Spider-Man 3 Preview

Following up on Remo's look at Spider-Man 3 a few months back, I recently got the chance to check out the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Spider-Man 3 from Treyarch as well as the Wii version from Vicarious Visions, which Activision reports are about 80% complete. Visually distinguishing between the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions proved difficult--I was told the only difference between them involves some differing shader techniques--but I did notice additional choppiness and frame drops in areas of the current PS3 build while the same sections ran more smoothly on the Xbox 360 edition. For those with HDTVs, the PS3 and Xbox 360 games render natively at 720p and the Wii version renders in 480p.

Plopping down with the Xbox 360 version alongside a member of the game's staff, I was led through a variety of missions showcasing the multiple gameplay mechanics within Spider-Man 3. Among the first was a supposedly simple stealth-based mission, the goal of which was to obtain a photo of cash changing hands and prove the existence of corruption within the police department. A little cursor floating off in the distance showed the location of the deal, leaving me to sling my way across New York City.

As in Treyarch's home console versions of Spider-Man 2, there is something intrinsically satisfying about swinging around the large, open-structured city, jumping off the roof of a high structure, pulling the right trigger to shoot a web strand onto a nearby building and waiting until the height of Spider-Man's arc to place the next strand even higher.

Upon reaching my objective, the target marker was replaced by a "hot or cold" meter that shifted left or right depending on how close I came to my intended location. After briefly struggling with this imprecise mechanic, I made it to the site of the mission, where a quick cinematic ran me through the specifics of my next objective. Using Spider-Man's spider-sense ability--which acts like thermal vision, allowing players to see the shapes of foes through walls--I snuck past them to a designated location, brought up Spidey's camera with a quick button press, framed the shot, and then snapped a picture of the dirty money changing hands as it occurred.

At least, that is how it was supposed to go. In reality, my guide and I spent a significant chunk of time replaying the mission. The angle of the camera while crawling along the walls made it extremely difficult to discern Spider-Man's position relative to the nearby guards, and we would either get caught in our rush towards one of the designated spots or run out of time with the slower, more methodical approach. To be honest, the only reason I know of the mission's resolution is because I leaned back in my chair and watched a representative at another station complete it.

Another mission, which I experienced on the PlayStation 3 version, involves the classic villain Scorpion and highlights a mix of several different gameplay styles. It begins as Spider-Man infiltrates a heavily guarded facility where Scorpion is being held, leading to an all-out brawl against many security guards. Though Spider-Man 3's combat system consists of only two main attacks--heavy and light--a series of simple commands can translate to an elaborate on-screen combo. For example, a series of alternating right-left punches sways enemies from side to side, then a somersault kick puts them down for good. Part of the satisfaction here is due to the implementation of simulated weight--when I was playing, one defeated foe toppled backwards onto a slanted display case, after which the pull of gravity slowly brought his knees to the floor before pivoting the rest of his body forward and slamming it against the hard surface.

A brief stealth segment follows the skirmish, requiring players to crawl through a hallway filled with laser sensors. As with the previous wall-crawling segment, I had some issues due to the camera angle, making it difficult to properly judge my surroundings.

The next section, in which Scorpion enters the picture, came as a complete surprise to me. In the story, researchers at the facility where Scorpion is being held have been attempting experiments involving remote mind control, and at the point when this mission takes place Spider-Man himself is controlling Scorpion remotely, meaning the player essentially gets to fight as Scorpion. Activating a nearby console triggers a brief mini-game, in which the villain defends himself against an ever-increasing number of security guards. Combat has a feeling of great power to it, a single button press causing Scorpion's metallic tail to lash from side to side and knock down all those within range. After tackling a certain number of guards, control returns to Spider-Man.

At that point, a hallway of laser sensors stands between Spider-Man and Scorpion. Eschewing the manual wall-crawling mechanics, the game presents Spider-Man's laser-dodging as an interactive cutscene. While Spidey jumps from wall to wall, a series of directions or buttons quickly appears on screen. The proper input activates a series of increasingly spectacular stunts, beginning with wall hops and finishing with narrow aerial twists through two very close lasers, a move quite reminiscent of the Spider-Man films. The game's development teams noted that they studied the camera movements and cinematography of the movies to capture their feel and replicate it within the game. Meanwhile, hitting the wrong input, as I often did, causes Spider-Man to fail and try again.

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_PAGE_BREAK_ When Spider-Man finally comes face to face with Scorpion, a multi-stage boss fight begins. Due to Scorpion's speed, most of Spidey's attacks are useless, forcing a reliance on counterattacks instead. A yellow streak appears on screen alongside Scorpion's action to indicate they can be blocked and countered with a well-timed series of button presses--a tap of the block button upon sighting the streak, then a quick press of the button indicated above the enemy's head. The resulting counterattack matches the rest of the combat system, its simple input activating an elaborate maneuver.

Once Scorpion sustains sufficient damage, the battling duo bursts through a wall and plummets to the streets below in an interactive cutscenes, trading blows in mid-air. The transition from an interior environment to the wide open city sets up the next phase of battle, in which Spider-Man must chase after the now-free Scorpion. Just as I drew close enough to think I had him my sights, he would slam his tail into the ground with such force that it sent cars flying in Spidey's general direction, the resulting interactive cutscene rewarding players with either impressive acrobatics or a not-so-satisfying splat. Unfortunately, my time with the game drew to a close before I could finish the fight.

The Wii version of Spider-Man 3, developed by Vicarious Visions, also incorporates similiar interactive cutscenes. Utilizing the Wii Remote and Nunchuck's motion-sensing capabilites, they instead require players to perform the movements indicated on-screen, as seen by tilting the remote left to dodge an oncoming punch from Harry Osborne or trusting it upwards to avoid a low kick while Peter Parker and Harry battled on a narrow hoverglider platform.

Like its film counterpart, the Spider-Man 3 game introduces Spider-Man's black suit. While in the black suit, a result of his pairing with the symbiote Venom, Spidey's attacks become more aggressive and more brutal as the symbiote threatens to overtake him. The Wii version allows the player to switch between Spider-Man's traditional red and blue outfit and his new black suit at any time by hitting left on the d-pad and following certain on-screen motions. Staying in black suit form confers great additional power and combat effectiveness, but choosing to stay in it for too long will start to have a detrimental effect Spider-Man's health. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions do not provide manual control over the costume, instead assigning the proper suit based on the mission at hand. According to an Activision representative, around 60% of the PS3 and 360 missions take place while wearing the traditional Spider-Man costume with the remaining 40% featuring the black suit variant.

Web-slinging in the Wii version makes use of the motion sensitivity of the Wii remote and nunchuk. By holding down the B trigger on the remote and flicking it to the right, players can shoot out webbing from Spider-Man's right wrist, attaching it to the side of a building. Performing a similar motion with the Nunchuck results in a strand of webbing emerging from Spider-Man's left hand. The end result is that players end up literally swinging their way through the city. The web strands shoot off in the direction that the controller is flicked, which can lead to some aiming frustrations before the system is learned.

As for combat, those that have played the Wii version of Raven Software and Vicarious Visions' Marvel: Ultimate Alliance will find that the execution of Spider-Man 3's two-level attack system borrows heavily from it. Shaking the Wii remote triggers Spider-Man's normal assaults, and a press of the A button activates a stronger attack. Unlike in Marvel, this strong attack can also be carried out by moving the nunchuck downards. Mixing normal and strong attacks into combos produces the most effective results--a few normal hits daze an enemy while a few heavy attacks help take him down.

However, there are also signs that the Wii version of Spider-Man 3 may suffer the same pitfalls as the system's version of Ultimate Alliance, as such sporadic movements can be rather imprecise. As a representative urged me to execute a heavy attack, I struggled as Spider-Man kept performing regular attacks, perhaps due to my previous motions or inadvertantly caused by some slight movements on my end. Furthermore, there appeared to be a rather large disconnect between the Remote's movement and the actions Spider-Man actually performed--I was merely shaking the controller to activate a preset animation, not performing the move itself.

Though I encountered some decidedly rough spots in my time with Treyarch's PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Spider-Man 3, they were fortunately accompanied by some solid enhancements over previous Spider-Man games. Compared to Spider-Man 2, the variety of in-games missions appears to have been significantly increased and the combat system revised, all while retaining the enjoyable web swinging--a series of improvements that should delight Spider-Man fans. The control problems of the Wii are a bit more concerning, but the foundation is there--especially with motion-based web swinging--for a rather unique Spider-Man experience. Hopefully Vicarious Visions can get the kinks worked out by the simultaneous release of the games and film on May 4th.

Spider-Man 3 is being developed by Treyarch for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, by Beenox Studios for PC, and by Vicarious Visions for Wii, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS (preview), PSP, and Game Boy Advance.

Screenshots: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS.

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