Spider-Man 3: The Game First Look

Director Sam Raimi's Spider-Man comics-to-film adaptations have been been among the few superhero movies in recent years that have been not just commercially successful but critically successful. Developer Treyarch's Spider-Man games, some of which have been comics-to-film-to-game productions and some simply comics-to-game, have similarly fared far better among gamers than have the majority of games licensed from comics or movies. Treyarch has turned the Neversoft-established franchise into an open-world action adventure drawing heavily from Grand Theft Auto, but with the acrobatic web-slinging expected of the comic book hero. With Spider-Man 3: The Game, based on Raimi's upcoming film Spider-Man 3: The Game: The Movie, Treyarch looks to be keeping the fundamental formula the same while ratcheting up its scale and introducing various elements tying the game more into its source material. During a recent Activision event I was able to get a first look at the Xbox 360 version of the game, which is also en route to PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS, PSP, Game Boy Advance, and PC.

Executive producer Chris Archer pointed out immediately that the Manhattan in Spider-Man 3: The Game is the biggest urban environment yet in a Spider-Man game. Within that environment, players will be able to stick to the game's various story arcs, which include the overall narrative of the movie as well as numerous newly created situations, or to swing around more aimlessly while completing side missions and beating up ne'er-do-wells. Treyarch hopes to cater both to players who want to relive the movie as well as those who simply want to be Spidey. As in the prior games, swinging on slung webs is a forgiving affair, allowing players to elegantly arc around the city without putting too much thought into whether there would be a feasible anchor above. Among the side missions available in the city are Skydiving Challenges, though they were not demonstrated.

The game's combat system has been expanded, adding new aerial combos and web-based attacks. It was difficult to get a handle on all of the available movies in the brief look at the game, but Spider-Man seems to have several more ways to manipulate and manhandle his enemies with webbing before pummeling them. Most notable to Spider-Man fans will be the inclusion of the black suit integral to the Venom storyline. When under the sway of the black suit, Spider-Man is significantly more powerful than in his red suit form, being able to jump farther, hit harder, and access an even greater number of aerial moves and web attacks. In particular, black suit Spidey seems to specialize in brutal melee attacks. Black suit Spidey's most powerful attacks are accessible after filling a rage meter, which rises from taking damage, pulling off combos, and, in a pinch, continuously throttling R1. Some rage moves are powerful enough to take out enemies in a single strike.

Helping players navigate the skyscraper-strewn streets of Manhattan and locate missions is a three dimensional city map that, in a well implemented visual effect, seamlessly zooms out directly from the actual gameworld. Gang activity is marked on the map in red. Not drawn from the movie, the game's three gangs will provide numerous missions and objectives. One of these demonstrated at the event involved the Order of the Dragon Tail gang, which is apparently made up at least in part of rocket launcher-wielding ninjas. Also serving to help locate enemies is the Spider Sense ability, which in this game in addition to enhancing Spider-Man's reflexes and combat effectiveness also desaturates the screen and outlines in red any enemies within a 1000 foot radius.

In addition to the expansive cityscape, Treyarch has crafted some twenty miles' worth of subway and sewer systems beneath the Manhattan streets. The early look we were given did not reveal a great deal of what goes on in these more claustrophobic settings, but there are sections of the main narrative that take place there, and presumably with all of that space to fill they will host non-essential content as well.

As is all the rage in game design these days, Spider-Man 3 features Resident Evil 4-like interactive cutscenes requiring the player to press specific buttons at given times in order to trigger actions and animations not easily achieved through more direct control. Treyarch refers to these with the buzzword "cineractives," and they are generally used in this game to recreate scenes from the film or depict events unique to the game in a style emulating the methods of Raimi or cinematographer Bill Pope.

In one example, Peter Parker--sans Spidey getup--is attacked by Harry Osborn as the new Goblin. As the player correctly inputs the sequence of buttons shown on the screen, the two land blows on one another while careening around the city on Harry's glider. A more intricate boss battle sees Spidey battling the Sandman in a subway tunnel. Gameplay alternates between using the standard combat system and engaging in intermittent interactive cutscenes, one of which features Spidey rather ruthlessly grating Sandman's head against the side of a passing subway train.

Based on what we've seen at this stage, Spider-Man 3 doesn't necessarily seem to be breaking lots of new ground for the series, but Treyarch does look to be building and expanding on the strengths of its past Spider-Man games while introducing some new elements to keep the formula fresh. Currently, Spider-Man 3: The Game is expected to ship this May alongside the release of its Hollywood counterpart.