Swinging with Spidey in "Spider-Man 2: The Game"

At a private party held in San Francisco last Thursday, Activision held a demo for members of the press for the upcoming "Spider-Man 2: The Game." The closed event was held in a suite filled with PlayStation 2 and xBox machines and flat screen televisions with a view of downtown San Francisco from the balcony, while Los Angeles based DJ Angelique spun electronic and funky beats all night. The assembled press was given a demonstration of the game plus a load of hands on time to get a feel for the game. The demonstration was presided over by Gregory Jun who spoke about the game while Juan Valdez demonstrated his game playing skills, moving Spider-Man in and around Manhattan.

As the game opens with a title sequence similar to the film, you get a look at New York City and the Statue of Liberty as you swing through the city, with crisp surround sound bringing a sense of realism. As they began the demonstration, you find yourself in Spider-Man's place, swinging from building to building in Manhattan. "We really wanted to capture the feeling of swinging like Spider-Man," Jun said. If you were impressed with Spidey's web swinging abilities in the first movie, they've captured that same action with this latest Spider-Man game using a physics based system to make it look as real as possible. "When you're swing around, it actually feels right," continued Jun. "You get the Spider-Man experience."

Actors from the movie lend their voices to the game. Maguire and Dunst make their voice appearances and fan-favorite Bruce Campbell plays the part of a "tour guide" of sorts, offering up information about your place in the city and what your mission involves. And if Peter should make a visit to the office of Daily Bugle's J. Jonah Jameson, expect an insult or two as only Jameson can offer.

The makers of "Spider-Man 2: The Game" painstakingly recreated Manhattan, crafting a faithful and massive environment for game play, or as Jun added, "crazy huge." If you're familiar with the landscape of the island, then you'll have something of an advantage in the game. Famous landmarks like the Empire State Building, the Flat Iron Building, Central Park, Time Square, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island all exist in the game, as well as buildings which look like the Guggenheim and Madison Square Garden. Due to the fact that those are copyrighted names, they're not exactly the same, but the bear a close resemblance. When you find yourself in Times Square, you might see an electronic billboard in the background that looks like the face of Spider-Man. Move a little closer and slowly but surely the ad reveals itself to be for a familiar brand of soda. And all this takes place in an environment that moves from day to night, bringing a real sense of time to the game as you witness the rising and setting of the sun over the Manhattan skyline.

The question of how the programmers would handle the location of the World Trade Center was quickly answered. As Spider-Man swung towards ground zero it became evident that the World Trade Center Memorial was still illuminated. Great swaths of light emanated from the ground, illuminating the night sky.

The city itself is fully functioning. The sidewalks are crowded with people. The streets are filled with cars, taxis and buses. And they react to the actions of Spider-Man. If Spider-Man drops down to street level and stands in the way of cars, they'll stop for him. They may even yell at him to get out of the way. Not quite as rudely as might be experienced in real life, but certainly eloquent enough so that you get the hint. You may even be witness to a purse snatching or two, just one of the many missions Spider-Man takes part in during the game.

As you swing through the city, the webs you've launched stay behind for a short period. Shoot a web up on a building, then double back to check where you've been and you may still see some of those webs you just shot.

At one point our demonstration took us to the very top of the Empire State Building, where Spidey stopped for a moment to take in the view of the city high while sitting on the antenna atop the building. Valdez had Spider-Man jump off the antenna, shoot a web at the top of that antenna and swung around the building, giving all in attendance a dizzying look at all of New York City.

Say you find yourself lost in this massive metropolis. No problem. Drop down to map mode which gives you and overhead view of the city, which will reveal key points and locations within the city, as well as hit markers for missions you must accomplish.

So now that you've familiarized yourself with the city, it's time to get into some of the action. You have hundreds of missions to choose from, including very simple missions like retrieving an escaped helium balloon a young boy lets go ("He is your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man," said Jun.), to Mary Jane missions, photography missions Peter's sent on by his editor Robbie Robinson, on up to battles with the likes of Doc Oc, Shock, the Rhino and Mysterio. The pantheon of Spider-Man villains is represented in the game. Even the Black Cat makes an appearance to fight along side Spider-Man.

During a fight the familiar banter of Peter Parker is included. As he takes on the baddies, Peter hurls his trademark insults and witticisms at his opponent in only the way Peter can. Of course, Peter has the advantage of his Spidey sense during fights. When activated (and only for short periods of time), time slows down for everyone else except Peter, who can dodge attacks and lay the smack down quicker than his opponent. Spider-Man's fighting abilities are exactly what you'd expect, showing off numerous personal defense styles and even a few professional wrestling inspired moves.

Another mission finds Spider-Man needed out at the Statue of Liberty. But with no buildings to attach a web to, how does Spider-Man make his way over the water? Simple, wait for a helicopter to fly over head, attach your web and hang on as you travel over to the statue. You may even need to swing a web to a second helicopter if the one you latched on to isn't going exactly they way you wished. And if you miss, you fall into the waters of New York harbor, where the game will take you back to land. "Nothing like a little New York water to clear out the senses," joked Jun.

Completed missions in the game are rewarded with hero points. With the accumulated hero points the player can go into stores to purchase new combos and attacks.

The main story line for the game is very similar to the movie. This is the reason why details of the game have been so strictly guarded since it was announced. The programmers got their very own copy of the shooting script and followed it closely, trying to emulate in the game the experience a game player will get when the see the movie. And the soundtrack to the game is a mix of orchestral tracks and music provided by the band KMFDM.

A question was asked whether you can play Spider-Man as a villain. Not possible, revealed Jun. The game makers understood that Spider-Man is a good guy and for him to act any other way would go against the essence of the character.

As CBR News got their chance to sit in front of the video screen, we quickly learned how to shoot webs and swing around the city. We started in uptown Manhattan and our goal was simply to make our way to the Empire State Building and see what would happen once we jumped off the top of the building. Not being familiar with the terrain of Manhattan, we regularly consulted the map, which guided us in the right direction. We swung from building to building, occasionally dropping to the roof of a building, scurrying across the top of it, jumping on to the wall of an adjacent building and more. Finally we arrived at our destination and made the big jump. Spidey, naturally, didn't fare to well. Falls from heights do result in quite a bit of fall damage.

With the terrain of Manhattan carefully recreated, we asked if Spider-Man could visit a comic book store, in case he wanted to check out the latest issue of his favorite title. Sure thing, just as the city of Manhattan is filled with comic book stores, so is the city within the game. We guided Spider-Man over to a comic store and when we entered we quickly discovered a fully functioning comic book store, filled with new comic racks, posters on the walls, back issue bins and customers. Within the comic book stores Spider-Man can purchase many of those upgrades with the acquired hit points. There was even a female checker working behind the counter, which seemed to throw some in the room for a loop.

The game is satisfying on a variety of levels for a variety of different audiences. Hard core gamers will be impressed by the complexity of missions and fighting action. Comic fans will enjoy the faithful recreation of one of the great comic icons. And movie fans will enjoy the ability of continuing the big screen experience. With that combination, "Spider-Man 2: The Game" should be the big video game success story of 2004.

For more screen captures, check out this article.

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