With another blockbuster film comes another video game tie-in — but is that always a bad thing? With games like Spider-Man 2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and even Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay we'd have to say that expecting a lazy cash grab shouldn't always be a go-to reaction. Look back at 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, which was by no means perfect, but it was a satisfying accompaniment to its movie counterpart. So going into the sequel and subject of review, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we anticipated that developer Beenox would expand upon a great foundation to deliver one of Spidey's most memorable open-world adventures to date. Unfortunately, that's not the case, as ASM2 takes a half step forward and a couple giant spider leaps back.
As opposed to directly following the events of the movie, ASM2 exists in its own timeline/universe, but regrettably, the results are sloppy. After the opening sequence, where Peter Parker stumbles upon the murder of his Uncle Ben, Spidey is let loose in the sandbox-style New York City to track down the killer. This ends up being a small part of the overall story as series’ familiar villains – Shocker, Electro, Green Goblin and more – are forced in and out of the spotlight, never with much purpose. The only plot thread with a consistent presence throughout the intersecting stories revolves around Cletus Kasady, otherwise known by his symbiote combination, Carnage. Note to parents: Kasady is a deranged serial killer and the game features quite a bit of disturbing dialog. Short story short, there are interesting relations and interactions with villains — mostly between Spidey and Kraven — but the story that ties it all together is too disjointed to be worth much attention.
Disjointed…that’s probably the ideal word we could use to describe the entirety of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 experience. There’s very little new here to distinguish ASM2 from its predecessor, and what Beenox has changed typically doesn’t work all that well. For example, a common complaint amongst critics and fans in regards to the developer's last effort, was that there wasn’t enough to do in the city. To address this issue, a “Hero or Menace” system has been implemented to ensure there’s always something to be dealt with. This means random crimes and events (saving civilians from burning buildings, stopping high-speed chases, and deescalating police deadlocks) will continuously be generated, in which you’ll have to tend to or risk being seen as a menace in the public eye – meaning, a local task force will harass Spidey profusely as he travels about the city. It’s a good idea that just isn’t applied intelligently, and it becomes an exercise in grinding that could turn the stomach of a hardened RPG fan.
Making it even more of a chore is all the waiting you’ll have to do when venturing in and out of these events. Like, when responding to petty crimes you’ll be greeted with a mini cinematic, about 5-10 seconds of webbing up thugs, and then you’ll have to sit through brief news broadcasts while waiting to load back into the city. Why we couldn’t just participate in events like this seamlessly within the open-world, like we did in Spider-Man 2 way back in 2004, is beyond us. When it becomes necessity to address at least one or two of these public distress calls between missions, expect to become more than a little impatient with all of the bloating and excess fat.
Where many of the story missions in The Amazing Spider-Man took place in generic indoor environments with limited room for Spidey to utilize his unique talents, ASM2 frequently plops you into wide-open spaces — while still a bit generic — that allow for more freedom. Unfortunately, the plan of attack largely revolves around little more than incapacitating all the thugs throughout the landscape, usually by means of stealth. Plotting and executing a plan may hold your interest at times, but more often than not the unpolished game mechanics suck the life out of a potentially enjoyable affair. When it comes to getting on and off walls or hopping around with precision, Spidey can feel disobedient, moving in too jerky of a manner to be efficient.
Thankfully, if you’re spotted, the combat is solid enough to offer up some button-mashing fun here and there. Beat on the X button to attack, then to counter, quickly press Y when your spider-sense starts tingling. Web abilities also come into play and allow you to web-rush, web-pull or web up any of the enemies in the vicinity. It’s all extremely basic, and even though the counter command isn’t always reliable, it feels more responsive here than it did last time around. With many boss battles dependent on hand-to-hand combat and swift dodging mechanics, you’ll generally feel like you have the means of taking them out. Sure, too many bosses can be rather underwhelming due to lack of surprises, but there are a few memorable tussles worked into the mix – a fight with Kraven in Central Park being our favorite.
But the integrity of the combat can even be compromised when dealing with the lazy camera, which does nothing on its own. Not only will you need to command it consistently throughout airtime, but it requires manipulation during battles and fights, which can be almost impossible when action buttons require the use of your right thumb. No joke, when we reached the last bunch of combat challenges – these are simulated battles that see you surviving waves of enemies – there were high-stakes moments in which we had to spontaneously enlist the assistance of our chin so that we didn't have to remove our fingers from the face buttons. We kid you not. On top of that, Spidey likes to target whoever he pleases, and we couldn’t find a way to break his lock on whichever enemy he decided square off with. The toughest of situations can become increasingly angering because of this lack of command and precision.
Another change Beenox saw fit to make is that the web-swinging mechanic now requires a building or structure be latched onto if you want to get around. At first we believed this was a poor change to the formula, because, well, no matter how ridiculous the “cloud swinging” of ASM was, it worked – very well, in fact. However, after taking the time to understand the quirks of this altered ability, zipping throughout the streets at dizzying speeds is a rush. We aren’t dismissing the inaccuracies and inconsistencies that can surface on occasion — sometimes latching onto a building will pull you in an unexpected direction and wall collisions can be entirely discombobulating — but they're mostly avoidable once you've gotten into the swing of things. And when there aren't buildings to gracefully swing from, the always helpful web-rush mode has returned to make getting around easier.
When ASM2 does show signs of escaping its mediocre confines, the overpowering amount of bugs and glitches that blanket the experience can sometimes completely derail the action. Throughout our lengthy play sessions we fell straight through solid concrete, watched enemies get stuck within walls, and even experienced a game-breaking bug that forced us to restart the entire game. Couple those occurrences with a surplus of other — mostly cosmetic — jarring technical follies and you have a game that was either ported as lazily as possible or, as is the case with many movie tie-ins, rushed to release before its blockbuster counterpart. Dare we say it feels inferior to the Spider-Man 3 game in that regard? Oh, we dare.
Other additions to the formula – like interrogations that provide four questions to choose from, none of which have an effect on reactions/outcome – are haphazardly injected into the framework, feeling like half-baked ideas. There are a couple nice touches – a comic book store run by Stan Lee that will house all of your collectable goodies, and a delightful selection of Spidey costumes that can be leveled up by earning XP – but they don’t enhance the gameplay any, and aren’t substantial enough to offset the shoddy webbing holding this one together. If you’ve played any open-world Spider-Man game before, you’ve already played a better version of ASM2. This is undoubtedly Beenox’s worst Spider-Man game to date.
As usual, swinging through New York City as Spider-Man is an exhilarating and empowering proposition, but repetitive open-world events, unfocused/unrefined story missions, and a surplus of technical hindrances/poor design choices keep The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from being a solid movie tie-in. During the moments when things run smoothly, there’s the semblance of a good game, and we’d be lying if we didn’t admit to having fun quite often throughout our playthrough, but it’s all far too buggy and rushed to recommend with a clear conscience. If you’ve been a fan of Spider-Man games during the ups and downs of the franchise, this is something you may be able to squeeze some enjoyment out of, though even then we suggest waiting for the inevitable sale before taking such a big risk.