It's like a part of me has died.
I should probably explain. I love Spider-Man. Out of all the superheroes, he's the one that I immediately identified with as a kid. He's the one I watched through cheap cartoons and lousy live-action TV shows. On long car journeys, I'd look out of the window and pass the time by imagining Spidey was running alongside, somersaulting and swinging over the scenery whizzing by.
Even as an adult, through the Clone Saga and every other indignity Marvel inflicted on the character, I still love Spidey. First thing I ever bought on eBay? A dog-eared copy of Amazing Fantasy 15, which hangs on the wall right next to me at this very moment, in a pound-shop clip-frame.
So trust me when I say that it breaks my heart to type this. I'm playing The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I'm swinging down New York's concrete canyons, soaring into the air, falling to the ground and thwipping my way to safety at the very last second. It's the thing that six-year-old me dreamed of.
And I feel nothing.
Actually, no. It's worse than that. I feel annoyed.
Part of the reason is that this childhood dream that has long since been dulled by repetition. Much as Star Wars fans have swung enough lightsabers and brought down enough AT-ATs to satisfy their playground fantasies a dozen times over, so I've guided a digital Spidey down these streets too often for the magic to still work. Even so, that familiar webslinging thrill was still kindled by the first Amazing Spider-Man game, albeit muted by the bland gameplay surrounding it. What's changed?
Everything. And nothing. This is, to all intents and purposes, a remake of the previous game. But in trying to pretend there's been some forward movement, some tiny evolution, lots of details have been tweaked, and almost always for the worst.
So swinging now requires you to direct Spidey's left and right hands to navigate the streets, using the shoulder buttons to latch on to buildings. If there's no building, you can't swing. If there is a building, momentum and simple physics means that you're drawn towards it by your swing. It's realistic, but is realism something you really want or need in a game about a guy with spider-powers? I'd argue not.
Getting around this digital Manhattan is now just enough of a faff for the enjoyment of simply swinging to be diminished. Turning corners is now just fiddly enough to not be fun. Precision movements are a chore rather than a challenge. Crucially, it's just not fun.
The surrounding game, inevitably, fails to elevate things. Once again there are lots of ambient events to attend to, and once again repetition sets in within the first hour of play. You can tackle the exact same car chase over and over, where the only difference is that sometimes the guy you need to pull out of the vehicle is on the left rather than the right. The result: a slightly different quick-time event. You can help cops trapped in a shoot-out by taking down the thugs shooting at them. Here, the only difference is whether it will be the gas station or the building site where it takes place.
Worst are the events where you have to rescue people from burning buildings using your spider sense to locate them. This simply demands too much accuracy from the wayward camera, against too strict time limits, and it will still say you failed even if you're a few feet from the drop-off point with the last survivor on your back.
It's not just that these half-baked nuggets of gameplay are shallow and repetitive. They're clumsily executed, with needless mini cut-scenes bookending them and pointless news reports afterwards. Given that the game has some seriously chunky loading times, what should have been quick in-and-out trials become a tedious time sink. Worse still, you can't avoid these turgid tasks. Fail to attend to an emergency and Spidey's reputation tips from hero to menace, making cops - and later, heavily armed task force squads - try to bring you down.
Of course, even if you diligently wade through this crude porridge of gameplay and keep Spidey's reputation at its maximum, the game will still suddenly swing it completely in the opposite direction for the sake of the story, forcing you to ponderously repair the damage.
It's not even as if the game looks good. The first Amazing Spider-Man was a decidedly average game, but at least it looked really nice. This sequel is an absolute dog in comparison, with shabby textures, jerky animation, constant pop-in, and some of the absolute worst character models I've seen. There's an overwhelming lack of polish; despite being the first Spidey game for the next-gen consoles, it often looks like it could have been released 10 years ago.
Everywhere you look, there's disappointment. Combat is limp, practically a two-button affair where you tap the attack button constantly, stopping only to hit the counter button when an enemy lights up, signifying an imminent attack. You often don't even need to direct your attacks. Spidey will automatically focus on whichever enemy is closest, so even if a bad guy is behind you, or a distance away, he'll use leaps and webs to reorient himself accordingly. It looks fairly cool, but requires virtually no thought or effort.
The game has a stab at stealth, but inevitably can't pull that off. Boss battles are so generic they feel like placeholders. Kingpin fills the "big guy who runs at you and is stunned when he misses" slot. Kraven tries the old "which one of these identical hallucinations is the real me?" approach. Shocker fights for a bit then jumps on top of collapsible towers and waits for you to bring him back down to earth. Each one feels rote and obvious and perfectly illustrates the lethargy of the game across the board.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is somehow even worse than the average game it's a virtual remake of
It's not even as if it's a decent tie-in for the (sadly rather rubbish) movie currently in cinemas. The story is completely different, for one thing. In an early level, you meet Max Dillon as a lowly Oscorp employee. Much later in the game, he simply turns up as Electro, with no explanation, for a one-off boss fight. None of the characters look like the actors and none of the actors turn up to the voice their characters. It's a real throwback to the days of sloppy movie tie-ins.
Quite what went wrong, I don't know. Developer Beenox showed in the past, with Shattered Dimensions, that it not only has fresh ideas for Spidey but the development chops to create a polished and impressive game built around the character. There's none of that inspiration or attention to detail here. It's somehow even worse than the average game it's a virtual remake of. Maybe rushing to meet the movie release date impacted the development time. Maybe having to work from a film that clearly never had a finished script left them with no plan to follow. Maybe having to work across console generations stretched resources too thin. Maybe we've simply done everything there is to do with Spider-Man in a video game and all that's left is diminishing returns.
And that kills me. It really does. Even in the worst of recent Spidey games there was always that fragment - that little sputtering flame of childlike excitement - that could kick in once you swan-dived off a skyscraper, clad in iconic red and blue. It's gone. Sullied by lacklustre gameplay and trampled by technical shoddiness, this time Spidey hasn't been done in by the Sinister Six, but reduced to a Terrible Two.