A Point and Snooze Adventure

Spider-man: The Sinister Six

We’ve covered a number of SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. titles over the years. As one of the four biggest superheroes of all time (alongside SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s., BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen., and Wonder WomanLong considered the third pillar of the DC Comics "Trinity", Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever created. Running for as long as Batman or Superman (and without breaks despite a comic downturn in the 60s that killed superhero comics for about a decade), Wondie has the honor to be one of the longest serving, and most prolific, superheroes ever.), it’s natural for media groups to want to slap the web-head into anything and everything they can. Movies, TV shows, novels, anime… Spidey shows up everywhere, and video games are no exception. Outside of Batman himself, Spidey may have one of the largest and most diverse selections of video games of all the comic book heroes, and that is in no small part due to his long-lasting, and evergreen, legacy.

<em>Arkanoid Returns</em>

Of course, like Batman, Spidey is a hero that naturally works within the constraints of superhero video games. Because he’s a mortal human (unlike, say, Superman or Wonder Woman) he can take natural damage. Sure, he can fling himself around stages, and use his abilities to take out bad guys, but that’s a natural part of the superhero power fantasy. It doesn’t make him a god among humans, just someone with a little something extra to get the job done. He has mortal concerns, a normal life to get back to, and that helps to keep him relatable. Balancing those aspects, his mortality and his personal life, can lead to interesting stories that, in the right hands, could make for an intriguing adventure to play through. Certainly the more recent Spider-man games released by Sony have done just that, to fantastic effect.

Spider-man: The Sinister Six is not that kind of adventure. Developed by Brooklyn Media, this title makes the confounding decision to trap Peter Parker in an adventure game. While I can understand the idea behind this, allowing the characters to shine outside the standard action beats, Brooklyn either didn’t have the time, writing capabilities, or development know-how to make a truly interesting adventure game. Is this better than Questprobe featuring Spider-Man? Sure, but it’s rare to find an adventure game worse than that title. But stepping over a very low bar doesn’t make a game good, and this title is still far from good.

We start the game with Peter Parker (voiced by Buster Maxxwell) visiting the set where his wife, Mary Jane (Laura McPherson) is starring in her first big movie role. The director, though, is a real dick and despite a reputation for being a dream to work with, the man seemingly has it out for Mary Jane. This leads Peter to investigate, but his research is interrupted when a stunt goes wrong on set and, at the same time, the police drive past the building in pursuit of a super-powered suspect. Peter has to decide which direction to head – save the stunt man and help the police – and then from there his adventure spins out in multiple ways.

What he discovers is that the Sinister Six – Doctor Octopus, Shocker, Mysterio, Chameleon, Vulture, and Hobgoblin – have all gotten back together with one goal: ruin Spidey. They want to destroy him, make him the villain of the city, so that he feels the pain that they felt every time they were sent to prison. And then, once the web-head was, presumably, out of the way they’d then share the spoils of ruling the city. It would all go to plan, too, if Spidey didn’t keep foiling them at every turn. All they need is one chance to ruin his life, maybe assisted by one or two allies out in the media, and they could finally get rid of the web-head for good… but only if Spidey doesn’t have anything to say about it.

Conceptually I like Spider-man: The Sinister Six. I think there’s a core of a solid idea here with the adventure game often putting you at a crossroads of two decisions, forcing you to try and plan around events to get the best possible outcome. In theory that seems pretty interesting. In practice, though, not so much. This comes down to the fact that despite its promise of branching paths and multiple decisions that affect the outcome of the game, most of the story is very linear and each decision you make gives but a single scene that then merges right back into the main storyline again.

It’s not until the very end, in fact, that you even get a set of decisions that affect the actual game. There are a handful of different endings for the game, each with some variant of “we caught most of the bad guys but this person managed to escape.” These all come right at the end, where two branching paths, back to back in the last scenes of the game, determine which ending you get. Everything you did up to that point was just filler, different variants on the same linear path always dragging you to the end. Take whatever path you want through the game, only the last two choices actually matter.

It doesn’t help that the game is very rigid about how you get to navigate. This isn’t a wide-open adventure game with a world to walk (or swing) back and forth throughout. Instead you’re dropped into a scene already in progress and, as Peter, you get to question various people, or do an activity, all before getting shoved into the next scene. Interaction is minimal, and any time you’re in a talking scene it’s all just so you can progress the story through its required checkpoints. Then the game progresses for you until it requires the minimum amount of interaction once more.

I wish the game were more developed on its adventure side. A wider world with items to collect and things to do that actually mattered would have been interesting. Peter learns that the director might be a phony from a file he finds in one scene, and then doesn’t do anything with it (and, in fact, later dialogue has him act shocked that the director is a fake, all because there’s only one set of dialogue for all variants of the scene). A better version would have given Peter that file and then forced him to use it on set later, revealing Chameleon as the villain taking the director’s identity. Things like that reward investigation and item collecting. Spider-man: The Sinister Six has no rewards.

In fact, despite the game’s adventure elements being childishly easy to navigate, I’d actually call the game obnoxiously punishing, not rewarding in the slightest. In between small bits of adventure game material the title puts in active moments where Spidey either has to fight a villain or solve a puzzle. The puzzles aren’t bad, usually involving some kind of sliding object puzzler, or a rotation cypher, or something. These aren’t timed and, while silly, at least they help to break up the monotony of walking and talking as Peter. It’s when you have to fight villains that the game really goes off the rails.

The villain fights are all done from a behind the back perspective. Some require that Spidey dodge on-coming attacks, and to do this he has to evade to one of the four sides of the screen while the villain throws the attacks over and over until, finally, it just ends. These aren’t all bad, per se, but most of the attacks are poorly telegraphed and it often ends up that you take more damage than you should because the game decides to move quickly all of a sudden, or the hit boxes don’t work at all. The worst of these is the final Doc Oc fight where his attacks aren’t even telegraphed, and between the bad hit boxes and his fast speed it’s nearly impossible to finish this fight at all.

The other kind of battle are active defense modes. Here you have the villain attack directly at Spidey and, instead of dodging, Spidey has to attack back. This could be shooting blasts out of the air before they hit the hero, or actually shooting a villain as they appear and dodge across the screen. They aren’t that different from the other kind of act scenarios, as you’re still behind Spidey’s back, moving him around, but they do test a different set of skills. Oh, and they’re obnoxious as hell to perform and so awful that near the end of the very first one of these I had to do (up against Mysterio) I just wished it all could be over.

This is the biggest issue with Spider-man: The Sinister Six: its good ideas are buried under a pile of awful decisions. The adventuring would be fun if there were more to it, but there isn’t enough meat in the main part of the game to make it worth sitting through the story. Meanwhile, the active battles are so bad they take any fun away from the rest of the game. If this were a title where Peter and Spidey explored the city, put together the clues, and brought down the Sinister Six one by one, I think that could have been really cool. The one part of the game I liked, the puzzles, could have been emphasized more which, in turn, would have made for a more satisfying experience.

Instead this game wastes all its good ideas on a threadbare plotline, pointless story splits that go nowhere, and awful action. Within minutes of playing this game I wanted the experience to be over. Hours later, I was relieved I never had to play it again.