Great game spaces: Spider-Man 2’s NYC

This is the first post in a series that I plan to continue for some time, where I take a particular game space and discuss why I think it really, really works. I’m toying with running some also-rans as well, those spaces that really, really had great potential or aspects, but somehow didn’t quite work.

Today, I’m running with Manhattan as seen in Spider-Man 2. To this day, I’m still not entirely sure why it works so well. It isn’t a perfect depiction of the city by any means. It’s even a good leap-and-bound behind True Crime: New York City (of the same generation), a game so accurate that The New Yorker had two professional Manhattan tour guides assess the game. There are landmarks missing, and comparing the in-game map with an actual map of Manhattan shows that the game probably has about a third of the city’s streets.

Yet I felt compelled to actually pull out a map and compare the game with the real thing at the time. So compelling was Spider-Man 2‘s depiction of New York that to this day, despite having only been to the Big Apple once, when I was eight, I feel like I know my way around the city. I can find my way from the financial district to Harlem, no problems. Provided I’m traveling by web, that is.

There was a great review of the game that described Manhattan as becoming Spider-Man’s jungle gym. It’s really an apt analogy for one – perhaps the only – reason that it remains one of my favourite games of all time, and certainly one of my favourite game spaces (and I don’t even like Spider-Man!). Manhattan, iconic, mythic Manhattan, becomes a place that’s as easy to traverse as pointing in a direction and swinging. The city becomes navigable under the yoke of the player’s web. Intimate tours of the Statue of Liberty, of the Chrysler Building, or the Empire State, of the Flatiron, are possible in ways that you would never, ever be able to have in reality. I can climb underneath Queensboro Bridge to Roosevelt Island if I want to, or I can ascend to the tip of the Empire State Building and jump off, stopping my plummeting form with a flick of a button at the last minute, inches from the pavement. Factor in skyscraper markers that predate Crackdown‘s orbs in terms of sheer addictive-factor, and you have an amazingly compelling space to explore, to the point where the game’s main story and activities can be largely ignored and still make for a great experience.

Yet the New York of Spider-Man 2 is very much a New York that could only ever be found in the videogame. The city is something that is to be both controlled a revered – the player’s tasks in the game largely revolve around rescuing citizens from petty crime, deathly falls, and even lost balloons. The city, as Spider-Man’s jungle gym, is an ambivalent force, as it is the skyscrapers that give Spider-Man his speed of travel, yet it is also the skyscrapers that block his path when pursuing a criminal or racing against the clock to save a citizen. It’s a New York where one can assault a typical New York criminal, yet not buy a bagel from a typical New York bagel stand.

There is only one way I can find out if my many hours of Spider-Man 2 can translate to actual knowledge: I’m going to be there mid-next year. If you hear of a mad Australian climbing underneath the Queensboro Bridge, you’ll know what to blame.

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8 Comments

Filed under Great game spaces, videogames

8 responses to “Great game spaces: Spider-Man 2’s NYC

  1. You’re so right. I’ve never been to New York, and though I like Spider-man somewhat, I’m no huge fan.

    Spider-man 2’s New York City was amazing. It was so good that I feel as though I could actually navigate the city myself. Something about the environment made even searching for the ridiculous tokens seem fun.

    I spent hours attempting to reach areas of the game which I felt I wasn’t supposed to. The island next to Liberty (Ellis?) had very poorly rendered buildings, and no human inhabitants. I felt so naughty being there.

    I never played Spider-man 3. I don’t know if I really need or want to.

  2. Well you have convinced me that this is another game I definitely need to look at for my thesis. It was on the ‘tentative’ list, but at this point I’ll just have to buy it. I like your analysis.

  3. There’s probably a really good paper waiting to be written about going places in virtual worlds. I’ve done it in Oblivion, scaled the highest mountain in the game partly just because it was there but also because the view was amazing.

    There’s also a long tradition in World of Warcraft of reaching inaccessible locations and the little easter eggs left there by the devs.

    Sounds like I should start hunting around in bargain bins for Spiderman 2, eh?

  4. Daniel Golding

    Yeah, I’m actually more than a little annoyed that I traded my copy in years ago. I picked up Spider-Man 3, but it didn’t compare at all. I need to find it again…

    And yes, there is definitely a good paper waiting here, somewhere… I’d title it ‘Going places sitting down’, but that’s the title of a lecturer of mine’s paper!

    @ Spencer – yeah, I completely agree about Ellis Island. There was at least one token there, so I guess you are supposed to get there eventually, but it did seem somehow like navigating in uncharted territory.

  5. catfishmaw

    Come to think of it, playing Spider-Man 2 is one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. Exploring was hugely rewarding – I remember when I first found out that I could stick to helicopters which were leaving Manhattan.

  6. Dean

    Spiderman 2 the Game, much like the movie coincidentally, pumped everything up a notch. Being an ardent Spiderman fan, I tend to gobble up his adventures quite ravenously, and after the first game based on the movie, I can say without a doubt there were two major improvements that ‘made’ the 2nd game.

    The first, as mentioned, was the map: It feels HUGE, and more importantly it feels real. You can get swallowed by that city if you let it…

    The second, and probably the more important improvement to me was the web design. In Spiderman 1 when you went for a swing, it didn’t matter where you were, a web would work for you and you could swing to your hearts content everywhere.

    However in Spiderman 2, you were bound by reality: if there’s a building there, you can stick to it, if not, down you go. Not only that but choice of where you spin your web dictated where you swang to: Send a web left and you’re swinging left, so if you’re falling and need an out, sometimes you just have to go to where you can actually stick a web to.

    I’ve spent countless hours annoyed at spending time in Central Park, feeling restricted by the occasional tree to zip-line to. It just felt insulting walking like a chump, when I could be swinging high like the tightly clad wall crawler I wanted to be. In sum, it FELT like you were Spiderman, and as a fan, that was the best thing of all. You just swang around for the fun of it.

    That truly was the improvement for me: Realistic swing engine!

    I really hope I still have Spidey 2 around, Spiderman 3 just left a bitter taste in my mouth [balloons anyone?]

  7. Eric

    I agree with Dean, I DID feel like Spiderman. I always get the very real “butterfly” feeling in my stomach every time i plummet from some of the higher skyscrapers.

  8. Pingback: Ultimate Excitement: Muting Anticipation w/ Research - Blog by Bluexusion - IGN

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