The Batman: Arkham series of games have a lot to answer for. On the one hand, they showed how to make a truly great superhero tie-in, while on the other, they’ve inspired what feels like an endless procession of imitators that borrow heavily from its formula but fail to deliver experiences of a similar quality. Swinging onto the PlayStation 4, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is taking another crack at this recipe, with the hope of spinning some gameplay gold rather than the cobwebs of its predecessor.
As with the first The Amazing Spider-Man game, the sequel tells a very different tale to that of its cinematic twin, and seems to have forgotten most of what happened in the first game to boot. As the title starts, Spidey is hunting Uncle Ben's killer through the underworld of New York. He soon finds that the city's thugs are tooling up for a major gang war, while at the same time, a serial killer is butchering criminals as each faction blames the other for the murders. As a result, it’s up to Peter Parker's alter-ego to get to the bottom of the mystery by tracking down the killer and averting an urban war in the process.
Deviating from the plot of the film isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, and by doing so developer Beenox has been able to tell its own Spider-Man tale. It's even managed to work in appearances from a few different Marvel characters, such as Black Cat, Kraven the Hunter, and everyone's favourite crime boss, Kingpin. The trouble is that it feels like the story was initially written without any clue as to the film's plot, and as a result they've shoe horned in appearances from the cinematic villains to try and make a tenuous connection to the blockbuster. This makes the story a bit of a mess at times, with villains introduced only to disappear soon after, while at the same time key characters from the first game fail to appear at all, such as Spider-Man's love interest, Gwen Stacy.
Story issues aside, swinging around as the heroic wall crawler is still as fun as it was in the first game, which is good seeing as you’ll spend a significant amount of time travelling around the open world version of New York City tackling crime. Using the left and right triggers to fire off your respective web slingers helps you arc through the sky, and is particularly useful for when you want to swing down the wide avenues that criss-cross the world. Should you want to stray from the roads, then you’re best off using Spider-Man’s ‘Web Rush’, which when triggered slows time, allowing you to pick a point within a certain radius that you want to leap to. Covering ground in this way can help you bounce around the world quite effectively as movements can be chained together, letting you pick more complex paths around the environment than the basic web slinging allows.
When these mechanics work they really make you feel like you’re in control of an agile superhero, and it’s quite enjoyable to just move around the sandbox swinging from building to building. There are times when the fun can come crashing down, though, as both methods of travel can stumble should you stray from the optimal path. Believe us when we say that there’s no sight less heroic than Spider-Man repeatedly banging up against a wall while trying to web sling.
As you work your way through the fourteen main story missions, you’ll not only be using your powers to get around, but also to hide in the shadows or engage thugs in open combat. Most of the missions are made up of arenas which allow you to stealthily go about your business, and they’re structured in a very similar way to those found in the recent Batman games. In other words, you’ll be hiding on perches that give you a good view of the area while using your Spider-Sense to track the path of the guards, picking them off one by one or avoiding them completely.
These stealth sequences have a little more freedom than you’d expect, as our hero can crawl up the walls and onto ceilings, which offers up more options than if there were just pre-set hiding spots. While it's enjoyable at first, you’ll consistently struggle with both the controls and the camera as you find yourself stuck to surfaces with no idea if it’s a wall or a ceiling. To make matters even worse, the close confines of some environments force the camera to only give you a close up view of the wall-crawling protagonist, adding further to the disorientation. As this happens more and more, you’ll find that when you're presented with an indoor stealth section, it becomes increasingly likely that you'll simply stick to the floor and use the hero’s Spider-Sense to get behind the less-than-smart enemies in order to perform stealth takedowns. You'll eventually feel more like Sam Fisher than Spider-Man.
Should you decide that skulking around in the shadows isn’t the sort of thing the protagonist would do, then you can also confront your enemies head on. Brawls play very similar to other titles that have a counter heavy combat system, and you’ll be tackling a variety of foes armed with everything from guns to their bare fists. When an enemy is about to attack, your Spider-Sense will tingle, highlighting the foe in red, and a quick press of the triangle button will trigger a counter, letting you block the attack and turn the tables on your assailant. Sound familiar? Well, the similarities don’t quite end there, as you’ll also come across baddies that require the use of specific skills in order to take them down.
It’s not that the combat isn’t satisfying – after all, these systems have been employed quite effectively in other games – but the trouble is that it’s completely unoriginal, with no surprises or hidden depths to be found at all. As a result, if you’ve played any game that has similar combat in the past, then you’ll know exactly what awaits you here.
When not tackling super villains in the main story, there are also ambient events to take on, which spring up throughout the open world. Ranging from rescuing citizens trapped in a fire to carrying a ticking time bomb out of a populated area, successful completion of these objectives increases your Heroic Meter, which reflects the view that the city's population has of Spider-Man’s antics. Keeping the meter in the green stops the Enhanced Crime Task Force from interfering in your adventure around New York. Meanwhile, if too many crimes go unchecked, the populous will become disillusioned with Spidey, causing the gauge to drop into the red, which allows the task force to hit the streets with their drones, laser grids, and turrets to try and take the superhero out.
Unfortunately, having to tackle crimes in order to avoid being pursued by this hi-tech group outstays it welcome surprisingly quickly. This is mainly due to the fact that there are only a few different types of events which all have very little variety to them. When you’ve rescued someone from under a block of rubble for the tenth time, or disposed of your fifth bomb, you’ll be bored by the whole process, only going through the motions in order to stop the drones and turrets from ruining the fun of swinging around the world.
However, there are other attempts to populate the city with things to do in order to pad out the experience. These include photo investigations, audio logs, and alternative Spider-Man suits, which provide a variety of additional skill bonuses. Sadly, none of this adds enough to keep you engaged once you’re done with the story. For example, only those who really want to get all of the Trophies or read the comic books that you unlock will be motivated enough to hunt down the three hundred pages floating around the world.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is stuck so far in the shadow of better superhero games that it’s difficult to see anything which makes it stand out from the crowd. While the traversal of the open world remains really enjoyable – in spite of some shortcomings – the rest of the release comes off as an inferior copy. While there’s nothing horribly wrong with the experience, there’s just not enough here to recommend it, especially when there are more engaging and polished experiences readily available.