Spider-Man 3

Throwing Tobey Maguire off buildings is less satisfying than it sounds

Mary-Jane wants a ride across town on Spider-Man's back. Mary-Jane wants to go faster. Mary-Jane wants to go lower. Mary-Jane wants to go higher. Mary-Jane wants Spidey to collect hearts floating in the sky, as apparently that's how love works. MARY-JANE NEEDS TO SHUT HER DAMN TRAP OR I'LL SHUT IT FOR HER.

I'm Spider-Man, not some middle-aged husband with his soul long ago ground out of him, miserably following his nagging wife around shoe shops. If this is what he's got to put up with, Peter Parker doesn't need some oh-so-sinister black suit to turn bad.

The increasingly dreadful contagion of mini-game mania comes to Spider-Man, of which the gigglesomely named 'Mary-Jane Thrill Rides' are just one example. Though billed as
a free-form adventure, doing the urban Tarzan thing through the impressively open rendition of New York amounts to little more than a stylised way of linking linear quests.

Pedestrians walk the streets, and there are very occasional crimes being committed that Spidey can optionally intervene in; but really, the city's dead. No one even blinks at the sight of a superhero crashing face-first into the pavement in front of them. A quick look at City of Heroes or the Xbox 360's Crackdown demonstrates that a city that reacts to the player's presence makes all the difference to our sense of involvement.

The openness, the lack of loading and the fluidity of the web‑swinging is impressive here, but with New York as silent as the grave the game quickly becomes oddly joyless.

The meat of Spider-Man 3 is in missions scattered across the city, purportedly split into a clutch of different 'stories'. They vary in quality enormously, and constantly interrupt each other. Spidey will in theory be in mid-pursuit of an insane terrorist about to destroy the entire city, but apparently he needs to break off and take some photos of a fashion show before he can access the next stage of the story.

Honestly man, get your priorities straight. The actual movie plotline is held at arm's length. Even with over 50% of the game's missions under my belt, only one had concerned Spider-Man 3 the film. If you want to don the black suit, bringing with it boosted spider-powers, you'll have to slog through a hellish amount of piecemeal dross first.

Almost every mission involves some of the generally dreadful mini-games, such as the thrill-rides. These infuriating races against time quickly require near-absolute control of Spidey's unpredictable web-slinging, asking that he reach a sequence of very precise, hard-to-reach spots for no specified reason.

They're there because of a well-intentioned attempt to include some of the romance that enabled the films to sell to a non-geek audience. Unfortunately, they're fiddly and irritating rather than epic and touching.

They're nowhere near as bad, though, as the bomb defusing mini-game, a horrific blend of rhythm action and Daley Thompson button-mashing. Just when you're really getting into spectacularly duffing up identikit henchmen, one of these hateful bastards always shows up to ruin the party.

The actual combat is much more of a treat. There's a headspinning slew of new combos unlocked as you progress through the game, which can only be truly mastered by the obsessive minds and agile fingers of 14-year-old boys, but uncoordinated hammering yields wonderful results. It's Spidey as he's supposed to be, breaking the laws of physics in the name of comic book violence. Death by health loss is relatively uncommon - apart from bosses, most enemies are mooks to be casually defeated in droves.

Death by mission-failure is rather more prevalent. There's often a timer, and most missions involve reflex challenges, unexpectedly flashing a sequence of buttons on screen that you need to accurately hit. They're a chance to make Spider-Man really show off, stopping a speeding train or rescuing someone from a sinking car, but they come without warning, meaning you'll usually fail first time around. Nor do your sporadic button presses feel connected to the action on‑screen.

So, a mess, but an interesting one. It's the best realisation of does-whatever-a-spider-can in a PC game yet, but mashing that in with punishing mini-games, unnecessary limitations and some terrible villain art rips the happy heart right of Spider-Man 3.

The verdict

Bitten by a radioactive schizophrenic