ImRage: Spider-Man Games Aren’t As Crap As They Used To Be
So I was watching my brother play The Amazing Spider-Man the other day (the movie was pretty good) and I was thinking the game actually didn’t look half bad. The graphics were quite good, the gameplay and the combat actually looked diverse and engaging and, while it did seem to be based on the most popular aspects of other games, the game itself looked pretty solid. A quick check on Metacritic (not that I trust Metacritic) confirmed my suspicions that we were looking a pretty decent game here and so I decided to investigate a little further. Lo and behold my shock when I found out that they actually put some effort into his game. Turns out it actually has an original story that follows from the end of the movie and the open world city is beautifully rendered and fun to explore. Sure enough it has some flaws that prevent it from being a truly great title but the game is a heck of a lot better than I was expecting when I heard there was an inevitable movie tie-in game.
You see my scepticism comes all the way back from 2004 when I was a young-ling (okay not that young) and I happened to make the mistake of buying Spider-Man 2 for PC. If you’ve been that age at some point in your life, then you should know what it’s like to get caught up in the hype of your favourite superhero’s movie and end up buying the related game. Surprise surprise, Spider-Man 2 turned out to be egh… and I mean REALLY egh. Apparently the console versions were radically different and thus far better but the PC game seemed like it was half-designed for idiots (and the other half wasn’t designed at all). If you want to see why the game is crap then watch the game play video below or read some reviews. Note that they downright tell you how to beat each boss right before you fight them, as if they game isn’t already devoid enough of any real challenge or mental stimulation.
Ultimate Spider-Man came a year later in 2005 and, from what I remember, it was pretty good, but not exactly memorable. I remember playing it again some years later and finding the gameplay a little on the shallow side but all in all, it was a nice try and a fun game with good graphics and an entertaining story for Spider-Man fans (also, getting to play as Venom for large parts of the story was pretty damn awesome).
Throughout the years that followed I kept my distance from movie-licensed games. I’m sure that if you’re a gamer you know the golden rule of ‘Licensed Games Suck’ and sure enough, every time some blockbuster movie had a video game tie-in it served as a ruthless cash-in on anyone young or inexperienced enough to buy it. On the instances where I did watch someone play those games, it looked about as fun as washing the dishes or waiting in the queue at home-affairs so at least I felt like my choice to stay away from licensed games was justified. Spider-Man Web of Shadows came in 2007 and, despite my initial scepticism of it, I was convinced by my brother to give it a shot at least. Turns out Web of Shadows was another decent enough game that just seemed lacking in a few crucial areas. Another nice try, but no cigar.
So with all the licensing disappointment I’d experienced over the years, you can understand why I wasn’t exactly hyped at all when Batman: Arkham Asylum was announced for 2008. I suppose I expected it to be mediocre like all that came before it but how glad am I that I turned out to be wrong. Those of you who have played Arkham Asylum from start to finish will know that it’s not only one of the best (if not the best) superhero games ever made, but it’s also one of the best games to be released on our current console generation. eGamer gave it Game of the Year for the year it was released and you’ll get no argument from me on that.
The reason Arkham Asylum was so good was not only because the gameplay, graphics blah blah blah were all good (they were fantastic) but rather because it was the first licensed game that didn’t feel downright inferior to the license it was based on. You didn’t feel like you were getting a sub-standard Transformers experience or a completely forgettable Iron Man game; Arkham Asylum is the real deal. It stands on its own feet and even if you’ve never heard of Batman before, you could still enjoy yourself with it. It wasn’t dependent on its license to be a good game. It’s perhaps the first time I can remember that a licensed game has actually added to a movie license rather than insulting it. While it draws inspiration from the movies and the comics, Arkham Asylum tells a story of its own and gives you its very own interpretation of Batman and a whole different look at his villains. You can really see that the developers had a vision they were trying to achieve with this game and I don’t want to spoil it here for those who haven’t played it yet. It’s good stuff. If you’re a Batman fan, it’s even better. Its sequel, Batman: Arkham City, didn’t quite live up to the insanely high standards set by the first but I’d still say it’s one of the better games I’ve played in the last few years; top-drawer stuff and the developers should be commended on being brave enough to go in a new direction. Even many triple A games don’t have the same level of ambition that Arkham City did.
I didn’t play Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions but from the parts of it I watched my brother play and the news I heard, I gather that the impression was the same: it managed to add to Spider-Man as a whole rather than subtract from it. Getting to play as 4 different Spider-men (Amazing, Ultimate, Noir and 2099) benefited the gameplay and variety just as much as it did the comic book fans. They really played into this with 4 distinct art-styles and combat systems and you have another superhero game that finally has what it takes to break away from being dependent on its license: ambition. Spider-Man: Edge of Time followed and, sure it flopped heavily (probably because it was a cash-in), but I’ll take it as a good sign that at least some of the superhero games released in the last few years tried to break the mould of ‘Superhero Cash-in’.
So like I said at the beginning of this column, I was watching my brother play The Amazing Spider-Man recently and it actually looked like a decent enough game on its own merits despite being a movie tie-in; a game somebody who wasn’t completely sold on Spider-Man could still have fun with. And this made me a smile a bit. If fewer people buy the crap that greedy developers sometimes put on the shelves and instead buy more games like these, licensed games may continue to get better as time goes on. And who knows how long it will be until we see an ambitious developer try to impose their own creative vision on a movie license and we end up with another smash-success like Batman: Arkham Asylum.