I needn’t have worried; this game rocks. (For reference, Spider-Man had been in a bunch of mediocre-poor games for years before Sega handed him a triple-header of awesome games in the self-titled arcade game, as well as a Genesis and Sega-CD game. The license then went to Acclaim, who shit in it for years before Activision picked it up and handed it to Tony Hawk developer Treyarch, who proceeded to make the franchise rad again. Spider-Man the Movie was fine, but the sequel was the first to go open-world and is still one of my absolute favorites, tied overall with Spider-Man: Web of Shadows for sheer awesomeness, while the games that came out in-between were at best mediocre and at worst awful. Activision then handed off the games to Beenox and we’re back to them being mediocre to poor again, which saves me money so I’m all for them sucking and Beenox can develop them forever as far as I’m concerned.)

For those not aware of Spidey, (thanks for checking out my website after coming out of your coma!) here’s the gist: Peter Parker is a normal high school kid who happens to be a bit of a dork. One day, at a science field trip, Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider, and gains the powers of a human-sized spider; spider-like agility, spider speed, superhuman strength, the ability to climb walls, and a spider-like sixth sense. (Well in the movies and Ultimate universe, Spider-Man is bitten by a genetically modified spider, because we’ve learned that radiation murders you super bad now, though his powers are mostly the same.) After a horrible incident, he decides to devote himself to fighting crime under the name Spider-Man, and the rest is history. Needless to say, a game based on a man that is basically a superhuman insect would seem difficult to pull off, but Treyarch has created a masterpiece here that needs to be played to be believed. (At the time, sure, but as noted, Spider-Man 2 the Movie and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows are probably the definitive Spider-Man games nowadays.)

Graphically, the game is fantastic. The characters look as they would in the movie; Peter looks like Tobey Maguire, Norman Osbourne looks like William Dafoe, and so on. The characters also animate very fluidly, and the game captures the feel of being a living movie almost perfectly. (Relative to the time, obviously, though having recently booted Buffy back up I note that the graphical degradation between the sixth and eighth generations isn’t nearly as bad as you’d expect, at least where Xbox games are concerned; while PS1, N64, Saturn and Dreamcast 3D games tend to look like death, Xbox and PS2 games can still manage to look charming, which says more about the current gen than I’m wholly comfortable with.) The nameless thugs that you commonly face off against are somewhat less impressive, but they are still very fluid and neat. Also deserving mention are the backgrounds, which seem to bring NYC to life almost perfectly in fluid detail. The only real complaint I had here is that the camera doesn’t seem too accurate, and at times it seems to have a mind of its own. Most of the time it’s accurate, but there are cases where the camera angles become cumbersome, and can even cause hits when you didn’t expect them. (This was especially common when playing indoors, I note, which was problematic because this was a stage-based game rather than open-world, so a lot of the game was indoors.) Overall, though, the game is a graphical masterpiece, and it shows off the power of the Xbox beautifully. For those looking to the Playstation and Gamecube versions, both are almost on par with their Xbox cousin, but the Microsoft giant has slightly cleaner textures overall. (These days the variances between the Sony and Microsoft consoles are almost laughably negligible, while Nintendo is releasing last gen’s tech with goofy add-ons.)

The in game music does the job well here, and though there aren’t any true stand-out tracks herein, the music does a very good job of keeping the environment of the game intact. Some heavier music during the fighting scenes would have been nice, but overall the music does its job admirably. (The second game did a much better job of this, due almost entirely to the fact that a bunch of random people worked on tracks for the game, including, amusingly, KMFDM. There weren’t any licensed tracks, mind you, just instrumentals, but even so it’s still funny.) Ditto the sound here… the regular effects are serviceable, though not very accurate… gunshots sound more muffled than one would expect, as do punches and kicks. The voice acting, however, is high quality, with Maguire and Dafoe taking their respective roles for in game voices. The remainder of the actors are also very convincing, and do a good job of drawing you into the game. Kudos also to Treyarch for getting Bruce Campbell for the part of the in game announcer; not only is that a nod to B-movie fans everywhere, but he’s also very funny in the role, which made the game that much more fun for me. The only really bad thing about the voices is that the in game voice work tends to repeat itself a bit, which gets on the nerves after a while. Overall, though, it’s very high quality stuff.

Being as how Treyarch had a very tight control scheme for the previous Spider-Man game, it’s no surprise they designed an excellent control setup here as well. The original control setup is available for fans of the previous games, as well as an enhanced control scheme that makes the overall game experience flow much more smoothly. Also of note is that the controls in action are very fluid, and the action scenes flow very precisely, which only adds to the in game enjoyment. The controls aren’t perfect, though… sometimes, it’s hard to maneuver Spidey exactly where you want him to go, and the web-based powers are slightly awkward on either control scheme, which can lead to times of getting a severe gang-beating while trying to enable the web-shield. (They had mostly worked out the kinks by Spider-Man 2, thankfully.) Overall though, once you get used to the controls, the game plays very well, and thankfully, the learning curve isn’t so steep as to scare people away.

This game has also been stuffed to the top with all sorts of extra goodies, because Treyarch loves you. There are training modes aplenty, including basic training, combat training that allows you to play with all the combos you’ve learned so far, zip training, swing training, and more. You can view any of the cinemas you unlock in the movie viewer, completing stages gives you pieces of a concept scrapbook, and completing the game multiple times, making objectives, or beating certain difficulties unlocks even more stuff, including a weird bowling minigame that’s actually pretty fun, (SPIDER BOWLING! You’d swing down the lane and kick the pins, if I remember right; it was goofy but I wish someone would break that out again.) numerous costumes, including the Alex Ross concept costumes for the movie, and even the chance to play as the Green Goblin, complete with all his weapons, Goblin Glider, and all new dialogue. (Well, technically it’s Harry in the suit, which was actually kind of interesting conceptually.) Plus, if you own the X-BOX version, you get an extra two stages based on Kraven the Hunter, though neither are all THAT great. (Indoors battles that are mostly trap dodging. Fuck. That.) All of this adds a whole new dimension to the game, as well as adds a lot of replay value, which in my book is money well spent.

In closing, all I can say is if you’re a huge Spider-Man fan, this game is a must buy. There is no more faithful re-creation of the wall crawler’s antics anywhere but here, and that alone is worth the price. For the rest of you, the game is big fun, offers a huge chunk of added goodies, and, if nothing else, not only doesn’t stick word for word to the movie, but actually changes events to keep the movie a surprise. (Indeed; in the game I believe the Green Goblin either lived or didn’t die as expected, but more interestingly, Peter confesses he’s Spider-Man and they kiss on the bridge, which, in retrospect, would’ve been a much better ending than the tearful bullshit in the cemetery we got.) I’d recommend at least renting the game, if nothing else, just to play it. You won’t be disappointed.

THE GOOD:
1. Graphics are crisp and clean, and quite impressive.
2. Toby Macguire and William DaFoe added their voices, making the experience that much better. And Bruce Campbell does voice-over work! Yeah, baby! (He voices the tutorial, which is still pretty funny in retrospect. I do believe he provided the tutorial voice in all three movie-based games, come to think of it; definitely in the second game, but I’ve blocked out the third game so I can’t remember.)
3. Tons of extra costumes and modes, all fun to play with.
4. Control is tight and responsive, as it should be.
5. The game captures the feeling of being Spider-Man as much as any game can. (And then the second game came out and more or less nailed it as hard as one possibly could have.)

THE BAD:
1. The vaunted extra Kraven level for the X-Box isn’t all that great, really.
2. The camera needs work, but it’s better than the PS Spider-Man games.
3. No music from the movie soundtrack kinda sucks. (I can’t tell the difference between Elfman soundtracks anymore so I don’t care as much, and anything with less Nickleback is immediately an improvement.)
4. The random thugs tend to be repetitious after a while.
5. It’s over before you know it… I would have loved it to be longer. (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID. Ahem.)

THE UGLY:
1. Jeez, Toby, could you sound any more BORED? William sounds like he’s totally on, but Toby sounds like he’s falling asleep half the time. And why not get Kirsten Dunst to play Mary Jane? Would that have been too hard? (Yeah, in all three games Tobey Macguire sounded like he needed a huge nap, though they did manage to get Kirsten Dunst, but not James Franco. The third game managed to get Franco and Topher Grace for their respective roles, but since the second game also had the Black Cat, and didn’t suck, I’d say it still won out.)
2. Bruce Campbell saying he’s you’re buddy. I mean, hey, I’d love to hang with Burce (Oh the joys of not having an editor.) sometime, but still… it sounds kinda creepy.
3. Okay, so lemme get this straight: The movie storyline states that Spidey’s web-shotters are a genetic alteration. Fine, I can accept that; lord knows it’s easier than devoting half an hour to his scientific abilities and building web-shooters. But WHY, then, do I have to collect web-fluid power-ups? (Because the first was a rush job to ensure that it was released in time for the movie, while the second game was actually given some time in development, mostly.)
4. The giant robot boss was totally unnecessary, and brought nothing to the table. (I don’t remember this, to be honest, but they did that a lot in all the games.)
5. The Alex Ross costume designs, while quite creative… well, I’m very glad they didn’t use them for the movie… it’s just not Spidey, y’know? (This is what I’m talking about, for reference. Alex is a godly artist and it’s a rad costume, but it’s only somewhat less goofy looking than the Amazing costume.)

GRAPHICS: 9 (8 for the PS2 and GC versions)
MUSIC: 7
SOUNDS: 8
CONTROL: 8
EXTRAS: 10 (9 for the PS2 and GC versions)
IMPRESSION: 9

OVERALL: 8.5 (For its time, yeah, I’d defend that score, because the game was pretty great, though I’d probably knock off a point under Extras since the Kraven level sucked. In retrospect it doesn’t hold up outside of the extras, but for its time it was outstanding.)

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