If you've been a gamer for any significant amount of time, you know the drill by now; games that are based on movies generally stink. Sure there are the occasional exceptions, but for every Return of the King there are two or three titles like Enter the Matrix. The first Spider-Man game, released alongside the first film was a decent effort, but one that had a lot of technical issues that kept it from being all that much fun to play. Developer Treyarch took the criticism and feedback from the first game to heart for Spider-Man 2, which also has been released as a companion to the movie. The game is much improved over the original in every aspect, but it still comes off feeling like it needed a little more time in development.
The first thing that has to be mentioned about Spider-Man 2 is that the game covers the entire scope of Manhattan. The scale isn't spot on with how it is in real life, but nonetheless it's quite impressive. The Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Central Park and nearly every other famous location has been recreated in Treyarch's version of the city. The game's plot follows that of the movie's closely, which means you'll alienate your friends because of your secret identity, you'll take pictures for the paper, save the city of New York, and of course, you'll encounter Doc. Ock.
The most important thing to get right in a Spider-Man game is the web-slinging, and if the developers got only one thing right, the web slinging was it. Swinging throughout the city, from building to building, while difficult at first, feels exactly how you imagine it should. The game allows you to climb any building, no matter how tall, and you've got the ability to jump off with a graceful swan dive, waiting until the last instant before you shoot your web and swing to the next building. There are some minor issues when trying to turn corners, or when you go from one part of town with extremely tall buildings to a section where they are considerably smaller, but it's quite nearly perfect.
The game's large scale and open structure cause it to be compared favorably to the Grand Theft Auto series, and while there are similarities, Spider-Man 2 is more structured and there's less of a variety of things to do. Upon starting the game you'll go through a few missions that are designed to get you acclimated to the controls and the large city. You'll learn that Spider-Man's skills can be upgraded by purchasing new moves with your hero points, which are what the game uses to reward you for accomplishing missions. Combat starts off as simple button mashing, but as you get further into the game you'll learn that dashing and punching an opponent will lift them into the air where you can perform a big time combo, or you can duck and counter when your head glows, which is your spidey sense telling you to duck. If things get really hectic, you can use your spidey sense to slow down time, which allows you to pound on more enemies in less time. The purchased upgrades in addition to giving Spider-Man more power, also make the game's combat much less repetitive. Hero points can be earned in a few different ways. Helping everyday citizens is the easiest way to earn points, though you will have to save lots of people to get lots of points. If you're bored playing the super hero you can deliver pizzas around the city, save balloons for children, take photographs for the paper, or even race through rings to hone your slinging skills. There are also of course scripted events where you'll encounter bosses, or stop different crimes than usual.
This is where one of the game's biggest flaws becomes apparent; you've got this huge city, the freedom to go anywhere, and there's almost nothing to do. When helping citizens, their plight is almost always the same: save people on a sinking boat, stop a robbery, stop a shootout, stop a carjacker, stop a mugger, take someone to the hospital, or sometimes you get tricked and you get jumped. That's about all there is to the entire game – those few things. Making matters even worse is how similar some of those events are to each other. For example, if you break up an armored car robbery, after you beat up a couple of guys the last two baddies will take off in a car. You then must chase down the car, pound on the roof until it stops, and then finish off the last two guys. This is the same thing during a shootout, and helping to stop a police chase or a carjacking is the exact same thing – you just chase the car down, pound on it, blah blah blah. This is where the game feels like it could have used more development time as there's just no excuse for a game that is so technically solid and well-designed to be so repetitive.
From a technical standpoint, Spider-Man 2's visuals are extremely impressive and well done. The draw distance is quite far, and the sense of height that you get when climbing the game's highest buildings can make you dizzy, especially the last couple hundred feet on the Empire State Building. From an artistic standpoint, the game is considerably less impressive. The buildings are very repetitive, there aren't lots of visual effects, and all of the characters, save for Spider-Man himself look utterly pathetic. Peter Parker looks more like Harry Potter, and MJ, who's supposed to be this vision of beauty, is – well she's just broken. The people that populate the city are even uglier than the main characters, they don't move their mouths when they talk, and there aren't that many different character models. Of course, it only really matters how Spider-Man looks, and he looks great and is animated as smoothly as in the movie.
The game features voice acting from the movie, or at least voice acting from people in the movie. Tobey Maguire sounds a bit tired, but having him lend his voice to the game lends a lot to making it feel like the movie. The other main characters are similarly wooden in their performances. The people on the street, while not voiced by great actors have some pretty funny lines that they yell at Spider-Man, who actually has some pretty witty retorts of his own. Bruce Campbell is back as your tutor and sort of conscience/guide, and while he's not really necessary, he adds quite a bit of humor to the game.
The soundtrack is almost non-existent, with nothing but the sound of the wind passing by as you swing coming out of the speakers. There is some music from Danny Elfman score here and there, but there's not much. The lack of music doesn't stick out like a sore thumb but it might have helped keep some of the game's menial tasks from becoming boring so quickly if you had some good tunes to listen to.
Overall Treyarch has done an amazing job with the game considering the short amount of time they had to improve on the previous version. Just recreating the city and getting the web slinging right is impressive on its own, but they aren't enough to keep the game from getting stale too quickly. The game can be beaten in less than ten hours, and while that's only 50% if you haven't gotten all the bonus hidden stuff, there's not really anything interesting enough to entice you to keep playing. You might break it out every now and then to swing around the city and take out some frustration on some bad guys, but after a fun weekend with the game, you'll probably be satisfied with just a rental.