As a huge Spider-Man fan and part-time video games enthusiast (as in, I spend enough time playing them that it’s practically a part-time job), I’m always eager to get my hands on the latest and greatest Spider-Man game. So you can imagine my elation when, two months ago, Gameloft’s Spider-Man Unlimited joined the plethora of downloadable, free-to-play games out there.
The basic premise behind Spider-Man Unlimited is that the Sinister Six—Green Goblin, Vulture, Electro, Sandman, Doctor Octopus, and Mysterio—have decided to steal for themselves as much of that mighty Marvel MacGuffin, ISO-8, as they can. But they’re doing more than targeting ISO-8—they’re hopping to other dimensions and stealing the resource from those realities as well, and they’ve brought along their counterparts from those dimensions to help them. Spider-Man is enlisted by Nick Fury to help combat these villains, and receives help from his counterparts in other dimensions through use of portal technology S.H.I.E.L.D. has developed to help combat threats like this.
While the plot was very exciting to me, I was a little apprehensive about this game existing as an endless runner. I’m not particularly crazy about that particular genre of video games, and didn’t have very much experience with them when Spider-Man Unlimited released. I mean, sure, Spidey can do free-running easily, but would an endless runner really encompass all that was involved in a Spider-Man game? I expect Spider-Man to run, swing, web up enemies, hang from ceilings and walls, as well as jump, dodge and strike enemies as he winds his way through a barrage of enemies, and I wasn’t sure this would really do that in a satisfying way.
I’m happy to report that, while the endless runner part of the dynamic does make for a different type of Spider-Man experience, it’s also a very satisfying one. While I wasn’t a fan of the whole ‘Spider-Man dying after one hit’ mechanic—this is a far cry from Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions—I could see why it was a necessary part of the gaming experience. Players test their reflexes and coordination in a manner that Spider-Man would use them regularly, and the resulting quips and one-liners the webslinger occasionally utters during a successful near-miss with an obstacle or hit on an enemy reminds us that this is a game with humor, heart, and bad jokes—in other words, a Spider-Man game.
The game is essentially divided into four parts, three of which are action-based runners. You have the Story mode, in which a particular villain is the focus of an issue; Unlimited mode, where you simply take your Spidey and run through the city for as long as you can, racking up as high a score as possible; and Event mode, where limited-time event runs allow for the possibility of scoring some good prizes if you compete in them. The fourth part is your Team options, which allow you to build a group of Spider-Men (and Women!) from various dimensions. You can recruit Spider-People with various currencies from this area, send them on missions for experience and vials (the game’s non-premium currency), and level and rank up your Spiders as well.
The running is, of course, the meat and potatoes of this game, and generally starts Spidey off on the rooftops of New York City, running down a three-lane path to reach a goal. He has to run, jump, slide, and attack various obstacles (accomplished by swiping the screen) as well as switch between lanes to stay alive as long as possible. Parts of the maps also move to a web-swinging mode (done by simply touching the screen) and wall-crawling/falling modes (where you tilt your devices to change Spidey’s direction), which yield precision combos when you direct Spidey successfully through the rings on the map. The longer you stay alive and perform attacks, near-misses, and precision combos, in the Event and Unlimited modes, the higher your score gets. In the Story modes, there is no scoring; you simply have to stay alive long enough to complete a goal, such as defeating a boss or collecting a given number of items.
While the running may constitute the bulk of Spider-Man Unlimited, the Team screens are easily just as important. When you recruit your various Spider-People, you have to manage your roster. You want a diverse, high-level team that can help you out with the running as well as the off-screen missions. The various suits and characters have a variety of bonuses, some of which are extremely helpful depending on which mode you run in. When you level these characters, you can hit a maximum level that will only let them further level up once you rank them up, which requires either a copy of that character or a lot of Iso-8 (the game’s premium currency). You also need enough slots for your team and to manage doubles for leveling or ranking, which adds yet another dimension to gameplay and strategy.
I know I’ve mentioned game currencies briefly, but as they make so much of the achievement in these games possible, it’s worth mentioning them in depth. Vials, the non-premium currency which Spidey collects as he runs through the game, can be used for the purchase of common and uncommon Spider-Men, as well as power-up upgrades in Horizon Labs (the shop) and, at first, some of the team slots you’ll need. Until recently, it was easy to run through all the vials you’d ever need and exhaust the purchases you could make with them, but now you can also spend vials to level up your characters in what has become a pretty good upgrade process.
IS)-8, being the premium (read: more valuable) currency, allows for the purchase of the more game-changing elements: rarer Spideys, more team slots, and consumable boosts. It can of course be purchased with real world money—these free-to-play games have to make money somehow—but there are also a surprising number of other ways to earn it that don’t involve thinning out your wallet. Daily tasks include one that rewards 3 ISO-8 per day if you can accomplish it. You get a small ISO-8 reward for accomplishing various parts of the Story mode, and a nice 25 ISO-8 for completing the final part—though, once you complete them, that’s it. No repeats. You can also score ISO-8 by occasionally inviting friends to play the game, placing high enough on the leaderboards in the Event modes or the daily Unlimited mode, or as a progression reward during Events.
So, there is a lot to love about this game. With that said, there are also plenty of things to dislike about this game.
One of the loudest points of contention among players of this game is the limited number of attempts you get to play the game. You start off with five Spidey Energy that serve as your chance to play in any of the games running modes, and they each take 10 minutes to replenish. Since this is an endless runner, where you can lose your turn to one unlucky hit or missed swipe, the average player’s run is going to be way less than 10 minutes, and it’s easy to deplete your stock of tokens very quickly and have to wait for the next chance to play. You can mitigate this somewhat by asking friends in the game to send you Energy, but you can only ask and send people 5 per day.
Personally (and I know I’m likely to be in the minority here), I really like this aspect of the game. I know that, without that limit, two things would happen: 1) I would have little to no motivation to play better, as I’d simply keep trying again after each failure, ad infinitum; and 2) I would waste even more time playing this game than I already do. By establishing this limit on play, it forces you to do your best, but also allows for you to play for a few minutes, then come back again in about 45 minutes to an hour, so you’re not otherwise playing this game and doing nothing else, like I’m sure I would be doing in that scenario.
That is, however, far from the only concern players have with this game. In the weeks since its release, Spider-Man Unlimited has suffered from a number of bugs and glitches that have caused more than their fair share of player outrage. From invisible barriers that Spidey runs into, to rewards sometimes not being applied, to constant issues with the social network features and syncing issues with devices, there are a plethora of problems that players have doubtlessly encountered with this game. While some of them are easy to work around once you know about them, some seriously detract from the enjoyment of what could be, by many measures, a stellar game.
One common problem I’ve run into is Spidey’s inability to change lanes when he’s moving up an inclined ramp. You are immediately knocked back into your lane when you try, which is a serious impediment to keeping your pace because you aren’t where you’d anticipated being. I’ve since adjusted my experience by not trying to switch lanes on ramps, but this is something I don’t feel I should have to do. If Gameloft also ever alters the levels so that lane changing is necessary or desirable on a ramp, they would need to address this issue, pronto.
And don’t even get me started on how allegedly easy this game is to hack. Accusations of hackers seem to be, unfortunately, well founded. Spider-Man Unlimited is one of the only games I’ve Googled and found “how to hack” pages about it in the top 10 results of the search until very recently. Combine that with some of the ridiculously high scores out there—I’ve seen some that are four times the score of second place—and it’s easy to see how people could get angry about this game being hackable.
All in all, Spider-Man Unlimited is one of those enigma apps, a game that’s far more enjoyable and popular than it has any actual right to be. With a plethora of documents bugs, glitches, and other technical problems, it’s definitely far from perfect, as many gamers will readily attest. But with that said, the innovative take on the endless runner genre, kinetic animation and graphics, and the surprisingly deep level of costumes and strategies make this a game that people keep coming back to, whatever they may have to say about everything else.
With time and attention, Gameloft will hopefully remove the issues that are plaguing this game and enhance the many positive aspects of Spider-Man Unlimited to make it a formidably addictive and fun gaming experience for Spider-Man fans.