The Amazing Spider-Man preview

By Andrew Yoon, Apr 16, 2012 12:00pm PDT

There's good reason to be skeptical of The Amazing Spider-Man. Because it's a licensed movie game, it inherently draws suspicion. But there's even more reason for doubt: it comes from Beenox, whose last game (Spider-Man: Edge of Time), was critically panned. Even worse: this game comes mere months after the release of the last game--and is far more ambitious to boot. So how are we supposed to expect that this new release from Activision isn't just a cash cow?

By throwing Edge of Time under a bus, of course.

An Activision rep tells us that The Amazing Spider-Man has been in development for over two years. Although the Beenox name has been attached to every Spider-Man game since the franchise was annualized by Activision, there are two teams at the studio. Once development on the relatively well-received Shattered Dimensions was wrapped up, that team (lovingly nicknamed the "Amazing" team) moved on to start working on The Amazing Spider-Man. However, with Edge of Time also shipped, "pretty much everyone" at Beenox is working on finishing the game before its planned June release.

With that in mind, maybe there is some hope for the game. And based on an early hands-off demo I attended recently, I'll say that Beenox has a chance of doing right by gamers.

As with most recent movie adapted games, the game is not a direct translation of the events of the movie. In fact, it takes place after the movie, which affords Beenox the ability to introduce additional villains from the Marvel universe, such as The Rhino. The developers are quite pleased with this, as it tasks them with the responsibility of crafting new origin stories for these characters for the rebooted franchise.

Obviously, the biggest draw of The Amazing Spider-Man has to be the ability to free-roam in Manhattan, a feature that's been long-missing in Spider-Man games. The entire city island is available from the beginning of the game (but don't try to go to the outer boroughs--Spider-Man won't let you). It's a decent recreation of the city, with iconic landmarks and locations scattered throughout--but it's still no Grand Theft Auto IV. The city feels less detailed and less "alive."

In addition to a number of collectibles scattered throughout the environment, there will be side missions that pop up whilst swinging through the city. For example, one mini-game has you chasing an escaping vehicle. You must stop the car by landing on its hood and webbing it before it can reach one of the bridges out of town.

While the open world will be a much-appreciated return to form, Beenox is changing up many of the core gameplay elements to make Amazing feel drastically different from previous games. Taking a page from the Batman: Arkham series, the camera is pulled much closer to the character. Combat, for example, looks to be a direct rip of Rocksteady's "FreeFlow" system, where you can easily move from enemy to enemy. Given the success of the Arkham games, that's certainly not a bad model to follow.

In fact, moving around the environment can seem reminiscent of the Arkham games. Stealth is heavily encouraged, and in one sequence I saw, I saw Spider-Man jumping from corner to corner, performing stealth takedowns on unassuming thugs. Through a feature called "Web Rush," Spider-Man can slow down time and scan his environment for interactive objects, such as explosive gas canisters and heavy things that can fall on enemies. Essentially, you too can be swinging around, scaring your enemies for fun.

Web Rush is undoubtedly Beenox's greatest innovation with The Amazing Spider-Man, and it certainly shows a lot of potential, especially outside of combat. When navigating the environment (indoor or outdoor), Web Rush activates a cursor which shows a silhouette of what Spider-Man will do at the pointed spot. No matter where you aim, the game will figure out a way to navigate you to that point "in a way that only Spider-Man can do." For example, you can point at the side of a building, and Spider-Man will swing, run atop a moving bus, jump onto a streetlight, and land on the building. The animation is always dynamically generated, and is definitely impressive.

Without getting hands-on time with the game, it's impossible to gauge if Beenox's latest effort plays well. There's certainly a number of good ideas; Web Rush being only one example. Another nice touch I appreciated: a fake Twitter feed that appears during loading screens. In addition to the typical inane comments you're bound to see online, you'll see how civilians are responding to your actions. It's a cute touch that makes you feel like a greater part of a living world. However, there were still some clear issues with the game: the visuals are rather disappointing, and the dynamically generated Web Rush animations looked a bit unnatural at times.

The Amazing Spider-Man will be available on PS3 and Xbox 360 on June 26th. Activision offered a "no comment" about a possible PC release.

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