While Activision’s console Amazing Spider-Man game which takes place after the events of the 2012 movie, Gameloft’s Xbox Windows Phone 8 game very loosely adapts the film’s actual narrative. It seems like Gameloft had access to a brief synopsis for the movie and had to fill in the rest of the story with original material though. While the story eventually builds to a confrontation with the Lizard after he has released a harmful gas into New York’s skyline, the preceding plot centers around Spider-Man’s efforts to thwart a gang of terrorists created for the game.
The story scenes are fully voiced, but unfortunately the actors are fairly crap on the whole. Spider-Man’s voice actor in particular is seriously miscast. Not only doesn’t he sound anything like Andrew Garfield, he never sounds heroic and just plain can’t act. Also, nobody’s mouth moves when they’re speaking, which makes the occasional close up dialogue exchange look super awkward. But this is a mobile title (that was originally rushed to coincide with the release of the movie), so we have to cut it some slack.
Grand Theft Spider-Man
ASM is an open-world game, meaning that players can move around and explore the city at their leisure. To embark on a story mission, you’ll step into a blue light at specific locations. Side missions (which we’ll get to in a bit) pop up all over the map, and Spidey can choose to complete or avoid them. There are also lots of little colored spider collectibles to find as you dash, swing, and climb around the virtual island of Manhattan.
One issue arising from the open-world approach is the game’s relatively low frame rate. If I had to guess, I’d say it runs around 15-20 FPS. That’s noticeably lower than the average game’s target of 30 FPS (60 FPS is what we consider completely smooth). It’s important to understand that open-world games are extremely taxing on gaming hardware. Grand Theft Auto III on Playstation 2 ran below 30 FPS, but nobody minded because the freedom of gameplay was worth the trade-off. ASM’s gameplay is similarly rewarding, but some individuals won’t have the patience to acclimate to its imperfect frame rate.
Whatever a spider can
Unlike GTA, Peter Parker won’t be driving the cars that populate the city streets. Instead, he swings everywhere – and that’s way more fun. Webslinging is mostly effortless. You just tap the jump button, tap it again in the air to start a swing, and then repeat at the end of the swing. Leaving the ground behind to move between buildings at breakneck speeds is great fun. Gameloft put obvious effort into Spidey’s swinging animations – swing close to a building and he’ll run along its side while holding onto his web; or come to a full stop and he hangs upside down (no kissing in the rain though).
My only complaint: sometimes webs don’t come out when the button is pressed, causing our hero to plummet to the ground. This seems to depend on proximity to buildings. But Spidey’s webs don’t actually connect to buildings, so why the limitation? Nobody wants their web-slinging thrills interrupted by an unwelcome attempt at reality.
Spider-Man’s other power of note is climbing on walls. This he does quite easily – walk up to a wall or jump against one and he’ll stick to it like Lawrence Fishburne to a honey-glazed ham. Then you just climb in the direction of your choice with the virtual stick. Climbing is far slower than swinging and thus less enjoyable, but still useful on occasion.
Whenever Spidey spots one or more enemies, his spider-sense sounds off. He can then press a button to fire a web at one of the bad guys and zip over to the foe. From there, you’ll mostly mash on the attack button to beat enemies into submission. The upgrades you’ve purchased determine what moves come out when tapping the button, but the combo system never opens up beyond that.
If you want to fancy the fighting up a tad, pressing the web button either fires balls of web or does another zip kick. Before long, Spidey also gains a super attack that damages anybody within its radius. Pressing and holding the attack button activates it, and there’s a cooldown time to prevent overuse.
Sometimes you’ll need to dodge attacks, too. When Peter’s Spider sense goes off during a battle, quickly press the dodge button to do a counterattack. Miss and you’ll take a hit. It’s fairly easy to come away from fights unscathed as long as you react fast enough. I wouldn’t mind a deeper combat system, but the attacks and dodges presented here look cool while keeping the game approachable for general audiences.
Level ups and microtransactions
After busting enough heads and completing enough missions, Spider-Man will level up. This gets you Skill Points to spend on various upgrades such as faster health regeneration or increased melee damage. You can also increase the rate of XP and Spider gain – definitely put all of your points into those upgrades first in order to reduce the need for grinding.
Players can visit the shop at any time. It offers a couple of unlockable costumes (one of which costs way too much), health regeneration potions, and a few other knickknacks. Everything in the shop costs spiders, which you earn the same way as XP. But you don’t earn nearly as many spiders as XP, making it hard to afford anything.
The game does offer both Skill Points and spiders for purchase with real money. But those prices are crazy high too, so I doubt many people will splurge on them. Considering that ASM costs $6.99 already, the IAP prices should have been far more reasonable.
These story activities would have made great side quests too.
Let’s get this out of the way: this game has one or two broken Achievements. The first, 'Hometown Legend' requires Spidey to save 15 citizens. Do that and nothing happens. Annoyingly/amusingly, the same Achievement is also broken in Gameloft’s The Dark Knight Rises.
The other problem Achievement is for completing all Challenges. After meeting Gwen Stacy in a random encounter (the only time she appears in the game, oddly enough), Peter gains access to challenges. Three challenges are active at any given time. Complete one and it’s replaced by another, and so on. The number of challenges is just ridiculously large, some are very difficult and arbitrary, and they'll bore you pantless long before the game is done. Several weeks after the game’s release not one person has the Achievement for completing them all, meaning the Achievement is either way too hard or just doesn’t pop.
The Amazing Spider-Man is not a perfect game. Its engine outpaces the hardware a bit, resulting in a less-than-fluid experience. The random missions lack variety – I wish some of the cool story bits like following an enemy car and saving people from falling off of skyscrapers would also pop up as random missions. And the game’s worldview is kind of antiquated: the only people Spidey rescues in side mission are women and the only black people that show up are bad guys. Plus broken Achievements.
For all its little imperfections, ASM is still modeled after the incredibly fun Spider-Man 2 console game. And much of that fun comes through. Swinging around the city, climbing along walls, and webbing enemies into submission is my idea of a good time. It’s also got an open world New York and a good leveling system going for it.
If you don’t sweat Achievements too much, go ahead and give ASM a try. Hopefully Gameloft will fix the Achievements with an update. If not, then the Lizard truly wins.
The Amazing Spider-Man costs $6.99. Get it here at the Windows Phone Store. File size: 542 MB (requires a device with 1 GB of RAM and approximately 3 GB of space to install)