Remember that meteor shower that crashed into Earth, bearing with it the symbiote life form that eventually birthed Venom in Spider-man 3 (the movie)? Well, it turns out that even more shards actually crashed to Earth than originally thought, and now someone is trying to collect them all. Having already displayed their impressive engineering prowess by deploying seemingly unstoppable ‘phantoms’, hard light holograms imbued with the symbiotic power, it would seem that this unknown force is now seeking to unleash havoc upon this world.
And this is where S.H.I.E.L.D. steps in. Nick Fury needs someone to take down this mysterious force before they collect all of the shards and seeing as basically all of the mind-controlled rogues are indeed from this hero’s gallery, naturally Spider-man is the man (or spider?) for the job!
Tasked with saving the world once again, Spider-man heads out to defeat the Phantoms and free the enslaved villains – the only question is: will they be friend or foe?
Next Level Games teams up with Activision to bring us this 2007 beat-’em-up title that aims squarely at putting the fun back into Spider-man. While the movies have done a brilliant job of bring the genre of comic-based movies up to scratch, in a way they also spoiled Spidey by turning him into this dark, angst-ridden hero, forgetting that 99% of what made Spider-man Spider-man was his care-free attitude, constant wise-cracks and just plain messing about. Thankfully though Spider-man: Friend or Foe brings our hero back just the way we liked him and despite the game’s story line appearing rather paper thin, the game’s jokey, goofy tone makes it sit perfectly.
Basically, the game is split into five or so main levels, with each level further subdivided into four separate areas. Each level is based in a separate location, meaning you will be travelling from Tokyo to Cairo and each sub-area has its own setting based in the main level location. The levels are pretty much all made up of you running a gauntlet with some fairly light platforming thrown in, beating up hordes of the four different classes of villain that appear in the game and then either meeting up with a partner at the end of the level or facing down a villain in one of those inevitable ‘boss battles’.
When we say ‘beat-’em-up’ we mean it, because 99.9% of the time you will be bashing buttons to take down the next group of bad guys that keep appearing. The other 0.1% you will be ‘looking for’ hidden secrets, but these ‘hidden’ secrets are usually just lying there in the open anyway! Combat is a pretty simple affair, with you only having access to a single attack button that strings together a couple of combination attacks. However, combine the attack button with the jump button and the web-ability button, then all of a sudden you have a host of different ways in which to dispose of your enemies. In terms of web-abilities, you get your standard web-grab moves, then learn the web-shoot skills and finally the web-wrap skills, all of which can be combined to finish off the buggers in a different way every time. As it is, mixed up your attacks is a good thing because it builds your combo meter which in turn dictates how many ‘tech tokens’ spill out of each defeated phantom.
The tech tokens are used to upgrade Spidey, his pals and his abilities back at the helicarrier, so it is always in your best interest to grab as many of these little things as you can. Of course, what is the point of a game called ‘Friend or Foe’ if you can’t actually team up with anybody? Well, for every single mission that you get sent out on, you can in fact choose a partner to head out with you. As you progress through the game, you unlock for heroes and villains to choose from, ranging from Black Cat to Iron Fist, Green Goblin to Venom.
Also up for grabs are various power-ups like Invincibility, Mega-damage and health crystals as well as the ultimate attack crystal which triggers a massive tag-team cutscene-driven move that basically wipes out all enemies onscreen!
At any point during the game can you switch between your partner and Spidey, but unfortunately the partner’s abilities are extremely limited, meaning that you will usually end up just sticking to Spidey and let the AI handle the rest. Of course the game does feature a drop-in, drop-out multiplayer mode, which allows for a buddy to join in whenever he wants to.
As always, the boss battles is where the game tries to mix it up a little by offering a more varied approach to beating the baddie, but unfortunately the level of inventiveness is not at its highest as most of the time you just have to throw stuff at him from a distance and then move in for the kill. Still, it is a nice change of pace from the endless button bashing you have just completed to reach this point in the first place!
In terms of death and its penalty, Spider-man: Friend or Foe opts for the user-friendly approach, instantly respawning you at the point of death at the cost of a handful of tech tokens. Of course, this makes the game more than super-duper easy, but it does mean that it is more accessible to casual gamers and is impossible to ever get frustrating for anyone!
Although the game is fully three dimensional it would seem, you are forced to play using a fixed camera angle and although this can get a little annoying at time, it does help in ensuring that you really can’t go wrong and follow the linear progression through the stage faultlessly.
Visually, Spider-man: Friend or Foe has gone for a slightly cell-shaded look, favouring colourful, flat textures over complex and dark colours. This gives the game a wonderful cartoonish look that fits the tone of the game perfectly, though it does have a drawback in that it makes the game feel as if it is targeted at kids over anyone else. Nevertheless, the animations are all fluid and well executed, and the ever acrobatic Spidey is a joy to behold. The physics engine is also suitable tweaked to make the action a little more hard-hitting that what it actually is, but this all adds to the cartoonish fun of the game.
A nice addition is some greatly animated cutscenes as well, keeping the cartoonish look and thereby meshing in with the gameplay perfectly. My only gripe however is that the makers decided to reuse a particular animation sequence at the end of every boss battle – anyone ever heard of at least changing the camera angle once in a while!
On the voice-over front however, the game simply can’t get wrong. Some great voices are on display and every single one of the actors fit their characters perfectly! The sound effects are also pretty good, but too much use thanks to the monotonous level designs means that some of them get a little tiring after a while. The same goes for the in-game music – while great to listen to, and it certainly fuels the action, it does get a little monotonous at times and it would have been nice to have an even greater variety to get used to.
Overall, this is a simplistic, monotonous beat-’em-up that somehow manages to be thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing and delivers a fun distraction all at the same time. It can appeal to a wide variety of gamers from young to old, from casual to hardcore and to sum it all up, it makes Spider-man fun again.
Your kids will enjoy it and you might just find yourself getting a kick out of it yourself! :)
Related link: http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/action/spidermanfriendorfoe/