One of my favorite scenes in Spider-Man is when Peter Parker learns to launch a web from his wrist. To practice, Peter locates a New York City rooftop to hone his skills. He puzzles out the secret of this superpower, moving his fingers this way and that, mumbling hilarious lines of dialogue: "Go web, go!" After Peter figures it out, he promptly takes his first swing—right into a billboard.
Playing Activision's Spider-Man 2 (Xbox)felt just like that. Though game-play centers on defeating the tentacled Doc Ock and his minions (as well as thwarting would-be hoods, delivering pizza and rescuing Mary Jane Watson) the arachnid hero's web-slinging through New York City steals the show. Once you've nailed it, swinging through Manhattan's concrete canyons is half the fun.
The Story So Far
Spider-Man 2 follows the general plot of the movie, but adds some new twists and characters. Peter Parker must strike a balance between being a superhero and taking care of mundane stuff, like making time for Mary Jane Watson and taking pictures for the Daily Bugle. He is also intrigued with his scientific idol, Otto Octavious. Little does Peter realize his hero will eventually become his nemesis.
The game is divided into 17 chapters that challenge players with several mission objectives and smaller tasks along the way. Early chapters polish your wall-crawling skills of web-slinging, jumping and hand-to-hand combat. Successful completion of these objectives nets necessary hero points to upgrade Spider-Man's combat and locomotion capacities.
Bring on the Baddies
What would a superhero be without the baddies to test him? With great power comes great responsibility—to stop super-villains from wreaking havoc. Doc Ock is just one of the menaces Spidey confronts. Other villains—the Rhino, Mysterio and the Shocker—stretch players' skills as well.
The game's combat imitates mild comic-book violence. Fists (and webs, bottles, pipes, lasers, bullets, grenades and electricity!) fly furiously, but without the graphic blood or gore that has become commonplace in many of today's games. Instead, Spidey renders defeated enemies unconscious with his fists, feet and web. Vanquished baddies collapse to the ground with a whimper, then they either disappear from the screen or are cuffed by New York's finest. Spidey's enemies taunt him constantly, and the wall-crawler is not afraid to respond with playful trash-talking of his own. But the worst his enemies ever utter is "I'm gonna kill you!"
Beating end-of-chapter bosses requires acquiring important upgrades to Spidey's powers. Game-play is demanding, and trying to advance without mastering requisite new skills will result in frustration. Enhancing those superpowers, however, is one of the game's most enjoyable elements, so who cares how long it takes!
Don't Forget the Pizza
Many video games follow a linear story from beginning to end. The plot of Spider-Man 2 does follow this common approach, but it also offers nonlinear sideline play. In addition to primary objectives, Spider-Man can undertake voluntary missions such as rescuing citizens in distress, saving people from sinking ships, securing lost balloons for crying children, getting people with medical emergencies to the hospital and aiding police officers. Spidey can also go toe-to-toe with petty thugs by stopping carjackers, purse snatchers and the occasional marauding alien. Finally, Peter Parker works hard to keep his pizza-delivery job—and people always want pizza. Each of these voluntary actions, of course, earns coveted hero points.
Finally, what drama would be complete without damsels—in distress or otherwise? Peter is in love with Mary Jane Watson, the girl next door, but is afraid to show it lest his affection for her be used against her. Making time for Mary Jane—whether it's attending her play or taking her to the movies—is therefore always a race against time. The other woman in Peter's life, Aunt May, has a penchant for being at the wrong place at the wrong time (as does Mary Jane, for that matter). And the appearance of the mysterious (and, unfortunately, cleavage revealing) Black Cat leads Spider-Man to important story clues. But is she friend or foe?
This first-person action game offers would-be wall-crawlers the chance to experience life from a spider's-eye view. Game play is tough enough even for the most hardened gamer—at least at first. (After awhile it seems a bit repetitive.) But it doesn't buy into the kinds of gory violence displayed by many of its popular peers. Like the movie, Spider-Man 2 lets fly great moral themes, rewarding doing good, battling evil and being faithful to family and friends. That makes it stand out in a skyline full of games that all too often reinforce vice instead of virtue.