A Spider-Man PC Game Retrospective: Spider-Man 2 - Bitten By A Radioactive Lazy Person
by: Kyle Palantine
; edited by: Michael Hartman
; updated: 4/17/2012
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A common quote from people talking about their ideal Spider-Man games is "...and I want webswinging like in Spider-Man 2." They aren't ever referring to the PC version. Here's why:
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In most cases, when a game is multi-platform, unless there is a significant difference between the technology of the platforms (for example a PC and a Nintendo DS), the game in question is generally the same regardless of which system it is released on. This is especially true of when console games are ported onto a PC; they are nearly identical, often at the cost of adapting various features better suited to system in question.
So what happens when the port is radically changed? Spider-Man 2: The Game is what happens.
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Doesn't Do Anything a Spider Can
Spider-Man 2: The Game is often hailed as the best Spider-Man game ever released, with its open, bustling environment, free form open ended gameplay and pitch perfect web swinging that was detailed in its depth of control available but also perhaps perfectly intuitive which led to a level of responsiveness that made swinging through the city not only a massively enjoyable and seamless part of the game, but very possibly the BEST part of the game.
This is would all be true, were the article subject not the PC version.
Spider-Man 2: The Game is infamous for being perhaps the worst 'big budget' (and I use the term loosely) PC version of anything of all time. It features absolutely none of the things that made the console release of Spider-Man 2: The Game so beloved and enduringly appealing, and instead is filled with bewildering design decisions.
Instead of the consummate webswinging experience there is instead a series of checkpoints which the player aims at with the mouse to use. In this fashion this city is traversed. Gone is the skill required, depth of responsiveness and attention put into replicating web swinging, and ultimately gone is both the freedom of movement and sense of freedom that it cultivates.
Instead is some pointing and clicking and an animation.
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Not that this particularly affects how the game can be played anyway, since it couldn’t be more linear. Gone is the open world to explore, gone is free roaming gameplay and optional missions. Gone is anything but the bare bones of a story, and even then it’s more stuff that happens in sequence rather than a story. Gone, gone, gone; everything that would have been redeeming about the game is gone.
The combat too has been vastly simplified; combat is all controlled by clicking mouse buttons, and is situational. While a good concept, it is simplified to the point of being bereft of any variety or complexity. Though not quite simply point and click in execution, in comparison to the sheer scope of the previous combat system, it is a poor substitute; gone is the tactical nature of combat, gone is the wealth of acrobatics, gone is the rewarding nature of mastering such an extensive combat system. Gone. GONE.
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Adult Computing: Steadily Declining
It really does beg the question of ‘why?’; why were all these changes to formula made? The official line seems to be that the Spider-Man 2: The Game PC version was intended for a younger audience and so was simplified. Now, that’s all well and good, except the market research this decision must have been based on failed to cater for PC owners who weren’t young children, or they were simply neglected, since they are apparently such a minority.
What’s worse is that there was never any indication that the PC version would be different to the regular console version of Spider-Man 2: The Game which was and still is hailed as seminal. Never mind that it was still sold at full retail price. I’d even go as far as to say that it was essentially false advertising, since the packaging and advertising promised a wealth of features that weren’t actually in the game, or at least I would if I weren’t afraid of being sued for libel.
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Point and Click
While executed horribly to the point of insult, most of the ideas in Spider-Man 2 are concepts that have potential. In the previous article, it was noted that Spider-Man: The Movie’s control system could get unwieldy with all the various commands and sub commands, and this was a problem that ‘Spider-Man’ (from 2001) shared also. In Spider-Man 2, the mouse controls virtually everything from combat, to wall crawling to zip lining to jumping, and is contextual; text prompts will appear above the crosshair indicating what the using the mouse will do in that situation.
While this makes everything nice and streamlined and efficient, it also takes the control out of the player’s hands; they are essentially going through the motions and pressing buttons when prompted. There’s still timing involved and some extremely limited freedoms, but these instances tend to be few and far between.
Spider-Man can still be moved about directionally as the player decides, and climbing up walls and zip lining works quite well with the contextual controls, but it all comes off as something of a muted experience. In fact, “muted experience" sums up the game well, especially when compared to its prequel or sister versions on other consoles. I’m willing to wager the DS version was leagues better. The various hidden tokens spread throughout the game also carry less weight than in previous iterations, as there doesn’t seem to be any reward for their collection, but they are a distraction from the progressive drag of the narrative at least.
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Aesthetically, Spider-Man 2 somehow manages to look worse than Spider-Man: The Movie. It uses what looks like a similar if not the same graphics engine, but the graphics look less crisp and less polished in general. The characters especially seem somewhat cartoon like.
The main problem in fact is how bright the palette for everything is; with the previous game’s efforts to plant the atmosphere in realism, it seems like the pretence has been dropped. Though it is somewhat fitting that the visuals should be simplified in style in line with everything else.
Oddly in the PC version, second string Spider-Man villain Puma shows up, for tenuous reasons, being a bizarre choice considering Puma was most prolific in appearances as a character during the 80s. Aside from that, there aren’t really any cross continuity nods to the comics. Rhino appears several times, as does primary and movie villain Doctor Octopus, and Mysterio is in there also.
In the console version, his story arc has something of a humorous and surprising conclusion, so it should be no surprise that his appearance in this game is cut down to the point of loosely fulfilling a gimmick and nothing more.
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Web Fluid Washes Away the Pain
A game totally unique and different to its versions on other platforms because it completely lacklustre and lacking in every way by comparison; Spider-Man 2 for the PC is best remembered as something better forgotten, which would be easy if it weren't so bamboozling as to how it came about.
If anything, Spider-Man 2 serves as an example of how not to do things; its enduring legacy is a reminder of what lazy implementation and lack of attention to detail result in. It’s ironic that if you boil down lots of the prominent gameplay features to their core concepts, such as the contextual combat system for example, you get a fair few of the bare bones of Batman: Arkham Asylum, which is inarguably now the gold standard for comic book videogames.
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Save Me, IRS!
It wasn't even a necessary sacrifice that Spider-Man 2 be so aggressively mediocre and barren. Despite the titles that followed all being radically different to Spider-Man 2 on the PC, they all owe a huge debt (in terms of mechanisms and convention) to Spider-Man 2 as it was on consoles, since every Spider-Man game is a multi-platform release. PC users got a stripped down, needlessly simplistic and ultimately unrewarding experience for the sake of either a reduced development time, or to tap into a bigger market of youngsters who probably all own consoles anyway.
Never mind all the frustrated PC owners who promptly returned the game after the unpleasant surprise of it being so lacking in comparison to its counterparts. The most rational explanation is that the whole thing was an exercise in how to lose money. It makes a kind of sense that Spider-Man 2 was actually an elaborate tax
evasion and the only way to avoid said tax was to make a massive loss on the product. To prove this, I will need the minutes from development meetings and Activision's tax records.
Learning to Sling: A Spider-Man PC Game Retrospective
A retrospective article series that (wall) crawls along the history Spider-Man games on the PC, charting how well they work on the platform and how true they are to the wealth of Spider-Man stories from throughout the years.