I remember going to see the first Spider-Man movie at the cinema, and the feeling of relief when I realised that Sam Raimi and his team really ‘got’ what made the character work. Watching the transformation from Puny Parker to high-swinging, acrobatic webhead, a CGI Spidey swinging and slaloming through the obstacles cluttering New York’s urban jungle, I could feel the thrill of seeing what my younger, comic-nerd self had imagined when I’d read the classic marvel strips as a kid. Spider-Man the movie had it down.
And I got a similar feeling when I started getting to grips with Spider-Man 3, the video game. It has the same sense of excitement at throwing yourself off a building, firing out a line to catch your fall, swooping down low so that you’re inches above the crowds, arcing up back into the skies, releasing the web as you tumble forwards and then shooting another to begin your next swing. Spider-Man 3 has just ‘got’ it. Slowly you learn to maximise your speed, discover how to climb towards the rooftops and sink towards the streets. You find that swinging too close to a skyscraper wall is no disaster; Spidey just runs along it and launches off when he reaches the end. Press the B button and he clings to it, and you can clamber quickly upwards or reach the top in a series of death-defying leaps. This movement is the fundamental part of any Spider-Man game, and Treyarch has got it absolutely, joyously right.
Unfortunately, Treyarch has also got plenty of other things horribly, horribly wrong.
This is a roller-coaster of a game, not because it’s a thrill-ride – though it can be – but because I’ve rarely come across a game that has put me through such extreme highs and lows. One minute you’re blissing out as you swoop and glide through the New York skyline, the next you’re cursing the designers and swearing never, ever to touch this stinking, horrid game again. Visually, it’s a mix of the sublime and the ridiculous, with brilliant animation and gorgeous warm lighting, but some awful modelling and sub Xbox level texturing. The camera behaves itself through one section, then does its best to make the game absolutely unplayable in the next. The difficulty level is plain all over the place.
It’s a shame, because Spider-Man 3 has the feel of a project that was kicked off with all the best intentions. It turns Manhattan Island into a crime-fighting open world, throws in three different street gangs and includes several different story arcs, one of which follows the film, the others following various other classic Spidey villains or criminal groups. There are Daily Bugle photo assignments to tackle, getaway vehicles that need stopping and random muggings that need to be halted. There are even speed and skydiving challenges to tackle, Crackdown-style.