The weird thing is that once you’re past these hideous difficulty spikes you start having fun again, and you start thinking “maybe this isn’t such a bad game, after all. In fact, it’s actually really good.” You do a few missions, swing gloriously through the streets, jump on a fleeing vehicle and – suddenly – everything is peachy in Spidey-land. Before you know it you have the infamous black suit, a new set of attacks and some hyped-up moves, and you’re having fun again. Out come more classic Spider-Man villains and the movie storylines vaguely begin to pull together. Then, just as abruptly, you’re stuck on another stupidly engineered boss battle, or you’re struggling against a ridiculously tight time limit, and you’re getting annoyed once again. Give it half an hour and you’re beginning to wonder whether anyone ever stopped to play-test this thing. Then you’re getting sorely tempted to throw the disc out of the window and find something more relaxing to do with your time.
And while you’re doing so, you start focussing your attention on all the other bits that let the whole game down. You realise that, even though Spider-Man’s animation is fluid and totally wonderful, other characters don’t seem to have had nearly the same finesse applied. You might muse on why so many of the gang members look so blocky and awful. You can’t help thinking that, though New York looks great from on high, the sun reflecting off the buildings and all the major landmarks in their place, it’s a little distracting how much the textures seem to swap in and swap out while you’re swinging. And, while you’re griping, don’t some of those wall textures look a bit rough? Meanwhile, you’ll be nothing less than horrified at the clumsy digital renditions of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst et al. in cut-scenes, with virtual Maguire resembling nothing more than a plastic Thunderbirds puppet that has spent a little time in the Microwave tanning salon. Oddly, using the original actor’s voices only makes this worse.
I’ve gone up and down on this one so many times that it’s hard to tag a score on the end and call it quits. When it’s great, Spider-Man 3 is an easy eight out of ten: the core web-slinging puts it up there with Hulk: Ultimate Destruction as an evocation of what it might be like to be that actual super-hero. When it’s bad, however, Spider-Man 3 is a dreary four or five – a game that glimmers with almost realised potential, but can’t seem to keep its act together for more than half an hour at a time. The fact that it tries so hard means it’s still leagues ahead of the likes of Fantastic Four or last year’s woeful X-Men movie tie-in, but being better than the average super-hero movie tie-in isn’t much of an achievement. Just above average isn’t what Spider-Man should be about. He’s the Amazing Spider-Man, the Spectacular Spider-Man. This is merely the Often Great but Thoroughly and Horribly Flawed Spider-Man, and who has time for that?
The fundamentals of a classic Spider-Man game ruined by a careless difficulty level and a host of messy or unfinished elements. Superb in chunks, but still disappointing.