Spider-Man is coming back in a big way, finally returning to his freeroam roots with The Amazing Spider-Man. Yes, it's a movie tie-in, but it's also being developed by Beenox, the developers responsible for both the Spider-Man games Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time. If anything, due to their non-freeroam roots Beenox is probably more likely to dedicate more attention to character and story.
The best part? Beenox seem genuinely excited about the direction of their game. As I waited for the next demo to begin I watched Dee Brown, Beenox studio head, do a number of interviews on-camera. It was the last day of E3, with just about 30 minutes left until the show floor closed, and I've never seen a guy so excited to talk about his game (over and over and over). Then, after the interviews were over, he talked with a colleague about how excited he was to finally talk to people about the game.
After I had my own experience with The Amazing Spider-Man, I'm also a believer. While there are always limitation associated with being a movie game, in terms of scope and creative license, and development time too, Beenox's experience with the franchise shouldn't be dismissed. These guys know what they're doing, and considering that they're adding their already solid gameplay experience into a free-roaming New York, this could be the best Spider-Man game since Spider-Man 2... or ever.
During the live demo Dee went over the four pillars Beenox was using to create the best Spider-Man experience they could make. The first pillar, as it should be, is story. The Amazing Spider-Man isn't just a movie-game, however. Rather, Beenox is creating what they say is an "epilogue" to the movie. Marvel fans will recognize the name Alistair Smythe, hired by Oscorp to help take care of the cross-species problem that will originate in the movie. He does this through the creation of a number of destructive robots. Spidey will have to face off against both these Spidey slayers in addition to other cross-species villains. Add in an assortment of hired thugs and petty thieves and Spidey will have more than enough conflict to fill his free-roam city and more.
The next two pillars are based around new mechanics being introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man, but while they are exciting I consider them accents on the fourth pillar. We'll get that that later though, and dive right into the second pillar -- Web Rush. Shattered Dimensions players may recall the Web Zip mechanic, that allowed Spider-Man to quickly travel from one location to another. Web Rush acts similarly, in that you can essentially pause the game, select a location within your visual range and travel there quickly without further button input.
The new addition to the system is the dynamic and cinematic way in which Spidey will traverse said terrain. He'll shoot webbing, push off of cars and light posts, and run along walls or even bus-sides. In motion, the system looks quite fetching, though I did notice so rough animations where Spidey ends up grabbing air or invisible objects rather than terrain. Hopefully in Beenox's quest for speed they didn't discard a standard of quality.
Third is, naturally, free roaming. This mechanic speaks for itself in a lot of ways, but Dee did clarify a lot of details that may bounce around in your head. Manhattan is not built for realism or to-scale, sadly. While it does feature a large number of landmarks that tourists will recognize on-sight, locals probably shouldn't search for their favorite hole-in-wall pizza place. Spidey will have access to a GTA style map with pinpoints for various quests and side-missions, care of his lifted Oscorp cell phone (where does he keep it?). Expect to be able to climb to the top of the Empire State Building and then fall to within inches of the street. Web sling everywhere, with or without the new Web Rush mechanic.
Probably the most significant pillar, in my opinion, is thus: be Spider-Man. It's an unnaturally complex idea, but it's hard not to admire the design principles around it. Every game wants to maximize immersion, but Beenox has the advantage of such a well-known and fleshed out character such Spidey. They start by moving the camera up close behind Spidey -- a mechanic gamers might recognize from the Batman: Arkham series. This way, you experience action in a much more personal fashion. Feel the vertigo as Spidey plummets towards the ground. See his suit in detail, and as it tatters from combat you'll experience the beating he takes from a much closer perspective.
It ends with the gameplay systems Beenox has introduced to make you feel more like Spidey. Free-roaming with webslinging, Web Rush and move like Spidey does in the movies and comics, and experience Spidey's personality and attitude with a robust and well-written story. Combat only accentuates these systems. Spidey has a reckless attitude and borderline training in the luchador arts, so naturally when he gains super strength and agility he resorts to lots of flips, punches and throwing. It may just be button presses, but the way they map and play on-screen is unique in a way only Spider-Man could pull off.
I can't speak for how the game itself plays, as we were only shown a small amount of gameplay. Combat seems to be a mixture of Batman: Arkham style combos and reactionary button presses, combined with a significant amount of quick time events. The Web Rush functionality of reacting to combat scenarios Spidey-sense quick shows potential, but it's hard to tell whether there's depth or much further complexity to the combat as is. It does look fun though, and very true to nature of Spider-Man.
If you're a big fan of Spider-Man, or looking for a fun free-roam adventure title, then The Amazing Spider-Man is absolutely going to be something worth watching for. Beenox has created a movie tie-in that provides a first-hand Spider-Man experience like we've never seen before. Don't expect them to reinvent the wheel, or create a narrative to rival its movie counter part, but don't write this one off before giving a try. The Amazing Spider-Man is a refreshing and exhilarating super-hero title that should captures the spirit and attitude of its young and newly powerful protagonist.