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You'll be climbing the walls

Manhattan gets more exciting once the webs are mastered. But Catwoman is blindsided.

August 19, 2004|Pete Metzger | Times Staff Writer

What does the guy say in the movie? "With great power comes great responsibility." So imagine the responsibility of being the tie-in game to the biggest action film of the summer, "Spider-Man 2."

Luckily for Spidey and his pals, the cyber version of the film doesn't disappoint.

Although the movie stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst lend their vocal talents here, the real star of the game is the vast playground of Manhattan. If you can see it, you can scale it: Spider-Man can climb anything. Simply walk over to the side of the building, push a button and up he goes, quickly and naturally. It's amazing how much playable surface area the game includes in such a short load time.

Swinging through the air is another treat, but mastering the use and swinging ability of Spidey's webs takes some practice. The guess here is that it's harder than it looks to swing 50 stories up by a silky strand. I guess the makers wanted to make that part as realistic as possible.

The gameplay of "Spider-Man 2" follows the tried and true formula of the "Grand Theft Auto" series, the new standard for action adventure games. There are the main objectives that move the story and the game ahead, but there are also plenty of petty crimes and hidden surprises that happen to keep Spider-Man's time occupied.

When the web-slinger gets into hand-to-hand combat, the fighting is very comic-bookish and kid-friendly. The bullets shot from the bad guy's gun are the size of Spider-Man's foot. When they bloodlessly hit Spidey, he is momentarily stunned. The only things missing are word bubbles with "pow" and "kazowie."

Fight enough crime and you'll gather "hero" points that can be used to upgrade Spidey's skills and abilities. Though the new abilities are easy to purchase, controlling them could be a little tough for the younger gamers for whom this title seems perfect. Still, once the basic moves are learned, all the rest are pretty much extra anyway.

Fortunately, the game can be saved at any point, and gamers can even get an update of the amount of progress they've made through the story -- down to a hundredth of a percent, for some reason.

There are also different side challenges (such as a swinging race against time through a mapped-out course in the city) and secrets (such as the 250 tokens found at the tops of various skyscrapers) that mix up gameplay options.

But can she jump?

The "Catwoman" tie-in game is best described with a simple equation: Beautifully detailed environments + Halle Berry's sexy purrings + Miserable camera controls and gameplay = One atrocious game.

Explain this to us: If "Catwoman" is a game that is all about jumping and climbing walls and swinging across poles high above an alley, why did the game's makers offer no way to control the view so you can see where to jump next?

The only way to look around -- at the well-rendered locations, I might add -- is to use some screwy feline vision that offers a first-person view of where Catty stands. But even with that, it's still hard to figure out which way is up.

Inexplicably, when Catwoman's life meter seems to get close to running out, more life magically appears, enabling her to continue to miss the same stupid jump because we can't see where we're supposed to go, over and over again. To top it off, she may or may not have nine lives, but we'll never find out because she won't die for us.

If you can stomach less-than-fun gameplay long enough, different photo galleries can be unlocked that show how hard some members of the game design team worked, such as the people who created the areas that the cat explores. These surroundings are beautiful. I guess Electronic Arts spent all of the game's budget on the planning and design team, and none on getting a good camera-movement guy.

More from the good/bad department: Leave Catwoman idle long enough and the game jumps into some sexy Halle Berry-voiced cut screens of the cyber Halle gyrating suggestively. But be warned: With great movement comes not-so-great facial shading. For some reason, Catwoman looked as if she had a full beard, even under the glare of the brightest streetlight we could find.

Poor Halle deserves better than this.

*

Lots of jumping off buildings

Spider-Man 2

Good: All kinds of places to explore in all kinds of different ways.

Bad: A bit hard to get good at the web-swinging in the game. Some cut screens are poorly rendered.

Details: All platforms; $49.99

Rating: Teen (violence)

*

Catwoman

Good: Halle Berry's voice and the well-rendered environments.

Bad: Camera controls are some of the worst around. And we like our Berrys beardless.

Details: All platforms; $39.99.

Rating: Teen (violence, mild language)

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