I don’t want to say they’re ho-hum, but superheroes are everywhere nowadays. And that means that game and movie audiences need more than a run-of-the-mill meta-human crashing through walls and jumping over tall buildings to keep them interested. They look for something thought-provoking and emotionally involving to set apart those truly super entertainment experiences. Which is the main reason for the success of the Spider-Man movies. No dime-a-dozen hero here. In fact, Spider-Man 3 broke box office sales records its opening weekend to the tune of about 1.5 billion dimes.
So, how does this blockbuster arachnid fare in the current waterspout of video games?
Like past contests featuring Peter Parker’s alter ego, those playing Spider-Man 3: The Game find themselves once again on the streets of New York City. They can go pretty much anywhere they’d like to in this open world, which is actually one of the best parts of the game. There are a number of new underground areas to zip and web through, and Spidey’s fast and fluid movement mechanics make the going fun. Running up walls and latching onto nearby skyscrapers with your webbing so you can swing and leap along pedestrian-filled boulevards has an easy, cool feel about it.
Lizards and Scorpions and Morbius, Oh My!
While making your way around the city you can pick up random-crime missions that range from chasing a helicopter full of thieves to battling club-wielding gang members to snapping some perfect crime-scene photos for the Daily Bugle. Or you can stick, like any good spider, to the 23 central missions—which can be considered rather short for one of today’s video games, taking about nine to 12 total hours to complete. But at least little Petey won’t be glued to the PlayStation for the next month.
The core action is loosely tied into Spider-Man 3‘s movie plot with a final showdown between Spidey and his two cinematic foes, Venom and Sandman. So it’s a little odd that the cutscenes that are related to the film feel like they were shoehorned in. The reason? The game’s inclusion of a roster of other villains and their mini storylines, including Lizard, Scorpion, Kingpin, and even Morbius, the Living Vampire. This variety-pack approach offers up a lot more opportunity for Spider-Man fans to engage with more of their favorites, but it also means that we lose a lot of character depth—leaving battles with a repetitive feel.
The Stuff That Leaves You Hanging
Players jump, dodge and web-swing around their enemies, using a slow-motion bullet-dodging state, adrenaline attacks and increasingly complicated punch combos. You battle a number of sharp-toothed monsters and jump through bomb-ravaged buildings. Thankfully, blood and guts are kept out of it.
There’s also a new mini-game feature in which Spider-Man performs special aerial maneuvers if you hit a sequence of buttons as icons appear on the screen. But as fun as that may sound, unfortunately, it all pretty much boils down to the same button-mashing beat-’em-ups over and over again.
Along with that, there are frustrating little glitches in the game that seem determined to drive you batty. (No, wait, that’s that other guy with the black wings.) When you’re trying to maneuver around certain foes or quick-web up a building or stick to the ceiling, getting the camera to line up properly can leave you hanging, so to speak. Several times I’d finish a difficult section only to have the game freeze up and force me to start over.
Beyond the rhythmic violence, there are also a few other content issues of short skirts, low-cut tops and shirtless gang members. Players will hear a joke about joining a cult and Jonah Jameson’s trademark crudity “crap!” And just like in the movie, the black symbiote suit amplifies Peter’s aggressive qualities and makes him more likely to lash out at loved ones—Mary Jane included.
Does He Save the Day?
The Spider-Man 3 game has its moments. The voice acting features many of the key actors from the film, including Tobey Maguire, James Franco and Thomas Haden Church, and gives the game a right-out-of-the-movies feel. And, again, the web-swinging game mechanics can be fun. But, to be honest, there’s nothing here to set your red-and-blue “Spidey Sense” to tingling.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.