Spider-Man is - obviously - the coolest superhero in Marvel's stable and it's a shame that business deals prevent us from seeing Nick Fury getting Peter Parker to help the Avengers on missions. But thanks to Spider Man Unlimited - a new game from Gameloft that is available free on iOS, Android and Windows Phone - you can play the experience yourself.
Spider-Man Unlimited is a runner game that is extremely reminiscent of Subway Surfers, but repackaged with a thick smear of superhero art. In this game you will see a lot of Marvel's characters such as Nick Fury, Black Cat and also a whole bunch of different Spider-Man avatars. The storyline has the Sinister Six attacking Spider-Man from a different dimension; SHIELD gears up to fight them off by bringing in Spider-Man from different dimensions with its own portals. In the course of the game, you can switch to versions of Spider-Man such as Bombastic Bag-Man, Scarlet Spider, Spider-Armor and more - some missions can only be done with the correct Spider-Man but the gameplay is the same for all of them.
The game is broken into two modes - a story mode and a free running mode. There are also timed events which take place where you can earn points and experience. You also get extra points and bonus prizes for getting the highest score for the event amongst people playing around the world.
The story mode missions have certain objectives - beat 10 henchmen, collect 10 medpacks, and so on. You keep running and playing the way you would Subway Surfers, and once you've reached your goals the level ends and you earn your vials, experience and ISO-8. In the endless mode, you're playing for experience and vials.
It's not the most innovative set of controls but it comes together well to make a good game nonetheless. But that's not to say that the core game is perfect, even without taking into account the aggressive monetisation tactics.
These are just some of the currencies you need to play Spider-Man Unlimited. Aside from these three, there is also energy, which is needed to start a run or a story mission. At first, the game has unlimited energy, but you level up quickly, and after you hit level ten, each run starts to cost energy.
Died and need to restart? One energy. Reached an experience gate and need to grind the free play mode? One energy please. Replenishing the energy bar takes around ten minutes and this breaks the flow of the game quite badly.
You can speed things up by spending some ISO-8, the game's premium currency. You also need experience - missions have a minimum level requirement, and you can spend ISO-8 to improve your character's level. You can also unlock different Spider-Man costumes by spending vials, but this unlocks "common" costumes, and so you can end up with two or three of the same costume. You could spend ISO-8 to get better heroes, of course.
If you get stuck with identical costumes then you can combine them to make one higher level Spider-Man, which doesn't sound like such a bad deal after all - but to do that also requires - surprise, surprise - ISO-8.
Oh and if you hit an obstacle while playing, you can continue the game up to three times from where you were knocked out, for one, two and four pieces of ISO-8 respectively.
Earning ISO-8 by completing missions should theoretically balance it out, but the game gives you very little of the premium currency, while the charges are relatively high. Couple that with the energy mechanic, and you can't even keep playing until you've built up enough ISO-8 to progress to the next part of the game.
Of course, you could spend real money to buy ISO-8. The game very quickly starts to feel like a very blatant cash-grab and should've been named Spider-Man Limited instead. Buying 10 pieces of ISO-8 will set you back by Rs. 120, while the most you can buy right now is 750 pieces of ISO-8, for which you have to spend Rs. 6,200.
In other words, if you spend your money wisely, you can buy two full featured games for the PlayStation 4 for the same amount of money as you'd need to spend to make Spider-Man really unlimited.
It is possible to play the game without spending money - most of the things that will cost you are actually optional. But even if you have the patience to keep replaying for the slow trickle of ISO-8, the energy meter makes this a frustrating experience.
It sucks a lot of the fun out of the game, and games like this one are the reason why so many people hate the idea of IAP at all. It's possible to do IAP without making a game tedious, but that's not the case with Spider-Man Unlimited.
(Also see: In Defence of Games With In-App Purchases)
This is a pity, because aside from a few flaws, the actual game here is really pretty good. It's a beautiful game, for one thing. The art style is very reminiscent of the Spider-Man cartoons, and the voice actors for Spider-Man, Nick Fury and Black Cat all did a really good job. The voice for the various Goblins from different dimensions was a little bland, and the different henchmen were a letdown, but overall, the game sounds great. The palette is bright and shiny, and played on the large screen of an iPad, looks amazing in motion.
The gameplay itself is solid - it's clearly based on Subway Surfers - you're running with the camera just over Spider-Man's shoulder, and there are three lanes you can move between with horizontal swipes. You can jump by swiping up, and slide under obstacles by swiping down. The genre is now so familiar that the tutorial doesn't even need to explain these parts.
There are also henchmen to defeat - swipe up or down, depending on the type of bad guy, or just side-step them like other obstacles. There are wall crawling sections where you tilt the device to turn, and there are also web-swinging sections where you hold and release to determine how high Spider-Man goes.
For one thing, those bright and shiny visuals we talked about actually end up getting in the way of gameplay. There's so much animation and bright colours in the background that it makes it hard to focus on the game that you're playing. You will run right into obstacles at times simply because they were less noticeable than the random pipe burst the spewed toxic chemicals off to the side of the screen.
The art also makes it hard to see where a ledge starts, or how you should time a web swing, which can have you going splat at times for no real fault of your own. The game needs to be able to make the various gameplay elements clearer, otherwise many of the deaths feel unfair.
The other - and much bigger - problem is that the game does not always register your swipes faithfully. You could be having the perfect round, and then you swipe to dodge an obstacle and go splat instead. In this genre of games, particularly as the game progresses and you're nearly at your objectives, the margin for error is small to non-existent. In such a scenario for the game to not recognise your inputs will almost certainly lead to your death, and it feels so cheap that you will end up spending ISO-8 just to complete that last objective.
This is a pointless waste and one that should have definitely been avoided. If Subway Surfers were to kill you owing to a missed swipe that wouldn't be a big issue because you can just start to run again, but with Spider-Man Unlimited you have to choose to spend either energy or ISO-8 for a fault of the game. This is just stupid and when taken together with the art that can cause equally unfair deaths and the aggressive monetisation policies, it leaves us feeling that Spider-Man Unlimited is a game best avoided in its current state, despite the excellent visuals and overall, enjoyable gameplay.
If, later, Gameloft does change the balance, make the game fairer, and dial down the amount of ISO-8 it requires for everything, while also making it easier to earn ISO-8 without having to hand over thousands? Then Spider-Man Unlimited will be a great game. Until then, you're better off giving your money to Comixology instead to get your Spider-Man fix.