Sunday, May 18, 2014

Spider-Man 2 (PS2)

You have no idea how hard it was to find screenshots for this.

When Spider-Man 2 first hit the silver screen back in 2004, I obtained the PS2 version of its tie-in game out of curiosity. Back then, when I was about 11, I remember having a total blast with it as I spent a lot of my free time completing a lot of the game’s side goals or just swinging around New York for fun. Later, however, I ended up getting rid of the game and had regretted it ever since. Recently though, I believe it was last year, I got a replacement copy, which I began playing around the time The Amazing Spider-Man 2 came out since we had rewatched Spider-Man 2 to get a review on this blog. The result is that, as a 21-year-old, I have a new perspective on the game itself, though I’d say that, despite some things not aging well, the magic is still there.

The game follows the plot of the film rather closely, detailing Peter Parker’s struggle between continuing on as Spider-Man and giving up the persona to live a normal life. However, there are a few places where the game notably deviates from the film, mainly in how it introduces a few additional characters. Spider-Man has to fight additional villains, those being Rhino, Shocker and Mysterio, and Black Cat shows up to help Peter choose which life he wants to live. I found this new narrative to be interesting, partly because it feels like they used an earlier version of the script, but also because it offers an alternate string of events to follow that gives it a different feel than the movie. The scenes that do recreate the film are altered in some ways, but you can still imagine them as they really were if it bothers you (it didn’t for me). Still, it was pretty easy to follow and it wasn’t bad at all to revisit it, however the gameplay can make specific sections annoying (more on that later).

Spider-Man 2, or at least this version of the game, is notable for its gameplay. More specifically, it is the first game where you can web-sling as Spider-Man in a three-dimensional space. The physics in this game work very well, taking speed, power and momentum into account when swinging off of buildings, effectively allowing you to do whatever you wish in a very intuitive fashion. When not trying to complete objectives, it’s a lot of fun to just simply swing around Manhattan (as well as Roosevelt, Ellis and Liberty Islands) and feel a sense of great freedom. The combat also takes some of these things into account, though it is basically a fun brawler. You can buy upgrades at the Spider Store with Hero Points that you earn during gameplay that increases your effectiveness in combat and while web-slinging. An additional mechanic allows you to dodge attacks, visualized through Spidey-Sense, as well as another that lets you slow down time to either dodge more effectively or attack certain enemies more easily. When all put together, both the exploration and combat is actually pretty exciting at times and really captures what it feels like to be Spider-Man.

You can eventually do stuff like this.

Like in any open world game, there are missions that Spider-Man can complete. The story missions follow the script and understandably happen in a more linear fashion. Side Missions, on the other hand, are numerous and are spread across the world. However, these occur more naturally, being able to randomly pop up wherever you go. Some are triggered by talking to someone while others are active and happen at that given moment. There is no penalty for ignoring a mission, but if you don’t complete what you are actively participating in, you lose 100 Hero Points, which can be a big deal if you’re trying to save up for one specific upgrade in the store. While there are a few types of missions you can partake in, most of which involve stopping armed equal opportunity thugs, it can get a little repetitive to complete them, especially when playing them back-to-back, since in the end there are very little types but only slight variations on them occur each time. Going through the story unlocks more types, but in the end they are still variations on the same missions you’ve already completed multiple times.

One mission type which stands out as particularly annoying though is when you must retrieve a girl’s balloon. The girl’s voice is very loud, as you can hear it from a mile away, always reminding you that a balloon is very slowly rising to the sky. You can’t use your web on the balloon, or else it will pop, so your only choice is the physically grab it, but in some environments the task is rendered very herculean or otherwise impossible. The worst part however is that, when you fail, you’ll hear the same girl sob very loudly in the same annoying tone. I never liked it ten years ago and I don’t like it now, so in this playthrough I intentionally avoided the balloon side missions as long as humanly possible, though I did succeed a couple of times.

The story missions aren’t without their faults either however. Naturally the missions get harder, though at times the difficulty felt supernatural. I did succeed with missions once I knew what to do, but especially noteworthy is the final battle with Doctor Octopus. At this point it’s understood that you’ll need to dodge his attacks and use webbing on his arms, but the reaction time required is very short and, if you’re not careful, he can throw you into the water almost as soon as the fight begins, resulting in an automatic loss. In other words, be very careful.

For the time that it came out, the graphics are pretty impressive, faithfully recreating the look of each character that appears, especially when it comes to making the ones who appeared in the movie look like the actors who played them. When I look back on it now, the graphics, especially the draw distance on the city, haven’t really aged too well, but there’s still a charm to this so I didn’t really mind. However, I will say that certain movements looked a little odd, especially the mouths within and outside of pre-rendered cutscenes. Still, it’s interesting to know what they were capable of in 2004. I liked the bright color palette, which matches the inherently silly tone of the comics and Sam Raimi films.

New York is your playground.

As for the voice acting, I’m impressed by the fact that they managed to get Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Alfred Molina to reprise their respective roles as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Mary Jane Watson and Doctor Otto Octavious/Doctor Octopus. Their deliveries seem a little off now, but I still think they turned out great performances, especially Alfred Molina who pulls off Doc Ock really well. Bruce Campbell also appears as the voice you hear giving tips, which he does very humorously in his signature voice. The other voice actors do a good job as well, even if we have to settle for not-as-good sound-alikes for Harry Obsorn (James Franco in the movie; Josh Keaton in the game) and J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons in the movie; Jay Gordon in the game). I will say also that the music is pretty good too, with very energetic combat music by KMFDM and a very good score by others, including a not-that-bad rendition of the Spider-Man theme by The Distillers (who are even advertised in-game via graffiti).

Simply put, Spider-Man 2 is a very good game. The different story direction is interesting and while the gameplay is amazing, it has its own hang-ups that could have been worked out a little. What makes up for this is the inclusion of three major stars from the film, as well as the humorous Bruce Campbell, along with the faithfulness to the tone of Spider-Man in general. I’m certain that modern open world superhero games, including the Infamous series, have made improvements on the genre in significant ways, but Spider-Man 2 has a certain charm that is hard to override and is definitely worth a look for those who are seeking PS2 nostalgia or who don’t like the divisive gameplay of later Spider-Man titles. Plus, there is plenty of replay value in the many collectibles or the simple joy of web-slinging through a huge city. Trust me; this game is worth every penny.

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