PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, PC
Spidey’s first outing on PS2-era consoles was a rather uneventful affair. Based on the Sam Raimi movie, it ticked the usual superhero tie-in boxes: follow the general plot of the film, cram in as much stuff from the comics as possible. It looked quite nice, too.
Its biggest problem, however, wasn’t in the story or graphical department, it was in the mechanics. You see, Ol’ webhead’s web-shooting hadn’t fundamentally changed since Neversoft’s Spider-Man games on the PS1 – namely, making players shoot streams of web fluid into invisible points off-camera. Which was fine when you were swinging through the streets, but as soon as you started swinging above the buildings, where exactly where these webs sticking to? Oh, and not to forget Spidey’s sudden lack of ability to get too close to the ground, resulting in him inexplicably falling out of the air and plummeting to his death. Er, okay.
Thankfully, Spider-Man 2 addressed these problems head on. Each web the player fired attached to a real object in the environment, whether that was the corner of a building, a lamppost or a passing news chopper. Mis-time your swings? Don’t worry – you can land on the ground! Dumping the purely airborne nature of the previous game, the sequel actively encouraged you to swing around a proper New York City, complete with random crimes that needed stopping. Bank robberies, runaway taxis, pizzas needing to be delivered on time… It’s all rather blasé now, but Spider-Man 2 was one of the first great open world superhero games. Titles like Infamous and Arkham City owe a great deal to the work Treyarch did here.
Having a proper open world that players could swing around in was incredible, and there’s just no getting away from it. Leaping from the top of a skyscraper, plummeting towards the tarmac as your vision blurred and shook, then firing a web at the last possible second and scooting meters off of the ground and up into the air was wonderful. The substance of the game was weak – but for sheer mucking around and just having fun, it was unmatched. It’s one of the few Spider-Man games that actually makes the player feel like they’re the wall-crawler himself. Like its predecessor (and every video game based on a movie ever) it didn’t follow the plot of the film that closely, but when you could chase a speeding car through Manhattan from the air, then drop onto the roof (complete with a “You guys are in trouble now!” quip), it really didn’t matter.
Spider-Man has never been in a better game since (or film, for that matter), despite there now being approximately 150 Spider-Man games on the market (thanks, Activision!). With the advent of two new console generations since its release, it’s perhaps surprising that Spidey’s failed to return to his dizzying heights of yesteryear, although Beenox came close with Shattered Dimensions – before pissing any promise up the wall with forced yearly installments (thanks, Activision!). There was even an alarming step back with 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, covering the Andrew Garfield reboot, that had players returning to invisible web points in the air rather than latching onto physical objects.
It’s really not hard to make a decent Spider-Man game. Whether it’s based on a film or not, the story doesn’t matter. It’s all about the webswinging. Create a big, open world, populate it with people to save, cars to stop and bank robberies to foil, throw in some big boss fights and loads of nods for the comic book fans to geek out over, and you’re set. With great console power comes great responsibility, and it’s about time Spidey returned to what he does best: shooting webs and zip-lining around the city at breakneck speeds, cracking jokes and catching crooks. Make it happen, Activision!