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Spider-Man: Friend or Foe

Taking advantage of the rampant popularity of the Marvel series, Spider-man: Friend or Foe is a multi-platform action button masher published by Activision. The slick presentation kicks off the story with an alien invasion in New York City, home of the illustrious Peter Parker. Zipped up to S.H.E.I.L.D.ís flying ship, Nick Fury informs Spider-man of the devastation caused by the aliens and their relationship to the same type of symbiotic sludge that brought Venom to Earth. With the help of Spideyís legion of archenemies, Spider-man and his rogueís gallery will fight side by side to save Earth.

The opening cinematic is the exactly the same across the platforms, but the narrative is molded differently between consoles and hand-held devices. The Xbox 360 version uses animated movies using the same in-game engine that the player sees when controlling Spidey. The movies arenít overly special in the surrounding static environments, but do convey the necessary information to allow the story to unfold.

This is a straight beat-em up title, but with the inclusion of power-ups, upgrades, and teammate assistance. Spider-man and fellow villain will battle vast quantities of enemies and the occasional boss in various cities across the world. Combat is very simple to handle as spamming the punch button usually takes care of most enemies. Spider-man can also grab / throw enemies or switch over to this teammate when low on health. I found this to be an excellent strategy as the enemy A.I. usually focused on the human controlled player.

Throughout the levels, there will be various items (barrels, crates, metal housing, etc.) to destroy to gain gold coins, replenish health, and get power-ups. Activating the power-up on the D-pad will increase Spideyís health, alleviate this damage output, turn on a short period of invincibility, or start a combo attack. The combo attack joins the forces of Spider-man and his villain buddy into a massive damage dealing attack. Itís excellent for taking down shielded mini-bosses or just a large quantity of underlings. These power-ups can also be purchased on the S.H.E.I.L.D. ship.

In Nick Furyís ship, Spider-man can also upgrade his abilities and stats between levels. By using the collected gold coins from each level, Spidey can increase the damage capabilities of his web swing and shooting attacks. Many of the attacks become very useful in the latter stages of the game, especially the web swing techniques. Increasing Spider-manís stats will give you more health to work with, up his defensive capability, and add more overall damage to attacks on the invading alien forces.

Spider-man can also choose which villain he wants to fight beside during the game up on Furyís ship. The villains become available as Spidey meets them along the way, be it a chance encounter or a mini-boss battle. My favorite teammate is the dastardly Otto Octavius. His fighting skills are top notch and excellent for holding the large enemies during a full scale battle. Villain stats can also be upgraded and their extra power is noticeable during combat.

Similar to the LEGO Star Wars title, this title features in-game co-op joining. Anyone playing the single player game can be joined by a friend without stopping to pause the action. This is a feature Iíd like to see implemented in more action / adventure titles. There is also a versus mode for multi-player matches, but itís restricted to local games only. There are no online matchmaking features built into this title.

The achievements are the most uncreative grouping of tasks Iíve seen since the early EA Sports titles. The 12 single-player tasks split up the 1000 gamerscore points fairly evenly, most of which are awarded for completing cities. Completing a city requires Spider-man to locate all hidden objects and unlock special rooms. The developer thankfully included a tally of the completed tasks in the level selection menu. The achievements also offer a benefit for upgrading Spideyís Web abilities and the health of his villainous teammates. Most achievement junkies will be able to knock out 925 points on the first play-through. The final 75 points require several level replays to rack up enough coin to upgrade everyone. Overall, the achievement set is far too easy to complete for the casual player and detracts from the replay value of the title.

Visually, the environments are clean, but generally lifeless and aesthetically boring. Once you have played the first level of a new city, you will know exactly what the following three levels will look like. The character models look excellent, even if the detail isnít up to Xbox 360 standards. The cartoonish flavor to the character models and animations give the game a unique feel on the Marvel universe. I do wish the developer included a way to alter the camera angles. Often times I would miss a DNA Helix because the camera didnít alter position correctly. As far as the framerate is concerned, The game runs very smoothly on the Xbox 360 hardware in single player and co-op modes.

The auditory emissions are almost all of the attacking variety, but the musical score does compliment the action fairly well. The sound effects never become overly annoying and fit the Spider-man universe. The voice-overs stick to the same cartoonish flavor as the visuals and do a decent job of portraying the characters. Spider-manís voice actor does his best Tobey McGuire impression and it mostly pays off. Interestingly, the same actor did the voice for the oddball Wooldoor Sockbat on Comedy Centralís animated series Drawn Together.

For itís various faults, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is actually quite entertaining if you dig the characters in the Marvel universe. Itís also one of the few genuinely fun, local co-op games available for the Xbox 360, especially for younger players. Unfortunately, the short single player campaign, simplistic achievements and lack of any online multi-player eliminates replay value. This is an excellent rainy-day rental or a definite buy once itís discounted in a few months. Until then, stick to Marvel: Ultimate Alliance for your superhero needs.