Monday, August 06, 2007

Spider-Man 3 (Xbox 360) Review

As I mentioned last, last Saturday, I found a bunch of summer game savings at Best Buy, and I was able to pick up Spider-Man 3 (Xbox 360) for only $24.99. I've both read and glanced over a bunch of reviews for the game, and the general consensus is that it sucks and is the worst Spider-Man game ever, and based on those, I was expecting to have a little fun playing Super Hero for a few days, get some easy Achievements to pad my Gamerscore, and then trade it in at a good price when I pick up BioShock.

Now that I've won Spider-Man 3, I need to ask this one important question: What were all those reviewers slamming it for? While certainly not the best game ever made, Spider-Man 3 is an addictively fun beat 'em up that's well worth it for any fans of the web head.

Spider-Man 3 is, of course, based on the recently released film of the same name, and it more or less follows the movie's plot with a lot of extra content thrown in. Unfortunately, Spider-Man 3 does suffer from the same problem that all movie tie-in games seem to have, the fact that the game, for whatever reason, doesn't want to give away much of any of the film's actual plot or dialogue. Now, this leaves me scratching my head since the game was released on the same day as the film, so who cares about spoilers? Apparently the minds behind Spider-Man 3 do, so when you pick up this game, do _not_ expect much in the way of a coherent story. Though the additional, non-movie parts are fleshed out more, you basically need to have an understanding of Spider-Man comics and to have seen Spider-Man 3 to get what's going on.

Basically you'll spend most of your time swinging around Manhattan and dealing with a bunch of stuff that happens, but it's the mechanics of how this is done that makes Spider-Man 3 so much fun. Treyarch recreated all of Manhattan for Spider-Man 3, and the city looks nice. It actually comes with a fully detailed map that you can zoom in and move around, and as Spider-Man, you have free rain to swing around anywhere in the city, doing pretty much anything you please. Come across a robbery or a gang war happening? Swoop down and stop it or simply pass it by, it's your choice. There are Super Villains to stop, side Missions, extra Races and mini-games, etc. In Spider-Man 3, there is a lot to do, and swinging through the city is just so much fun.

The character modelers and animators have really nailed the feel of Spider-Man swinging. His animations are so fluid and so perfectly representative of the films', that it really was a rush the first several times I swung through the city, and I still get a kick out of it. Unlike earlier Spider-Man titles, to, it seems that Peter Parker has been behind on his Goodyear Blimp payments, and as such, he can't just swing a web line while atop the Empire State Building and expect it to catch on thin air. In Spider-Man 3, you need a solid anchor for your webline to actually attach onto, or else you'll start to fall, which just adds to the realism.

The combat system was great fun as well. While yes, it's mainly button mashing, if you use your Spider Reflexes properly to dodge and slow down time, you can plan and pull off some spectacular looking combos. Again, Spider-Man's animations are so fluid, fast, and crisp, that it's simply a joy to watch him smash the snot out of brain-dead thugs. There's also a bunch of mini-games centred around an interactive cinematic theme. Basically, Spider-Man will be jumping around or doing this and that in what's presented like a cinematic, and as it plays out, you'll have to push a corresponding button or stick to have him successfully execute the next part. If you take too long or press the wrong button, Spidey will usually go splat. Not only are these great fun to watch (and fun to laugh at when Spidey gets gushed), but the game's Checkpoint system is generally quite good, starting you right at the beginning of the sequence you just botched up instead of several battles back. This really helps to keep the pacing of the game alive.

Visually, while all the Heroes and Super Villains are well done, regular character models, such as Peter Parker himself, look pretty bad. They actually look like plastic toys and are kind of scary, which is unfortunate given the high level of detail that Manhattan itself sports.

Audio wise, the game's a mixed bag. Almost all of the film's stars lend their voices, however the dialogue can be repetitive and many of the actors, such as Tobey Maguire and Thomas Haden Church, simply didn't seem into it (though Spider-Man's lines themselves were usually quite funny and cheesy). Bruce Campbell was a great Narrator though, with his usual whit and charm, and Topher Grace was a great Eddie Brock/Venom.

The sound effects are spot on, either taken straight from the film or suitably themed to what's going on, but I must say I was greatly disappointed with the game's music. If, for whatever reason, they couldn't use the film's music, they should have at least used many of the tracks from the previous films. What Spider-Man 3 features for music is basically background riffs that are easily forgettable.

Of course, one of the big themes of Spider-Man 3 is the Black Suit. I've always loved the Alien Symbiote and Venom, and I was really looking forward to seeing what Treyarch could pull off here, and again, while story wise you just sort of get the Suit, once you do... my God, is Spider-Man powerful! Before, you could use your agility and Reflexes to great effect to pummel the bad guys, but with the Black Suit, you can brute force your way through so much, and its damn fun doing it!

Once you get the Black Suit, Spider-Man is stronger and faster, though a bit harder to control while web swinging because of this. While playing as regular Spider-Man, once you fill up your Combo Metre, you can press Right Bumper in combination with another button to unleash a powerful Super Attack, but with the Black Suit, your Combo Metre changes to a Rage Metre. Once full you can tap on Right Bumper to enter Rage Mode for several seconds, where Spider-Man simply butchers all with sheer strength. Not only that, but as the game progresses you unlock special Rage moves and Combos, and combine these with your Spider Reflexes and you're all but unstoppable! I mean, my God, was it fun swinging through the city, spotting a crime and simply diving in to crush them all, so much so that when Spider-Man ultimately gets rid of the Black Suit, I was very disappointed (though Venom was fun to fight at the end of the game).

As I mentioned earlier, Spider-Man 3 takes some liberties and doesn't reveal all of the film's story. No backstory is given on Sandman, for example, though you do see how he's created, and I actually found it interesting how Venom manipulates him to fight in the Grand Finale, which was actually a bit more convincing to me than it was in the film. They also completely ignore the Uncle Ben relation and Sandman's overall focus is a bit different.

One thing they did right though, was to completely nix Gwen Stacy and her father, and simply focus on Peter and MJ. Unfortunately, one of the mini-games you have to do is something called the Mary Jane Thrill ride. Basically, you have to swing Mary Jane around the city several times collecting hearts, and you have a time limit to do it all in. Not only is this simply annoying, but listening to Mary Jane say junk like "Higher Peter! Higher!" or "I'm jealous, you get to do this all the time." is plain annoying! Please, Treyarch, in the future, play such scenes out in Cinematics and don't torture us like that.

The game's opening tutorial is also pretty bad as well, dropping the player right into things and doing a poor job of explaining everything as you go along. Once you get past the tutorial, though, Manhattan opens up to you and you can begin having a blast, though this leads to another issue I found with Spider-Man 3: You can only have one game in progress at a time. If there are two people who want to play the game in your household, for example, they will have to share a Save Game or wait for one player to completely finish, though the only way to start a new game is to completely delete your existing Save Game, which is a very poor way of doing things.

Lastly, though I found the game's controls to handle very well (and I only had issues with the camera in doors, so I have no idea why other reviewers were going on about with the camera being awful. You simply need to adjust it on the fly with the Right Stick all the time, just like in any FPS), catching falling victims in mid air or jumping onto moving vehicles from a web swing is very, very difficult, so much so that some kind of lock on feature would have made some side Missions much less frustrating.

When all is said and done, Spider-Man 3 is a very fun game. It is not perfect though. Aside from some weak character models and a crappy sound track, the game does feature some cheap boss battles and ridiculously annoying side Missions, but then again, many of the annoyances I found in Spider-Man 3 are also present in such blockbuster titles like Gears of War. When its all said and done, I would not recommend Spider-Man 3 at full retail price, but if you can find it for $39.99 or lower, I'd certainly recommend that you pick it up. Spider-Man 3 does a great job of capturing the web head's feeling, and there's no better way to play Hero for the day.

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