- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Marvel Comics’ web-slinging wonder is back on the big screens and a companion video game helps shed light on his roots and cinematic exploits in the third-person adventure The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Activision and Beenox, rated Teen, reviewed with PlayStation 4, $59.99).

The great news is that developer Beenox continues to refine our hero’s movements and powers, making him look more realistic than ever (as well as easy to control), as he freely roams and floats above the cartoony and bustling urban landscape of Manhattan.

A player controls our Spidey, decked out in a meticulously detailed costume plucked from the film, and slings webs from building to building, effortlessly traveling at high speeds with a wonderful adrenaline rush factor.

As in the previous game from 2012, the hero can run and crawl up walls, shoot webs to immobilize an enemy, pull the foe toward him, or pull a weapon away, and use a batch of acrobatic combination moves along with fists and stealthy takedowns to permanently turn the lights out on a multitude of dim-witted Russian mobsters, super-villain lackeys and street thugs.

In addition, the return of the Web Rush power offers the targeting of long range hotspots to stick to (in a first-person perspective), designated by yellow, Spidey-shaped icons. It really helps to quickly get around town.

Naturally, our hero’s Spider Sense also remains and allows the player to see highlighted clues and special areas to investigate, or more importantly, in combat, to avoid getting hit.

Frankly, Beenox does maintenance work here and offers little innovation in the latest game. I did appreciate the new ability to hang upside down and ensnare crooks. They nearly completely focused on upgrading the high-flying visual moments. That’s not a bad thing (using the “if it ain’t broke” theory of design) unless gamers find themselves bogged down in a jumbled story with not much to do.

Alas, even with a pair of familiar evil legends of the Spider-Man mythos threatening New York City, the plot points come to light like wading though molasses thanks to the excruciating load times required to tackle just about any mission in the game.

I’m hard-pressed to understand why, with the power of the PS4, I must wait and wait to engage in any pivotal mission to progress the story. It’s a continuity killer that sucks any drama from the proceedings.

Rather than getting involved in an emotional tale of a boy genetically mutated to have the powers of a spider and overwhelmed by his inability to prevent the death of his Uncle Ben, we get stuck in a video game.

By the way, Spider-Man eventually battles some legendary villains including the Shocker, Electro (sort of looking like his movie counterpart), Kraven the Hunter, Green Goblin and a certain burgundy-colored homicidal symbiote. That is when an insistent group of side missions are not constantly begging for your attention. Those range from busting petty criminals, shooting poorly framed pictures, rescuing hostages in speeding car chases and interrogating folks as Peter Parker (an event that can’t get pretty boring).

Still, the game shortcomings may abound, but they do not detract from the giddy level of fun in controlling Spider-Man and exploring the hero’s mythos and comic-book origins.

Specifically, my enjoyment arrived early on after rescuing a guy named Stan from a burning building. You guessed it, the co-creator of Spider-Man, Stan Lee, to be exact and the patriarch of Marvel Comics.

In the game, the silver-haired, mustached fellow owns a comic-book shop, aptly called the Comic Stand, and a player can visit the store as Peter Parker.

Point of note here: While in the shop, it was a bit weird for Stan to say how sorry he was to Peter for his loss of Uncle Ben (what a minute Stan, didn’t you orchestrate that?) but let’s go with the flow here.

What’s magical is Peter can look around a classic version of a comic-book store, read some books, look at some statues, browse posters (art from the game) and play a round of combat as Spider-Man using an old-time arcade machine.

That’s right, read comic books on a high-definition, wide-screen television, true believers, and have the ability to zoom in to every color-saturated panel.

Full issues of Spider-Man comics are available including the Spectacular Spider-Man No. 27 (volume 2 from 2003) offering a tear-jerking reunion with Peter and Uncle Ben, crafted by writer Paul Jenkins and drawn by Mark Buckingham.

Or, The Amazing Spider-Man No. 46 (volume 1 from 1967) featuring the origin of the Shocker written by Stan Lee and drawn by the legendary John Romita. It’s a corny read but still loaded with drama for Peter.

Fans can eventual read 14 pivotal comics as long as Spider-Man can find the book icons around the Big Apple.

Reading the fantastic, well-crafted Spider-Man sequential art really points out the game’s inability to offer a consistent story, simply crushed over and over again by the load times.

In addition, call me an old man here, but I was just as entertained by reading the books, swinging around the city and then stopping by Aunt May’s to look at some of Spidey’s costumes as slugging it out with the Green Goblin.

Clearly for me, the simpler parts of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 video game far exceed the clustered, combative sum. The action is adequate and has its moments with visuals looking pretty slick, though the entire package never evolves the superhero game.

I can live with that. I still had fun. I’m not sure fans used to the infectiously complex Batman: Arkham gaming franchise will have the same opinion.

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