With Treyarch at the helm for their fourth installment of the franchise on home consoles, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Spider-Man 3 could be a no-brainer purchase for any fans of the series. Some excellent headway was made with the release of ‘Spider-Man 2’ and ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ on the last-generation systems, and the same design methodology has remained firmly in place for this release. However, you cant help but feel there’s a lot more that could be done with this license, and simply upgrading an old engine and adding a barely perceptible lick of paint just doesn’t cut it in this day and age. If only the sales numbers would reflect that.
Spider-Man 3 essentially takes the mechanics from the previous titles and weaves in several new storylines tied into and around the plot of the third movie. Random crimes and story-based missions still remain, and you’ll be using the same web-slinging mechanics from the previous games to swing your way around the city, dealing with various scripted incidents along the way. All the voice actors from the movie (Kirsten Dunst aside), return to reprise their on-screen personas, with most of them sounding completely disinterested in the process. Alright, so Tobey Maguire is hardly the most dynamic of personalities anyway, but this is a little too much to bare. Do these people actually get paid?
However, not content with keeping entirely the same structure as previous efforts, Treyarch has also added in a GTA-style gang warfare element to the mix, which essentially sees the city broken up into various territories under the control of some rather predictably-designed groups of thugs. Part of your job is to cleanse the streets of these gang members, earning stat boosts and new manoeuvres in the process, which will in turn help along some of the more fiendishly-designed story missions. Whilst this is essentially only a small addition, in comparison to some of the other aspects of Spider-Man 3 it can certainly be judged as a success, and dealing with the gang member themselves is a fairly satisfying experience.
In fact the more freeform aspects of the game design are clearly where Spider-Man 3 excels. Simply swinging around the city and dealing with one incident after another has its charms, and although the button-mashing combat system gets tiresome very quickly, there is a sense of satisfaction to be gained from clearing out a neighbourhood or halting a crime in progress before swinging off into the night sky. Moodily perching on top of the nearest sky scraper is entirely optional of course, but highly recommended.
Of course it isn’t long before we’re reminded that Spider-Man and Peter Parker have a story to tell, and as it turns out this is certainly the most under-developed and underwhelming element of the game.
Most of the story missions themselves are simply dull, without putting too fine a point on it. The dreadful voice acting contributes a fair share to this situation, but the straightforward and uninspired design and at times maddeningly difficult objectives put the final nail in the coffin. Playing through the story simply becomes a chore after a few hours, and for a title with so much material to work with, that situation is frankly unforgivable. All the elements are there, they just need to be tied into an interesting and varied narrative, and a set of missions that have actually been play-tested and balanced correctly.
The boss battles also deserve a mention for being particularly horrendous in both design and execution. Some of the climactic fights can take up to 45 minutes to complete, with the majority of that time taken up by simply dodging an attack and then hitting back for half a second, over and over again. I’m all for lengthy and memorable encounters, but there needs to be some variation contained within, and not simply an RSI-inducing slog for the best part of an hour. Not fun, on any level whatsoever.
Coupled with this is a simply terrible camera system that doesn’t handle any change in perspective with any form of grace. I can appreciate that it must be a difficult task to create a dynamic system that has to cope with a main character that can climb on walls, ceilings and anywhere else he pleases, but there has to be a better solution than this. All too often when climbing up a building or into a room the camera will get locked in a position that showcases Spidey’s nice new black suit rather fetchingly, but masks out the rest of the environment. This can become incredibly disorienting at times, and is guaranteed to be the cause of your in-game demise on more than one occasion.
Rounding off the list of complaints is the rather dated graphical engine, which simply doesn’t belong on any current generation system. Treyarch maintain that Spider-Man 3 was developed from the ground-up for the new generation of consoles, and if that’s the case then we have a depressing few years ahead of us. Aside from an increase in texture resolution, at times it’s almost impossible to make out the alterations from any of the previous versions here, with the PlayStation 3 title fairing particularly badly when it comes to framerate issues. Far too often the game plunges into seemingly single-digit frame counts, which makes some of the more precise manoeuvres difficult to undertake.
Spider-Man 3 embodies everything thats currently wrong with an average next-generation ‘experience’, and particularly defines the vast majority of PlayStation 3 content at this moment in time. It’s a shallow, lazily-upgraded and rushed game that could have done with being taken back to the drawing board at an early stage to better encompass the power of the new hardware on offer. Despite this, there is still enjoyment to be found, and the simple pleasures of swinging through the city, tackling crime and dive-bombing from tremendous heights go some way to rectifying the myriad of graphical and play-balancing problems. Ultimately though it isn’t enough, and Treyarch needs to seriously reconsider the direction of the series prior to the inevitable release of Spider-Man 4.