I know, I know. I must be doing it wrong, but I think the sandbox format of recent Spidey games has become predictable and unappealing. The general notion of an open world game, if given the time, resources, and budget, can be a massive success (see pretty much every open world Rockstar creation). But being a Spider-Man fan, I can do without another sub par web-headed open world release, unless it’s prepared to blow the doors off of everything I’ve seen to this point with a HULK sized hay-maker.
It’s my opinion that, if you’ve played one current gen red and blue sandbox NYC swing-fest, you’ve played them all. Grab the balloon, swing to the hospital, save the person in the car, chase the car, return the balloon to the girl, save the girl, swing to the hospital…over and over and over. I get it. I have a public responsibility to the city, but at the end of the day, this is a game, and I want to be entertained. I want to have fun more than I want to experience repetitive tasks. Sometimes having a story driven linear path is a good thing. Scratch that, it can be a great thing.
I’ve been away from things for some time now, what with getting married and buying a house. The last Spidey game I reviewed was Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions, developed by Beenox. It was enjoyable, yet far from an open world experience. Unfortunately, instead of building on the excitement that was generated from that release, the series took a massive step backwards with Spider-Man Edge of Time, also a Beenox creation, though the exact team might not have been the same. Now it would seem that, on the heels of that not-so-stellar release, Activision and Beenox are prepared to give the open world fanatics what they demand. The thing I don’t understand is, why the heck do these Spidey fans want it?
We started our love affair with the notion of a video game Spider-Man in he 80s. A text based adventure game kicked things off, and later, the Atari 2600 allowed us to swing from side to side, dodging goblin bombs, as we climbed a series of one dimensional buildings. Eventually, the 90s gave birth to a side scrolling combat Spidey with portability on the Nintendo Game Boy and improved graphics, sound, and gameplay on the SEGA Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). In the year 2000, powered by the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 Engine, developer Neversoft, brought the Sony PlayStation and SEGA Dreamcast a three dimensional free roaming Spider-Man game, superbly narrated by Stan Lee. This wet our appetite for the possibility of even more, and the next logical step became a reality in 2002, with the Treyarch and Sam Raimi movie tie in release of Spider-Man The Movie on the Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, and Nintendo Gamecube. Arial combat was introduced, and although we couldn’t traverse the ground level of New York City, we could swing around and climb far more than we ever could in the Neversoft version.
The plus side of not being able to freely pound the pavement of New York meant that developers had to use roof top portals to transport us to different zones, unless they wanted every meaningful encounter to take place on a roof top. This approach rendered the city as little more than a free roam world map of sorts. As the technology advanced, and an even greater sense of realism became possible, roof top portals were replaced with street level brawls and central park showdowns in Spider-Man 2: The Game (2004), Spider-Man 3: The Game (2007), and Spider-Man Web of Shadows (2008).
On the surface, Spider-Man and the open world concept may seem like a match made in heaven. A character that can swing from building to building, climb walls, and zipline his way down the street faster than a New York City cabby at 3 AM. But aren’t you tired of spending an entire game within the shadows of New York city skyscrapers? I know I am. When I play a game I want to be transported to more than just one setting.
It’s true that not much information has been released about this title just yet. However, from what I have been able to gather on the Beenox site with the aid of Google Translate, the Amazing Spider-Man movie tie-in will allow us to explore environments “near” and “underneath” Manhattan. Underneath is nothing new, and you’d expect this with the main villain being a lizard-like creature. As for the “near” part, I’ll temper my excitement until I fully understand what that consists of.
I want to see variety here. If the only green I see in this game grows in the confines of Central Park, I won’t recommend you reach into your pocket to spend yours. If every villain I encounter just so happens to be passing through The Big Apple to kick my ass, I’ll have a hard time not feeling like the developer cut scenic corners. I don’t want to scrap with Sandman underneath a jungle gym in a sand-filled kiddie park. Nor do I want to climb another New York City clock tower to ruffle the Vulture’s feathers . And before you ask, the answer is yes, I’m well beyond hunting down Kraven in the big cat section of the local petting zoo. These are all budget sensitive solutions that result when the development team spends more time building the big city sandbox and less time thinking through the overall experience for the end gamer.
The Spider-Man video game reality needs to be about more than a few minutes worth of feeling like you’re web slinging through New York City, that inevitably leads to an eject button press in lieu of a more subversive gaming alternative. We deserve more than that. I want to play a Spider-Man game that tells a story, has great pacing, is visually diverse, and makes me feel something for the allies and adversaries I encounter along the way. It’s my opinion that the way most sandbox Spidey games are structured, they don’t take the time to properly do these things. So we end up with a cookie cutter generic mess that allows a character like Spider-Man to swing around on his webs and perform other far less entertaining tasks until boredom sets in.
What made Shattered Dimensions so enjoyable for me was the team’s willingness to take chance and mix it up. They gave us an experience that blended platforming, third-person, and first person elements. But most of all it had a unique overall approach with a solid enough story that made it all stick without it ever getting boring or overly repetitive.
The first time I made it to the sniper rifle portion of the Kraven level in Shattered Dimensions I smiled, and here’s why. You attempt to shoot your web, but Kraven shoots it, and at that very moment, the game shifts from third person to more of a traditional side scroller with a 3-dimensional twist. You have to make your way from one side of the jungle to the other without the use of your web shooters. This involves pummeling his henchmen and tricking him to shoot trees instead of you. The trees fall down bridging gaps in the terrain, and allow you to scamper across them. It’s a small touch, a bit quirky, but it broke things up and showed me that the developer cared about paying attention to details. This wasn’t the only time Beenox did something like this in Shattered Dimensions, but I am not here to spoil the entire game for you.
Just because the current gen technology has advanced to a point where we can do everything in third or first person with stunning graphical results doesn’t mean we need to abandon other gaming options. I personally care more about the overall gaming experience, than I do about a singular gameplay mode, frame rate count, or even the pursuit of graphical realism. The film industry is proving that a movie doesn’t have to be big budget to be successful, but part of that can be attributed to the type of story they choose to tell with their budget. Trying to build a sandbox game while cutting corners is almost always a recipe for disaster. If Spider-Man can’t get the same treatment as Red Dead or GTA, then I’d rather the developers avoid the open world approach all together.
The Spider-Man sandbox has become stale. The kind of stale that can’t be be freshened up with advancements in swinging mechanics or mid air fighting controls. Nothing short of an expanded vision, more development time, and a bigger budget, will fix this problem. Beenox’s Amazing Spider-Man game will have to buck, not only this slouching Spidey sandbox trend, but the lack-luster “game based on the movie” trend as well. Only time will tell if this installment, like the comic book hero it attempts to recreate, will rise above it all.
I’ll leave you with a web filled trip down memory lane. Enjoy.
Questprobe featuring Spider-Man (1978) – Could not find video for the 1978 version but you can see the updated 1984 Atari 8-bit version below.
Spider-Man for the Atari 2600 (1982)
The Amazing Spider-Man for the Game Boy (1991)
Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six for the NES (1992)
Spider-Man: The Animated Series for the SNES (1995)
Spider-Man for the PlayStation (2000)
Spider-Man: The Movie for the PlayStation 2 (2002)
Spider-Man 2: The Movie for the Xbox (2004)
Ultimate Spider-Man for the Xbox (2005)
Spider-Man 3 for the PlayStation 3 (2007)
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows for the PC (2008)
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions for the Xbox 360 (2010)
Spider-Man: Edge of Time for the Xbox 360 (2011)
The Amazing Spider-Man The Game (Yet to be Released)