You'd almost think the folk at Activision are a bit paranoid to judge by their demo of Spider-Man 3, what with the controller being snatched away at various points and the console getting switched off with a dramatic flourish at the end of the presentation. However, it's not the folk at Activision who are paranoid, but the folk at Sony Pictures, who are at pains to make sure that no grubby games journalist is going to spill the plot secrets of its forthcoming summer blockbuster. That's because Spider-Man 3 is, like its predecessors, based closely upon the events in the film.
It's not just based on the movie though. Nope. Although Spider-Man 3 aims to capture the sublime swinging and decent third-person crime-fighting of the last games, one of the many ways in which it hopes to improve is that it will feature ten different plotlines. Indeed, several of the changes address shortcomings in the previous game, one of which is that Spider-Man 2 was perceived as an essentially linear experience. By contrast, Spider-Man 3's multiple story lines are all open from the start of the game. What that means is that there's a greater emphasis on GTA-style sandbox exploration, and there's less likelihood of coming up against the sort of difficulty spike that, last time around, Kristan described as "one of the most evil quadruple whammies this reviewer has ever had the misfortune to encounter".
One of the other major changes between this game and its predecessor is an improved swinging mechanism thanks to enhanced physics. That means you'll be able to use the arc of your swing to reach greater heights or further distances, depending on when you let go. It's not intrusive enough to require players to learn significant new Spidey-skills, but it certainly boasts enough depth to afford skilled players more freedom for self-expression. It's a point that's demonstrated at the very start of the demo as Spidey plummets off a tall building - and as he swoops down, the demo provides a glimpse of another improvement: the city itself. There are more pedestrians and more detailed buildings, and Manhattan is now 2.5 times larger than it was in the last game, with 20 miles of subways and sewers, and a number of buildings that you can enter.
If that makes you worried you might get lost, rest assured: a new interactive map allows you to rotate and zoom a fully 3D map of the city - so you can work out where you might find those last few skyscraper tokens, for example, or where to go to advance whichever story line you want to work on. Talking of story lines, while the main one follows the plot of the movie the nine others head in different directions. Three of them relate to cleaning up areas of the city and driving out the gangs that control them. Fighting incidental crime in these areas will gradually clean them up and diminish the control of that particular gang (and the incidental challenges have been rethought so they're less intrusive and, because they're randomly generated, less repetitive).
The other seven narrative arcs are accessible from the start, though they do converge about a third of the way through when Peter Parker discovers a spangly new black suit. Then they converge again, another third of the way through, when he decides to remove it in favour of his old red one. Indeed the black suit is in many ways the star of Spider-Man 3. There are about 200,000 animations for Spider-Man in the game, but half of those are exclusive to the black suit, in a bid to make the player feel as drunk with power as Spidey does. You'll also be able to hit harder, take more damage, perform more brutal attacks, swing faster and higher, and perform 40 rage attacks. And your Spidey-Sense reaches further. Just as it would in real life if you were wearing a (SPOILER ALERT) symbiotic alien life form.
The rest of the demo highlights various other tweaks and improvements. A quick tour of the sewers demonstrates one: in order to fix a camera that occasionally went a bit mental in the last game, they've fixed the camera. Literally fixed it, so certain sections will play out from a fixed camera angle. The one in the demo sees Spidey trying to defeat Lizard by pushing him into heavy machinery, and it also serves to highlight the scale of the subways and sewers: not, as you might expect, cramped and restrictive, but open and expansive - although they're also darker in tone, as demonstrated by the packs of lizards eating each other.
The final new feature to be introduced is something Activision is calling an 'interactive cut-scene' - better known to the gaming community as a Quick-Time Event. Thus, at key points, players will need to follow on-screen instructions to press particular buttons within a certain time. Obviously it affords a greater degree of interactivity with the inevitable cinematic scenes, and also, apparently, a way of allowing mainstream gamers to access the sort of cinematic fizz that hardcore gamers will be able to create for themselves using the game's deep combo system. The first interactive cut-scene in the demo follows a scene in the movie trailer quite closely, and dramatically, as the new Green Goblin grabs Peter Parker and the two wrestle with each other, high over the streets of New York. Over the course of the battle the action transitions between interactive cut-scenes, regular cut-scenes, and regular combat (which is the first time you'll get to control Peter Parker in a videogame according to Activision, fact fans).
The demo's climax arrives with a similar mix of interactive cut-scene and regular combat, (presumably) depicting the movie's climactic showdown between Spider-Man and Sandman. But that's when the Xbox is switched off, so don't ask me what happens. What will happen for sure is that Spider-Man 3 will be released with better swinging than Spider-Man 2, more stories, a (SPOILER ALERT) symbiotic alien Spidey suit, cinematic interactive cut-scenes, and a host of Marvel characters, ranging from Scorpion to the Mad Bomber.
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