Back in the early 1990s Acclaim decided it would be a good idea to combine the arcade action of Final Fight with the Marvel universe. This marriage spawned games like Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage and Separation Anxiety, titles that allowed you to play as your favorite web slinger as he runs around New York City beating up gang members and other baddies. Sometimes I think it's sad that Acclaim went out of business and there is no way for a company to feature these games on a disc, because if ever there was a game that should have had these two brawlers as unlockable extras, it's Spider-Man: Friend or Foe.
While the game may be in 3D and feature better production values, this newest Spider-Man game might as well be the third installment in Acclaim's series of games based on your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. This newest Spidey game from Activision (the second in less than a year) is essentially a 3D brawler in the same vein as Final Fight, Streets of Rage and, more importantly, Maximum Carnage. It doesn't pretend to be anything more than a shallow beat-em-up, the kind of mindless entertainment that used to be a staple of the arcade market back in the 1980s and 90s. That's not to say it's bad, but it's important to know what you're getting yourself in for when you pick up a game like Friend or Foe.
The truth is that it's hard for a game critic to review a game like Spider-Man: Friend or Foe. When it comes right down to it Activision isn't aiming this game at us older gamers, instead the target audience is 8 to 12 year old boys, the kind of kid who doesn't understand why everybody is complaining about being disappointed by Spider-Man 3. This game is here to appeal to the kind of younger gamer who doesn't feel like exploring the full story of BioShock and doesn't care about the emotions in Mass Effect. We're talking about the kind of kids who just want to turn their system on and start beating people up. Unfortunately that doesn't describe me at all, so in order to do justice to this game I am forced to write the review from a youngster's point of view.
As I already explained, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is an old school arcade brawler along the lines of Rival Turf and that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade machine. As the game starts Spider-Man is accosted by some very familiar looking enemies, so in true Spidey fashion our hero swings into action and attempts to save the day. But as he investigates the situation he starts to realize that a lot of his former foes have been brainwashed and are completely unaware of their actions. As you might imagine, this does not sit well with these otherwise ruthless and evil villains, so everybody teams up to figure out just what is going on and destroy it once and for all. It's a story right out of a comic book, which is definitely the high point of Friend or Foe.
From there the game becomes extremely predictable, you, and a second character (that can be played by a friend or the computer), set off on tour of the world beating up swarms of bad guys and knocking the sense into some of the most popular Spider-Man villains of all time. In all there are five levels, including Tokyo, Tangaroa Island, Egypt, Transylvania and Nepal. Along the way you will meet up with a number of friends (including Blade and Silver Sable) and have to deal with tons of brainwashed villains. The boss villains play like a who's who was of bad guys from the Spider-Man movies, they include (but are not limited to) everybody from Doc Ock to Venom to Sandman to the Green Goblin. By the end of the game you will have defeated (and teamed up) with most of the major characters from the three most recent Spider-Man movies, which isn't a bad thing if you're a kid who grew up enamored by what Sam Raimi was able to do with those films.
Before each level you will have a chance to select what character you want to fight with, you will always default to Spider-Man, but when it comes to going through the levels you can use any one of the villains you've allied with. Once you've selected your team you get transported all around the world and start kicking bad guy butt. For the most part all of the levels play out the same way, you go from one area to the next kicking and punching your way through droves of annoying bad guys. That's pretty much all you do. The entire game is about fighting off oncoming attackers, which ultimately makes the gameplay very easy to get into. All of the levels are linear, there's never any doubt to where you're supposed to go and what you're supposed to do next. When you beat up a group of enemies a door will open or a trigger will pop up that will take you on your way, which generally leads to another batch of baddies. It's all very simple, which is exactly why Friend or Foe is targeted at a younger demographic.
While the levels are linear, that doesn't mean that you can't go around and explore all of the hidden areas found in each area. Each of the levels holds several hidden DNA strands, each of which you should be able to find if you spend a few minutes looking around the corners and out of the way areas found in the stage. On top of the DNA strands, you will also run across a hidden keycard that will open up a secret door in the level. If you open up this hidden location and beat up all of the bad guys that populate it, then you will be rewarded with a brand new multiplayer level that you can play at any time (more on that mode later). Outside of those objects nothing else is hidden, but if you spend your time destroying all of the containers, rocks and other items found in the level you will collect a lot of upgrade orbs and a few gems that will greatly increase your chances of winning the tougher challenges.
Just like the level designs, the combat in Friend or Foe is extremely simple. Basically it works out where you have a standard attack button that you mash to defeat bad guys and rack up combos. If you hold the button down you will perform a much more devastating attack, which you can then use to start a large chain of attacks and ultimately take out a number of enemies with relative ease. Along with your standard attack button you also get a special move button, which, in the case of Spider-Man, equates to a type of web attack. At first you will only be able to use your webbing to trip villains and throw them at other characters, but eventually you will earn web bullets and an attack that ties your enemies up so that it's easier for you (or the second player) to attack them. Despite the relatively simple attacks, each of the characters is able to pull off some impressive combinations by using all of the buttons to string together these attacks.
If you're a kid then Spider-Man: Friend or Foe may be right up your alley, but the game is plagued with a high price point, easy difficulty, and gameplay that is far too repetitive. If all you're doing is looking for a good clean game for a younger gamer than you can't go wrong with Friend or Foe, but everybody else may want to give this one a rental before plunking down $50 on this relatively short experience.
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!