Dull combat drags down 'Spider-Man 3' game

Peter Parker and New Goblin mix it up high above the streets of Manhattan.
Peter Parker and New Goblin mix it up high above the streets of Manhattan.Activision
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Peter Parker's gig as Spider-Man comes with one big perk: Joyful swings between Manhattan's towers of glass and steel. Dealing with an endless supply of villainy in the Big Apple is the downside of the superhero job description.

Unfortunately, that reality holds true in Activision's new "Spider-Man 3" game, timed for release with the blockbuster movie starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Thomas Hayden Church. Taking a high-flying tour around New York City's bustling boroughs is always good fun, but the game is decidedly brought down whenever you have to fight the bad guys.

Activision's "Spider-Man 3" appears on every viable console. The flagship editions are the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games, followed by lesser efforts on the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and the Nintendo Wii. This review is primarily focused on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game, which are rated Teen.

The game is loosely based on events from the third film. Parker does indeed don the black suit that eventually transmogrifies into the thrilling nemesis Venom. The sympathetic villain Sandman must be brought to justice. And Harry Osborne's daddy issues culminate in him vengefully assuming the Goblin mantle. But while these story elements can fill a two-and-a-half-hour movie, Activision needed to pad the video game with extra activities for Spidey. So gamers are funneled into hundreds of encounters ranging from run-ins with two-bit gangs and secondary Spider-Man foes like The Lizard and Kingpin.

Between missions that further the story, players can take on several dozen smaller missions at their leisure, giving the game a bit of sandbox appeal. How you approach Spider-Man's daily routine of cleaning up Manhattan is entirely up to you, and as a reward for pursuing common thugs or saving citizens in peril you earn increased super-moves and extra talents.

This is a great idea in theory — Activision carried it over from "Spider-Man 2" — but the dull combat brings the entire game crashing to earth. Dealing with these low-level thugs and secondary super-villains is composed of boring button-mashing and an over-reliance on spider-sense, which temporarily slows time and gives Spider-Man a complete advantage. Yes, as a super-hero, he should be able to handle mere mortals, but video games are supposed to offer a fun challenge — and, too often, "Spider-Man 3" does not.

From time to time, the game uses contextual events similar to "God of War," relegating you to near-spectator status as Spider-Man performs a heroic feat. You control the action only by tapping specific buttons as they pop on-screen. When events that require minimal input from the gamer end up being more fun than the main combat, you know the game is in trouble.

It is important to note the borderline unfair amount of time the game makes you wait to get the black suit (which later becomes Venom) — arguably the biggest appeal of both the game and the movie. Who doesn't want to play as a superhero unhinged, drunk on heightened strength and teetering on giving in to the dark side? Regular players must wade through several hours of tedious combat against lesser villains like The Lizard before getting the thrill they paid for and finally getting some face time with marquee baddies like The Sandman.

Where "Spider-Man 3" succeeds, though, is recreating the freedom of Spidey's web-slinging. Developer Treyarch, responsible for the Xbox 360 and PS3 editions of the game, has done an admirable job with the scope of New York City: It's huge and, more importantly, alive. The streets are crowded with yellow cabs and New Yorkers going about their business. Soaring through the city is easy, thanks to simple controls. Players will likely spend at least a good hour or two just exploring the sights, crawling to the top of skyscrapers like the Empire State Building, just to drink it all in.

Even though the size of the city is amazing, the rest of "Spider-Man 3" doesn't look the part of next-gen. Character models — especially in cinematic cut-scenes — are awkward to the point of distraction. Parker looks particularly odd. Cars and regular citizenry are rough-looking. The camera requires constant adjusting if you want Spidey to remain the focal point of the action.

Save for Dunst, all of the film's actors reprise their roles for the video game. Nobody sounds like they were really that jazzed to record their dialogue, and the interminable looping of many quips and comments quickly becomes grating.

The Xbox 360 and PS3 editions of the game run $60, but PS3 owners with an extra $10 can pick up a collector's edition with an extra DVD of content that includes the ability to also play as Osborne's New Goblin. An interesting extra, to be sure, but you have to decide how comfortable you are with telling the video game industry that $70 is an acceptable price point.

"Spider-Man 3" stumbles thanks to dull combat and forcing fans into too many required encounters with bottom-rung bad guys (there's a reason why Rhino wasn't in the movies). These battles are painful to push through, but required to get at the good stuff like the black suit and The Sandman. Only a few hours into the game, you'll likely be as bored as Tobey Maguire sounds delivering his lines.