Spider-Man 3 marks the fourth game from developer Treyarch to feature Marvel's popular web-slinging superhero. So with Spider-Man 3 being the first game in the series to hit the current generation of consoles, you might expect something of a leap forward for the franchise--something to really wow Spider-Man fans and take the series in a new and exciting direction. No such luck, it seems. Spider-Man 3 is a lot like the last couple of Spider-Man games. Sure, it throws in a few new wrinkles to the combat system and adds some crazy God of War-esque contextual actions into the mix, but the core game is functionally the same as previous Spider-Man games, and the changes are a mixture of positive and problematic. Spider-Man 3 isn't altogether bad, but it has enough issues to prevent it from being wholly recommendable.
Spidey's back, and this time, he's moody.
Spider-Man 3 ties itself into the new Spidey film by including some of the key story arcs from the movie. You'll see Peter Parker get his black suit as well as run into villains like Sandman, New Goblin, and Venom. But much like Spider-Man 2, the roster of villains doesn't end there. Scorpion, Lizard, Kingpin, and others all pop up in spots. While it makes sense for the developers to extend the scope of the story beyond that of the film, trouble arises when you realize that the film's plot is practically glossed over. There are 10 individual storylines to play through, but none of them are paced well, nor do they ever build up or deliver enough of a story to pull it all together into one cohesive plot. It's almost like a hastily cobbled together Spider-Man mixtape. You get all the villains, and none of the story exposition. There's about as much character depth and story perspective here as is in the film's trailer.
If you played any of the recent movie-licensed Spidey games, you'll feel right at home with Spider-Man 3 from the get-go. Like the previous games, Spider-Man 3 presents you with an open-world version of New York City to swing around in to your heart's content. Swinging works much as it did in Spider-Man 2, letting you latch onto nearby buildings and launch quick webs to zip around as you please. Swinging through the city is easily the best aspect of the entire game. The city isn't gigantic, but there's enough familiar scenery around to make you want to explore, and that the city looks excellent is a big plus. Buildings are nicely detailed, the streets are jam-packed with cars and pedestrians, and the game uses some nice lighting effects to give the sky, as well as reflections of the sun off buildings, a rather pretty glow.
As you swing around, you'll find open mission icons scattered throughout the city. Fortunately, you don't have to go hunting for them, as there is a city map that lets you target any mission icon available to you. Though Spider-Man 3 doesn't change its formula much from previous games, the one big change for the better this time around is the game's structure. No longer are you forced to complete random side missions to get new story missions to unlock. The story missions and side missions are treated independently from one another, so you need only beat story missions to unlock more story missions. The story itself is a good 10 to 12 hours long, even if you never engage in any of the side missions, so you're not forced to sit through padded content that just makes the game longer. Side missions are still worth doing if you need a change of pace from the story, and there's still plenty of random crime floating about the city to take care of. The one bummer is that few of these random crimes or side missions deviate very far from the ones found in earlier Spider-Man games, and the few that do don't really fit terribly well. Even some of the new story missions seem weirdly out of place. For example, why is Spider-Man now an expert at disarming bombs?
Swinging through New York is as thrilling as ever.
One other change to the game is the addition of contextual minigames. Clearly inspired by the gameplay of God of War, Spider-Man will now engage in scripted events of acrobatic and combative heroism, and all you have to do is press a few buttons in time with the icons that appear onscreen. One example is Spider-Man having to leap through an impossibly complex series of lasers that will trigger an alarm if hit. Just hit the buttons or analog stick movements that pop up, and you're good to go. These new sequences aren't a bad addition, though they could have been implemented better. There's often very little warning as to when one of these situations is about to pop up, so there tends to be a trial-and-error aspect to them. The icons can occasionally be difficult to discern, as well, specifically if the game is using analog-stick icons. If there's a lot of crazy action happening onscreen, it can be tough to see exactly which direction the game wants you to go, let alone act quickly enough to pull off the move. Fortunately, the game almost never starts you back any further than the beginning of the minigame sequence you just started, so the punishment for failure is minor.