Gameloft’s 2010 title Spider-Man Total Mayhem was an excellent game, but it was level-based–you moved from one enclosed environment to the next, climbing walls and bruising bad guys along the way. But what makes the character Spider-Man unique is his web-slinging ability, and there’s only so much room to swing in boxed-in levels. To truly exercise his abilities, Spidey needs an open world, and that’s exactly what Gameloft delivers in The Amazing Spider-Man. Does the rest of the game live up to the Spider-Man name?
First off, The Amazing Spider-Man is hugely ambitious, pulling much of its inspiration from Batman Arkham City on consoles and PC. You control Spider-Man in an impressively large, dynamic, open-world version of Manhattan. You can go just about anywhere, from dead-end alleys to the towering apexes of skyscrapers, and everywhere in between. The massive environment is full of stuff to see, and when you’re ready to make some progress, you can check your mini-map to locate the next story mission, or a nearby crime in progress if you’re feeling frisky.
Spider-Man, the original swinger.
One important thing in any game with this big of a world is your character’s movement, and here it’s mostly up to the task. To explore the city, you have a D-pad that lets you run, climb buildings, and direct your swings, as well as a jump button that shoots a web if you hold it down. When you let go of the button, you let go of the web. You can build up a steady rhythm as you swoop between buildings, tapping and releasing to keep your momentum.
The city is big, so we’re happy to report that you move fast. In fact, if you run on the ground for a few seconds, you’ll start sprinting at a ridiculous speed– so fast that you outrun cars on the street. Swinging through the air is also speedy. However, we’d often sling a web only to see it break for no apparent reason, making us lose altitude and often crash into a building or plummet to the ground. On the plus side, there’s no penalty for falling– even from hilariously suicidal heights– so it’s not a huge issue. Still, random breaks in your forward momentum shouldn’t happen at all.
Story missions are initiated when you walk into the glowing webs indicated on your mini-map. Most missions involve waves of thugs coming at you and begging for beat-downs, but they do a decent job of mixing it up with chase or stealth missions peppered throughout. They’re all pretty standard Gameloft mission types that you’ll be familiar with if you’ve played games like Spider-Man Total Mayhem or N.O.V.A. 3. We should also warn you that a small handful of the missions are poorly explained, poorly executed, or contain frustrating difficulty spikes.
Kick to da groin.
Combat is very button-mashy, so mostly you’ll spam the attack button and watch Spidey to do all kinds of cool-looking combos. There’s also a ranged attack button that spurts webbing at distant bad guys and can be used in very basic combos, as well as a dodge button that feels less responsive than it should. Overall, combat is somewhat disappointing, but rarely outright bad– at least until the latter portion of the game, when they introduce enemies with shields and rocket launchers.
All that fighting results in experience points that you can put to good use. For a mobile action game, The Amazing Spider-Man takes RPG elements to a near-OCD level. As you level up you can feed the points you earn into five separate skill trees, each with several branching pathways and at least a dozen upgrades. It’s all a bit much. It would have been nice if they’d cut down on the skills but made their effects more apparent. As you progress through the game, Spidey definitely becomes more powerful, but the pace is so slow that it’s almost unnoticeable on an upgrade-by-upgrade basis.
Aside from bolstering your stats, completing missions, and stopping street crimes, you can scour the gameworld for scattered spider currency (yes, the currency in this game is spiders), or you can complete challenges. They’ve taken a page from Jetpack Joyride by giving you a long list of challenges to complete, with three available at any time. This is a pleasant addition, even if many of the challenges ask you to do dopey stuff like jump five times, or swing for 15 seconds.
Don’t do it, Spider-Man, you have so much to live for!
But that’s not all; there’s more! There’s an in-game store where you can spend spiders to buy items like health tonics and invincibility balm to use during gameplay. If you run your coffers dry, you can purchase additional spiders using real money. You can also spend real money to buy points for your skill trees, which might make the game’s difficulty spikes seem a little sinister if you’re the paranoid sort. For the record, this isn’t the first Gameloft game to toss in a crazy challenge every now and then, and we never felt the need to spend additional money on anything.
Graphically, the game doesn’t look as good as Gameloft’s non-open-world games, but that’s to be expected. We played on a third-gen iPad, and the colors were a little washed-out and graphical pop-in was noticeable as we swung through the city, but the game ran smoothly. Other things Gameloft is famous for are bad scripts and voice acting, and here both are atrocious. But by now we’ve come to expect this, so at least they’re good for a laugh (until you start skipping cutscenes when the hilarity wears off).
For all the knocks we have against The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s still a big, enjoyable, ambitious game. Any time we can explore such a vibrant open-world setting on our iOS devices– and in such a fun way as web-slinging– is impressive. This is an ambitious game that does an admirable job of making you feel like a superhero. However, we can’t gloss over the mashy fighting, occasional glitchy gameplay, and rote missions that might keep you from becoming fully absorbed into the comic book game world. In any case, The Amazing Spider-Man offers an impressive– but nowhere near perfect– experience.