Turning a pile of shame into a pile of victory!
Spider-Man: Friend or Foe
Developed by Next Level Games for Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 2; A2M for Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable; and Beenox for PC
Getting it working
One of the newer games in my shame pile, this one booted up and worked without a hitch. I would recommend playing this with a gamepad, as keyboard controls are a bit clunky and don't do the fluid controls justice.
Physics be damned, I'm frikkin' Spider Man!
This game is pure, unadulterated fun. The plot, such as it is, is a thin-as-tissue paper pretext for going to lots of cool places, kicking symbiote butt, and teaming up with friends and foes. It also neatly incorporates an explanation of the difficulty curve, which is nifty.
So, another symbiote-containing meteor has plummeted toward the earth. Unlike the one that venom hitched a ride in, this one has broken up in the atmosphere and bits have scattered everywhere. Some evildoer is collecting the shards and creating hard-light hologram baddie goons, each with a little bit of symbiote in them. As the game progresses, these goons get tougher because the baddie has had longer to incorporate more symbiote into them. Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D picks up Spidey, and enlists him to find all the shards and stop this unknown evildoer. Using the S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier as a world hub, Spidey visits several exotic locales (Tokyo, Tangaroa Island, Egypt, Transylvania, and Nepal in the PC version, plus New York and Paris in the DS version and the Mediterranean Undercity in the PSP version); each location consists of several stages, and culminates in a boss battle. In each location, the unknown evildoer has used mind control devices to co-opt classic spidey villains, including Doc Ock, the Green Goblin, the Scorpion and a host of other comic greats into protecting the shard. After beating the crap out of them, Spidey destroys the mind control device. The villains, without exception, are somewhat miffed at whoever took them over, and form an uneasy truce with Spidey, and can fight alongside him.
As you fight your way through waves of goons, you can pick up various goodies, including upgrade points you can use to upgrade various bits of Spidey and his friends. It doesn't take too long to fully pimp your Spider, and the upgrade system does produce instantly noticeable and satisfying results. You can also pimp out your buddies, but I wouldn't bother with it unless you're playing with a second human; the buddy AI has the intelligence of a plastic bag in the wind. I really felt like I was on my own for most of the battles. Spidey's companion seemed to enjoy chilling out of harms way for most battles, ambling in periodically to moronically die, and then having a picnic at the respawn point and forgetting to come back. Between battles, the companion does a decent job of keeping up, which convinces me that all the potential sidekicks, for all their platitudes, still hate Spidey and just want to see his face get punched in.
Not that Spidey will get hit much.
This is not a difficult game. Obviously geared for fun, things like the double jump and the ability to hover indefinitely mid-air if you keep mashing attack buttons make you pretty invulnerable to the lower level goon. The medium enemies are a bit more of a challenge to begin with, but once you've upgraded Spidey so the bigger enemies emit a shockwave when he trips them, they become trivially easy to defeat. The biggest, mini-boss enemies seem challenging at first (the one in Egypt with the frikkin eyeball staff! AAHHH!), but their clearly telegraphed attacks can be swiftly learned and they cease to be a threat. Some might find the waves of goons and relatively low challenge a turn-off, but for those tragic individuals who love games but aren't actually very good at them (such as yours truly), the game does a great job of making you feel badass.
The graphics are bright, colourful, and strike a great balance between comic book style and utility. The brightly coloured villains and player characters are easy to spot, which is important when larger groups of enemies are jumping around and throwing things. I can barely remember the music, so it certainly wasn't obtrusive. The level design was unashamedly linear, clearly shepherding Spidey from point to point, which is a bit of a shame; one of Spidey's greatest strengths is his ability to swing and crawl to odd places, and this game could have capitalised more on that.
Ok, I've held out long enough.
I'm a really, REALLY big Doc Ock fan. The boss battle with mind-controlled Ock was fantastic; it looked great, was filled with frenetic movement, the method for taking him down was subtly clear, and it was one of the hardest parts of the game (so, moderately challenging). Playing as Ock wasn't half as much fun as I thought it would be. Spidey's controls and attacks are so finely tuned that all of the other player characters felt clunky in comparison. I didn't mind, 'caus in an ideal world I would have Spidey's powers and would stalk Doc Ock, so having Ock as a companion was jolly good. Though Ock generally followed the pattern of being useless in combat, every now and then he'd amble into the fray and hold a goon down, allowing the player to swoop in and land a few Spider-flavoured punches. Those moments worked really well, I felt a great sense of teamwork... But they were fleeting. The main attraction to having a companion are the comments they make every now and then. Though there is a little bit of repetition, the sparking repartee between Ockie and Spidey was well-paced and delightfully corny.
Alas, the final boss fight and reveal was a let-down; I do not understand why so many of the Spider Man games include Mysterio as the big master mind. I can understand they wanted to use all of the best known villains earlier on to give the player character a chance to play with them, but having the incompetent fishbowl-head as the final boss was really disappointing. It is clearly implied that the symbiote shards belong to Carnage; surely he would have been a far more dramatic / terrifying / less camp final boss? A symbiote doesn't have to pull a weak Power-Rangers style upsizing act to thwart Spidey!
Ending gripes aside, this was a fantastic bit of fun. The PC version is a little short, but there is plenty of replay value given all of the goodies to find and collect in each level, and the scope for trying to play through with different sidekicks at different levels. Once Ockie was unlocked, I couldn't bring myself to play with anyone else ('caus, well, it's Doc Ock!), but I'd encourage those less tunnel-visioned of you to try mixing it up a little.
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