IGN Review of Spider-Man 3
When Spidey puts on the symbiote -- that's the black suit for those of you who don't speak geek -- Peter Parker goes from a wisecracking hero to a skull-cracking jerk. His testosterone levels spike; he gets meaner and more aggressive. Activision and Treyarch nailed the darker concept with Spider-Man 3 the game because when I picked up the 360 controller, I lost myself to rage. In a flash, the well-to-do dork who sleeps with a Superman comforter was gone, and I became a tweaked-out, curse-word-spewing maniac who pounded on his desk and screamed to the heavens as I was screwed over by cheap bosses and badly-designed interiors. At one point, I drew back my arm to hurl the controller into my beloved TV screen and caught a reflection of myself. This anger. This rage. What had I become?
Just like Pete's decent into darkness, Spider-Man 3 goes south so slowly that it's hard to notice at first. The game opens up with Bruce Campbell acting as our familiar narrator and walking Spidey through his new-found controls. Ol' web-head can now web zip with one button; his Spider-Sense turns the screen black and white while displaying enemies in red, allies in green and objectives in yellow; and Spider-Reflexes allow the wall-crawler to slow time and counter attacks with a single button press. You get the basics down while saving some folks from a fire, and you're let loose in New York.
At first, it's breathtaking. Activision says the city is 2.5 times bigger than the one in Spider-Man 2, and as the sun bathes the towering buildings in light and you somersault into different sections of the sprawling metropolis without any load times, it's easy to get swept away in the visual upgrade. You throw a web -- it comes out lax, hits something and goes taut in Spidey's hand -- and set off to bring justice to the city, which is no small task in the sandbox environment.
There are 42 missions in Spider-Man 3 that draw from the movie (Sandman, New Goblin, etc.), the comics (Scorpion, Kraven, so on) and the videogame's original content (three gangs are running amok in New York). Drop in random events such as hurt cops and gang fights that pop up as you swing around the city, races, skydiving challenges, 75 gang tokens, 35 secret tokens, 30 skyscraper tokens and 30 subway tokens, and you've got a lot for the web-head to tackle.
Let's get the good out of the way first -- swinging through the city and taking care of random crimes, arguably the best parts of Spider-Man 2, are arguably the best parts in this game. The swinging is well animated and pointing your analog stick left or right will direct Spider-Man as to where to shoot his webbing, while the random crimes are more in-depth this time around. Sure, you have to stop an out-of-control driver every now and again, but sometimes you'll get to follow a speeding police car to a crime scene. Even better is the fact that the pop-up crimes aren't just there to be there this time around -- they play into Spidey's Crime Fighting Index. See, New York is broken up into different gang zones. These zones are visible on the in-game map as well as tracked on Spidey's stat menu. It's up to you to patrol these areas, bust bad guys and watch the zones turn from angry, gang-controlled neon to peaceful, Spidey-influenced green. The better you do, the more upgrades you get for your health and reflexes.
If the same handful of crimes in the last Spider-Man game kept you happy, the expanded roster of events -- Activision said there's three times as many events in Spider-Man 3 -- will keep you playing, but please don't take that as a ringing endorsement. Like any supervillan in Peter's life, this title's got problems.
Although New York is prettier than last time, Spider-Man 3 is not up to snuff for Xbox 360. Cars, buildings and textures pop in and out as you shoot through areas; you'll still see the same passive civilians over and over; the framerate chugs during some battles (though it is much smoother than on PS3); the view gets a smear of Vasoline as lights in the night crop up; and collision detection is laughable -- at one point, Spidey "dodged" a missile by letting it pass through his pelvis.
The gameplay doesn't take a bite out of the Big Apple either. Activision and Treyarch tossed all sorts of combos and goofy names for moves into this title, but when all is said and done, Spider-Man 3 is a button-masher. You'll get dispatched to a group of enemies, jump into the air, and begin alternating between buttons to decimate the crowd. There's no manual lock-on either, so expect to get stuck in a bicycle kicking animation with a knocked out baddie while his partner shoots you in the back. Once you get the black suit -- around the six-hour mark -- your attacks will be suped-up, but other than the visual, it's not much to write home about.
However, the biggest problem in Spider-Man 3 is the simple fact that the missions aren't fun. Even if you're just in this for swinging and random crime -- which focus far too heavily on stopping speeding cars -- you'll have to suffer through the storylines to improve Spidey's skills, and you'll find yourself ready to web your own eyes closed in frustration. Guarding gas dispensers from a horde of attacking lizards and defusing bombs in the subway become exercises in anger, and they only serve to propel you towards terrible bosses.
Look at the leaders of the Arsenic Candy, one of the gangs plaguing your city. While the rest of the all-female crew can be dropped with a few punches, the mallet-toting leaders of the group are all but invulnerable to regular Spidey attacks as they hide behind their wobbly hammers. To win, you have to let the girls come at you. When they do, a yellow fist appears over their heads, you hold down the reflex button, time slows, Spidey dodges the attack, you press another button, and Spidey hits back to inflict damage. It's easy, but it's also excruciatingly tedious.
"But, Greg," you say. "It can't be that bad. You beat those girls in a few exchanges, right?"
Yes, you do beat the girls quickly, but not bosses such as the Kingpin. If you've read a Marvel comic book or watched the Spider-Man animated series of the '90s, you know the Kingpin. The undisputed king of organized crime, Wilson Fisk is a massive man who packs an equal amount of muscle. Coming into Spidey's tiff with baldy, I expected the battle to be tough and Kingpin's health to deplete slowly as Pete wailed on him.
Sadly, I was right.
I fought the Kingpin for an hour -- an hour of joyless reversing. It was six 10-minute installments of Spider-Man standing in the middle of the room, the Kingpin attacking, Spidey dodging, and Spidey punching Fisk once in the face. If I punched him more than once, I risked getting caught in a combo or running out of Spider-Reflexes and watching Fisk land a devastating attack. I played it safe and patiently countered the mountain of a man one slow, boring punch at a time. Now, if God's with you, you'll only have to duke it out with the Kingpin twice - you'll meet and wear him down, he'll deploy some thugs, you'll finish the job. However, God didn't exist Wednesday morning at 1:30 a.m.
Kingpin isn't the exception when it comes to boss battles -- they all suck. New Goblin? Run in circles while Harry shoots crap at you and then reverse his attack to win. Kraven? Let him rush you, reverse and win. Scorpion? Run in circles to dodge his laser, let him rush you, reverse and win.
Don't fool yourself into thinking the bosses are the only drawback in Spider-Man 3. The photo missions have Spider-Man standing in a populated park taking pictures; most pedestrians don't react to battles in front of them; and let's not forget MJ Thrillrides in which you and Mary Jane swing through the city collecting hearts that are floating in the midair.
Stan Lee must be rolling over in his bed of money.
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