Much like the Tony Hawk series, it seems as if Activision's Spider-Man games have to appear on any remotely appealing game unit, be it a console, handheld or even a cell phone. Spider-Man 2 is no exception, of course. Having been released across all consoles last May, a GBA version and even a Nintendo DS title debuting last November, it's time for Spidey to make his debut on the PSP. Because the PSP has potentially enough power to do so, many may have expected PSP's Spider-Man 2 to be a straight port of the console versions. Such isn't the case, as Vicarious Visions has created an all-new entry exclusively designed for the PSP. But how good is it?
As opposed to the console versions, Spider-Man 2 for the PSP is completely linear. There are no free-roaming segments in the game, so those hoping for a little New York City skyscraper hopping must continue waiting. Instead, the PSP Spidey is much like the original Spider-Man released back in 2002 and the comic-like Spiderman titles that Neversoft did on the original PlayStation. The story is very loosely based on the movie, and it includes a variety of other missions that have you fighting against some of Spider-Man's comic book foes that weren't actually in the movie (Mysterio, Shocker, Rhino, and Vulture). There are 19 stages to play through, and while that may sound like a good amount, consider this: each stage takes between 5-7 minutes to complete, and some stages take around 2 minutes. You can complete Spider-Man 2 in one, roughly, two-hour sitting.
The game itself is fairly shallow, as your missions are always blatantly straightforward, and above all else, they're very repetitive. For every mission you complete, you'll be awarded points for your progress, and with these points you'll be able to upgrade Spidey by improving his strength, jump, web capacity, health capacity, web recovery. In addition, you can purchase a couple of new moves to use against your enemies. None of the upgrades are really necessary, as the game never really possesses enough of a challenge for you to need them.
Controlling Spidey is fairly simple, and nearly identical to the console titles, though some may need a little time to adjust to the exclusive use of the PSP's analog nub (the D-pad pans the camera around). Again, Spidey-2's gameplay is very straightforward and average in every way. Some may find the game to be fairly enjoyable, though definitely shallow; while others will dismiss the game completely, hoping for more.
Visually, Spider-Man 2 isn't quite the virtual tour-de-force I thought it'd be. For one, the character detail is bad; every non-playable character in the game looks like a Grand Theft Auto III civilian — yes, that bad. And while Spider-Man himself looks fairly decent, he still sports some poorly done textures and ugly black web-lining on his costume, as opposed to silver lining. The environments aren't anything special and most of it screams ‘dated'. The textures — as a whole — are spotty, creating a very aged look. The framerate has issues, and during tense moments you'll notice some noticeable frame dipping. On the upside, the game doesn't have any pop-up issues, so the PSP is rendering everything in one shot and with ease.
Spider-Man 2 has some PSP exclusive CG cutscenes with some absolutely fantastic production work and visual detail. The cutscenes are fully computer generated, and they animate very fluidly – like a big screen production. These are definitely a sight to see and were one of the main attractions that kept me playing the game until the end. The in-game animation is also very smooth, as Spidey moves around on screen as he does on the console versions. Overall, the visuals are average, and like THUG2 Remix, show signs of being a rush-job.
The audio in Spidey-2, unlike Activision's other launch title, is superb. While most of the in-game sound effects are recycled, it's the voice acting and the soundtrack that gets the thumbs up here. The voice acting is completely original, and features the voices of Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina and even Mr. Videogame Voiceover, James Arnold Taylor. The acting during the CG sequences is very well executed, and the cutscenes are done so well that I found myself wishing for a fully CG-rendered Spider-Man 2 that looked as good as the cutscenes in the game. The soundtrack in the game is fully orchestrated and flows well with the game's epic-like story (I'm using "epic" very loosely in this case).
Spider-Man 2 could've been a very big release for the PSP, but not enough time was put into its gameplay core and visuals. The whole experience is far too short, the gameplay's underwhelming, and other than the rendered scenes, the graphics seldom look better than a Dreamcast game. While it may pack some gorgeous looking CG and fantastic audio, Spider-Man 2 is ultimately an average playing experience that is most certainly not worth $50 retail and just barely worth a rental.