EVOLUTION OF SPIDER-MAN GAMES
EVOLUTION OF SPIDER-MAN GAMES
Written by: Nikola Hristov
Hello folks, today's topic is something that's very near and dear to my heart, Spider-Man. I grew up with all the Spidey comics, movies, animated shows and of course videogames. One of the first games I ever played was Spider-Man 2, at the young age of 4. That was almost 15 years ago, which is crazy to say…but yeah, this character has been a part of me my whole life. As you can tell, I'm pretty passionate about this – and the new Insomniac Spider-Man 2 game coming out in October gets me so hyped, I can't even put it into words. So I thought, why not make a list, as a sort of evolution of all the games, to see just how far this character has come in my favourite medium.
1. Spider-Man (2000)
I won't be talking about the arcade classics such as Maximum Carnage, because although it's good, it's quite old and hard to get a hold of in today's day and age. So let's start with the original PlayStation game. This was the first game that Activision made after acquiring the license for the character in the year 2000. By far the most kid-friendly entry, this was probably most people's first introduction into the character, before the Tobey Maguire movies. And man, is it a good one – this game is so iconic it's become a beloved classic that everyone knows about. It features many different characters such as Venom, Doc Ock, Carnage, even Captain America and many more. The story is simple – Mysterio is impersonating Spider-Man, so you need to find him, while Doc Ock and Carnage have an evil plan for the city, which you gotta put an end to. The voice acting is ahead of the curve, and the goofy phrases for Venom (who's more of an anti-hero than a villain here) such as "Surf the web" have become memes used by many. Though the swinging and combat wasn't anything special, it was very fun for its time, with punches, kicks and web attacks, as well as specials such as the web-bubble shield explosion. By far one of the best games on the OG PlayStation – this is to this day in most people's top 10 Spidey experiences. The game also has a sequel – Enter Electro, and although it's decent, it's not as iconic as the first one.
2. Spider-Man Movie Tie-in games (2002, 2004, 2007)
I've decided to lump all of these together, since they're games that most of us have already played, but most importantly – they belong together. These were released in a time where movie tie-in games were a must, and so they accompanied the Sam Raimi trilogy. There was one release in between them which I'll talk about later down the list. But first, let's cover all of the games themselves. Though they were made as the videogame version of their respective flicks, they actually stray quite a lot from their source material. For example lots of boss fights in the games are obviously not in the movies, such as Mysterio in Spider-Man 2. But let's take a look in a chronological order.
The first of the three games was released in 2002 with the OG movie. I'll be honest, I've never been the biggest fan of this one, since I played it after the second one, and the improvements there were major. Like I said, it doesn't really follow the movie, but it features the main premise and characters from it. The web swinging was basically the same as the 2000 game, but with a bit more verticality, and the combat wasn't much better either. The game is quite short, and it's obvious that this was Activision's baby steps into movie tie-in games, so it's obviously not as good as its sequels.
And that brings me to Spider-Man 2. It's important to know that this game has a difference in its PC and PS2 versions. The PC one is quite terrible, but PS2 literally revolutionized Spidey games forever. On top of having the best story to coincide with the best movie (in my opinion at least), Spider-Man 2 introduced the web swinging we all know and love today – the open world of New York inspired by the GTA games gave you the freedom to explore, and the swinging is a delight. The webs attached to buildings and even helicopters, and with a momentum based system that essentially turned Spidey into a pendulum, there was so much potential here. And the skill ceiling was very high – with so much tricks and abilities in both swinging and combat, that your average player wouldn't even think to use. For a while this was the definitive Spider-Man videogame.
But then came Spider-Man 3. By far the most divisive of the three games, because although it was an evolution of the second game, in lots of aspects it didn't feel like it. This game came out in the unfortunate times where developers thought it was a good idea to literally FILL their game to the brim with quick time events. This made SO MANY MISSIONS tedious and hard to do, especially for a kid, which was the target demographic for these games. Though the combat system was pretty decent with lots of combos and special moves, it was worsened by bosses having gigantic HP pools – which coupled with your difficult and annoying QTEs, made for a sometimes miserable experience, especially for 8 year old me. The swinging was also arguably worse than Spider-Man 2, because Peter felt a lot heavier and it was more difficult to obtain speed. The fact that the Black suit didn't feel much more different than the Classic was also a negative. If this game could've done something wrong – it did. It's not a bad game, but a very mediocre one, and a disappointment compared to the hours of pure FUN you had with Spider-Man 2.
3. Ultimate Spider-Man (2005)
This game was released between Spider-Man 2 and 3, and instead of opting for the popular movies, it instead looked to the comics for inspiration. Man, is this underrated. Ultimate Spider-Man is ripped straight out of the comic run of the same name – in both aesthetics and story. The web swinging is almost as good as Spider-Man 2 and the combat is easy and fun. The game is also quite short, but you can play after the story and compete against Human Torch in races or do combat challenges. The main selling point of this game however is the fact that to this day it is the only entry which fully allows the player to play as Venom. Not only do you have story missions with him, where you fight against characters like Carnage and Wolverine, but he is also fully playable after the story. And boy, is he a monster – he has the ability to "absorb" people to heal himself, and he also has more range than Peter because of his tendril attacks. His traversal is also awesome – instead of web swinging, he has a massive leap and the ability to climb on walls using his claws and tendrils. This game is a hidden gem and every Spider-Man fan will tell you that it's worth at least one playthrough.
4. Spider-Man – Web of Shadows (2008)
A lot of players would say that this is the best Spider-Man game, because of the gameplay. Despite Venom not being received well in Spider-Man 3, he was still the most popular villain, so Activision gave this to Shaba Games and told them – make us the best Symbiote experience. And that's exactly what they did. The story isn't anything special and the voice acting is often bad, so I won't focus on them at all. All I'll say is that you fight against symbiote versions of other Spidey friends and foes. The best thing about this game is the gameplay – especially the combat. Boy this combat is amazing. The web strike mechanic which allows Spidey to endlessly chain between different enemies, the many differences in combos and special attacks between the Red and the Black suit, the instant switching between the two and even wall combat – the only Spidey game to feature that to this very day. The swinging was also great – though the webs didn't attach to buildings anymore, the momentum building is the best in the series, allowing for INSANE traversal speeds. On top of that, in the main missions the story gives you choices between "good and evil", A.K.A. red and black, which influences your relationships with characters and the ending of the game. Overall, this is an unforgettable experience for every Spider-Man fan, and it seems Insomniac might be learning a thing or two about Black Suit combat from this game.
5. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time (2010 and 2011)
After the shut-down of Shaba Games because of the poor performance of Web of Shadows, Activision gave Spider-Man to Beenox and told them to make a Spider-Verse game. This came with the brilliant idea of including 4 unique versions of the wall crawler – Amazing (the classic Spidey), Ultimate (which is the ultimate version of the character from the 2005 game, but with the symbiote suit on), 2099 (Miguel O'Hara) and Noir (Peter Parker from WW2). You have 4 levels for each Spidey, for a total of 12, with unique enemies, bosses and mini-games that fit their respective Spider-Men's universes. For example, you have lots of web swinging with Amazing and Ultimate, Diving and Gliding with futuristic cars flying by with 2099 and stealth action inspired by the Arkham games with Noir. On top of narration by Stan Lee, voice acting from previous Spider-Man actors such as Christopher Daniel Barnes and Josh Keaton and a great story, as well as unique combat moves for each of the four iterations of the web slinger, this quickly became a fan favourite and an introduction to the multiversal aspects of the character that we all know about today.
It also got a sequel in Edge of Time – which came out a year later in 2011, and only focused on Classic Spider-Man (Amazing) and 2099. This one also has a great story and similar combat to the first game, however, it's not as well received because it was just a bunch of corridors and fighting enemies, with lazy fan service such as Black Cat and yet another Venom, this time sporting the Anti-Venom white symbiote. It was ok, but not as great as Shattered Dimensions, since players didn't like them taking out the symbiote combat and stealth gameplay.
6. The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2 (2012 and 2014)
And here we go, the last Spider-Man Activision games, made by Beenox. Created to tie-in to the ASM movies, these titles had lots of untapped potential. To start off with TASM 1, it wasn't hated, but it wasn't liked much either. The story was fine, and instead of focusing on the Lizard alone it focused on other mutants created by Oscorp (such as Rhino) and giant City-threatening villains, which made some of the boss fights feel epic. This game also refined the stealth gameplay from Shattered Dimensions, but fundamentally changed the combat and swinging. Combat was very easy, just hit and doge, with lack of combos and player freedom, while swinging was no longer attached to buildings and instead took a much more from-the-back and cinematic approach. Some people like this game, and don't get me wrong, it has some fun missions. It even has a mini-game where you play as Rhino and rampage the city. But overall, this was a downgrade from the previous games.
TASM 2 however, was even more hated, probably because of the bad movie it coincides with. The combat was pretty much the same, which means it wasn't good, the stealth was the same, and the swinging was once again changed – it was a bit better than TASM 1, but for sure still not on the level of Spider-Man 2. You had to use the R2 and L2 buttons for swinging from the left and right hand respectively. Interesting idea, but it didn't excite you much because the swinging wasn't momentum based and felt slow. The suits you unlock in the game are great, but overall, coupled with a lacklustre story, this was yet another disappointing entry in the Spider-Man game series.
7. Marvel's Spider-Man (2018)
Fans were getting tired. While Batman was getting those high quality AAA experiences, we were stuck with mediocrity. But Marvel decided to change that, and after obtaining the license to the wall crawler back, they gave it to one of the most talented studios, Insomniac Games, who set out to create the ultimate Spider-Man adventure. And boy did they succeed. The web swinging is probably at its best here, because although it isn't as fast as Spider-Man 2 or Web of Shadows, it's very fluid and cinematic, which is fitting for a AAA game. On top of the point launch, which makes traversal so much easier by launching yourself from edges like a gazelle in the air, the parkour mechanics, although underutilized, essentially make this one of the best traversal systems in gaming. Insomniac also turned the combat into much more of an Arkham-based combat, but without counters (though that will change soon) and instead focused on dodging, air combat, and gadgets, which Insomniac always include in their games. On top of great gameplay, Spider-Man PS4 has arguably the best Spider-Man story and acting not just in games, but also in all mediums. They really set out to create the most brilliant Spider-Man experience – and they did just that.
That being said, Insomniac weren't done yet. They really wanted to go further, and they made sure to have Miles become a Spider-Man alongside his mentor Peter. This dynamic has been very popular in recent years, in the Spider-Verse movies and the comics, but so far the games have done a great job as well. Miles, on top of having his own personal story of becoming Spider-Man, had improved combat, with his bioelectrical venom attacks. But more importantly he also had improved swinging – because of the major additions and changes to air tricks. This is where Insomniac perfected Web swinging – because you really look like you're full of the exaggerated swagger of a black teen when spinning in so many different moves through the air. Though the story isn't as good as the first game, the gameplay additions were excellent.
Now the question is, where will Insomniac take their franchise next? We know we're getting Kraven and Venom as the main villains, the blue venom powers of Miles, and the black suit and its iconic symbiote attacks for Peter. On top of the gliding mechanic of the Web Wings, which is a first for open world Spider-Man, we're also expecting a much bigger map with Queens and Brooklyn being added, and hopefully new web tricks and animations for Peter, just like we have for Miles in his game.
And with that being said, we're done with our coverage of the mainline Spider-Man games since the beginning of the century! Let us know which your favourite is and what you're hoping to see in terms of both gameplay and story in the upcoming Marvel's Spider-Man 2, coming October 20th. For more news on your beloved franchises, stay with us on One Up Gaming.
Written by: Nikola Hristov