When we think of the average villain, we instantly envision an evil, dastardly monster, whose goals are to bring about the end of humanity, revenge, to steal the world’s oil supply, global domination and generally to smash as much of the city that villain is terrorizing as possible. Spider-Man: Battle for New York chooses not to follow the traditional path of destruction. Instead, it has the mighty Green Goblin attacking Peter Parker’s school—rather than smashing Spidey to smithereens, he chooses to smash the school’s…Bunsen burners. I can imagine the science department being seriously pissed, but as a gameplay objective, it defies all laws of logic.
Like nearly all of the Spider-Man branded games, this is another tedious effort in a long list of generic scrolling beat-em-ups. Set in Marvel’s Ultimates universe, the visual presentation reflects that of the comics, rather than the first Spider-Man film. The game is played on a 3D plane viewed from a 2D perspective—think Viewtiful Joe and you’re there. The cel-shaded worlds are bright, colourful and full of life, standing out and grabbing your attention; with the rotating camera and the delightful animation, Spidey and company truly impress. The fully voice-acted comic book cutscenes are an elegant touch to an already slick package.
Clearly, though, the entire budget went into the graphics, with little or no attention paid to the actual barebones gameplay. There are only 20 levels, most of which take no longer than 10 minutes or so to complete. You play as the Goblin in half the levels, destroying all manners of laboratory equipment, and then as Spider-Man rectifying the damage left behind. Both characters can jump, punch, and perform four special attacks which are selected via the touchscreen.
However, since most of the time your opponents are brain-dead stooges that make the zombies from any George A. Romero flick look like Mensa founders, you inevitably fall into patterns of repetition. Once you’ve found out how to take them down (which isn’t hard), you just stick with it and there’s really nothing else to it.
The end-of-level boss provides some much-welcomed difficulty, though after a while even these just turn into a test of patience rather than skill. You wait for the boss to expose their weak spots and then attack, rinse, repeat, dry. With the large pool of characters with their own kickass superpowers available from the Marvel universe that didn’t get used, you can’t help but feel let down.
Though Spider-Man and the Green Goblin have their own unique abilities such as web slinging for the former and fireballs for the latter, you never really get the feeling of ‘being’ Spider-Man/Goblin. The web slinging feels too forced, broken and confined, with none of the fluidity or sense of believability found in Spider-Man 2. The Goblin’s fireballs, on the other hand, are just weak. The size of the beastly Goblin is akin to the Hulk, yet you never feel any force, or any sense of gratification as you bash your way through cars, cops and Bunsen burners.
What’s worse is the completely stubborn manner in which the game presents its objectives. They’re pointless to say the least, but you’re forced to complete them to the end, regardless of whether they have any impact on the narrative. Example: At the start you have to destroy 13 of those WMD’s, the Bunsen burners, and even if you find the exit to the level, your progress will be halted by an invisible wall. This forces you to backtrack to complete an objective which bares no relevance on your progress. You’re the Green Goblin, filled with hate, anger and out for revenge, you’re powerful enough to destroy entire armies, but an invisible wall proves to be your kryptonite. Simply baffling.
The levels have been built with the abilities of both aviators in mind—for instance, as Spider-Man, you’ll web sling to traverse hazards caused by Goblin and rescue civilians, while the Goblin will use his immense power to free himself from maximum security prisons, destroy scenery, and so on. The objectives never spark the game into life and never inspire you to want to carry on and see what’s around the corner. You finish it because you feel you have to, because you want to get your money’s worth (though at about four hours there’s hardly enough bang for your buck), not for any fun you might somehow have derived from it.
To add insult to injury, the most enjoyable aspect of the entire adventure is the touchscreen minigames that present themselves during your quest. These usually involve using the stylus to do things like draw webs or remove scenery—simple tasks, sure, yet they provide a greater test of skill and reward and are a welcome distraction from the monotony of the main game.
Activision, like the rest of us, can’t wait for Spider-Man 3 which will hopefully bring with it some of the true web-slinging action that the fans demand. Until then, though, Spider-Man: Battle for New York won’t even do as a stopgap.