Spider-Man 2: The Game – PS2
Platform: Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2)
Release Date: June 28, 2004
Nerd Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Sequel is a word with a surprising amount of meaning, when you break it down. When a series gets a sequel, that means it has enough potential to continue after the first title, and that the creator has more confidence in his own ability to deliver a satisfactory product. The first installment’s chief goal is merely to be recognized as a good game, but the sequel always has to be a better game if it wants to stand out. The original’s gotten everyone’s attention, and the sequel needs to keep that hold or risk losing everything. This can be especially daunting when your series is licensed, since a development company is usually given a lot of money to compensate for a general lack of game design skill. But what happens when a company has great design and a lot of money? You may get something like Spider-Man 2: The Game for the PlayStation 2, a title that proved that licensed games can be cool, even if the kind of people who made those kinds of observations were too busy being hopelessly addicted to Spider-Man 2: The Game at the time to notice it.
In order to properly appreciate how Spider-Man 2: The Game changed…erm, the game, we should take a quick look at the Spider-Man games that came before. One of the earliest Spider-Man titles to hit the 2000s was Neversoft’s PlayStation version, which used the same engine as their Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchise, and while it was a nice first step, it portrayed the impressive cityscape of Manhattan as a linear series of skyscrapers rising out of clouds thicker than pea soup and far more lethal to fall into. I’d make a Superman 64 “kryptonite fog” quip, but that’s DC Comics and anyway, this game was still good, just very limited in scope.
Then along came Spider-Man: The Movie, made by Activision. This one actually had Spider-Man swinging above a visible city, but he was never allowed to touch the ground, and for a third-person brawler, there wasn’t really much to do apart from follow the plot and beat up thugs in increasingly-complicated ways. Both games were successful for their time and are still fun if that’s what you’re in the mood for, but you were still boxed in by the limitations of the hardware and a general lack of fresh ideas. The people wanted more than just your classic beat-em-up…they were the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free…
…and along came a Spider-Man 2: The Game, as in, the game that single-handedly redefined the future of an entire gaming generation. Made by Activision to coincide with the release of the Spider-Man 2 movie, it was released both on the PC and the consoles, but it was the console version that made the biggest splash. The walls were knocked down, the fog was lifted, and Spidey was off the chain, making for a game whose sense of freedom was unparalleled at the time and even now is hard to match. Other games can try, but there’s just something quintessential about Spider-Man 2: The Game that marks it as a milestone of gaming. You pop the disc into the PS2 or whichever console you’re playing it on, and the feeling you get as you leap off of that first skyscraper, plummet toward the ground, and save yourself at the last second with a perfect ten-point web swing, it’s just beyond words. And from there, you’re in the grip of unadulterated fun, all the way to the wee morning hours when you reluctantly put the console away because you live in an imperfect world where you can’t play this game in your sleep…or can you?
The plot of Spider-Man 2: The Game is the same as that of the film in the original 2000s trilogy, with Peter Parker desperately trying to balance his normal life and his secret life as Spider-Man and unable to find an easy break. Along with the stress of this, a new threat arises as Doctor Octavius, a mad scientist wearing an intelligent coat of arms (I’m sorry, I had to), seeks vengeance on the wall-crawler for the death of his wife. The story is enhanced by the addition of more subplots that allow the player to get a better taste of Spider-Man’s hectic crime-fighting lifestyle, while at the same time giving characters like Black Cat, Rhino, and the ever-popular Mysterio some time in the limelight.
And even when you’re not in a mission, the gameplay itself adds to the story, as you’ll be constantly honing your skills slinging through the city and helping people in need. The (mostly) non-linear, free-roaming approach to the plot is very enthralling and was later used with great effect in such games as Batman: Arkham City, so game developers would do well to keep giving us games that do this, because we eat it up!
The gameplay itself may be a part of the story, but that doesn’t make it any less addictively fun, as Spider-Man 2: The Game gives you the ultimate freedom to be Spider-Man in all of the best ways. Along with doing the main story missions, you can have Spidey take pictures for the Daily Bugle, deliver pizzas to help pay the rent, and even go out on dates with Mary Jane. As you swing around the sprawling city of Manhattan, you can do heroic deeds, from minor things like punching out purse-snatchers and reuniting kids with their lost balloons, to stopping criminal escapes and rescuing people stuck on sinking boats.
You can also test your spider-reflexes with race minigames located across the city, and enjoy the sights as you hunt down a dizzying amount of hidden collectibles. Doing any and all of these things awards you with points that you can use to buy ability upgrades, letting you swing faster and reach farther with your webs, hit harder with more powerful attacks, and even do cool aerial stunts! It’s so fun, you won’t believe you’re getting addicted!
With the magnificence of the open-world gameplay and the dazzling number of ways to keep yourself occupied, it’s easy to forget that Spider-Man 2: The Game would be nowhere near the solid game that it is without good controls. And let me tell you, they’re not good…they’re bloody brilliant. In preparing for this review, I loaded an old save file out of the blue just to remind myself how it felt, and even though the save file said I hadn’t played it in three years, I had picked the controls back up like I had just been playing yesterday.
As soon as you get familiar with the controls, playing the game is like second nature, and that makes the pick-up-and-play appeal shoot through the roof. The acrobatics and web-swinging mechanics do take some time to master, but even if you don’t want to do every possible thing there is to do in the city, you’ll find a basic understanding of the game’s mechanics is more than sufficient for completing the story mode. The camera may be a bit dodgy in places, but that comes with the territory whenever the camera is let off the leash, and keeping a firm watch over your camera angles will fix this problem most of the time.
Not least, we come to the sound and music of Spider-Man 2: The Game. For some people, the most important detail will be the question of whether or not Spider-Man sounds like Tobey Maguire, and yes, he does. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Alfred Molina do the voice-acting for their characters from the movie. Most, if not all, of the other voices in the game are done equally well, with J. Jonah Jameson always being a gosh-darned treat to listen to, and even pop-culture darling Bruce Campbell is back to give you helpful hints on how to play the game and be the sly, smooth-talking devil that he always is.
The music, of course, sounds like the movie does, with the same orchestral-style soundtrack, but with a few new fleshes of its own, especially concerning the subplot-specific characters. Black Cat gets a mysterious, sultry-sounding theme that speaks of high rooftops and a girl that’s up to no good. Meanwhile, Mysterio has something straight out of War of the Worlds, bombastic and alien, very befitting his over-the-top, Saturday Morning-style antics. All in all, these areas are very much paid attention to, and if you’re looking for something about Spider-Man 2: The Game to be disappointed in, you probably won’t find it in the soundtrack or the cast list, let me tell you.
In summation, Spider-Man 2: The Game is one of the most outstanding games ever to come out for the PlayStation 2, possibly for any of the consoles that it was originally released on. It succeeds on so many levels, from the scope of the setting to the freedom of the gameplay; from the complexity of its story arcs to the simplicity of its controls; from its memorable voiceacting to its iconic soundtrack. The release of this game redefined the concept of the open-world game, the superhero game, the licensed game, and everything else you could feasibly call it.
Today’s big hitters like Assassin’s Creed, Prototype, and even Grand Theft Auto would likely be very different game series in a world where Spider-Man 2: The Game hadn’t been released. It’s a masterpiece, one of the most influential games I’ve ever reviewed, and one of the few games I’ve seriously considered giving a perfect ten to. But with great power comes great responsibility, so for the sake of professionalism, I’m giving it a 9.5 out of 10. Make every effort to give this game a play at least once in your life, then you’ll feel the same peace I feel.
Unless you accidentally get the PC version, in which case, I have immense pity for you and recommend that you seek counseling. You’re gonna need it.
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