I was excited for Beenox's new Spider-Man game. I did not like Shattered Dimensions, so I didn't bother playing Edge of Time. Nevertheless, I felt drawn to The Amazing Spider-Man simply because I wanted to swing. After reading several reviews, I decided to buy the game despite its lukewarm reception. Now that I have completed the game and spent substantial time with it, I find that the game can be a lot of fun, but I do not think I'll return to it. I agree with most reviews that if you come in with low expectations, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Overall, though, Spider-Man fans and gamers alike should ask for more control and nuance, as well as a certain level of trust in the relationship between player and product.

The Amazing Spider-Man has its great moments. Beenox really nails the Spider-Man aesthetic--not so much in the comic book sense, but it seems like a world where Spider-Man fits. The story and characters come together and create a genuine atmosphere, and in no where is this more present than Spider-Man's swinging movements. The camera's close focus on Spider-Man's movements brings the web-slinger to life as he thwips around Manhattan. The web rush mechanic, although simple, sets in motion some stunning traversal animations. Just looking at this gameplay video reveals the elegance of Spider-Man's swing animation:

Bringing the game back to Manhattan proves successful. As I said in my earlier post, Spider-Man needs his concrete jungle to be Spider-Man just as Batman needs Gotham to be the Dark Knight. It's an absolute thrill to swing around the city, and the numerous comic book pages scattered throughout give the player impetus to explore every corner of the island. The buildings shine, and the changes in time of day breathe life into the city. Due to poor to middling draw distance, though, sometimes the streets look deserted, but this changes as Spider-Man falls toward them, catching himself at the last moment, whether you want to or not. And therein lies my biggest gripe with the game. Beenox does not trust the player to control Spider-Man.

The repetitive mission structure doesn't bother me. I am more or less unfazed by the indoor missions; they neither interest nor bore me. The sometimes awkward or uninspired character models have no real bearing on my dissatisfaction with the title. And I could ultimately care less about spoilers for the upcoming film. The problem I have with The Amazing Spider-Man is the fact that the game does not seem to respect the player's ability to work to become the titular hero. In what is undoubtedly an attempt to be more cinematic, the game moves Spider-Man almost automatically, wresting control and consequence from the player.

IGN community members (myself included) have made comparisons between The Amazing Spider-Man and Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham City, and these are not without warrant. Beenox borrows heavily from the Arkham formula, especially in combat and stealth mechanics. Spidey strikes from the shadows, and he takes on groups of enemies with the Batman's method of attack, reversal, jump, and stun (in this game, you can stun enemies with webbing). While this combat system works, most encounters left me feeling bored and cheated. The system works in the Batman Arkham games because Batman's combat style is precise and punishing, incapacitating enemies with surgical efficiency. Spider-Man's fighting style relies more on speed and disorientation; the character flips, webs, punches, kicks, and bounces all around the combat area in order to confuse his opponents while administering a barrage of pain and wisecracks. Beenox clearly understands Spider-Man's spectacular style as the character moves quickly in combat, but the Webhead doesn't perform these actions because the player makes him--he moves this way because simply pressing one button will launch the character into a dynamic finisher involving web shots and a beatdown that the player can watch without touching his/her controller. This problem occurs most glaringly in boss battles when Spidey leaps over giant robotic limbs and kicks the crap out of weak points, all with the press of a button.

Yes, you eventually fight it. Or, rather, game kind of does it for you, but it still counts, right?

Now, gamers are not strangers to quick time events, but we usually weaken the boss first with a (hopefully) intricate and intuitive combat system. Most of the boss fights here, at least the larger ones, employ a "strike here" type of gameplay where you web rush to a certain point on the enemy, watch the attack action, and retreat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Spider-Man performs wildly acrobatic and impressive moves without requiring complex inputs, thus negating satisfying feedback to the player. As a result, I never felt like I could control Spider-Man. I felt like a mediator between the onscreen Spider-Man character model and the internal systems of the game that make him move. It feels like Spider-Man lite, not a Spider-Man experience.

These issues appear in the locomotion of the character as well. Simply holding the web swing button down allows for what appears as radical flips and gravity-defying feats. As I mentioned, web rush moves look impressive, but for the player, it can also feel cheap. I wanted to be able to place the webs on the buildings with a mechanic similar to Activision's Spider-Man 2. (Note: I will never understand why a developer cannot keep the swing mechanics from Spider Man 2 in tact and build an open world game with an original story from there) I wanted to save Spider-Man at the last millisecond of free fall with a flick of his wrist right before he becomes a red and blue on the city street. But it's hard to feel satisfied with a quick save when the underlying architecture removes fall damage from the game. This twisted Manhattan--where potential death at the hands of physics is no cause for alarm--undercuts the importance of Spider-Man's sacrifice for the city and its citizens because in a world without danger, being a superhero is profoundly less super. An invincible hero, after all, is a boring hero...or Superman (I'm kidding, kinda).

I can honestly say that there are parts of the game I enjoy. I love swinging, and the combat works fairly well. For Spider-Man fans, it's worth playing. But I have my reservations about the way Beenox insists that this game provides an authentic Spider-Man experience when it removes complexity and nuance from the controls. Unfortunately, this move is indicative of the current state of video game development that infantilizes the individual with the controller in his/her hand. So seldom do games trust the player enough to find his/her own way in the game's system or take time to learn complex controls that, when it happens, it becomes novelty or niche (i.e. Dark/Demon's Souls). In order for the game to teach the player a satisfying input system, the developers need to trust the player to fail and to use that failure to learn. The Amazing Spider-Man swings along at great height and top speed, but it does so with a safety web the player does not need nor should want. We're all still waiting for a great caliber Spider-Man game, and this one is far from that ideal. Maybe the figure on the screen can do whatever a spider can, but he does so without much help from the player, which makes me wonder whether I actually played the game at all.