The problem with movie tie-in games seems intrinsic to their very existence. Being, as they are, mere merchandising grist for the Hollywood blockbuster mill, if a game isn't finished when its parent movie hits theatres, well, tough cookies for you, development team. The short turnaround time often forces studios to sweep innovation to one side and focus simply on getting something playable ready to publish by red carpet day, with predictable results.
The Amazing Spider-man 2, sad to say, has this “rushed to retail” syndrome written all over it, from its lacklustre environment textures to its Frankenstein-like assemblage of parts “inspired by” other, commercially successful games. It's not a terrible game, but it is essentially a Batman: Arkham City clone. And as a clone, it's the Ben Reilly to Arkham's Peter Parker – functionally similar but inferior in every way..
The Spider-man combat system has been lifted almost wholesale from the Arkham series, with its strikes and counters mapped to the same buttons, and the timing thereof making up the basics of fighting. There are a few appropriately spider-powered special moves tossed into the mix for variety, but it's not enough to set it apart from its inspiration; ultimately it feels like a shadow of Batman's hard-hitting and precise combat thanks to the game's extremely generous input window and some unimpressive enemy AI that too often leaves groups of thugs standing around just waiting to be socked in the jaw.
Sections of straight-up fisticuffs are interspersed with sneaky stealth bits, much like in the Arkham series, although again compared to the Arkham games this part of the game feels slight. Some entertaining takedown animations aside, the stealth sections feel underdeveloped, and certainly aren't helped by some twitchy controls and inconsistent reactions from enemies. The one thing that can be said is that, at the very least, Spider-man's spider sense makes for a better in-continuity explanation for letting the player can see through walls than Batman's “detective vision” ever has.
Elsewhere, Batman's boss encounters serve as obvious inspiration for Spidey's own showdowns with the requisite members of his rogues gallery – including Electro, the Green Goblin, the Kingpin, Shocker, Kraven the Hunter and a few notable others. Each fight usually involves some gentle puzzle-solving aspect that the player must overcome before they can do any significant damage to their foe, but there are very few memorable encounters. In the case of his dust-up with The Kingpin, it might as well be a straight-up reskin of the Bane encounter in Arkham Asylum, they're so similar.
Bizarrely, even Batman's grappling gun even seems to have made it into the game. Dubiously renamed the “web rush”, this ability sends Spidey flying through the air at great speeds towards a targeted point, although no one cares to take a moment and explain how exactly his webs allow him to do that.
In fact, if one was to get all comic book nerd about the whole thing, even though it does speed up the open-world parkour elements of the game, Spidey shouldn't really be able to sprint straight up a vertical surface on two legs, either.
Unfortunately, when the developers are not shamelessly mining [i[Arkham for ideas, they're cramming in unneeded features from other popular games that really don't mesh with the whole. Morality systems are big these days, so a bar that grades Spidey on a scale of hero to menace shifts depending on whether players are using their great power with great responsibility. However, presumably since Spidey is an officially licensed hero and can't actually be seen doing evil stuff, there are no actual moral choices to be made, just an endless series of pop-up events where Spidey can take time out from the main plot to rescue citizens in peril or beat up thugs to earn heroism points. Every time players complete or ignore these “heroic events”, their heroism meter either rises or drops. With a high hero level Spidey gains bonuses to various attributes, but players who ignore too many cries for help will have to deal with attribute penalties instead.
All this really means is that players are punished for not continuously sidetracking themselves, and the repetitive nature of the events ensures that players will very quickly lose interest in playing hero. The inevitable result is playing the game as a “menace” and being attacked by various taskforce goons even as you swing about saving the city from the more pressing threats contained in the main plot.
Also clogging up the game is the addition of pointless speech options that appear when Spidey is interrogating villains or chatting to allies. But again, while most games use these as a chance for players to make real choices, the only decisions to be made here are on the order in which Spidey says his lines, or whether to skip the small talk completely. It's a baffling design choice that adds nothing to the game, only serving to (potentially) lengthen cut scenes while also making them more awkward and stilted.
Thankfully, the best-realised feature of The Amazing Spider-man 2 is the one that is absolutely essential to the Spider-man experience: the ability to spin a web (any size) and swing around the towering buildings of Manhattan as only a spider can. In this respect, The Amazing Spider-man 2 is a lot of fun, even if a lack of polish prevents the experience from being completely transcendent. With the left and right triggers controlling their respective wrist's web shooters, Spidey flings himself around with assuredness and agility, leaping from tall buildings, clinging to flagpoles, and performing mid-air somersaults. The controls feel smooth and intuitive, too: releasing the triggers early results in quick, flat swings, while holding on longer will see the webslinger swoop through a full, glorious arc, soaring high into the air at the end.
But while all the swinging about is enjoyable, some wonky collision detection, and a tendency for Spidey to just slide over any surfaces he should probably be smacking into, makes the activity not much of a challenge and sometimes flat-out strange looking. It doesn't help that there are absolutely no stakes to messing up mid-air, as Spidey doesn't take fall damage even if he's slipped off the top of the Empire State Building.
Adding to the game's woes, the New York skyline just doesn't look all that impressive. There are skyscrapers for miles, of course, but the landscape's colour palette is all too samey, the textures too flat, and aside from one or two notable landmarks such as the Chrysler Building and The Daily Bugle, one corner of the map is virtually indistinguishable from another. In terms of world activity, there's very little happening at ground level and even less up in the air, and scouring every inch of the map for the hundreds of collectables that are scattered around is not exactly a tantalising prospect (though it might almost be worth it to unlock the game's small but excellent library of fully readable comic books).
On paper The Amazing Spider-man 2 sounds like a solid bet for a game publisher: take the successful Arkham series formula and copy and paste it to another popular superhero – one with a multi-million dollar movie in theatres to boot. In reality, the game underwhelms at nearly every opportunity. While there is some enjoyment to be wrung out of donning Spidey's red and blue tights and spinning webs all over New York City, The Amazing Spider-man 2 is simply not as good as the game it shamelessly apes – and in some ways it is significantly worse. Forget great power: with a license as great as this one, there should be a responsibility to deliver a game more amazing than this.