Spider-Man: Friend or Foe’s premise is quite unique - it forces Spider-Man to team up with some of his greatest foes in an effort to find out just who has been brainwashing some of Spidey’s greatest foes with shards of the asteroid that collided with Earth in the Spider-Man 3 movie. While the enemies normally wouldn’t team with Spidey, here, they want to get revenge on the person who brainwashed them. It’s a silly premise, but it works, and the game cops to some of the wackiness of it at times, making it a fairly fun story to see unfold.
Like the other Spider-Man movie-based games, this one delivers an enjoyable gaming experience. Unfortunately, unlike the others, it doesn’t deliver much in the way of depth or diversity. Instead of giving players an open-ended experience, this is basically just a stripped-down beat-em-up in the vein of X-Men Legends that pairs you up with a friend or formerly villainous sidekick to defeat a seemingly endless amount of generic foes called Phantoms, and topple their easily-defeated bosses along the way
While it’s certainly fun to destroy wave after wave of opponents with Spidey’s web-slinging antics and both he and his partner’s fighting abilities, it does get old fairly quickly. No matter who you’re teaming with, the methods used to defeat enemies lack much in the way of substance. You can either pound them down with punches and kicks, throw them off of a high structure with a web throwing attack, double team them with your sidekick, throw objects at them, wrap them in webbing and punch them, throw their allies at them to defeat them, or use a sidekick-specific super power. Upgrading both your sidekick and Spidey opens up some new things, but they don’t add much of the way of depth to the gameplay - they just give you a few more overly-simplistic, and usually one-dimensional, ways to defeat opponents.
The whole experience gets very repetitive after about an hour, and leaves you wondering what else you can do to spice things up. Then you realize that there really isn’t anything you can do beyond taking a break to avoid things getting too monotonous. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really do much, because once the game is fired up again, the flaws are still there, and you’re immediately reminded of just why the game was shut off to begin with. The saddest part about all this is that game is fairly well-made - it’s fairly fun, it isn’t glitchy, the controls are mostly good, and the voice acting is exceptional. Unfortunately, all of these good things are wrapped around a hollow shell that leaves you wishing there was something substantial inside it.
Fortunately for Friend or Foe, its controls are mostly really good. All of the available moves, including combo and double-team attacks for the playable roster are easy to execute, and even the more complex things (like throwing a foe into the air, then doing a jump and throwing him back down in mid-air) are a breeze. Unfortunately, the controls are hurt by the lack of a player-controlled camera, which can make it impossible to accurately judge the distance for jumps, leading to some needless falls.
Since dying only costs you a handful of in-game tokens, this single thing isn’t a game-killer, it is however, an example of just what makes this game far too easy to beat. The tokens can be easily replenished by destroying various objects in the game, and what‘s more, if you‘re out of them, the game will just give you some to revive you. This is another aspect of the game I can see really hurting it in the eyes of older players, as it results in the game offering no challenge to long-time gamers beyond testing their patience and seeing how long they can play the game.
I found that this ‘feature’ made the game way too easy, and killed what little challenge there was to be found in the game. It did, however, allow me to have some fun when I decided to see just how many times I could purposely kill myself and still defeat the waves of enemies that came at me within 10 minutes . Player-created challenges are just about the only things that can keep this game compelling after a few hours of play, which isn’t a good sign, but did result in me playing more creatively than I normally would.
One thing that helps save Friend or Foe is that its graphics are mostly good. The character models and levels all have a clean look to them, while also being impressively detailed. The character animation is phenomenal, especially for Spider-Man, whose web-based throws and attacks feature the most impressive animation in the game. The frame rate also stays constant, without a hint of slowdown. Given how many groups of small enemies and larger boss characters occupy the screen on a regular basis, I found this to be quite impressive.
However, while the crisp visuals help things, an overall bland look to the game’s levels definitely hurts it. They tend to be sparsely detailed, to the point of making the worlds look completely devoid of life or their own identity. The game’s first level occurs in Tokyo, which one might expect to be a feast on the eyes given how vivid it’s been recreated in other games.
Well, here, it’s mostly a series of grey rooftops, with a few brightly-lit billboards, and ends up looking very drab. If it wasn’t for the Japanese characters that adorn some of the buildings, this could’ve just been mistaken for a generic “rooftop” stage occurring anywhere in the world. There’s also a jungle setting a bit later on that you’d expect to be full of color… well, it isn’t. There’s a lot of sand, brown stone, some pottery, and trees. Once again, the level just lacks life, and has a very generic look to it that only adds to the tedium of the game.
Friend or Foe’s audio fares slightly better than the graphics and the sub-par gameplay. The music fits the levels, the on-screen action, and generally does add to the excitement level of the game. It isn’t particularly memorable, but when playing the game, it does its job. The voice work is definitely the brightest spot of the audio, as the cast injects a great deal of life into the characters, which was one thing that kept me motivated to keep playing through the game - I couldn’t wait to hear what the characters would say next. Some, like the Green Goblin, routinely browbeat Spider-Man, while others, like Silver Sable, just tell him to stop wasting time and keep destroying enemies. Given how sub-par so many elements of the game are, I didn’t have high hopes for the voice acting, but Friend or Foe pleasantly surprised me in that regard.
Sadly, it disappointed me in most other areas. It’s a shame that the game is essentially killed by its lack of depth, because if it had some, this would be a worthwhile game. As it is, I can’t recommend more than a demo play for most people, with it being a rental only for people looking to unlock the all-too-easy achievements, and possibly a $20 or less purchase for families looking for a kid-friendly Spidey game on the 360.
After playing it, I was left with the feeling that this was a B-rate product created just to have a new game out in time for the Spider-Man 3 movie DVD release. Sure, licensed games have historically been pretty awful, but after seeing the overall quality of them go up over the past half decade, seeing a shoddy effort like this is very disheartening. I wouldn’t mind seeing the ‘Spidey teams with villains’ theme revisited in a game, but only if the end result could live up to the premise, which isn’t the case here.