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When it works, it works very well indeed. The game is undeniably combat heavy, with most of the missions centred on getting to a specific area then battering whoever happens to be stirring up trouble into submission. On the plus side, the fighting system is fairly robust. At first, it features simple combos plus a left-bumper triggered counter-system, which slows down the action, enables you to duck the incoming blow and then gives you a quick button prompt to throw out your own hard-hitting response. As the game goes on and Spidey’s experience increases, you’re then given new combos to play with, and the counters steadily grow in importance.
In addition, you learn to use the combo meter, which steadily charges up in battle then allows you to use one of a range of super-attacks once at full strength. It’s a bit of a button mashing affair to start off with, but one of the initial pleasures of the game is the spectacular special attacks you can pull off by random bashings of the X and Y buttons. Learn to pull off webbing friendly moves like the Web Rodeo and the Web Yank and things really start to get entertaining. However, as things progress this changes, and fights demand slightly more skill in evading blows, not getting surrounded and generally using the environment to best advantage.
Sometimes, it must be said, it demands too much skill, not to mention super-human patience. For much of the game, you’ll find yourself wiping the floor with criminal cannon fodder, taking whole gangs apart without much of a scratch on the good old Spidey noggin. Then suddenly you encounter a gang leader or a super-villain, and it’s your turn to get friendly with the pavement. You’ll find yourself blasted, battered and broken within seconds, utterly unsure of what you are doing wrong, or indeed what you might start doing right. And this is where the aforementioned issues with the difficulty level come in. There are fights here where you’ll struggle for maybe an hour or more without making any headway, watching the same inevitable sequence of events go by – a good opening flurry of blows, a vicious onslaught from your opponent, a speedy escape, another flurry, a counter, then a colossal, seemingly undodgeable pounding, finished off with an ignominious defeat. “Retry? Try Something Else?” says the options menu. “How about another bloody game entirely? I’ve got Crackdown here somewhere” I found myself grumbling in response.
In the worst cases, Spider-Man 3 either surrounds a brutally hard boss character with several other toughs, or prefixes the battle with a tiresome quicktime event sequence. Oh yes, the quicktime event, that scourge of the sensible gamer is back, forcing you to endure several minutes of ‘simon says’ button pressing while a cinematic cut-scene plays out vaguely interactively before your eyes. Played through once, these wouldn’t be too bad – they’re not usually too difficult or potentially fatal, and they offer you a welcome chance to batter the boss’s defences before going on to the fight proper. However, the game makes the cardinal sin that, should you die in a battle that takes place after an event sequence, both you and your opponent will restart with full health. As this then makes the following fight virtually impossible, doing the whole shebang right from the start is the only sensible way to make progress. You could probably have heard my teeth grinding from where you are if you had listened hard enough.