We followed the original Spider-Man from its conception and were eventually rewarded with one of last year's finest PlayStation games. As we left it, we remarked only that we hoped the upcoming PS2 version would live up to its predecessor. Well, here we are, over a year later and although Spider-Man The Movie is in development on PlayStation 2, we still don't have a true sequel to Neversoft's third person adventure. Not even a whimper. As such, we were quite surprised when Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro arrived on our doorstep earlier this month, but that didn't last long. Nope, before the sun went down on our first day with the new Spidey our surprise had given way to a sense of loathing and frustration. In fairness, a cursory glance at the packaging should have been enough. All the warning signs were there. Gone was the developmental mark of Neversoft, replaced by the mark of perennial sequel and fodder experts Vicarious Visions. The screenshots were also remarkably similar to the original game, and the game was boasting new advanced web-pulling techniques… If you're new to the series, Spider-Man is an excellent but occasionally troubled third person action game with indoor and outdoor sections, which see Spidey crawling all over the scenery and swinging from imaginary skyscrapers. Unfortunately, what Vicarious Visions have done is to take the quirky but exciting formula of Spider-Man and aggravate all of its various problems.
In the first game, sometimes the camera movement disorientated the player, and web slinging was never an exact art, but things like a rudimentary auto-aim and the constant variation in level design kept us hooked and more than made up for the problems. Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro isn't so much a bad game, as a game that's lost its way. It offers a few new techniques, but these only serve to complicate proceedings. The control system has apparently been overhauled, but the end result is a much sloppier incarnation of the previous version, with almost Tomb Raider levels of sluggishness at times. To top it all, the eccentric cameraman from the previous game is back, and this time he appears to be taking speed in-between levels. Add to this collection of problems the utter unoriginality of Enter Electro's level design and infernally difficult boss characters and you have a game built to frustrate. Spider-Man 2 also boasts a miserable learning curve. It starts out with a few sections of reasonably easy web-slinging and combat, with the Spidey kick-punch and throw combos retrieved from Neversoft's code, but before long you're up against the game's first brick wall, and his name is Shocker. I've never been pleased with games that throw an impossibly difficult first boss at you, because even if you do beat him, you know you've only another half an hour or so of fun before the next bombshell. The trick with Shocker is to use your newly acquired web-pulling technique to lob crates at him. This would be fair enough, but the controls are so sluggish that actually collecting a crate with your web and slinging it accurately is hopelessly imprecise. Puzzles based on web-pulling are the toughest in the game, and Shocker is probably the worst of the boss characters as a result.
If I had to finger one thing in my quest to sour the name of Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro, I would pick the control system. There are plenty of points throughout the game where the control system lets you down. Some of the mission objectives involve looking for keys to a bomb, blowing things up and rescuing hostages, along with other standard superhero fare. Many of these objectives rely on avoiding contact with guards by clambering over the scenery precisely, darting around hitting buttons and scouring the area for various items. Unfortunately, climbing anywhere precisely is impossible because of the sluggish control system, hitting buttons is so badly implemented that you have to stand in full view of your enemies for several seconds hammering the button on your control pad before the game realises what you want, and scouring for anything is next to impossible, because whenever you nudge the D-pad a bit too far the cameraman whirls round and looks in another direction. It's genuinely dizzying. As I'm sure anybody who played the first game will agree, the most striking thing about it was that every new objective involved some exciting new activity, like climbing the side of a building whilst avoiding fire from a nearby chopper, racing across the city while avoiding rocket fire, carrying out a controlled detonation of a huge bomb and plenty more. In Spider-Man every second step was something new, but with Enter Electro there is a complete lack of originality. Our hero has to complete the same old missions with a few of the names changed and so forth, and at times the game is completely predictable, something the original managed to stave off almost entirely.
Rounding off this less than pretty picture are last year's visuals and plenty of unexciting sound effects. When Spider-Man was released, its visuals were set at about the pinnacle of the PlayStation's capabilities. Nowadays, we hope for and expect something more, and Enter Electro simply cannot offer it. There are places where Vicarious Visions have attempted to spice things up, but the result is just a choppy framerate. Even the cutscenes just seem worse. Mouths still don't move when the characters talk, and while that was forgivable in the original, it just adds to the general sense of failure. Overall Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro has gone full circle. With the original Spider-Man, its success in almost every area easily outweighed its letdowns, but with the sequel the problems leave whatever entertainment used to reside here in anonymity. If you were a fan, you might want to rent this out for a night or two, but only to confirm your fears. As we said at the end of last year's review, we can't wait for the PlayStation 2 version, and at this point that's what we really need. And Activision? Do us a favour - give it back to Neversoft.