*Review is based on the Xbox 360 version*
If you cast aside all of the crazy drama and maniacal villains, who can say they honestly wouldn't want to be Spider-Man? From his superhuman physicals (strength, reflexes, agility) to his ability to smoothly swing above the streets of New York, stepping into Peter Parker's boots should be a blast. But does Beenox and Activision turn being Spider-Man into an awesome experience or a total mess? Well, that answer falls somewhere in the middle.
The story here quickly addresses The Amazing Spider-Man 2's villains (e.g. Electro and Green Goblin), but it's really more about a gang war that's breaking out in New York and the Kingpin's play for more power. As chaos erupts across the city, someone known as the "Carnage Killer" is taking out bad people in a not-so-kind fashion and Kraven wants to mentor Spider-Man so he can unlock Spidey's true potential. Needless to say, the story itself covers a whole lot of territory and offers some fan service by incorporating a lot of villains, but ultimately, it keeps coming back to one thing: Spider-Man's morals. For a comic book fan, the constant conversations about why killing is wrong and why Spider-Man isn't a killer will feel heavy-handed and repetitive, but for general/younger gamers, it's good to drive home the fact that Peter Parker is the "ultimate" hero.
The story's twist and turns won't shock you, but I will admit the simple fact the story kept jumping from one big name to the next kept my interest strong. Obviously, if you're not passionate about Spider-Man and the world around him, this is going to be a very bland experience for you. For everyone else, it's sure to at least keep you amused and curious enough to see what character will be brought into the picture next. Plus, there's a decent post-credits teaser for this universe's future. One area where I will give the narrative some big credit is how it handles the dilemma between Harry Osborn and Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The game presents a better dialogue between the two during this dispute. It's not emotionally compelling, but it's good to see they had Peter elaborate much more than his movie counter-part did. It's certainly a situation which calls for it.
Web-slinging down an avenue is a joy. Once you're able to master the basics of traveling (which really doesn't take too long), you'll see that it works the best while sticking to the avenues/main streets and it's a legitimately fun experience. Once you get a good amount of momentum going, it's great to feel the rush of speeding right past the traffic below you or making it to a waypoint with plenty of time to spare.
Another thing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has going for it is the pure fan service. There's a lot of collectibles to enjoy here and you can check them all out (costumes aside) in Stan Lee's comic shop. And yes, Stan Lee's the employee and he did voice work for the role. You can unlock entire issues to read (it wasn't too long before I was able to re-read the first appearances of Shocker and Kraven and there's plenty I've yet to get), play wave-based challenges at an arcade machine, view character models, and, of course, scroll through concept art. But really, the best part about this shop is a glorious poster of Scarlet Spider (based on SCARLET SPIDER #7's cover). On top of these unlockables, there's a variety of costumes you can access. Sure, just stepping into a new skin is pleasing, but the game makes sure there's a little more to it than just a new appearance. You can level up with each costume and each of them have three stat bonuses. For example, one may allow for faster healing while another improves critical damage. These aren't changes that'll add a whole new layer of depth to the game, but it's better than simply looking different.
The combat isn't quite as fluid as it could be, but it's still an enjoyable experience. It would have been nice to see more additions to the upgrade chart and a greater variety of moves, but for what it's worth, dancing around goons and pummeling them/webbing them to the floor remained pretty exciting, especially when you're able to execute a "special" move to finish a character. The stealth focused aspects are incredibly basic and you can't help but draw comparisons to a certain DC game. Taking down character after character without being spotted is a decent dose of fun, but it's not all that satisfying once you realize the AI really isn't anything to brag about.
This game also incorporates a "Hero or Menace" feature. Basically, the more side missions you complete (rescuing civilians, stopping car chases, helping police in firefights, etc), the better your reputation will be throughout the city and civilians will act accordingly. If you fail to complete side missions, you'll fall into the "menace" side (J. Jonah Jameson was right!), and this means your stats will take a bit of a hit, onlookers will speak poorly of you, and eventually, the game will be a little more difficult because a Task Force will try to hunt you down. Honestly, it feels like a way to nudge you into completing all of the side missions that pop up, but the game really isn't that difficult if you become a menace. I had a pretty easy time avoiding the Task Force, as well as handling them if I did bump into them.
The web rush feature is a mixed bag. On one hand, it's useful in combat scenarios, especially ones that require stealth. But on the other hand, needing to utilize this to travel through the city really makes movement less fluid. When you're Spider-Man, you want to experience the thrill of leaping over buildings and swinging between them. However, there's countless moments where I needed to slowdown time to assure I'd reach where I needed to and this really hindered the exciting nature of being Spider-Man. Also, when you're in a tight situation, sometimes movement can get a little clunky and he won't web rush exactly where you want him to go. This resulted in some very frustrating moments during fire rescue missions.
I'll be blunt: the graphics are disappointing. Human characters come off as completely rigid and devoid of emotion. The fact many look (and sound) so drastically different than their movie counter-parts doesn't help matters. The restricted draw distance is also noticeable. To counter this, they added a layer of clouds, but it instead comes off as thick smog and gives the city a very gloomy look when you're looking head. Looking beyond the playable world wasn't a pretty experience, either.
Yes, the combat is fun, but boss battles are extremely repetitive and not nearly enough is done to give them a little variety or even make them memorable. Electro and Green Goblin's big fights add some quick time events, but instead of coming off as cool, these moments drag on and eventually feel ridiculous instead of thrilling (I lost track of how many times I punched Electro in the jaw or smashed Gobby's face into a building). They just sort of happen and then you move on to the next one. Nothing here is going to truly leave an impact or make you think back and recall how awesome a boss battle was.
Minor gripes: Carnage was way too preachy in this and it didn't feel like the comic villain we know. Kraven was presented well and Kingpin's focus on distancing himself from anything illegal (on paper, at least) is amusing, but Carnage felt like one part Joker and another part twisted anti-hero. To me, this just didn't really ring true to his character and felt like someone different. Lastly, you're going to hear the same lines a lot in this game. From Spider-Man's taunts (which sometimes feel downright rude instead of smile-inducing) to bad guys attempting to trash talk, the amount of dialogue is pretty limited. This is especially noticeable when the game cuts away to a brief news bit after you complete a side mission. These are a neat addition at first, but seeing as there's so few of them, it quickly becomes a repetitive process and you'll keep trying to skip them asap because you've already watched them numerous times before.
Is this game worth purchasing right now? Honestly, I can only recommend that option to die-hard Spider-Man fans -- the crowd that simply wants to feel the rush of web-slinging through Times Square and hearing onlookers root for the wall crawler. These people will likely be able to overlook the game's numerous flaws and just have a good time being Spider-Man, unlocking collectibles, beating up goons, and being immersed in a story with so many rogues. For everyone else, it's a rental at best or you should wait until the price drops. Sure, I had a good time overall, but there's just no denying the fact this game has occasionally clunky movement, repetitive missions, and extremely bland graphics. It's by no means the next Arkham -- not even close to it -- but true believers just may have a decent amount of fun.