If Beenox has one main goal when it comes to the sequel to their Spider-Man movie tie-in game, it’s simply to make it more amazing.
There’s a freedom this time around that the developer, a wholly-owned subsidiary of longtime Spider-Man licensee Activision, has by moving away from the movie world into a “parallel universe” of sorts, something both comic book fans and Beenox are well familiar with. In comic books, whether it’s one-off stories in series like “What If?” or “Exiles,” or expanded major storylines like “Age of Ultron” and “Days of Future Past,” the concept of other worlds where things are ever-so-slightly different is a familiar one. In videogames, Beenox has already explored this concept overtly with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, a game that crossed the worlds of four varied Spider-Men throughout the multiverse.
So, yes, the game is called The Amazing Spider-Man 2, sharing a title with the film due out the first weekend of May 2014, but the game takes on its own new path, following up on events in both the films and in the first game, which itself acted as a sequel-of-sorts to the first movie. Just think of the game universe as Earth1.5 compared to the movies’ Earth 1 (to borrow nomenclature from the distinguished competition) and you’re a little closer to their line of thinking.
This allows Beenox to use villains like Green Goblin and Electro, who are prominent in the upcoming movie, but also expand out into characters like Kingpin and Black Cat, who are being officially announced today as villains in the game. It lets the developer cover things from the movie like the friendship that deteriorates into a bitter, violent rivalry between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn, and also explore how the other characters from Spider-Man’s comic book life might fit into this universe, should they get added into it in the future (after all, there are at least two more chapters of the Amazing Spider-Man films, plus spin-offs already in the works for the Sinister Six and Venom).
“There were many things we wanted to do better from the first game. We wanted to simply improve on every aspect of the first game and maintain what was working right,” said Thomas Wilson, Beenox’s Creative Director and Co-Studio Head, making a lofty goal seem like a minor one.
“We went back to the open-world experience in Manhattan in the first game, but there were a lot of things we learned along the way that we wanted to improve for the second one. First thing that we wanted to improve was the look and feel of the city itself. We’re French-Canadians, we don’t live in Manhattan,” Wilson admitted with a laugh in a recent phone interview. “We have really done our homework, revising the street sizes so it would be more realistic, revised our building architecture, and making sure the districts feel different. It feels more like New York, and that was really important to have a city that felt believable.”
The city is about the same size as the one seen in The Amazing Spider-Man, but that isn’t just a limitation of technology, it's a choice to keep the game fast-paced and playable.
“The [new generation] consoles are more powerful, but I don’t know if they could create anything that big,” Wilson said of the full 200-plus street island of Manhattan. “But more to the point, in the game experience, you have to look at the playing field for the player. Recreating the real Manhattan with the real sizes, I’m not sure you’d get a positive experience. You want the city to feel big and close to the source, but you still want a great experience navigating in it.”
Instead of simple expansion, Wilson and his team want the individual areas in Manhattan to be represented and “feel real.” He admitted that the city in their first game felt “generic,” while this one changes the styles of buildings as you move from Chinatown to Midtown to Harlem.
This is reflected with the missions, as well – many missions are directly connected to the city, and will take players through different areas and through various mission types and objectives as they move along. “Open area missions” will allow players to explore an area the way they want, “go all stealth or go in webs blazing. Do I take the snipers out first, do I clear a path down the middle?” Wilson teased.
Of course, the city isn’t the only change or improvement to the game. Web-swinging has been completely redesigned, and yes, this time it’s anchored. While the first game had webs that attached to thin air, in this game, Spider-Man’s webs attach to nearby buildings or trees – if you’re in an open area, or go to high up, you’re out of luck. The mechanic has changed to a two-button format, with left and right webs, just like in the comics and movies, as well.
“It’s a mechanic now, it’s something you have to get good at. You learn to time yourself right between webswings with the left and right triggers. And you swing between buildings, you can feel that you’re going between them, that you’re getting close to cars,” Wilson said. He knows this will “take some getting used to,” but feels ultimately this is the immersion people have asked for in a Spider-Man game.
Sometimes even superheroes need to take off their costumes, and Peter Parker is a big part of the comic books and films that bear his alter ego’s name. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, players will have story-driven segments where they’ll remove the mask and play as Peter, whose relative anonymity allows him to have conversations and explore areas that would be too conspicuous for a guy wearing red and blue tights.
“It allows us to drive the story forward by having moments where we slow down the pace and give you a chance as Peter Parker to talk to characters, ask questions. Fans will be pleased to talk to some of the iconic characters within the license.”
Aside from web-slinging, there are some new mechanics when it comes to taking out the scum in that reinvisioned city. New stealth takedowns have been added, letting players take out thugs without being detected from ceilings, hanging from cranes, sticking to walls, or even just be sneaking up behind them and getting within range. It’s reminiscent of the Spider-Man Noir levels in the aforementioned Shattered Dimensions, and that was intentional.
“It’s definitely more satisfying for players who want to take the stealth approach to missions,” Wilson said.
There are several different costumes for Spider-Man to wear – 15 in all, and rather than just being paint jobs, these each have individual upgrades, and individual perks.
“For example, if you put on the Spider-Man Noir suit [being officially announced here for the first time], you’ll get a bonus in stealth, so you can take down enemies from a longer distance. You might have an electric resistance or a heroic bonus to gain more hero points for stopping crimes throughout the city.”
During a hands-on demo, we played around with the Miles Morales costume from Ultimate Spider-Man, which will sit alongside others such as Superior Spider-Man, the “Ends of the Earth” Spider-Armor, the newer Scarlet Spider, Spider-Man 2099, and even some of the “Slingers” costumes like Ricochet and Hornet.
The new “Hero or Menace” system is designed to make side missions “more meaningful,” having whether you choose to stop crimes in Manhattan change your public image. The people on the street will thank you for what you’ve been doing, and cheer you on. If you ignore the side missions, though, you’re vilified by J. Jonah Jameson on the news, and eventually patrols called “The Task Force” (that Wilson can’t say where they come from just yet, though it sure seems from the new trailer above that Kingpin is involved) will start to come after you.
“You’re supposed to be a hero, and we reward the player for being a hero. You’ll get bonuses and upgrades for your suit depending on where you stand in the Hero vs Menace meter,” Wilson said. It works the other way, too, if you’re perceived as a Menace, your stats are “handicapped.” The meter is not a “morality” meter, though – Spider-Man is a hero, it’s just about how the public sees him.
The story, Beenox learned, needed to veer even further from the films than the first game did – that one was a sequel to the first movie, and with great timelines come great spoilers, something they hoped to avoid this time around. Instead, the game directly follows the first game, continuing to expand on that universe.
“We move forward from the end of the first game to a time that’s actually before the next movie. Then the story will blend events between what goes on in the movie and new events just in the game. It’s a parallel story,” Wilson explained. “We’re not breaking anything, but we’re telling our own story. And without spoiling anything for fans with the second one.”
Harry Osborn showed up during the game demo, and Wilson confirmed as well that we’d be talking with Aunt May in the game, alongside a few other civilian allies for Peter Parker, but the villains, led by characters like the Kingpin, Green Goblin, Electro, and Black Cat, will be the more major direct influencers on the story. Of course, there’s one more twist, with classic Spider-Man villain Kraven the Hunter joining in not as an antagonist, but as a mentor of sorts to the young hero.
“In the first game we threw a lot of villains at you, but without much backstory. You’d meet them, and it would be ‘now there’s a new bad guy for me to fight.’ I think it’s important to provide context and backstory for every character we meet. The great thing about the Spider-Man comics and movies is that there’s a meaningful reason for why these guys turn bad.
“The idea of meeting a character in an unfamiliar way is what makes it interesting, makes it different in a Spider-Man game. So having Kraven and other characters presented to you not as villains right off the bat makes things very interesting.”
Overall, Wilson is very excited for fans to see all the improvements, but also some of the fun nods added into the game.
“There’s something really cool – we have a comic book store in the game, and I cannot reveal who the clerk is, but it’s really fun and cool, fans will love that.”
Sound like a good place for a Stan Lee cameo?
“Hey, who knows?” Wilson said with a laugh.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 game hits stores April 29, 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U.