With the upcoming release of The Amazing Spider-man, and based on a terrible conversation I had with Mike, I’ve decided to declare July official Spider-man month. What’s that you say? It’s still June? Well keep that nonsense to yourself, this is my website and I can do as I please! As we’ve already reviewed Spider-man: Edge of Time and took a look back at Ultimate Spider-man you can think of them as our honorary inductees into Spider-month! For our first entry in the actual look back we’ll be taking a second look at Neversofts Spider-man, originally for the PS1 and later ported to the N64, Dreamcast and PC. Does this early entry in Spideys 3D history hold up today? Read on to find out true believers!
The story of Spider-man is fairly decent, as it isn’t based on a film or the TV series it has the benefit of drawing entirely from the comic books. A duplicate Spider-man steals Doctor Octopus’ latest invention (Oh God… this close to the late 90’s and we’ve got possible clones?!) framing Spider-man for the job who then goes on a quest to find out who is stealing all the tech and why. The high point of the story is its tie-ins to the comics rather than other media as it is free to throw in cameos and guest stars at will, which it does in abundance. The Human Torch, Daredevil, Black Cat, Punisher and more all make cameos and the game is completely narrated by Stan “The Man” Lee himself. The story is decent, though at times it does feel more like a way of simply tossing as many villains into it as possible. For example, the whole Spider-man being framed thing is actually a ruse by Mysterio, but he really has no reason to help Doctor Octopus and his motivations are never made clear. Also if Ock simply built his doomsday device himself without involving this framing plot he might have gotten away with it (if not for that meddling spider…). The overall writing is strong though. This is probably the punniest Spider-man has ever been in a game, capturing the true essence of the character. The use of Spider-mans rogues gallery isn’t a bad thing though as you’ll face off against both his A and B list of villains. Doc Ock, Venom and Carnage are joined by the lower likes of Rhino, Scorpion, and Mysterio. Venom does his usual anti-hero nonsense and ends up joining you in your quest, but he is written as a complete imbecile in the game (though any chance to make fun of Venom is fine by me). The biggest problem with using as many villains as they did in the game is that when the inevitable sequel came out Electro actually got top billing as they had to scrape the bottom of the barrel there. Thankfully we never got to see Spider-man 3: Paste-Pot Petes Peril!
Combat in Spider-man is a fairly simple affair. Spidey really only has 2 combos, a punch string and a kick string. While you can mix up punching and kicking they won’t string together so it’s best to just stick with one or the other. You do of course have your webbing attacks and while you can simply web up your enemies it heavily drains your web fluid (Yes this based on the comic books, you have to collect and use web cartridges). You’re also gifted with 4 web attacks, Spider-man can encase his hands in web increasing his strength, he can shoot a giant web ball at enemies, he can use his web line to yank enemies in different directions, and he can create a shielded dome around him which then explodes outwards. Most average enemies are easily dispatched with simply punch and kick combos, it is the bosses that need more strategy. The game actually is quite varied in its boss fights. For example in the fight against Rhino you’re better off luring him into running into hazards around the arena than fighting him one on one, while the fight against Carnage can be easily won by using the sonic emitter nearby.
Spider-man has all his traversal methods in this game, which is both a blessing and a curse. I remember when the game was first released and being amazed that someone had actually gotten all of Spider-mans abilities to fit inside a single game. Finally we could web swing around buildings, walk on walls, defeat enemies in melee combat and use webbing attacks. This turns out to be the games biggest downfall when being played today. This game sadly comes to us from that era of 3D gaming where direct camera control is not an option. The camera instantly snaps behind Spidey whenever he stops moving for a second which is good for orienting yourself and keeping yourself somewhat on track in the game, but simply not good enough for keeping up with Spideys antics. In the smaller indoor environments you’ll often and easily get the camera caught in corners, on objects, and zoomed into walls and other things as you try to get your bearings. Outdoors the camera will be too slow to follow your web swinging and you’ll find yourself making blind leaps towards buildings and structures that are hopefully there. While crawling on the walls the controls will suddenly and without warning re-orient themselves causing you to switch directions unintentionally, not good when enemies are shooting at you while climbing around. Also, some levels feature the most infuriating aspect of the game, timed “races”. There is a section early in the game where you are supposed to chase Venom, if he gets too far away you instantly lose and have to restart the level again. The camera has no way of keeping up with Venom as you can’t manually control it to see where he is going and as you race to keep up with him you’ll be making more blind leaps and guesses in direction then you’ll probably care to. If you miss a jump and end up wall crawling it’ll slow you down so much you’re likely to lose no matter what. The final showdown between Spider-man and Doc Ock has you running away from Ock through a hallway filled with hazards. This is done by having Spider-man move TOWARDS the screen, with no indication of where hazards are coming from it becomes very frustrating to have to repeat these sections (and you will) over and over again.
Graphically the game looked great back in 2000 and actually holds up somewhat well today. While nothing can help the blocky character models and ugly faces (All the goons sort of look like Baraka and the women… eesh…) the texture work is all fairly decent and the environments are well done and not simply sparsely populated rooms. This is the PS1 we are dealing with, and as far as 3D action games go you could do a lot worse than Spider-man. The game world is not open-ended like later sequels would become due to limitations with the technology. Each level is a self-contained entity though there is a varied mixture of indoor and outdoor environments. The outdoor levels do suffer from massive fog obscuring the ground and any buildings farther away than 10 feet or so, though Neversoft at least had the decency to give it a plot reason, that being Doc Ock has flooded New York with a gas that is preparing the people for symbiosis (Hey, it’s better than Lex Luthors lame virtual reality excuse in Superman 64). The game runs on the Tony Hawk 2 engine which does a decent job at keeping up with Spider-man as he swings around environments, climbs all over walls, and does whatever a spider can.
Where the game really shines (other than it’s encompassing of the Spider-man mythos) is something that has almost been lost in the current age of gaming, that being unlockables and bonuses. While it is common for games to be filled with collectibles these days they are really just a means to get an achievement or trophy and usually serve little purpose. In Spider-man there are collectible comic book covers to find and alternate costumes to collect. You don’t simply find the costumes though, you’ve got to fulfill actual tasks to get them, beating the game on hard unlocks the ultimately powered Captain Marvel suit, while collecting the comic covers nets you Spider-man 2099 and finding a hidden room in the item hunt mini game gives you the ability to play as Peter Parker. There are some other costumes as well, one of which can only be unlocked with a cheat code (remember those?!) Spider-mans ultimate unlockable though is without a doubt it’s most interesting and something I’d love to see make a return to his games, that being the “What If?” mode. If you’re not familiar with the What If? line of comics they basically take moments in the comic book world and ask what would happen if they went differently for example: What If Spidey Kept the Symbiote Suit, or What If Gwen Stacey Didn’t Die (Oh sorry SPOILERS). Here, after beating the game once, entering a cheat code, and starting the game again you will get your very own What If? scenarios. The real meat of this boils down to a TON of easter eggs, and new cameos (such as Ghost Rider driving down the sides of buildings). Dialogue changes occur in the story (Scorpion and Jamesons arguing back and forth is now changed to a game of Marco-Polo). What If? mode adds a lot for comic book fans to look out for as well as adding some spice to a second play through of the game, something this day and ages complaints of “Too short campaign” could sorely use.
Sadly all these bonuses can’t keep the shine on this game as by today’s standards it’s pretty much unplayable. It’s amazing to me that when this game was first released it was groundbreaking in the superhero genre. For the first time a hero had been represented correctly with their full gamut of powers and no real compromises. However, the absurd camera and simplistic combat feel like they are back in the dark ages compared to today’s games. While this was a monumental step forward for superhero games, that was over 10 years ago, it’s time is far gone. The game simply doesn’t hold up and I wouldn’t recommend giving it another go for yourself. There is really nothing here in this game that hasn’t been done better in later Spider-man games. A nice footnote in history to look at in this context, but not something I enjoyed playing through again.