Sunday, November 11, 2007

Spider-Man: Friend Or Foe - 3 stars

The reviews for this weren't that hot, but we were pleasantly surprised. The game is well-made and fun to play.

You know how there was that awful Spider-Man 3 game?. Well, this is another piece of official merchandise that is a direct tie-in to the movie. Except you get the feeling that the team that made this game was sort of just left alone (while the execs hounded the team that made the main game) and allowed to produce something that didn't have to hit the movie release date and was therefore allowed to be much higher quality.

You play Spider-Man and his sidekick, and there are about 13 of them to choose from, running the gauntlet from huge brawlers to agile fighters to projectile shooters. It's a standard beat-em-up - you go through the levels beating up enemies until you fight the bosses. Where the game really shines is the depth of the personal combat options. You can punch, kick, jump, attack in the air, grapple, throw, lasso objects and throw them, hold a guy down while your partner hits them, and there are all sorts of wacky combos you can do depending on which sidekick you are using. Plus there are the special powers and web abilities. There are all sorts of little touches the programmers put in that indicate how much polish there is - for instance, one of Spider-Man's abilities is that he can shoot some webbing onto the larger enemies' heads and blind them. If he does it just as they are pulling out a bomb to throw at you, they'll drop the bomb on themselves instead. Or, if you bind an enemy in webbing, other enemies that aren't occupied with fighting you will actually go and help free them. The animation quality is also quite detailed - Doc Ock, for example, is incredibly cool to watch as he fights with his four extra arms.

Also, despite the fact that the game is slightly platform-y, they included a pretty good feature to alleviate it - automatic mantling. First, you can't walk off an edge accidentally. If you do accidentally jump off the edge (which you do with some characters, especially Spider-Man himself), if you are close to the edge, your character will automatically grab onto the edge, giving you a chance to pull yourself up. This also adds to the realism of the animation: Doc Ock, obviously, looks particularly cool doing this.

In fact, this easily-overlooked game is one of the most finely-detailed and polished games we've played in awhile. But if so, why not 4 stars? Well, there are two drawbacks:

1) You HAVE to play as Spider-Man and a sidekick. You can't play as two of the sidekicks. So one player always has to be Spider-Man. You can switch off, and Spider-Man is pretty cool and has lots of crazy powers, but eventually you will get bored of him and want to spend more time exploring the other characters. Sadly, there's no way to do this. The story is about Spider-Man, so it's always Spider-Man plus his buddy. It would really have been cool to play two of the sidekicks at once; there doesn't seem to be an unlockable mode for this or anything.

2) The game is relatively short. We finished it in a single weekend and didn't feel too much of an urge to play it again, despite how fun it was.

There is an interesting feature to the game - a VS mode fighting game. Due to the depth of the personal combat system, the developers were able to throw together a ghetto fighting game taking advantage of the various sidekicks and their many combat styles. It's amusing for maybe another 20 minutes.

Also, you get to play as black-suited Spider-Man, which is really just a more powerful version of Spider-Man who is harder to see in during combat.