“Boo hoo. I'm Spider-Man. I can sprint up skyscrapers, lift cars above my head, I have a nice girlfriend, look great in spandex, live in in an affluent part of New York city with my loving aunt, study at a prestigious university and take pictures for a nationally syndicated newspaper.” Spider-Man doesn't get to complain about his problems. Beenox, the developers of his latest game, do.
Just how do you make a fresh Spider-Man game? It requires better ideas than this, and a much bigger investment of time and money. You can't take him out of New York because that's like making Captain America German. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions tried it and misfired. You can't copy Rocksteady's Arkham template because its deliberate pace and weighty character movement is purposefully designed for Batman. The Amazing Spider-Man tried its room-clearing, counter-based combat approach and failed. So Beenox do what they did last time. They recycle moves, missions and collectibles and slap them in their bland, cereal box New York.
Timed to coincide with the film but set mostly apart from the antics of Messrs Electro, Rhino and Green Goblin, the game sees Peter track his uncle's killer. It's a nicely grounded premise that teases an end to the silliness we've seen in the past from giant red-eyed spider bots and SWAT goons on hoverbikes. Indeed, the opening minute spins the glamour convincingly.
I'm plain clothes Peter walking down a bustling New York street. Keyword: walking. Car headlights shine through vent smoke and flocks of pigeons peck at birdseed on the pavement. On my right two people stand before crumpled bonnets swapping insurance details. Could this be the most vibrant world of any Spider-Man game? Nope! When the scripted sequence ends and the game begins, what do you know, it's just like the last one.
Almost immediately, as Spider-Man games tend to do, the story accelerates. Petty Russian mobsters with ineffective AK47s soon make way for a tacky-looking task force with futuristic drones. There are sleek tanks and bubble shields and lasers and Symbiote-infected civilians who for all intents and purposes are basically zombies. Again, though, what can Beenox do? Spidey is way too overpowered for a fair fight with humans, so tacky sci-fi elements are roped in. It feels like a problem with no solution.
Of course, a bevy of Marvel villains cameo. Electro, Kingpin, Shocker, Kraven and Black Cat all offer tediously overlong boss fights. Green Goblin's is the only bright spot, seeing you hitch a ride on his glider and grind his face along several apartment blocks. All too often, though, these encounters boil down to 'shoot web, dodge incoming attack, run over to boss and punch a bit.'
The dead setting doesn't help. It feels like the city needs a big 'gone fishin'' sign. Textures pop in before your eyes and cars only exist in your immediate vicinity. You're not so much web-swinging down New York as that crumbling dream city from Inception. The big 'innovation' here is lefthand and righthand swinging. Pressing either shoulder pad shoots webbing out of the corresponding limb. It's largely pointless, though, only serving to make turning in either direction slightly sharper, a bit like brake flaps. Web Rushing is the automated alternative. Here you hold down the bumper to slow time, target a point in the city and flip there like some kind of man with the powers of, like, a spider or something.
While options are good, both feel overly lightweight, though. Spider-Man isn't a gadget-packing brute like Batman, but he at least needs heft. Effortlessly sprinting up the sides of buildings doesn't capture the joy of being Spidey simply because it takes no skill in doing so. In fairness, videogame Spidey is an inherently harder sell than videogame Bats because, where the latter is a human controlled by humans, the former is a superhero controlled by mere mortals. It's never very heroic when you're skimming off the sides of buildings like a knobbly stone across a pond, but there is serious potential in momentum-based 3D platforming that's clearly going to waste, here. Side quests such as using Spider Sense to rescue people from burning buildings and taking photos of suspicious situations have finite appeal.
Indoor sections are just as problematic. Infiltrate the research facility, rescue the hostages, shoot webs at spinning fans to slow them down, plant scanners on the satellite dishes, dispatch the soldiers. Most scenarios at least offer choice. In one room I can either use stealth by stringing enemies to the ceiling and performing ledge-based assassinations, or take them out at once with gymnastic rhythm combat. Fighting suffers the same problems as web-swinging, though - too floaty to be any fun. This is, like the majority of The Amazing Spider-Man 2's tired design ideas, crushingly familiar, and so far from realising the enormous interactive potential of this great character.