It might be fun to giggle at American games journos howling and hollering at unveilings like a pack of drugged monkeys but personally I think they've got the right idea. The dignified professionalism of the European games press is cute but sometimes I want to whoop at that screen, damnit. Keeping that excitement bottled up is frustrating. I'm sick of having to hide any little gasps I make by following them up with thoughtfully chewing on my biro. So I'd like to thank Activision for showing Spider-Man 3, a game seemingly based entirely around the concept of "awesome", in a darkened auditorium. The notes I took are totally illegible but I was able to safely grin like a loon the entire time.
Spider-Man 3: The Game is made by Treyarch, the same studio behind the last two Spider-Man games, so it should be getting pretty good at the whole process by now. It's very much an evolution of the second game's concept - free-form webslinging around New York with side quests and story missions available when you want them. GTA, but with stringy wrist ejaculate instead of cars. It was a pretty bold idea that was pretty flawed in execution, but this sequel's looking solid for three big reasons.
First of all, they've taken onboard a lot of feedback about the second game. That means no more racing to deliver pizzas hot and intact for an employee of the month award, and no more rescuing floating balloons. You're a superhero and you're going to feel like one. When you decide you're up for a bit of city-saving you can progress through one of the ten storylines that have you facing off against lots of villains that both appear in the third film (Sandman) and don't (Scorpion). Alternatively you can go to work on one of the three big gangs in the city, the thuggish and stereotypical Apocalypse Punks, the kung-fu wall-running Dragon Tail or the sinister Goth girls of Arsenic Candy. Street crime is rampant. If you're easily distracted or do your good deeds with a dash of obsessive compulsiveness, you'll have your hands not so much full but overflowing.
With this more action-heavy direction, it makes sense that Treyarch has done some thinking as to how to spice up the slightly limp-wristed combat. Rather than aim for a polished and intelligent fighting system (which could potentially flop, after all) with Spider-Man 3 it's going for something more superficial but just as fun. You'll have a huge range of entertaining abilities, a lot of which involve some cool aerial acrobatics using your web. At one point we watched Spidey punch a man off a roof, leap off the roof, shoot web straight down to snag the falling man, yank him back up and then punch him vertically downwards towards the pavement again. We also watched Spidey tie a man up between a pair of streetlights and leave him dangling there like a pinata, delivering a few punches for good measure and sending him swinging to and fro. We were informed that a player who hangs around (pun intended) would eventually see police arrive to arrest him. And during the parts of the game where you play as the vengeful black-suit Spidey (you'll find out all about that side of Peter in the film) you get a whole new range of more aggressive moves and animations, as well as a hilariously vicious rage mode that has you snapping from enemy to enemy and pummelling them to jelly in an instant.
Another way Treyarch is giving the combat a shot in the arm is with quick time events, which brings us neatly onto the second reason this game seems a safe bet. In addition to just refining the last game Treyarch is building, too. Twenty miles of subways and sewers are getting added to the city, and you now have spider sense in the form of an alternate vision mode that shows up hostiles and friendlies in luminous colours against a dark blue backdrop.
But the quick time events are the biggest addition. To avoid monotony in a game where the whole city's your playground from the moment you pick up your pad, these "movie moments" act as little interactive cutscenes of the same kind we've seen in Shenmue and Resi 4 with the distinction that they're sometimes put right in the middle of the action. A fight against Sandman we saw in a subway tunnel had Spider-Man grinding Sandman's head to dust on passing trains, and later a chase through city streets was punctuated by him doing some trademark slo-mo flips out of the way of thrown cars. Some of these sequences are repeated until you get them right, some have the game carry on after failure and some appear as little context-sensitive moves like God of War's fatalities, but they all feature kinda gorgeous motion captured animation.
And the third reason Spider-Man 3 is grin inducing is all this is happening on next-gen hardware, something Treyarch has experience of working with from Call of Duty 3. Looking out across the city from the tip of the Empire State Building was fun on Xbox. Doing the same thing on the 360 at sunset then launching into a graceful, gently curving dive to the streets and traffic below is quite the thing.
We asked how the Wii release would cope and, put frankly, it won't. Treyarch told us the Wii version will be stripped down in some way although the rep didn't mention specifics. Wiimoteophiles should start crossing their fingers for a straight loss in graphical quality and not, say, a smaller world or less incidental everymen and traffic on the street. People who want to control web with a wobble and for it to look stellar too aren't entirely out of luck though- Spider-Man 3 will make use of the PS3's sixaxis, though again Treyarch is being tight lipped. We'll have to wait and see.
Spider-Man 3 will be released on PC, 360, PS3 and Wii in May from Activision.