You know that thing everybody always moans about when Beenox turns in a perfectly serviceable but rather linear Spider-Man game? That thing about everybody actually wanting a return to the open-world web-swinging of Spider-Man 2? Yeah, well Beenox fixed that thing everybody always moans about.
For The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker's got all of New York City to play around in once more: he can swing down 5th Avenue, jump most of Central Park in a single bound and splat himself against the wall of the Empire State Building whenever he wants - or at least the wall of a building that looks a lot like the Empire State Building, since the design for the original is under copyright (or whatever the equivalent of copyright is for skyscrapers).
Beenox, in other words, has done what everyone was asking them to do. After the unexpected pleasures of Shattered Dimensions and the mild disappointments of Edge of Time - a) it was a rush job and b) Val Kilmer - a proper movie license has given the developer the chance to give Spidey a huge chunk of real estate to patrol. So how's the game shaping up?
Not so bad, by the looks of things. Beenox's New York isn't the most detailed place I've ever seen, but most of the major landmarks are present and correct, and the streets are filled with honking yellow taxicabs and wandering pedestrians. We're also promised plenty of side quest fun, so expect collectables, muggings, and weird little mini-missions that see you aiding the cops in taking down a fleeing crim or titting around on top of cars. Nobody tits around on top of a car like Spider-Man.
Most importantly, getting about even when you aren't car surfing looks like brilliant fun. Amazing Spider-Man takes the classic aim-and-swing approach of Spider-Man 2, but it gets in close on Spidey himself this time around, the game camera swooping down through the skyscraper canyons with him as he goes into a dive and pulling back up in a suitably stomach-churning manner as his line goes taut. Hit the side of a building and you'll stick to it, the camera rotating behind you and keeping you upright as the world spins about. It's probably going to take a little getting used to, but it makes traversal feel a lot more exciting than it often does in a superhero game.
If New York's the overworld, story missions will generally play out in more traditional linear levels in a manner that feels a little like the dungeons in Zelda. The mission Beenox is currently showing off is the interior of a hi-tech lab, and while things are a lot more controlled than on the streets of the city itself, the ceilings are high and the rooms tend to be large: you're encouraged to zip from wall to wall using all your traversal powers, rather than just plodding around on foot. Spider-Man's shoes always look so thin, don't they? I imagine he has real callouses down there.
This is where Beenox's new big idea comes in, incidentally. It's called Web Rush, and while that could almost pass for a CNN anchor's name, it's actually an evolution of Spidey Sense that allows you to slow time and plan your next move with care. It's simple but it looks pretty effective too, as a squeeze of the trigger places various ghosts around the environment showing you points you can seamlessly travel straight towards. The animation sends you from A to B with the kind of gymnastic flourishes you won't get by controlling moment-to-moment movement yourself and it's particularly useful in stealth sections, as Web Rush also highlights any nearby baddies and allows you to get into position for a quiet takedown.
It encourages you to prioritise enemies before a battle, in other words, messing up any ranged snipers, say, before diving into the fray. If this all sounds a little like a certain Batman game, Beenox doesn't seem to be in the mood for hiding its inspirations. When you get to close-up combat, they become jarringly obvious anyway, with Shattered Dimensions' button-bashing fun replaced with set-piece brawls where enemies crowd all around you, allowing you to time your strikes and counters by the icons flashing over everybody's heads.
It's Rocksteady fighting in all but name, by the looks of things, but if Beenox is pinching the basic rhythm of Batman's brawling, it's at least throwing in a few ideas of its own. With the Dark Knight's utility belt full of gadgets nowhere to be seen - it's the property, after all, of another publisher - you can instead zip yourself out of the action whenever things start to get too rough and retreat to a nearby wall or ceiling to recuperate (I call it a Spider Break, but I doubt the developer will).
The animation also plays up the Spider-Man difference as much as possible, throwing in wrestling moves and a handful of web attacks to go along with all the straight-up pummelling. It's pleasantly violent stuff, actually. Andrew Garfield's clearly channelling all that rage that he built up when Jesse Eisenberg dicked him over on his Facebook shares.
All of the Batman comparisons are probably going to be a bit of a touchy subject for Beenox, though, as it's neither working with the freedom Rocksteady had to tell its own story or the same kind of budget. In terms of narrative, Amazing Spider-Man the video game takes up where Amazing Spider-Man the movie finishes off, allowing the designers the opportunity to throw in all sorts of super-villain cameos but removing the option for them to develop the central character in their own way. Equally, while New York promises to be a fairly large playground, in the current - work-in-progress - build, it's lacking the atmosphere and the loving detailing of Arkham City.
That doesn't mean there isn't quite a bit to be excited about here, of course. Spidey's skillset makes him a pleasure to throw around even in fairly wonky licensed games, and Beenox has already proved it can bring a lot more wit and charm to the character and his world than most teams have. Two games in, and the developer's understanding of the Marvel universe is no longer in doubt. Two games in and open-world fans are finally getting the game they've been asking for.
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