The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a disappointing film. We can get that out of the way right now. In fact, you can read our review if you want to find out exactly why it failed to develop into anything beyond a vehicle for beautiful people standing in beautiful shots. And strangely enough, that may be why The Amazing Spider-Man 2 video game is the best video game-movie tie-in ever made. It matches precisely every step the movie stumbled but in an interactive digital form.
The game, in effect, goes through a checklist of what makes a game of its ilk. Third-person action. Spider-Man. Simple enough. We’ll take the Batman Arkham series combat, mix in some web swinging, enable dialog options, and make sure there’s a tutorial! Each of these things feels like they were thrown in for the sake of being there, not for improving the game. (Including the Arkham predator sequences. Ooph.)
Fighting, for the most part, feels almost exactly like any of the Batman Arkham games where you leap to and fro, bashing bad guys right in the face, trying to keep a combo counter up. When the game tells you, you’ll dodge out of the way or counterattack and keep slugging away until you get a slow motion view of the last dude going down. It is exactly the same.
Except it feels so much worse. It really only looks the same and mechanically operates the same but going about it feels like going from driving a Porsche to tumbling down a hill inside a cardboard box and making vroom vroom noises with your mouth. It feels like the developers took a look around, said that one did pretty well, and then tried to go with that.
Then, throughout the game, you can engage in dialog options as you converse with various characters…for no particular reason. Not only do they divulge no exceptionally interesting information, but they also result in nothing even resembling consequential. What do modern games have that engage players with a cutscene? Oh, of course, dialog options! People loved those from Mass Effect. (And don’t forget the quick time events. They’re here as well, and in spades.)
Perhaps the most egregious offense of the “just put it in there” development mentality is the tutorial. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Spider-Man mythos. Whether you’re fans of his or not, pop culture couldn’t possibly have let you elude the “with great power” quote of the Sam Raimi versions back in the day, and you know it came from a dying Uncle Ben in the arms of our hero Peter Parker.
That, in every iteration of Spidey’s origin story, is a pivotal moment. It kicks off Peter’s entire obsession with fighting the good fight, let alone using his powers to do so. Even with possibly so little invested in the character when you encounter this moment, it is emotionally potent simply because you understand this basically tears away half of Peter’s known world.
And Beenox, the studio behind The Amazing Spider-Man 2 video game, saw fit to make it the tutorial. In the moment when you walk up to find Uncle Ben’s body, his fading mortal form is nothing more than a mission marker. It’s nothing more than a blip that coincides with instructions on how to walk. It absolutely and totally subverts the idea that this is a formative moment in this character’s history and instead relegates it to some bin in the back of your head where you store useless tutorial segments in games.
Checkbox? Consider yourself checked.
So where does the web swinging fit in? Well, it just might be the only good thing about the game (and “good” is still somewhat of a misappropriation of the notion). And, much like the action of the movie, its redeeming qualities are that it looks great and makes sense. As Spider-Man flips and twirls about in the air, he simply looks like Spider-Man. And mapping each web-slinging hand to one of the triggers just makes sense. Beautiful and logical.
The problem is that it doesn’t function very well. When you can flow between swings and come around corners and Web Rush to the top of a skyscraper, it’s all fine and dandy. The camera is incredibly cinematic, almost giving you the sensation of soaring through the air yourself. But the moment you hit a wall and start to crawl or run up the side of a building, it all goes wrong. The camera says fuck it and you immediately lose all perception of time and space.
It’s a largely broken game, just as it was a largely broken movie. Not necessarily that you couldn’t play or watch either one at all, but that they failed to execute on their ideas properly. Both felt like they were going through a laundry list of “how to make a game” and “how to make a movie” taken straight out of a Complete Idiot’s Guide to doing both. So clinical and, as a result, clunky. Strangely enough, these matching attributes might make this the best commensurate video game-movie adaptation ever made. It’s just not a good game.