A hero’s work is never done


In “Spider-Man 2” the movie, Peter Parker is constantly late for work, science class and get-togethers. In “Spider-Man 2” the game, we find out why.

He is stopping carjackings, saving a construction worker from falling off buildings, helping the police win shootouts and breaking up armored car heists.

Anyone who plays “Spider-Man 2” from Activision can say definitively that these are the activities that keep Parker, aka Spider-Man, late. You will know this because of the repetition. You stop the same crimes and save the same worker again and again and again.

Fortunately, these mundane activities are just the filler in a game that is almost worthy of the Spider-Man name. Along with two-bit muggers and the ultimate showdown with Doctor Octopus, “Spider-Man 2” includes battles with such familiar foes as Rhino and Mysterio as well as some interesting crosstown chases with a sort of flying cat woman named Black Cat.

American comics have not made a big dent in the Japanese market, but this latest Spider-Man movie may change that. Spider-Man is a hero who translates well. He’s not a brooding giant. Yes, he has superpowers, but he is small in stature and normal in temperament. Now, with a mixture of live action and computer animation, this superhero really comes alive in the movies.

And in the games . . . he comes alive too, but for different reasons. “Spider-Man 2” is structured very much like a “Grand Theft Auto” game, and it may throw too many tasks at the player. Yet Spider-Man comes alive because the city around him is so very lifelike.

This may not appeal to Japanese gamers. The Japanese preference has been for games in which the goals and directions are more linear and well-defined. With it’s “Grand Theft Auto”-like play mechanics, “Spider-Man 2” sort of throws players into New York and lets them find their own way around town.

To progress through the game, you must accomplish a daily list of objectives. These can be anything from shooting photos to making deliveries. As you finish the list, you trigger the events that ultimately lead to Doc Ock. This is the payoff for trudging through the more mundane sections.

Like the movie on which it is based, “Spider-Man 2” takes full advantage of its Manhattan setting. The game takes place in a huge and dynamic virtual New York City. Many of the landmarks are absent, but Central Park and the Statue of Liberty are front and center. So are familiar movie landmarks such as the Daily Bugle building.

This virtual Manhattan is so big you’ll find yourself using the handy overhead map to locate destinations.

In past Spider-Man games, Spidey died if he dropped below rooftop level. In “Spider-Man 2,” you will find yourself scaling the tallest buildings, crossing the skyline on webs — and dropping to street level to chase cars, talk to victims and enter certain locations.

The overall look is sensational, but it is not without bugs (no pun intended). While the game handles Spider-Man’s web-swinging activities without a glitch, street-level travel is another story. Watch the pedestrians closely and you will see some actually walk right through one another. The pedestrian models are also pretty ugly and poorly animated. They have crude, smashed-looking faces, their lips remain stationary when they speak and they do not move around like humans.

On the other hand, the models of Peter Parker, Otto Octavius/Dr. Octopus, Harry Osborne and other characters are based on actors from the movie and look much better than the pedestrians. (Stars Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, and Kirsten Dunst also provided voices for the game.) Their models are not especially nice looking, but they are recognizable.

Because it accurately captures the flavor of the movie and the feeling of swinging across Manhattan at high speeds, “Spider-Man 2” is a game worth having. It chokes on some of the finer points of gaming, but this being the summer of Spider-Man, “Spider-Man 2” is your best bet at prolonging the superhero buzz.