Franchise Festival #107: Spider-Man (3D)

Welcome back to Franchise Festival, a fortnightly column where we explore and discuss noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found in the archive here.

This week we’ll be swinging our way through Spider-Man’s tangled web of gaming history. Cover art is from MobyGames. Please consider supporting that website, as its staff tirelessly catalogs key information and art assets for an often ephemeral medium.

Background

Last time in Franchise Festival #106: Spider-Man (2D), we discussed the highs and lows of Spider-Man’s first two decades in gaming. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creation lent itself easily to tropes of 2D platform gaming as the character leapt, punched, kicked, swung, and climbed his way across side-scrolling stages. After some initial creative innovations that leveraged the property’s unique abilities and characteristics, the franchise started to grow stagnant as Spider-Man started to get lost amongst the many indifferently licensed platformers that were crowding the marketplace. With the onset of the next console generation and the arrival of polygonal gaming, it was time for the Spider-Man franchise to revitalize itself by making the jump to 3D. 

Spider-Man (2000)

During the transition between 2D and 3D, the Spider-Man license itself changed hands and went from Sega to Activision. Wanting to make a strong impression right off the bat, Activision sought pitches from various developers that had worked with them in the past. Neversoft initially entered Activision’s orbit when they needed someone to redevelop Apocalypse, a Bruce Willis-starring action game that was stuck in development hell. Using an existing engine that they had created for a Big Guns – a cancelled 3D game for the Sony Playstation – they were able to launch a product that met Activision’s expectations. From there, Activision built on that relationship by assigning Neversoft to build a prototype that would eventually become Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. By the time the publisher was looking for a developer for their new Spider-Man title, Neversoft was interested in adapting a well-known license that would help their studio become a household name. 

Using the Big Guns engine once more, Neversoft created a world in which Spider-Man could traverse between buildings and across stages in 3D for the first time. With the press of a button, Spider-Man could now swing far distances in all directions. The new 3D web-slinging feature would have its most use in large stages where Spider-Man must determine which buildings should be used to arrive at the final destination. Interior levels would push the player to use Spider-Man’s other abilities, including the option to instantly zip from one location to another or the power to crawl on walls and ceilings. Combat had the typical combo-based approach while incorporating the web cartridges more than ever before. Spider-Man could now shoot impact webbing and web his own fists to produce stronger punches. 

Similar to other 3D games of this era, the inability to render a full city was covered up using in-game fog. Source: MobyGames

The story follows Spider-Man as he is on the run after being framed for theft. The player navigates the character through locations such as the Daily Bugle, the sewers, and warehouses before finding that Doctor Octopus and Carnage were behind the grand scheme, planning to infest the world with symbiotes. Interstitial cut scenes conveyed the plot with vocal performances from Stan Lee and alumni from various Spider-Man animated series like Jennifer Hale’s Black Cat and Rino Romano’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man. For the first time, players were treated to the superhero’s famous quips as he would typically make jokes based on the context of the stages.

Wanting the game to be a big deal, Marvel easily said yes to every cameo that Neversoft planned to include in humorous cut scenes. Source: GamingBible

Although the main game was relatively short, Neversoft extended the replayability by adding unlockable costumes and an entire “What If?” Mode that remixed the campaign with new cameos, easter eggs, and jokes for experienced players.  

Due to limited storage size, the Nintendo 64 version was able to retain the gameplay of the original but had to use static images and text to replace the fully voiced cut scenes. Source: MobyGames

Activision’s first game with the Spider-Man license was a blockbuster success that received rapturous praise from critics and audiences. It was perceived as the best Spider-Man game to date and arguably the best superhero game of its time. The original Sony Playstation version was ported to the Nintendo 64 with some compromises and then the Sega Dreamcast and Windows PC with improved graphics. Vicarious Visions also developed a Game Boy Color title with the same name and story but with more traditional 2D based gameplay.

Spider-Man 2 – Enter: Electro (2001)

With the impending release of the first full-blown Spider-Man blockbuster film adaptation, Activision split enlisted two teams to create follow-ups to Neversoft’s original success. Neversoft had its hands full with the breakout success of their Tony Hawk franchise and so the PSX sequel was handed to Vicarious Visions, who had previously worked on the Game Boy Color version of the 2000 game. 

Several X-Men characters made cameo appearances, in a bit of synergy with X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 in which Spider-Man was a secret character. Source: MobyGames

Using the same graphics engine and most of the voice cast of its predecessor, Enter: Electro was released on the Sony Playstation nearly a full year after the Playstation 2’s North American debut. Mild enhancements were made to the visual design, with Spider-Man having comics-accurate black weblines on his costume that were absent from the 2000 game until they were added for the Dreamcast version. Gameplay remained similar with a few tweaks: Spider-Man could now lock-on to enemies and he could use a new web yank ability to disarm enemies or pull them closer for combos.

In the biggest change from its predecessor, some stages allowed the exploration of limited street levels to stop crime. Source: WhatCulture

Set in the same continuity as its predecessor, the game follows Spider-Man as he tries to stop Electro from using a Bio-Nexus Device to power himself up and become unstoppable. Along the way, he encounters other classic villains like the Shocker, Hammerhead, and Sandman. 

Enter: Electro received a more muted reception from critics who saw it as a slight step down with a weaker roster of villains. Because of the dwindling player bases on the Nintendo 64 and Sega Dreamcast, the game received no additional ports. The game remains most infamous for the timing of its release and unfortunate ties to real world events. Released merely two weeks before 9/11, the original game featured a climax in which Spider-Man had to defeat Electro while fighting on top of the Twin Towers. Following the September 11th attacks, Activision recalled the game and worked with Vicarious Visions to remove all references to the World Trade Center. An updated version was released later with several changes made to the cut scenes, final boss fight, stage names, and ending. Copies of the pre-9/11 version remain hard to find to this day because the box art and gameplay itself is identical up until the player reaches the last stages.

Spider-Man (2002)

Treyarch Studios started as a small developer known for producing run of the mill sports games for publishers like Electronic Arts and Midway. The team first demonstrated their potential for producing hit games with well-received ports of Neversoft’s Spider-Man and Tony Hawk games for the Sega Dreamcast. Activision purchased the developer in 2001 and initially tasked them with porting the Neversoft Spider-Man for the Playstation 2. Once Activision made a deal with Sony Columbia that granted them use of the rights to the upcoming Spider-Man movie franchise, the project transformed and went from being a port to a full-blown original game based on the first film. 

The key creatives on the team were each allowed to enter a locked room with the Spider-Man film screenplay for 2 hours and then compared notes afterwards to determine how they could design a game that reflected its plot elements. Working with new hardware and expectations around more realistic characters and animations, the team decided to stick as closely to the model of the 2000 Neversoft game with cutting edge graphics and gameplay refinements. With no access to any of the animation tests from the film, the developers had to guess how the movie would depict the iconic character’s movements while in motion. 

Players could now see the entire city depicted without fog, but traveling below an invisible line would lead to instant death. Source: MobyGames

The game would follow the general plot of the movie while adding in additional stages with bosses like the Vulture, Shocker, and Scorpion. Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe lended their vocal talents to reprise their roles of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin while cameo actor and geek icon Bruce Campbell contributed narration to the game’s tutorial mode and bonus levels. In terms of gameplay, there was the usual mix of outdoor and indoor stages with the occasional stealth mission. The biggest departure from the Neversoft formula was the inclusion of stages with aerial battles against the Oscorp drones, the Vulture, and the Green Goblin.

The aerial battles represented the most cinematic upgrade from the previous games. Source: MobyGames

In addition to the usual unlockables like alternate costumes – including the original Alex Ross designs for the movie – the game’s biggest extension was a mode in which you played Harry Osborn as the new Green Goblin. Using a different play style that incorporated the Goblin glider and exploding pumpkin bombs, the mode followed the same level progression but added a new narrative with Harry looking to uncover his father’s secrets.

Spider-Man (2002) arrived on the Playstation 2, Gamecube, Xbox, and PC to decent reviews on all platforms. The Xbox version was notable for having an exclusive level in which the player faced off against Kraven the Hunter in a zoo. The game sold spectacularly but faced some criticism for its short length and outdated camera that had not improved much since the first 3D Spider-Man title. A Game Boy Advance version was produced as well, but once again had little in common with the other versions.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Partway through the development of the first movie game adaptation, Treyarch employee Jamie Fristom returned from his honeymoon and saw the build that his co-workers had created in his absence. He noticed the way that Spider-Man’s webs would attach to thin air and sensed that this type of traversal was acceptable in the year 2000 but felt less authentic when applied to this more realistic depiction of the property. In his spare time, he started to develop a prototype for web-slinging that would actually have the webs attach to buildings and objects. By the time he showed it to the rest of the team, they were impressed with his efforts but decided it was too late to change things in the middle of development. As a compromise, they said they would revisit the prototype when it came time to plan the sequel.

Realizing they would have to model the entirety of Manhattan, Treyarch worked around technical limitations by only providing detail on the buildings closest to the player. Source: MobyGames

After seeing how the web-slinging was done in exhilarating fashion for the first completed film, the rest of the Treyarch team got on board with Fristom’s vision. Coupled with the seismic release of Grand Theft Auto 3 demonstrating what could be done with an open 3D world, the developers felt an internal pressure to deliver a freewheeling web-slinging experience that had never been depicted in a game before. In Spider-Man 2, the player could use various button inputs to swing, jump, and accelerate above the streets of Manhattan. Noticing that the wall-crawling significantly slowed down the player’s movement, Fristom took inspiration from the first film and added in a wall run that allowed Spider-Man to run vertically on buildings.

The game used Manhattan as its main hub where the player could freely swing and complete side missions given by NPCs. These side missions – which included stopping armed robberies, chasing carjackers, and even returning a child’s balloon – would reward Hero Points that were required to progress to the next plot event in the campaign. 

The game’s main criticism was the lack of variety in its side missions. Source: MobyGames

Unlike the first movie game, the Treyarch team did not have access to the sequel’s screenplay until they were already in development for 6 months. By the time they saw the most personal and introspective story for Sam Raimi’s film, they realized it would be a poor fit for an open world design and decided to use the broader plot points while filling in the rest with their own content. The Shocker and Rhino were added as typical minor bosses while Black Cat and Mysterio were given larger roles in the story. From the film cast, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, and Kirsten Dunst contributed vocal performances while Bruce Campbell once again served as the narrator. 

Black Cat returned once again to further expand on the world of the film series. Source: MobyGames

Spider-Man 2 received immense critical praise upon its release on Playstation 2, Gamecube, and Xbox for its groundbreaking web-slinging mechanics and open world design. To this day, it is still regarded as one of the best Spider-Man games ever made. Outside of home consoles, different versions of the game were developed by Digital Eclipse (Game Boy Advance and N-Gage), PC (Fizz Factor), and Vicarious Visions (Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable). None of them were well-received and paled in comparison to Treyarch’s game.

Ultimate Spider-Man (2005)

Halfway through the development of Spider-Man 2, Treyarch’s Spider-Man team split into two so that they could simultaneously produce another game that was more directly adapted from the comics. Ultimate Spider-Man would be based on the groundbreaking 2000 series reboot from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley. Released at a time while Marvel was trying to pull itself out of bankruptcy, the fresh take on the superhero’s origins was a smashing success both critically and financially. It led to the expansion of an Ultimate Universe imprint released alongside the main continuity comics line and has been regarded as one of the key creative moves that saved Marvel from going out of business. 

The game visually holds up for being the first completely cel-shaded Spider-Man experience. Source: MobyGames

In the first notable collaboration between a game developer and a Spider-Man comics creator, Treyarch hired Bendis to come up with a story set in the canon of the Ultimate universe. Serving as a follow-up to the first encounter between Venom and Spider-Man in the comics, the game allowed the player to alternate between the two characters during story missions that revolved around Boliver Trask trying to get his hands on the symbiote with various players like Silver Sable, the Beetle, and Electro getting in the mix. Spider-Man played similarly to how he did in Spider-Man 2. In previous games with a playable Venom, he was typically a palette swapped Spider-Man with tweaked abilities. For Ultimate Spider-Man, Treyarch decided on a radically different approach where Venom could not web swing and primarily used large leaps and bounds to traverse the city. His combat abilities relied heavily on striking tentacles and tossing large objects. In a surprisingly morbid game mechanic, Venom’s constantly depleting health bar must be refilled by consuming bad guys or innocent civilians. 

Encouraging bad behavior, Treyarch rewarded more health for feeding on bystanders. Source: MobyGames

In terms of design, Treyarch mostly replicated the work they did on Spider-Man 2. The accessible city map was expanded to include parts of Queens and the web-slinging mechanic was simplified to make it more approachable for all players. Once again, the player had to complete side missions to progress with the main campaign. The main innovation came in the new cel-shaded graphics and the original story told through well-implemented cut scenes.

Story scenes were stylized to represent comic panels in motion. Source: MobyGames

Only a year after Spider-Man 2, Ultimate Spider-Man was released on the same home consoles and PC by Treyarch while the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS once again got 2D ports from Vicarious Visions. The console version received similar reviews to the game that preceded it with a notable trade-off: the presentation was highly praised as the first superhero game that made you feel like you were in a 3D comic book, but the open world was seen as a step down because of the reduced learning curve for web traversal. 

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

For their final film-inspired adaptation, Treyarch’s Spider-Man 3 landed on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 and served as the character’s debut on those consoles. Following the success of Spider-Man 2, the young team at Treyarch underwent a lot of growing pains as they expanded to meet the needs of developing for the next console generation. Adding to those problems was the tension that came from the Spider-Man 2 team receiving large bonuses for their work while the members assigned to work on other projects saw none of the company’s increased cash flow come their way. With that success there also came inflated egos as multiple employees involved in Spider-Man 2 believed they were the only ones capable of making the right decisions when it came time to develop the sequel. 

Following common trends at the time, Treyarch incorporated Quicktime Events to boss fights and cut scenes to mixed success.

Jamie Fristom built the initial prototypes for features that were discussed for Spider-Man 2 but ultimately held back for the sequel. The first of these was a prototype for stealth missions that resembled the ones from the original Neversoft game. The second was the addition of fully explorable underground areas that could be accessed from the world map. The stealth missions led to a contentious debate amongst the team, as there were some employees who had wanted to bring those back for some time while there were also others who thought that they broke up the feel of a Spider-Man game. Similarly, the underground portions never quite received the same level of enthusiasm from staff as the original free roaming city did. In the end, the stealth missions were dropped while the underground areas remained. Fristom – who was instrumental in the success of Spider-Man 2 – left the sequel only one year into its three-year development cycle.

The remaining developers continued to expand on what worked before, with an open world game design that occasionally touched upon the plot of its source material. The film already had a crowded slate of villains in Sandman, the New Goblin, and Venom, but the game went further by adding others like Morbius, Kingpin, Kraven, and the Scorpion. The result was an incoherent story that only added more weight to an overcrowded narrative. Tobey Maguire, James Franco, Topher Grace, Thomas Haden Church, J. K. Simmons, and Bruce Campbell reprised their roles from the film to varying degrees of success. Marketing also played up the inclusion of Spider-Man’s black costume, but the gameplay essentially stayed the same while using the suit except with the addition of a rage meter for stronger attacks.

Players were disappointed that the much-anticipated black suit was not unlocked until 2/3 of the way into the game. Source: MobyGames

Spider-Man 3 was regarded as the first major fumble from the trusted Treyarch Spider-Man team and a sign that the 3D open world formula was starting to grow stale without significant improvements between games. Critics latched on to the ugly character models and performance problems that made the game not as fun to play as Spider-Man 2. Once again, Vicarious Visions created a separate version for PlayStation 2, Wii, PlayStation Portable, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS that received even worse reviews. 

Spider-Man: Friend or Foe (2007)

Once again trying to tap into a wider market, Activision had a separate development team working on a Spider-Man title that was more accessible for young fans of the franchise. Spider-Man: Friend or Foe took the designs from the Raimi trilogy and applied them to a more lighthearted beat ’em up game that could be played cooperatively.

Similar to the LEGO games, there is always a secondary character that is controlled by an A.I. until a 2nd player joins. Source: MobyGames

Developed by Next Level Games, Friend or Foe took the aesthetics of the Raimi films and applied them to an otherwise original take on the property. In this one, Spider-Man and the New Goblin are captured alongside their enemies the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, and Venom. Spider-Man escapes and works with S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives like the Prowler, Silver Sable, and Iron Fist to take down mysterious symbiote-like creatures invading the world. Eventually, he recruits all his old enemies and uncovers that Mysterio is behind the plot.

Villains could be recruited after defeating them in a boss battle. Source: MobyGames

The game relied on a basic two-button format to deliver regular attacks and special powers. The powers depending on which character you were controlling, but they typically did the most basic version of their iconic powers. Even Spider-Man could only do a single swing while jumping. Spider-Man: Friend or Foe was released on PC, Nintendo DS, Playstation Portable, Playstation 2, Wii, and Xbox 360. The handheld versions were developed by Artificial Mind & Movement. All versions received mediocre reviews that called the gameplay “boring” and “repetitive.” It was highlighted for being a game that could still be enjoyed by young kids, but any older game was better left playing the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance series.

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (2008)

For their final game working on the franchise, Treyarch was freed from the restrictions of adapting a pre-existing Spider-Man property and were allowed to develop their own original take. Collaborating with developer Shaba Games, the two teams came up with an open-world adventure in which Spider-Man must selectively use his black costume in a quest to save Manhattan from a full-scale symbiote invasion that has consumed allies and innocent civilians.

Many famous Marvel characters would appear twice as bosses: first in their normal forms and then again in symbiote form. Source: MobyGames

For the first time, Spider-Man could alternate between his traditional and black costumes at any moment during gameplay. Each suit had unique fighting moves and individual upgrades that encouraged the player to alternate between them during combat. A new “web strike” ability was added, which allowed Spider-Man to pull himself towards an opponent and attack them in mid-air. Like in previous open world Spider-Man games, the player must complete various city side quests before progressing to the next story mission. During some story scenes, a morality-based decision occurred that ultimately had an effect on the ending and which assist characters you could use. If you mostly selected altruistic actions, you could call upon Luke Cage, Moon Knight, or Wolverine. If you allowed the symbiote to take control, you could use Black Cat, Vulture, Rhino, or Electro.

The game is most remembered for its frenetic take on aerial combat. Source: MobyGames

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows was released on PC, Playstation 3, Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 2, Playstation Portable, and Nintendo DS, with the latter 3 versions done by Amaze Entertainment and Griptonite Games. The main console versions received a mixed reception at the time from critics who were growing tired of the open world gameplay and were put off by the grim take with a story that left a lot to be desired. Since then, it has become a cult favorite as the one of the few post-Spider-Man 2 entries that was able to improve on the web-slinging mechanics.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (2010)

Similar to Treyarch before them, Beenox was a developer that primarily worked on licensed ports before being purchased by Activision. After proving themselves on the PC ports of Spider-Man and other superhero titles, they were given the opportunity to take the IP and develop an original title. Seeking to differentiate their game from the many that came before, they chose to make it a stage-based that walked back from the open world format that Spider-Man 2 had popularized in 2002. Instead, they decided to focus on delivering an experience with 4 different parallel Spider-Men – each with a unique play style.

Each Spider-Man’s stages were distinguished by a specific visual filter that represented their dimension. Spider-Man Noir’s stages heavily relied on blacks and whites. Source: MobyGames

After the Tablet of Order and Chaos has been shattered during a battle between Spider-Man and Mysterio, Madame Web contacts the Spider-Man of 4 different dimensions and commands them to retrieve the missing tablet pieces before each world’s villains can claim them. The player would start as the traditional Amazing Spider-Man and be eased in with the familiar trappings of the universe. Beyond that, there were 3 other radical takes on the Spider-Man video game formula. Spider-Man Noir relied primarily on stealth mechanics to maneuver his way through stages and take down enemies, similar to Batman: Arkham Asylum. Spider-Man 2099 had special bullet time abilities and could navigate through the future Nueva York by diving vertically and avoiding obstacles. The Ultimate Spider-Man once again occupied a cel-shaded world, but this time was in possession of the Venom symbiote and could use more ranged melee attacks.

The Amazing Spider-Man version of the character was distinguished by using more aggressive web attacks compared to other games. Source: MobyGames

For an extra bit of fan service, each Spider-Man was voiced by an actor who had played the character on an animated series before. The performances by Neil Patrick Harris, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Dan Gilvezan, and Josh Keaton further highlighted the differences between the Spider-Men and distracted the player from the game’s often repetitive stage design. Amazing Spider-Man comics writer Dan Slott was also brought on to develop the story.

The game is notable not just for its alternate takes on Spider-Man, but also opponents such as Deadpool here in his Ultimate incarnation. Source: MobyGames

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was released on PC, Playstation 3, Wii, Xbox 360, and Nintendo DS with Griptonite Games once again creating a sidescroller format for the handheld port. The game received moderate review scores who praised its visual distinctiveness and fan service while lamenting the loss of the open world format for something more traditional. The game’s strongest legacy lies in how it inspired Dan Slott to one-up the game by writing an even larger Spider-Verse story in a huge comic event that featured every Spider-Man ever, which in turn would inspire the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse animated film years later.

Spider-Man: Edge of Time (2011)

For the sequel to Shattered Dimensions, Beenox opted to drop the number of Spider-Men from 4 down to 2 in an attempt to tell a more ambitious and streamlined story. The Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 returned in a plot that involved stopping a corporate villain named Walker Sloan from traveling to the past and changing the world’s events by making himself the dominant force behind Alchemax. Facing an altered timeline, the 2099 hero must communicate with the Peter Parker to prevent his foreseen death and remove obstacles from the future.

In-game cutscenes had the player communicate to the other timeline using a picture-in-picture presentation. Source: MobyGames

Both Spider-Men played similarly with only a few differences in their move sets and their ability to dodge attacks. Josh Keaton and Christopher Daniel Barnes once again came back to provide familiar voices for the player characters while Val Kilmer portrayed Walker Sloan in a surprising bit of stunt casting. Spider-Man 2099 co-creator Peter David was hired to contribute to the story and write the entire script.

The game was criticized for taking place entirely in one building, making it a 3D Spider-Man game that discouraged web-slinging. Source: MobyGames

Releasing on Nintendo 3DS, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii with a separate Nintendo DS version from Other Ocean Interactive, Spider-Man: Edge of Time received a much more muted reception compared to its predecessor. The reduced number of playable characters as well as the forced linearity of the much-hyped timeline switching mechanic received the brunt of the criticism. After 2 entries, the return to the stage-based approach was seen as a failed experiment and the franchise would pivot back to open world gameplay.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Half a decade after the last movie-inspired game was released, Beenox developed The Amazing Spider-Man as a sequel to the franchise’s film reboot with the same name. Following up on the movie’s resolution with the Lizard captured, the game’s instigating moment involves Oscorp creating similar cross species experiments that inevitably escape and release a deadly virus in New York City. Teaming up with Curt Connors and Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man must capture the escaped creatures while also having to deal with Oscorp CEO Alistair Smythe and his Spider-Slayers.

Like the film that inspired it, The Amazing Spider-Man was intended to represent a more grounded and realistic approach to the character’s mythology. Beenox saw the game as their opportunity to prove themselves in updating Treyarch’s template to more modern sensibilities. The first major update was to change the combat to resemble Rocksteady’s successful Arkham series but with Spider-Man’s speed and agility. Due to the short turnaround between Spider-Man games, however, Beenox had little choice but to retain the simplistic web-slinging feature that was included in their previous franchise games. As a result, Spider-Man could once again freely swing through the streets of Manhattan but the physics were no longer based on the webs having to actually attach to anything. To make up for this, the game incorporated a new ability called the “Web-Rush” that allowed the player to slow down time and select a location or opponent that Spider-Man could instantly advance towards with the press of a button.

The game strived for a more realistic approach while still incorporating giant robots that were larger in scale than anything featured in the latest film. Source: MobyGames

Unlike the movie-inspired games that preceded it, The Amazing Spider-Man featured none of the actors from the film and went with established industry voice actors instead. A notable exception came in the form of a Downloadable Content Add-on that allowed the player to control a fully voiced Stan Lee. Five DLC packs with alternate gameplay modes, outfits, and mini-games were produced in total.

Amusingly, the Stan Lee DLC depicted Spider-Man’s co-creator to traverse and fight using the exact same abilities. Source: SlashGear

The Amazing Spider-Man was originally released on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. The Wii U would later receive a special version called The Amazing Spider-Man: Ultimate Edition that contained all of the DLC and has become the only way that a modern player could access the bonus content after the game was eventually delisted from digital stores. Beenox also released a stripped down version of the game for Nintendo 3DS and Wii that removed the open world and had a selectable level menu from a hub in its place. Overall, the game was seen as a welcome return to the format of previous 3D Spider-Man games but failed to meaningfully add anything new. In some ways such as with the web-slinging, the game was seen as a step back from what Activision was able to put out before.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Beenox’s next and last game in the franchise would be a sequel designed for both current and next generation consoles. Once again, Beenox took the film’s plot as a starting point to tell their own original story. Instead of creating a follow-up to the film’s story though, this time they took the film’s primary antagonists in the Electro and the Green Goblin and relegated them to subplots. In its place, they created a story about the Kingpin leveraging Kraven the Hunter and a serial murderer nicknamed the Carnage Killer to gain control over the city.

In a large departure from the film, Carnage served as the game’s primary antagonist. Source: HomeCinemaChoice

Improvements were made to each of the additions from the Amazing Spider-Man. The Web-Rush ability could now be used to incorporate dodges and critical strikes. In a major break from previous outings, Spider-Man’s web-slinging could now be controlled using each of the triggers to shoot web with a specific arm. The most controversial change, however, came in the game’s new Morale system. While swinging around the city, the system would label the player as a Hero for stopping random street crimes and fulfilling city quests. If the player ignored these missions or failed to complete them in time, they would be labeled a Menace and subsequently hunted by Kingpin’s special Task Force. The Task Force Officers would then attack the player until enough side missions were successfully completed. Critically, this Morale system meant that the player could no longer freely web swing around the city without frequent interruptions.

Spider-Man’s new dual trigger web-slinging system was impressive but once again marred by the game allowing you to swing from thin air.. Source: Gamespot

The game launched on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One alongside a reduced Nintendo 3DS version from High Voltage Software. The game received mostly negative reviews from outlets who regarded it as a step down from its predecessor. As Activision published their final game with the popular license, many critics and fans began to wonder if they would ever see another high quality Spider-Man game in their lifetime.

Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018)

After departing from Activision, the Spider-Man license landed in the hands of Sony and became a console exclusive for the first time ever. Sony Interactive Entertainment directly approached Insomniac Games to spearhead the title after seeing their highly praised traversal mechanics in the Xbox One game Sunset Overdrive. Recognizing that the rapid release structure tied to movie releases caused the video game IP to suffer during the Activision days, Marvel Games chose to focus on quality over quantity and afforded Sony and Insomniac a four-year development cycle with no other Spider-Man titles on the market.

Sony wisely saw the value in hiring a developer that could deliver the quality citywide traversal experience that fans expected. Source: MobyGames

Looking to tell a bold new story with an original universe that could expand into future games, Insomniac chose to differentiate their Spider-Man by creating a brand new costume with a giant white spider emblem that expanded across the entire chest. In addition to Insomniac’s own writing staff, they also recruited comic writers Christos Gage and Dan Slott to contribute to the script. The game follows a young Spider-Man in his 20’s who must balance his time protecting the city alongside his day job with Dr. Octavius and his relationship with Mary Jane. Through the course of the story, the player navigates all sides of Peter Parker’s life as he takes down the Kingpin and Mister Negative before contending with the Sinister Six.

During select segments, the player could control Mary Jane on stealth missions. Source: MobyGames

With the lengthier development time, Insomniac delivered a web-slinging system that once again required player skill and sound decision-making when it came to timed button presses using webbing that could actually stick to buildings. They further developed the combat system with upgrade trees that added gadgets to Spider-Man’s arsenal. Unlike in previous games, side missions were not always required to progress through the main game. However, the player would be rewarded with unique costumes for completing them.

Each costume came with its own modifications and special attacks. Source: MobyGames

Marvel’s Spider-Man was a massive success that became the fastest-selling superhero game in the United States. Many critics deemed it the best Spider-Man game and also one of the greatest superhero games ever made. The game’s speed and movement earned the highest praise while the side missions received criticism for being derivative of other open world games. Sony was so satisfied with the results that they acquired Insomniac Games and immediately put them to use on expanding the world of Marvel’s Spider-Man with sequels and spinoffs.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (2020)

Insomniac next developed a spinoff title that was meant to showcase the capabilities of Sony’s new Playstation 5 console. For the first time ever, a Spider-Man game did not have Peter Parker as a playable character and instead focused on Miles Morales as the new protagonist. Miles first appeared in the Ultimate comics line 2011 in comics created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli. The character’s popularity exploded once he appeared as the main character of the Academy Award-winning film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

The game respectfully does not tiptoe around the fact that this is the rare superhero game with a black lead. Source: MobyGames

Miles appeared in Insomniac’s first Spider-Man game as a supporting character who was briefly playable. By the end of that game, Miles revealed to Peter that he had developed similar powers. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales skips to a year later where Miles is already deep in his training with Peter to become another Spider-Man. When Peter leaves for Symkaria and entrusts Miles with protecting the city, Miles must step up and protect his new neighborhood of Harlem from the Roxxon Corporation and the Tinkerer’s high tech gang.

Insomniac utilized Miles’ electricity-based venom strike attacks to create impressive finishing moves. Source: MobyGames

Miles Morales played a lot like its predecessor with improvements in a few areas. The developers leaned in on the differences between Miles and Peter’s powers to distinguish the combat in this game, adding special movies and gameplay moments that took advantage of Miles’ electricity attacks and stealth camouflage. Just like before, new combat abilities could be unlocked by upgrading gadgets or unlocking alternate costumes. Insomniac addressed the preceding game’s main complaint by narrowing down the number of side missions that were offered and making them accessible through an in-game phone app. Additionally, they added some more detailed side missions that could be obtained by talking to neighborhood NPCs.

These more thoughtfully designed side missions fleshed out side characters and increased the player’s investment in the Harlem setting. Source: MobyGames

Designed as a smaller experience to occupy players before the next proper Insomniac sequel, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales delivered on its promise of telling a more intimate story while showcasing the graphics and capabilities of the Playstation 5. While a Playstation 4 version was released around the same time, many critics encouraged gamers to wait until they had access to the next generation console to get the most out of what the game had to offer. Players who missed out on the previous game could also purchase a remastered version of it that was included in the Ultimate Edition for Playstation 5.

Conclusion

As the Spider-Man franchise made the big leap to 3D gaming, history would repeat itself in many ways as initial bursts of innovation were followed by several games that failed to meaningfully iterate on what came before. Under the weight of such a significant license, publishers played it safe until dipping sales and critical reception forced meaningful change to happen once again. However, the future is looking brighter for Spider-Man as developers have built a stronger understanding of how to move forward with the character now entering his 5th decade of licensed video games.