The lights are on
Since the meltdown of the Guitar Hero franchise, Neversoft has
suffered layoffs and fallen off the map. While it's currently assisting
Infinity Ward on the Call of Duty franchise within the Activision empire, in
2000 the studio was operating on the highest level.
The studio's most prominent accomplishment that year was in the
franchise for which is is most known: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Neversoft
released Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 in 2000, a game that still ranks among my top 10 games ever made.
While the original Tony Hawk brought us a skateboarding
experience that was more epic and addictive than we'd ever imagined, the second
game was a true classic. It improved on the original game in every respect:
bigger and better levels, better tricks, and level creators that opened up the
creativity of the audience.
However, the thing that truly separated THPS 2 from its
predecessor was the addition of the manual. This easy ground trick allowed
players to extend trick chains while traveling between grind rails or ramps. On
paper, that might not sound like much, but the ability to string together trick
chains exploded the challenge and creativity inherent in the Tony Hawk
gameplay. Suddenly, you felt as if you were an artist, carving out impressive
lines while exploring the large environments. In the next game, Neversoft would
add to this with the revert, a move that allowed you to chain after landing on
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 put the series on the map as one of
the premier video game franchises of the early aughts. However, the other game
that Neversoft released in 2000 -- while not as perfectly realized might have had a greater lasting impact.
Spider-Man, the 2000 Neversoft game based on the comic book
franchise, was the first sign of what would become a full-blown renaissance for
the webslinger in the new century. Just two months later, the first issue of
the Ultimate Spider-Man comic would hit, with Sam Raimi's blockbuster film to
follow in 2002.
While it may look archaic by today's standards, Spider-Man was
one of the first superhero games to truly capture the feeling of freedom that
comes with superpowers. Instead of the side-scrolling adventures of years past,
finally we were able to websling our way through a (for its day) impressive
open city. Sure, the limitations of the original PlayStation meant that
everything from about 20 feet below the top of every building had to be masked
in fog, but it was a damn fine piece of programming.
I'd never really felt like a game put me in the shoes of a
superhero before. Older games tended to feel like a Spider-Man or Batman skin had
been placed over a character in a typical genre game (in fact, that probably
wasn't far from the truth). In Spider-Man, I could do anything: fly
through the air, pick up huge objects with spider-strength, unleash powerful
attacks on enemies – you name it.
I'll admit that Spider-Man has aged worse than Tony Hawk, and
it was never as polished. But I see its influence everywhere, from Crackdown to
Batman: Arkham City to the recent Saints Row IV. Anytime a developer lets a
superhuman character loose to fly through an open world, they owe a small debt
I hope Neversoft gets a chance to work on a new, original
franchise someday. For a time, the studio was as good as it got in games, and
in 2000, it had one hell of a year.