- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2012

The web-slinging wonder created by comic-book legends Stan Lee and Steve Ditko is starring in a new live-action movie and a third-person adventure game in The Amazing Spider-Man (Activision and Beenox, rated T for teen, reviewed for Xbox 360, $59.99).

Developers of this free-roaming experience have nearly returned to the days of 2004, when exploring a vibrant New York City loaded with side missions and secrets was just as important as stopping megavillains.

The story offers a solo player an extension to the end of the current movie and builds upon Dr. Curt Connor’s tragic experiments as the director of Oscorp (and nanotechnology expert) as Alistaire Smythe tries to clean up his messes and creates brand new ones.

Manhattan turns into the Island of Dr. Moreau with cross-species monstrosities and infected citizens flooding into the city along with Oscorp security forces and robots, threatening New York’s populace.

It’s up to Spider-Man to save Gwen Stacy, contain the infectious mess and stop Smythe by using all of his familiar powers, not limited to beautiful web-swinging mechanics, midair acrobatic maneuvers, super strength, speedy combat and plenty of webbing options.

Added to a player’s arsenal of powers is Web Rush, a first-person look through Spider-Man’s goggle eyes to locate key hot spots — golden Spidey-shaped icons — spread out across environments. Spidey then can easily jump or swing to the spots. It’s a welcome crutch for the average gamer wanting a full dose of Spider-Man’s potential.

Shades of Batman: Arkham City abound in this cinematic reality that stars creepy, reimagined versions of villains such as Rhino, Scorpion, Iguana and Vermin with some wonderful animations tied to close-quarters combat and stealth-maneuver takedowns. (Web cocoons. ‘Nuff said.)

Our hero’s costume design impeccably mimics his live-action movie’s counterpart and he comes to life through the capable voice of veteran Sam Riegel, who delivers more of an homage to Tobey Maguire than Andrew Garfield in his Spider-Man imitation.

Additionally, the free-roaming possibilities will absolutely thrill daredevils who can swing around the city; stick to, climb and run up buildings; skydive from the tallest towers; perch on a flagpole; and even land on a helicopter’s landing skids for an expansive and scenic view of the cityscape.

Working through the story mode delivers around 10-hours of indoor, underground and outdoor action and even features a welcome encounter with female burglar extraordinaire, Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat.

Adding hours to the fun are bundles of easily accessible side missions (use the superfriendly map navigation system) that include saving citizens from thugs, returning mental patients to the Beloit Psychiatric Hospital, catching a ride with police helicopters to stop shootouts, taking photos for a reporter’s investigation, finding special logos to unlock new costumes, and landing on a blimp to accept extreme challenges with the familiar voice of actor Bruce Campbell egging the player on.

Still, the favorite part of the game for this comic-book-reading elder is collecting the 700 pages of sequential art floating around the city. As the player accumulates bunches of pages, he unlocks 10 key virtual Marvel Comics issues from the 50-year history of Spider-Man.

For example, read the 17-page story in Amazing Spider-Man no. 194 and learn about the first appearance of the Black Cat from writer Marv Wolfman and artist Keith Pollard, or read the 22-page Lizard story (Shed: Part 1) from Amazing Spider-Man no. 630, starring the art of Chris Bachalo.

Or, how about relishing the 11-page origin of Spider-Man found in the 1962 classic, Amazing Fantasy no. 15, with the creative might of Mr. Lee and Mr. Ditko?

Each story panel of each page can be zoomed in on and meticulously appreciated within all of the books.

As Spider-Man occasionally says while capturing pages, “knowledge is power,” and it is awesome to be able to absorb some wonderful comic art and prose that sheds historical light on these key characters.

Fans also get a collection of unlockable biographies of the game’s stars, co-stars and those occasionally mentioned (such as Dr. Michael Morbius aka the Living Vampire) with 360-degree, statue views.

When the last web is spun, the Amazing Spider-Man video game acts as a perfect, conquerable companion to the new movie. The action, however, won’t impress veterans of the current Batman gaming franchise, which remains as the benchmark of brilliance for serious superhero interactive design.

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