Locomotion and Momentum in “Spider-Man 2”

Saying that Spider-Man 2’s web-swinging is loved sells it short. In 2004, Treyarch struck gold. To date, it is the most visceral and enjoyable incarnation of Spidey’s unique movement that I have experienced. Unlike many Spider-Man games before and after Spider-Man 2, Treyarch created a way to web-swing that forced Spidey’s webs to attach to solid objects while also conserving his momentum between swings. Combined with a wide range of control over Spider-Man’s movement and jump height, it creates an organic, high skill cap form of movement throughout the recreation of Manhattan.

Demonstration of a variety of Spider-Man’s techniques. Credits and thanks to creator.

Subsequent games struggle to recreate this level of control. Increased presentation values can sometimes make contemporary web-swinging look better, but they often lack other key components of Spider-Man 2’s engine, such as collision for webs, even while they borrow other aspects. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a prime example of this. While they do borrow one of Spider-Man 2’s lauded features and force your web to attach to physical buildings, they do not employ collision for the web itself. At 1:08 of this developer playthrough, Spider-Man launches a web that lands somewhere above the tunnel entrance, but he swings through the tunnel in a straight line. In Spider-Man 2, your web would catch and bend on the upper lip of the entrance, sending you straight into the roof.

Recently, I finally stumbled across another copy of Spider-Man 2. I bought it without hesitation. When returning to old games, I’m always hesitant, unsure whether some aspect of gameplay that I loved was either actually good or nostalgia. It delighted me to see that the web-swinging lived up to memory.

For a game with such a complicated and hard to master move-set, Spider-Man 2 gives players all the tools that they need to get to the fun parts. These tools exist to combat or correct difficulties in web-swinging itself or to help ease player mistakes. Namely, they give players a way to conserve their momentum when not web-swinging or to get them back up to a high speed from a full stop.

At zero movement, the player has several options to get to a high speed without building it over the course of several swings. The web-slingshot, as demonstrated here, is an excellent way to accomplish this. Using a web in each hand, it is directly related to Spider-Man’s unique powers. By charging a jump and adjusting their trajectory with the control stick, the player is able to shoot Spidey off in a wide range, including backwards with proper usage of his sway between the webs. The speed gained and distance covered is a combination of how long the jump is charged, how far back Spider-Man is in his web, and the angle of launch.

The web-slingshot can be used from anywhere there are two locations for each web to attach to. While it is most effective in an alley or street between two buildings, it can also be used between trees in parks. Both webs can also be attached to a single building. This is more awkward than a web on each side, but the lopsided slingshot can still be useful to gain instant forward momentum.

The other notable way to gain speed is the web-boost mechanic. At any point during a swing, the player can press the web-boost button and give Spider-Man a sudden boost of speed. This is accompanied by heavy motion blur, which further drives home the feeling of speeding between buildings. Using the boost on the descent of Spidey’s swing leads to the most forward momentum. Jumping right after ascent begins confines Spidey to a mostly horizontal plane of travel, but it allows the player to propel themselves forward with each boost. The rhythm of swing, boost on the way down, and jump shortly after the ascent begins is one of the fastest ways around the city.

Players have the choice to use the boost during any part of their swing. Using it on the way up and out of their swing will propel them further upward, helping to gain height and air-time. When combined with charged jumps, the player is able to clear rooftops and entire blocks at once.

Spidey has an array of skills for maintaining momentum after gaining it. The web-zip functions as both a precision and emergency tool. It allows the player to yank themselves forward to a target. Often, the player can use this to pull themselves that final stretch over a building that they may otherwise land on, either from free fall or the trajectory of their swing. Positioning themselves back over the streets, with ample space below, means the player can preserve their momentum and fall into another swing.

It also alleviates emergencies caused by player mistakes. Because web-zip can attach to objects low to the ground, the player can use it to save themselves from fall damage if they make a bad swing. Spidey’s horizontal yank resets his fall and can allow him to land safely without taking a large amount of damage or dying.

Wall-sprinting allows players to conserve their momentum between swings. The technique allows Spidey to run in any direction along walls. With enough momentum, he can even run upside down, on the underside of bridges or passageways. Different applications of this technique have different results. Leaving a swing and running horizontally along a wall lets player keep moving. Running off of the corner of the building throws the player into the open air, allowing them to make a sharp turn with a web-swing from the revealed wall on the other side of the corner. Efficient movement throughout Manhattan requires a mixture of swinging and wall-sprinting to maintain a high velocity and full control.

Swinging straight into the side of the building can transition into a vertical wall-sprint, either up or down. This allows for players to maintain their speed even when they make this sort of mistake. Sometimes, sprinting straight up a wall out of a swing means the player can clear the top of the building. Combined with a few web-zips, the player can reposition themselves back over the streets and get back into full motion.

If all else fails and the player has to hit the ground, Spidey will often roll instead of stopping and reeling from the shock of the fall. This lets the player continue moving uninterrupted. If the player lands on a rooftop, as in the previous link, it’s easy to dive off and begin swinging again. If the player lands in the streets, they can then use any of the other tools to gain momentum back, such as the web-slingshot.

None of this is the case if Spider-Man falls from too great a height. Then he will simply die. Unless Spider-Man dies, the player is given many tools to continue moving uninterrupted. Death is the greatest momentum killer of them all, but the player has ample abilities to avoid it.

The rest of Spider-Man 2 isn’t that notable and is much more like the movie tie-in that you’d expect. Combat is mediocre and the plot is just the movie’s with some distractions involving other villains. There are sidequests that appear in real-time at random, but the lack of diversity quickly makes them repetitive. Behind all of that exists a complex and rewarding movement system that attempts to accurately recreate the experience of web-swinging through Manhattan.

While an “easy swinging” mode exists that simplifies the process, the game is careful to make sure that players that wish to attempt complete control over Spidey’s movement are given the tools to do so. Mistakes are bound to happen, but enough abilities exist to alleviate or fix them. More importantly, Spider-Man 2 knows where the fun lies: swinging through the city, pretending to be Spider-Man. It gives the player enough to get to that fun as fast as possible.

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Lectril

I like video games and have strong opinions about "World of Warcraft."

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