It's been 12 long years since Activision dangled Spider-Man 2 in front of our eyes, and we lapped it up like the Kingpin at an all you can eat buffet. Treyarch's memorable open world outing is widely considered as the web-slinger's finest hour on a games console, and Insomniac will have its work cut out if it hopes to string the classic up and cast it to history.
Part of what made the 2004 release so endearing was its swing mechanic, which felt just right. But why is all of this pertinent? Well, because Energy Hook – a brand new PlayStation 4 indie by Happion Labs – is the creation of Jamie Fristrom, the technical director and designer on the aforementioned PlayStation 2 favourite. But is it off the hook or unhinged?
It's a nice idea, we suppose. The old-school Activision design school is laid bare for all to see, as small sandbox environments augment you with the freedom to swing freely, and chain stunts in order to increase your score. The extreme sports angle feels incredibly Tony Hawk, and in an age where those sorts of games don't exist anymore, it's nice to get something similar.
The problem is that the execution bails pretty hard. The controls are swimmy and the camera out of control, and while you can improve things by tinkering with the title's many settings, we felt like we were fighting with the DualShock 4 from start to finish. There are definitely moments where you'll get some momentum going – particularly in the later levels – but your enthusiasm will quickly be thwarted by an acceleration sapping wall.
The campaign essentially sees you navigating your way to beacons in each of the six primary environments, and completing trials. Races, for example, see you swinging through hoops, while score challenges will give you the freedom to perform as many tricks as you can manage in 60 seconds. Your performance will be rated against the rest of the world in leaderboards – though upon reaching the latter levels, we found that we were the only ones registering scores.
The art direction's all over the place, with each environment supposed to provide a different feel. You start out in a grimy oil facility which is so visually basic that it wouldn't look out of place in a PSone game, but things improve once you reach the likes of Misty City – a Mirror's Edge-esque metropolis with sharp blue skies and glassy surfaces.
But, running on Unity, it still has the feel of a college project that's somehow wound up on the PlayStation Store. The menus are the worst that we've seen since PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale – and they were a special kind of bad – while the lead character looks like Danny John-Jules in a jumpsuit.
As you progress you do unlock improvements to your abilities which makes the game that little bit easier to play, but it's baffling why these aren't present from the outset. We suppose it makes returning to older levels that little more enjoyable because you'll suddenly find yourself swinging more freely, but it doesn't make up for the frustrations that you'll have inevitably encountered earlier on.
A blend of Spider-Man and Tony Hawk, Energy Hook is the kind of old-school Activision-inspired outing that any millennial should be able to enjoy. Unfortunately, the execution's just not there, and cumbersome controls coupled with some real lousy presentation mean that this is a swing and a miss we're sad to say.