James Cameron Originally Optioned This Introduction in 1992
Following a decade in production rights limbo, Spider-Man finally made his way onto cinema screens. Thankfully, as a film, because the alternative would have been upsetting for film patrons who had expected to see one of the great releases of that year. Great releases like The Pianist.
World War 2 biopics aside, Spider-Man: The Movie was the inexorable cash in on the franchise which drew heavily on the formula of ‘Spider-Man’ (covered last segment). Despite the usual expectations of a lazy game developed solely to milk money from the film’s popularity, Spider-Man: The Movie was surprisingly good.
Web Fluid Dynamics
Taking its cue from previous Spider-Man games, web swinging and wall crawling and combat was completely overhauled. No more would the player have to face the terrors of the proximity to surface based web slinging from previous Spider-Man games, or be limited by the functional but static punch/kick/web fighting mechanism.
In their place was a new system that was much more dynamic and conducive to the sort of acrobatic feats you’d expect from Spider-Man games. Web swinging was now simply activated or deactivated by a button press and the fear of suddenly running out of buildings went out the window.There were controls for speed as well as altitude. Swinging around the city became a more involved process, but also much more responsive and immersive. It was no longer dependent on how well the player knew or could assess the surroundings, but how they handled the process of swinging.
Which was fortunate, because the game also introduced aerial combat for the first time as well as plenty of missions that involved desperate chases or races. Races in ‘Spider-Man’ were often more about the scenery than anything else. With the new system they were just as much about skill as they were the city, and came across as much more natural and immersive by comparison.
Return of The Emerald Elf
Of course as far as immersion goes, it didn’t hurt that the city it took place in felt much closer to an actual city than the previous incarnation. The massive upscaling in hardware that the leap to the next generation of consoles provided meant everything was more detailed and realistic. Gone was the limiting fog of old. In its place was dizzying heights and drops of hundreds of feet, with visible vehicle traffic at the bottom of these drops.
The open city was much bigger and had more variation, giving a more accurate impression of traversing though the world. The larger and more detailed environment also meant more opportunities to explore and a more enjoyable experience doing it. Despite all this new realised freedom, however, the game was still mission based, so there were still limits on what you could do per stage and how you could do it.
Mission areas were filled with tokens to give exploration both purpose and reward. These tokens determined how well you could use the proportional strength and speed of a radioactive spider.
Does Whatever A Spider Can.. If Said Spider Collected Enough Tokens
While web swinging was enhanced for a better experience, combat was completely revamped as to be unrecognisable. There was still the familiar punch, kick, jump and web buttons, but the things you could do when you put them together! Body tackles, martial arts kicks, springboard flips, dive bombs, leaping strikes; it seemed like every combination of buttons yielded a new acrobatic display of superhuman might and agility!
Combat was reminiscent of the sort of thing you would see in a Spider-Man comic, with Spidey ricocheting around and occasionally offering (drowsily acted) quips.
The expanded combat made engaging in brawls more tactical as different enemies were vulnerable to different things and also capable of deflecting attacks they were given time to prepare for. While ‘Spider Sense’ would warn of impending attacks, it was easy become overwhelmed if the player was too static and didn’t actively dodge like Spider-Man would.This approach encouraged stealth as well as agility, both Spider-Man traits.
Even though unlocked combos could be easily referenced, remembering them all could be tricky, which would prove disruptive in the middle of a fight. The idea behind token collection was a good one, as it encouraged exploration and promoted replay value.
In practice, however, it could be frustrating, as it would mean scouring levels for missed tokens, or repeatedly having to attempt the same part of a level due to the awkard save point system. The most frustrating part about it was the vague feeling of missing out on amazing or spectacular moves because you couldn’t find some mystery token.
Stars in My Eyes, Solar Radiation in My Sinuses
Spider-Man: The Movie’s events occur during a version of the story of the film, which is similar, but the game’s plot was expanded to include other characters and make the story more workable as a game. For example, I don’t recall the burglar who killed Uncle Ben ever having a rocket propelled grenade launcher or an army of thugs, or the ability to deflect blows struck at superhuman strength.
Actors from the film provide some character voices, most likely due to contractual obligations. Willem Dafoe pretty much replicates his performance as the Green Goblin, and Tobey Maguire sounds like he recorded his lines while sleepwalking.
Having the film actors voice characters is mostly a good thing, since virtually everyone who played it had a moment where they thought “just like the movie!”, and the voice actors gave a real sense of legitimacy to the game being based on the film. On the other hand, bad voice acting is bad voice acting.
Super-villains other than Green Goblin make appearances in Spider-Man: The Movie, namely Shocker, The Vulture and
The Scorpion. Their chapters fill out the roster of Spidey’s rogues gallery. It really wouldn’t be a Spider-Man game without his villains. The villains also serve to showcase the various aspects of the game as well create reasons for differing environments. Initially, you have to contend with foiling a bank robbery where hostages have been taken, which leads to a chase around a labyrinthine sewer hideout.
The Vulture’s chapter is host to a series of aerial chases through the city, curtailing the destruction left in his wake, culminating in an aerial battle atop and around a skyscraper while a storm rages and then calms into clear skies as the battle unfolds. That scene in particular was the developers flexing their digital muscles, not only proving that they had both the technology and forethought to program in elements like shifting weather, but also throwing it in with the players first real taste of a protracted mid-air battle with a super-villain in any game. The section was appropriately cinematic considering the source material.
Significantly, each part seems to be a series of set pieces rather than simply “chase villain from point A to B”, The chase is always filled with distractions.
The aerial battles meant a new dimension of possibility and freedom, and it was another step closer to playing a Spider-Man game which involved doing things Spider-Man would do. Aerial acrobatics now included breaking web lines to swing in another direction (as well as the possibility of having them cut by a foe), or swinging into a flip, or free-falling a dizzying amount before breaking into a new swing, with a confidence and ease that lent itself to moves like leaping onto a flying foe’s back. It really seemed like what games could do was catching up with what the comics and movies could present.
The expanded events created a middle ground of sorts between film and comic continuity. There is a section where you fight alongside The Scorpion against Oscorp spider robots, which is something of a nod to Spider Slayers, and of course Mendell Stromm features
in the preceding cut-scene. The Scorpion’s revised origin of being an unwilling recipient of the procedure that made him The Scorpion is also reminiscent of the Ultimate Spider-Man equivalent.
Oscorp features quite prominently throughout the game, first as remote antagonists, and later on as an evil empire of sorts, churning out threat after threat. Later sections involve corporate espionage within Oscorp with an emphasis on stealth, which provided a nice contrast to the brawls and open air combat. Despite the change of pace however, the stealth sections often came off as irritating, arbitrary and time consuming when compared to the much more enjoyable and better realised outdoor sections. The stealth missions did serve to highlight the wall crawling and zip line features, which allowed Spider-Man to move undetected as well as rapidly relocate or evade danger. The zip line especially was easy to use, using a simple targeting reticle, making crossing distances quickly efficient. Provided you could defeat your most irritating and persistent adversary - the awkward camera.
Arguably, Spider-Man: The Movie also set the bar for replayability value in film licensed games. While it featured the aforementioned search for attack moves, it also had a range of unlockable costumes, though apart from the unused concepts from the film, they were lacklustre in comparison to the previous Spider-Man game. What is notable however is that the alternative movie costumes extended to the villain also, which is something of a rarity in unlockable content, even now. It also featured unlockable game modes, including spider-bowling. Most commendably, there was even an unlockable option to play as the Green Goblin, which was markedly different to playing as Spider-Man.
In the place of web-slinging was a goblin glider as well as an array of pumpkin bombs and projectiles; the regular story was also replaced with a new one in which Harry Osborn takes up the mantle of the goblin and tries to get to the truth about his father. The levels are all ultimately the same and the story essentially goes nowhere, but that a whole other character was included in addition to the regular game is hugely commendable, and was also the precursor to Ultimate Spider Man’s core concept of splitting play between superhero and villain.
Costume May Not Include Wing Mirrors
Spider-Man: The Movie refines the foundation laid for it and adds to it immensely. While it doesn’t completely shake off some problems, like that of an occasionally impossible camera or the myriad controls that were ironically sometimes less unwieldy with a keyboard and mouse than with a game pad, it does deliver a definitive Spider-Man experience:
While both web swinging and combat were made more dynamic and intuitive, the game also offered a blend of open world exploration and narrative driven missions which encompassed different playing styles as well as showcasing the various ways in which Spider-Man approaches situations.
While the system of web swinging was much more responsive and therefore drew the player into the setting with its fluidity of use, the presentation of weblines being connected to the clouds or whatever else was at the top of the screen was sometimes jarring.
Comparing Spider-Man:The Movie to later releases, it becomes apparent that it shaped more modern releases like Web of Shadows (which may be better as a Spider-Man game) in that the indoor environments and stealth elements have been gradually eschewed in favour of what Spider-Man: The Movie did best, and building on that, whilst jettisoning what weighed it down.
Spider-Man: The Movie still stands up to its successors as a Spider-Man game that encouraged players to play like Spider-Man, even if didn’t have a gentle learning curve. It provides a depth of experience which can also be its undoing in that the scope of abilities can be overwhelming, but what made it influential also gave it longevity.
Besides, how else could you recreate the escapades of The Green Goblin?
Put that pumpkin down.
This post is part of the series: 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.