By Redhotchilimist 6 Comments
Marvel's Spider-Man has been out for four days now. I finished the main story yesterday, so I figured there's no time like the present to talk about the whole thing and my experiences with it. There'll be many nitpicks, some praise and a lot of comic book comparison nerdery. I'll complain about everything that's different from what I've liked in the past, but in the end I'm gonna praise it anyway. I'm gonna with reckless abandon, so you should get out if you wanna go in blind. My three word review would be "Great, But Shallow". The game's a typical Sony release in that it's well polished and has a lot of cinematic cutscenes. It's also got gameplay that feels great to control, even if it's lacking a lot of depth and is a bit too tightly controlled for my tastes. It's well worth picking up if you're a Spider-Man fan, and probably even if you aren't.
Putting down the credentials
Spider-Man's been around for almost 60 years now, and has been so ubiquitous in media that you can know him from all sorts of things. It's entirely possible to be a Spider-Man fan without ever having read a comic book. I figure I should tell my story with the character before I start on the game - not because I know so much about him that I'm more right(there's always a bigger nerd anyway), but so you know where I'm coming from, and which parts of his portrayal I have no clue about. Feel free to skip to the next bit if this gets too self-indulgent.
I started out watching the 90s Spider-Man cartoon when I was what, five, back in 1995. I watched the Raimi films, the Amazing reboot movies and Homecoming as they came out. I got around to the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon back in 2012, and it ended up being one of my favorite Spider-Man things just in general. Real shame about that cancellation. I've tried to watch a couple of the other cartoons like Ultimate - but I didn't think they were very good. As for comic books, Spidey was one of the only superheroes that got his comic book released for a long time here. Norway isn't exactly a booming market for superhero comics. Spider-Man, to my knowledge, never had more than one magazine here, and they pulled in stories from all of the different American ones. So forgive me if some names get confused.
I read a bunch of the older ones from the seventies and eighties, when the editors still translated all the names. When I was a kid and had to visit relatives, people always made sure to put the nerdy kid in the room with all the old comics so he could entertain himself. That lead to me getting some odd points of reference. I read that one 90s issue where Pete finally beat Venom. I owned this one album where Superman and Wonder Woman crossed over with Spider-Man and the Hulk, which was cool. At the time I didn't know there was a difference in their universes. I, unfortunately, read some bad late 90s stuff, but everything got better once John Romita Jr. and J. Michael Straczynski took creative control. Romita himself might be my favorite Spider-Man artist of all time, and while Strayczynski's plots weren't above the odd bad retcon and some mystical backstory weirdness, I loved his writing at the time.
In-between following these current stories, I went back and read the old ones with a good reputation, like the very beginning, Kraven's Last hunt, and Nothing can stop the Juggernaut. They're easy enough to get on the internet. At one point I read a crossover, Spider-Man and the X-Men, where Spider-Man was a teacher for some X-Men and fought a dinosaur named Sauron, which was pretty funny. I also read a couple of issues of Ultimate Spider-Man when I was a teen with bad long hair and enjoyed it a lot(this Peter Parker also had bad long hair), then went back to it a decade later when Miles Morales took over and liked it a lot less.
Our magazine also put out stories from series called Peter Parker: Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man, which did some cool takes on Venom, Doc Ock and Goblin, and was drawn by one Humberto Ramos, who's got a slick, unique style. He later went on to draw Spider-Man full time after Dan Slott took over writing duties following another soft reboot.
Dan Slott writes like he's king of the nerds. Under his pen Spidey became more of a scientist than ever, working for a google-like company of inventors and researchers. Slott also seems to remember things everyone else would rather forget about, and has at various times brought back characters from the clone saga, Doc Ock's ex and the Living Brain. He'd use old artwork from the 60s for flashbacks, and draw new scenes that happened long ago in an older style. I always got the sense he was just a huge fanboy who finally had the shot to write stories with the characters he loved, and he took that chance to do anything weird he wanted.
His stories are fun, but messy. At his worst they read like a parody of intricate, crossover-happy, self-referential superhero comics. At his best they they're great high concept stories that show the whole Spider-Man setting from a new angle. There's one where all of Manhattan get Spider-Man powers. I believe there are two events at this point where every Spider-Man from every adaptation ever cross over, though that's a bit ahead of where I last stopped reading. At one point Ock takes the Sinister Six on an international trip and tries to burn the entire world. This one time the Lizard regains his human form but retains his bestial personality, and The Lizard has to try and play human while desperately searching for a way to turn back into a monster.
Slott has introduced a couple of new characters into the mix, for instance Mr. Negative and Yuri Watanabe, who are barely a decade old. It sounds like a long time, but in terms of comic book character mainstream awareness they might as well not have existed until this game. This is their big breakout hit. Anyway, besides his new characters, Slott's done a lot of memorable arcs. His best storyline is Superior Spider-Man.
In it, Doctor Octopus was terminally ill after a lifetime of getting the shit kicked out of him and decided to get out of it by switching minds with Spider-Man, Freaky Friday style. And he succeeds, Peter Parker's mind dying in his old body as he lives on in Peter's body. However, Spider-Man's residual memories gives Doc Ock a minor case of a conscience, and he spends the next 30 issues doing his best to succeed the old Spider-Man and be a better man than both Peter and that he used to be himself. He gets into a new relationship, he gets a good job, he tries his best to be a good hero. There's eternal appeal to that kinda reformed bad guy story, where a hero with a criminal past tries starting a better life, and Otto is similar enough to Peter that he works as a dark reflection of him.
But y'know, it's still Dr. Octopus, and all his missteps, arrogance, skewed morals and harsh justice catch up to him as the city descends into total chaos and he has to bring Spider-Man's mind back so he can clean it all up. And you don't just get Otto on the outside interacting with all the familiar Spider-Man trappings in new ways, you get remnants of Peter Parker's mind on the inside fighting back to regain control, in the most perfect mind battles ever. It's an incredible story, and it cemented Dr. Octopus as the absolute best Spider-Man villain in my eyes.
Nailing down the influences
Dan Slott was one of four writers on this game(one of the other credited is Christos Gage, who co-wrote a bunch of Slott's comics. The other three, Jon Paquette, Benjamin Arfmann and Kelsey Beachum, I'm assuming are Insomniac employees). While I have no clue how much or little Slott actually wrote, his influence is sure felt. The most obvious things in this game that differentiates it from other Spider-Man games is the inclusion of his elements- Aunt May working at the FEAST center is entirely a Dan Slott thing. Yuri Watanabe is here, in a much more prominent role than in the comics, as Spideys liaison with the police. She's essentially playing the Commissioner Gordon role. Mr. Negative also has a bigger role here than he ever had in any of the comics I read, and has been almost completely retooled. We'll get to that in a minute. Like in the comics, Spider-Man has given up on his Bugle job and started working for a laboratory, and he's much more of a tech-oriented crazy inventor kinda character than normal. Only this time, instead of his workplace being the think tank Horizon Labs, it's Dr. Octavius' lab. If the Raft existed before Slott's run, I never heard of it.
There are three main influences on this game's depiction of Spider-Man, as far as I can tell:
- Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man, as described above.
- The Ultimate universe, which was a line of primarily Spider-Man focused books set in an alternate, modern, more "grounded" take on the comics. Specifically, the character of Miles Morales comes from Ultimate Spider-Man. I also believe that's the first alternate universe where Norman Osborn was depicted as responsible for turning half of all Spider-Man villains into villains, a feat he reprises to some extent here, and also the first place where the spider that bit Spidey was depicted as happening at an Oscorp facility. I also think this is where Venom was first depicted as a lab experiment rather than an alien.
- The movies, from the Raimi films to Homecoming. MJ's position as the childhood friend, the music, Peter's internship for Doc Ock, ending the story with a funeral, Spidey's eye lenses, that one train joke, the Stan Lee cameo etc.
A lot of the movie stuff overlaps with the Ultimate universe and is difficult for me to determine. The movies started stealing hard from Ultimate past Raimi, because the Ultimate comics tried being more "realistic". In practice, it just means they're more like Hollywood movies. This gives the movie directors the out of pulling something from the ultimate comics and be able to claim it's from a comic, despite it being very movie-like and mundane in the first place. From their perspective, I suppose it's an easy guideline for how to take a campy, fun, weird comic book thing(like a trained pet bird) and turn it into something more grounded(a drone). Scorpion from Homecoming is a good example - He's nothing like the original Scorpion, but he's a dead ringer for the Gargan from the Ultimate comics who's just a thug.
If it sounds like I've got a chip on my shoulder about the Ultimate universe, that's because I do - When I dislike some dull and mundane "new take" in a new adaptation there's always gonna be some comment saying the Ultimate comics did it first. Thanks, Ultimate Spider-Man.
The story in a nutshell
At the start of the game, Spidey puts Kingpin in prison after years of conflict. In prison is also a bunch of his older enemies. Peter Parker is working for his childhood idol, idealist scientist genius Otto Octavius, who's trying to make advanced prostheses. Pete used to date MJ, who in this setting is an investigative journalist for the Daily Bugle, but they broke up months ago. Aunt May is working at FEAST, a homeless center headed by billionaire philantropist Martin Li. Martin Li is secretly Mr. Negative, a crime lord with superpowers. Norman Osborn, in this universe the mayor of New York City, is currently holding a re-election campaign. Harry Osborn, Peter and MJ's childhood friend, is on a trip to Europe.
Martin Li is outraged at Norman Osborn's success, because he got his superpowers in an accident caused by an experimental gene therapy Osborn used on him. The same accident killed his parents. He starts a gang war against the remains of Kingpin's empire and terrorizes New York, at the same time looking for "Devil's Breath" - a chemical Osborn developed as a cure for all diseases, but which turned out to be a deadly bioweapon. This was also the therapy responsible for giving Li his powers in the first place. Li's plan is to unleash this chemical on New York, killing thousands, and reveal Osborn as the monster who created it and kept it in New York City.
Spider-Man does his best to track down Mr. Negative and stop his rampage across the city. He gets help from MJ, Yuri Watanabe, his contact on the police force, and Miles Morales, who's the son of one of Mr. Negative's victims.
Spider-Man finally defeats Mr. Negative and puts him in prison. Meanwhile, Dr. Octavius' mental state has taken a turn for the worse as his funding was taken away by Osborn. He also knows Osborn is secretly a giant ass, and worked for him on the project that made Martin Li into Mr. Negative. With Peter's help he's developed his trademark mechanical tentacles, but the neural interface he uses to control them has a severe effect on his brain. He attacks the prison, freeing Spider-Man's enemies'(Mr. Negative, Scorpion, Rhino, Vulture and Electro, not Kingpin), and finally unleashes Devil's Breath on the city, infecting thousands.
Spider-Man beats them all up and turns them in to the police, saving the city. There's more to it than that, but we'll get to it.
Like a movie
I dunno how mandated this is, I seriously doubt this is something decided at the top as opposed to something the individual companies just decided on their own, but Sony's big exclusive games these days tend to follow some guidelines. Namely, attempts at beautiful and realistic graphics, and Hollywood movie-like cinematic storytelling. You don't see a new big cartoony 3d platformer(except for... that one), you instead see HD remakes of ones from PS2 and PS1. And even when Insomniac remade Ratchet & Clank 1 for PS4, it's filled with clips from that lauded movie they made in lieu of the original game's plot. I get the impression that Sony wants to show off what the PS4 can do, and have decided huge cutscenes and realistic rendering of faces and environments is the way to do that. Hence why all their big games now give me Hollywood summer blockbuster vibes.
With the green light from Marvel, Gavin and I got to work oncoming up with a design that fit what Marvel and Sony were looking for in a Spider-Suit.— ⛬ XAVIER ⛬ (@XCK3D) April 12, 2018
For Marvel, that means faithfully representing Spider-Man in the best way possible. For Sony, it means making something with stunning visuals that could only be achieved with the power of the PS4.— ⛬ XAVIER ⛬ (@XCK3D) April 12, 2018
As a result, Marvel's Spider-Man visually looks more like any of the movies than the cartoons or comic books. People's faces have more realistic pores and wrinkles than anyone would realistically ask for. The photos in this game opt for images of real people, even. In terms of storytelling, I don't mind the cutscenes. They're a great tool, and the story would be poorer without them. They're even well directed. To an extent. They're not weird enough, if you see what I mean. If you looked at something like the Sam Raimi trilogy, you could see the director doing all this wacky stuff with camera cuts and directions, heightening the mood of a scene. In Marvel's Spider-Man, every scene looks competent, but generically so. There's no unique voice to it. But it can be taken seriously, it mostly looks beautiful, it's effective, it's overall good. I think it's maybe a little sexless, but compared to whatever storytelling the Spider-Man games have attempted before, it's night and day.
Great performances from the voice actors, too. This is the best Laura Bailey has ever been, in my opinion, as this game's MJ. Yuri Lowenthal's Peter Parker/Spidey is second only to Spectacular Spider-Man's Josh Keaton(Josh has a minor and unrecognizable role in this game as Electro of all people). You close your eyes and it's easy to hear a Persona 4 reunion, but they work excellently. William Salyers voices Dr. Octopus, and his works is something else. He absolutely nails both the calm, caring Otto and manages to ham it up to eleven once the turn happens. I had heard him before also, but that's not a recognizable performance.
The best part about the cinematics for me is that it enhances both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. We get a lot of scenes of Spider-Man just doing what he does. Way more than most of the movies have time for, 'cause they only run for two hours and have to fit in an origin story, a plot where Spider-Man loses his powers/doesn't want to be Spider-Man anymore, or a plot where Spidey is just not swinging around in order to differentiate him from himself. You not only get to play as a cool Spider-Man in this game, you get to see him kick ass in cutscenes, too. And not just kick ass, but rescue bystanders, intimidate crooks and chat with the populace. It's great to just see Spider-Man be Spider-Man for once, especially as one that has been Spider-Man for a long time. On the big screen, he's only been the rookie. In the comics, in the cartoons, he's been plenty experienced. It's fun to see that portrayed here. Even though he's only 23, he seems more mature than any of his film adaptations, and he handles extreme situations perfectly. In a movie you might see one big scene of Spider-Man stopping a train or something. In this game, such a scene is just one of many.
And then on the other hand, we get to chill with a calmer Peter Parker scene after a big action mission, which gives us ample context for our side characters and this universe's setting. It's something the other games often neglect.
Many of the more outlandish designs of the characters are toned down, which works better for some than others. Dr. Octopus works fine with a receded hairline. Silver Sable, unfortunately, often looks more like an old lady in a lab coat than a cool mercenary. Can't do both a white coat, gray hair and a grandma haircut. I was mad about Norman Osborn thanks to a particularly unflattering image from before release, but in-game he does work as a mundane version of the comic book supervillain. Helps that he looks super evil.
Aunt May is completely changed and unrecognizable, and I can't say I'm a fan. Feels like they just cast some random old lady. Martin Li and Yuri look spot on. The faces overall look... I'd say, largely good? Random NPCs often have a bit of the Bioware issue about them where they're clearly assembles from prefab parts, but I didn't notice it much except for one player of a chess game inside the FEAST center.
I wish Peter Parker didn't have as many folds around his mouth. Like yes, it's realistic that faces have wrinkles. But there's a reason not all art styles go for super detailed depictions of wrinkles in someone's face. As realistic as the faces in this game are, they are not photorealistic, and are gonna look as aged in only a few years as the expressions your support team makes in Metal Gear Rising Revengeance. However, the detail on display does help the environments feel real and lived in. While I could do with a little less real in everyone's faces, I think it has its place, and that place is...
New York City looks phenomenal in this game. I dunno how Insomniac did it. There's been a lot of urban open world games, but this is the first I've played where I could see myself just exploring the streets and taking pictures. Take a look at the last game, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and both on a tech-level and an artistry level the evolution is just staggering. As a Norwegian who's never been to the US, I have a vague understanding of it from various movies, and of course, all sorts of Spider-Man adaptations. But moving through this presumably fairly compressed version of New York just takes the breath away from me, it's so huge and so good-looking. It's familiar from all of Spider-Man's adventures, but this is the first time I feel like I can tell how it all fits into each other.
Things get a bit interchangable in the middle of town, and if you look too close you can see the seams and tricks they're using to keep it performing at a steady 30 FPS, but it's an incredibly impressive city. If you have to try and use a photorealistic approach, this is how you do it. The way they made this environment look helped a lot with making me feel like I was in Spider-Man's shoes. The rain, the night, the sunset, it all felt appropriate and looked beautiful(Well, not the rain. The rain felt as miserable as real rain does). I wanna see them change seasons for a sequel so that I can see their take on a hot summer with long days or a cold, dark winter.
If I do ever travel to New York, Marvel's Spider-Man is singlehandedly responsible. They did an awesome job. And it's not limited to the outside, there's also a huge number of mission-specific locations, like Grand Central and Fisk Tower, which look equally wonderful. I'd even extend the compliment to small details like clothing textures and items. The faces might be a bit too much for me, but everything else pulls me into the world they made.
The swingin' around
Spider-Man 2's game adaptation is popular for having the best swinging ever, and I'm in no position to compare, 'cause it's one of the games I've never played. As for the swinging in this game, I thought it was fine! Maybe a bit skill-less. You can just hold down R2 and you're basically good to go, especially if you occasionally press X. It's not like Just Cause, where you spend hours learning just how to move forward quickly. Here you start out halfway automated and any improvements you make to how you play just make you go somewhere slightly faster. It's not like you have no options, you can run up walls, crawl on them, swing around, webzip straight ahead like an airdash or aim for a specific point and fly to it like Batman would with his grapple.
It feels pretty good and sounds great, all the TWHAPs of the web shooters are on point. I do enjoy it to a degree. But it's shallow. You rarely have to aim anywhere in particular, and what you latch on to doesn't affect your movement in any way. The speed of your swing feels too slow, I never felt like I was falling too fast and had to chill to not go out of control. Everything feels too tightly controlled for my tastes, with very little need to master any mechanic to get where you wanna go. It feels like the devs are looking over my back. You don't hit the ground if you start swinging a bit low to the ground - instead, Spider-Man sorta levitates forward and gains a boost in speed.
I guess that, without the need to get good, I don't really feel any motivation to fine tune my swings. So for most of the game I just hold down R2, aim for where I wanna go, occasionally mash X when I want some more distance and don't really think about what I'm doing. Later on I just added the L2+R2 web zip to my repertoire, hitting X when hitting my destination, and that's about it as far as evolving the way I traversed. I'm not entirely sure what I would change, but I just don't feel like my inputs make that much of a difference here.
I do appreciate the way it integrated into the other aspects of the game. You can be swinging around, running on walls, and go in and out of combat instantly. If you want to, you can start slinging around during a fight just to get some breathing room. It feels very natural. I wish there was more to it so it was more engaging in the long run, but it's not bad.
The fightin' around
Spider-Man's a graduate of the Arkham Asylum school of combat design, complete with warning signs popping up to alert about enemy attacks and hanging people upside down to ledges. To be fair, Spider-Man did this for ages before Batman stole it, but when it comes to games this is about a decade after Asylum. There are a lot of differences, too. You dodge rather than counter, you have a launcher and can do air combos, you can throw pieces of the environment with L1+R1, your arsenal of gadgets integrate into battle a bit more neatly(especially your webs) and you have a web strike with which you can instantly be on an enemy across the room.
But the ways they're similar are very similar. If you press square, within maybe six metres of an enemy, Spider-Man will glide over to that dude and punch him. Your main combo is just pressing square a whole bunch. A two-button combination will instantly take out an enemy once you've punched dudes enough. Enemies with guns will wreck your shit in seconds and instantly become your main priority to either disarm or knock out. Then there are different enemy types that will only be affected by specific moves. Enemies with weapons will guard against anything but a launcher. Enemies with a shield have to have their shield grabbed out of their hands or slid under. You have to dodge sword users' attacks before you strike back. Big brutes have to be webbed up.
What helps this feel a little more fresh than Arkham is that it is actually sliiiightly more freeform. You can throw an object at anyone and it will hurt. Gadgets will damage most enemies effectively. Your big move is on a cooldown, and depending on what you've got, can quickly take out all enemies. Webbing someone up will instantly take them out if they're close to a wall or down on the floor, or if you can web them up and then throw them into one. You can at any point interrupt your combo to do a web strike or launchers, and when you're in the air you can either throw or web strike at any time. If you dodge into a wall, you can launch yourself off it like a cannonball into enemies with a push of aquare. Hitting circle after punching someone will have you zip through their legs to go behind them, from where youcan do two quick kicks to knock them away. It all feels good in a way many games get wrong, and I appreciate the way you can actually activate the attack you want rather than just mash the attack button forever and hit counter at the prompts. I particularly like the focus meter. You can spend them on instant finisher moves, but you can also use them to regain health, like in Hollow Knight. It's a good little use of meter management, and it keeps healing from being a problem.
The issue here is that it's functional, fast, fun etc. It's beautifully animated and has a real joy to its pacing, how you fly around the battlefield webbing people up and doing typical Spidey manouvers. But like the swinging, it's shallow. When I list it out, it does sound like a lot, right? But you start with almost all these moves right from the start, and what the upgrade tree adds are largely effects, or matters of convenience. For instance, throwing an object at an enemy will only damage the enemy it hits. But upgrade it, and it can damage enemies around the landing zone too. Dodge bullets at the last second, and Spidey will shoot webs into the shooter's face, that kinda thing. It doesn't really add complexity to the combat as much as it adds convenience. I'm not thinking more about what I'm doing, I'm just getting rewarded more for doing what I was already doing.
Dodging perfectly is one of the few moves with a tight timing window, and it isn't really enough alone to provide that extra depth. The animations are gorgeous, yes, but they're also very guided, leading to the same kind of semi-automated feel at times that the swinging has. You are theoretically free, but you can always feel the developers' guiding hands at your back. I feel like this is a fundamental difference between a beat 'em up game and an Arkham style game, and is why I'm not a great big fan of the latter.
You're stuck fighting largely the same enemy types for 20 hours. The only enemy types introduced later on are enemies like Whiplash from the second Iron Man movie and sword dudes, both of whom you have to dodge and then attack, and there's also dudes with armor and jetpack dudes. All of them share the exact same body build. There's a single female villain in this game, Screwball, and you never end up fighting her directly. Presumably for the same reason you don't fight Sable, would've required them to make a whole other enemy model. This is another common and boring thing with the Arkham systems that I dunno how happens. I think you should at least have enough different body types to put Final Fight to shame, dudes.
I've heard some people say you shouldn't compare the combat in games focused solely on combat to games with a lot going on. That those games are unapproachable while something like Marvel's Spider-Man is obviously chasing the mainstream, and the combat can have a lot of depth because it's all the devs had to focus on. But combat is over half of what you do in this game. You only interact with the game through swinging around or punching, and I don't think it's out of line to say some ways in which the punching could be improved.
Thing is, anyone can pick up and play, say, Bayonetta. There’s tons of depth from the huge movelist, the variety of weapons and on-the-fly weapon switching, witch time, parries, dodge offset, the colossal amount of enemies etc. But it’s also a game where you can continue as much as you like, mash your way through without engaging much with any of the systems, and there’s a super easy difficulty setting, too. Even on default, it’s less difficult compared to Devil May Cry. If Bayonetta's not approachable, it's cause the main character is a burlesque poledancing gun-witch from wacky Japan. It's just about the strength of the property, not the gameplay itself. Spider-Man wouldn’t sell any less or be less approachable at all if it had dodge offset, a larger moveset, or more types of enemies. But it would be a more fun game, at least for me.
So to sum up, the fighting system in Spider-Man alright. It feels pretty good and it sounds pretty good, but there's not a lot going on. While bouncing around the battlefield can be fun for a while, I just got bored with it way before the end, in a way I didn't with strong action games like Metal Gear Rising. You can use all the mechanics and moves in many different ways, but there isn't enough here to sink your teeth into for the full lentgh of the game(or repeat playthroughs) if you're a seasoned player of action games. I'm not gonna pretend to be some combat designer, but if there's one hot free tip I wanna give out it's to give Spider-Man a dedicated taunt button. I guess it would get in the way of some of the stuff he says already, but the opportunity for a risk/reward taunt mechanic was staring them in the face with this character and it only shows up mechanically as a special move for one of the suits that to my knowledge has no actual effect.
The combat system is a bigger issue in another case...
Arkham combat and boss fights
Arkham combat is notoriously awful at boss fights. In the first Arkham game, you fought Bane by throwing a batarang at him as he sprinted past and then doing a combo at him. You beat Poison Ivy by dodging her projectiles while throwing batarangs. You beat Killer Croc by nailing him with a batarang whenever he jumped out of the water. You beat Scarecrow by doing some platforming sections and beating up some skeletons. You beat Joker by beating up some dudes, then grapple hooking him into a stunned state and doing a combo on him. How come a game geared almost entirely around combat has so many terrible boss fights?
The issue lies with the system itself. Most combat systems are all-purpose. In God Hand, it doesn't matter if you're fighting a tall man, a gorilla, five short dudes or a giant devil hanging from a hellish portal in the sky. You've got your dodges and you've got your moves, and as long as you hit the enemies enough you're golden. You get some contextual attacks, for sure, but they're always limited to one specific finisher/action button. That goes for almost every game with combat in it. Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden, whatever.
This is true for games with vastly simpler combat than Marvel's Spider-Man, too, not just brawlers. Dark Souls' movelist is nothing remotely approaching any character action game, and not even Spider-Man's. But each move has the same effect regardless of its use. You can use the same rapier to fight ten zombies, beat a goat demon, duel a knight, pierce a butterfly, and conquer a huge dragon. Regardless of what situation you're in, you can use all your moves freely, and the challenge comes from managing your stats and stamina right and timing your dodges and guards to the enemy's tells or patterns, or predicting what they're gonna throw out depending on positioning.
With Arkham combat, you can't use this system for a single target. It's entirely based around managing enemy mobs, for one thing. "Ah, I gotta go under a shield here, and that dude is firing soon so I need to pull his gun away, and this heavy goon is running towards me so I gotta jump". Your moves aren't just damaging your enemies, they're stopping them altogether. A launcher launches them, anyone caught in a combo can't get out till you interrupt it yourself, gadgets either take enemies out instantly or stun them, and so on. It's not even just that it's "intended" for juggling large groups of mooks, it's that it seems to lock you into special animations for each punch that lands on an enemy, hitting that enemy only without any regard for a hitbox. You can't just swing out your moves and have them work if they collide with an enemy. That's why the parrying system in Arkham even works as it does, you hit that button at any time you get an alert and it's like you just did a little Quick Time Event. It's a system meant to facilitate bouncing around the battlefield with more beliveable animations, save for everyone sliding into position for punches. You never actually get into a one on one punch-up where the enemy stands a chance at taking you out.
If your moves worked the same way on a boss, the boss would be unable to even move. Batman is more constrained than Spidey, that is, you actually have way fewer moves you can pull of on command, and Batman instead does an attack depending on your distance and position from the enemy at all times, while Spidey to my knowledge only does one such attack as a gap closer if you're far enough away from an enemy when starting a combo. But the result of both Spidey and Batman's combat have the same issues, you can't actually use your moves effectively on a boss.
So instead, you get all this gimmicky stuff where you just throw garbage at the boss until it enters a stunned state and you can harm it. In Spider-Man, this takes the form of these four:
- Avoid a boss' combo until he's exhausted and enters an obvious vulnerable state, then do your own combo on him.
- Stun the boss by firing webs at him, then do your own combo on him.
- Stun the boss by throwing an object at him with L1+R1, then do your own combo on him.
- Dodge when the prompt comes up, then hit triangle to web strike him.
That's all you get, no matter who the boss is, and it reduces Spidey's movelist down to just a couple of moves. It's amazingly shallow, and it takes the wind out of my sails when I finally get to a legendary character and all I gotta do to him is hit R1 a bunch and then square a bunch. "If you're not thinking about the actions you're performing in an action game, you're not thinking". The game doesn't have to be super hard, and indeed, Spidey does die pretty quickly in this game already. But it needs to challenge more to be interesting, not just in a "attacks hit you hard" way, but in what actions you have to perform, and you need the freedom to use those actions during climactic boss battles. Just pummeling Ock with web spam isn't doing it for me, it's like all these cutscenes build up to gigantic confrontations and then they just end up being wet farts. It's a letdown.
If there's a saving grace, it's that the game still looks great, and there's often some neat unique spectacle in these fights. But I shouldn't be enjoying the cutscenes more than I'm enjoying playing the action for myself, and additionally, the spectacle here largely isn't anything you haven't seen in action games before this. Comparing scenes like the final part of Ock's fight where you punch him in the face while standing on the side of a building to other action romps made by devs a generation ago with way less of a budget does this game no favors. One of them has the entirety of its combat system available, while in the other you hit a dodge prompt and otherwise mash square. Spidey might look more beautiful, but there's nothing underneath the hood. The part that makes it worthwhile here has zero to do with the gameplay. It's all in the story, the characters that brought you here, the swelling of the music, the positioning of the camera, being Spidey in that moment. And how big of a deal that is to you largely decides how amazing it feels. Personally, for me, it doesn't do much when the gameplay can't hold up its end of the bargain, even though I was very invested in the story. Watching that clip I linked, I actually felt more engaged than during playing it, when I was annoyed by my lack of input.
Tombstone, Shocker and Spectacular Spider-Man
Tombstone and Shocker are the two earliest bosses you fight past the tutorial stage(Tombstone is strangely relegated to a sidequest, which I would recommend doing), and they're an interesting talking point when it comes to adaptation. They're pretty faithful their originals, to a point, anyway. Shocker is a bit more armored up than usual, while Tombstone is a bit more of a biker and has shaved his head. But they're essentially their original characters: Shocker is a thug who just wants to steal stuff for money and has no time for Spider-Man, Tombstone is a violent mobster with impenetrable skin. And this might seem contrarian, but these are things I actually wouldn't have minded if they changed.
I don't mind an adaptation changing things if I think they're changes for the better. In Marvel's Spider-Man, Spidey at one point comments to Shocker that he has zero personality, but his suit looks cool. Which is true, Shocker doesn't have a lot going on besides being rational, professional, in it for the money and having a snazzy iconic costume. But commenting on and changing are two different things. I've heard the statement echoed before, specifically by the main man behind the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series, Greg Weisman of Gargoyles fame.
Having said all that, it was EXTREMELY important to us that the characters remained Classic and Iconic in the writing as well as the visuals. I STUDIED these characters and all the source material intensely. I tried to get down to the core essence of each character, i.e. what made him or her who he or she was to the reader. Flash is a bully, who deep down is actually an honorable guy. He's a guy who starts out as Pete's nemesis (and ironically Spidey's biggest fan) and eventually becomes both a decorated war veteran and one of the few people that Pete can count on. We knew we were starting with High School Flash, but we wanted to plant seeds of the guy we knew he'd become.
On the other hand, I studied Shocker. Great powers. Fun battles. Iconic costume. Secret i.d. = a cypher. Yes, we know his name, but there's nothing about Herman that makes him special. So in an attempt to make our universe more cohesive and coherent, I combined Montana with Shocker. I don't make that decision likely, and I do get that this bothers some folks, but it really felt like it worked in the context of our series, and Marvel agreed.
Rather than stick slavishly to the original characters, he took a long hard look at the characters and stories, combined overlapping characters into one, changed ones that didn't work, and made all these disparate characters from 60 years of publication history and movies mesh with one another while making sure they remained iconic - one look and you knew who the character was. Combining Shocker with Montana, a cowboy-like guy from the criminal gang The Enforcers that was active in early Spider-Man but never showed up later, gave him some much needed flair. It also helped tie the early regular human opponents of The Enforcers together with future supervillains by making one of them into Shocker. Good escalation. Finally, because Montana was a career assassin, it meshed well with the traits Shocker already did have, with his workmanlike and professional outlook on criminal life. It added a lot and removed very little.
Tombstone, for his part, was fused with the early and forgotten mob character The Big Man and was a classy guy with a presentable facade over shady underworld dealings, functioning something like the show's Kingpin, but separating it from the 90s show where Kingpin was such a big presence. It gave the dude some class for the first time in his long career as a jobber on the decidedly lower end of the superpower spectrum, as just this bruiser who has beef with Robbie Robertson. While giving Tombstone a big burning chain was fun in a Ghost Rider kinda way, he's by far the character with the most cutscene time that I forget is even in the game. Props for doing your best with a guy who's deal is just evil albino Luke Cage, but again, I think you could've done something more exciting.
I'm not saying Insomniac needed to mimic any of Spectacular Spider-Man for their universe, and when it comes to bit players in the story like Tombstone and Shocker, maybe less is more. I appreciate that they stayed true to the characters and didn't fuck them up. But I do think they could've changed some things to be more interesting without sacrificing the essence of the characters. On that note:
As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Negative has changed a lot from his comic book version(besides his design. I think he's the least visually changed of anyone in the whole game, which is good since his original design is stellar, and his effects look cool). I've never read his origin story in particular, but what I gathered from what I've read was this:
- Mr. Negative's powers manifest as an aura that can mind control people into doing his bidding. He can manifest it around himself to hide his identity. He hasn't only got negative energy, he's also got some kinda positive energy with healing powers. His powers can also enhance the weapons of his henchmen, and presumably do anything else that is convenient.
- Martin Li and Mr. Negative share some sort of comic book split personality, and Martin is unaware of Mr. Negative's existence and his secret life as mob boss.
- Mr. Negative was a slaver from China who got his abilities from an experimental drug by some mob boss or other, I think it might have been Silvermane.
- He calls his mask-wearing soldiers his Inner Demons
- He's got a toxic gas that he calls Devil's Breath. This gas has the very weird property of being tailor-made to an indivual's DNA. So say, if he got a sample of Spidey's blood, he could create a poisonous gas that only harmed Spider-Man. It always seemed a bit pointless when you can just kill people with regular poison.
As you can tell, they used bits and pieces of him, but they changed many details to fit him in. His energy can now shoot out in blasts and powers up all of his henchmen's weapons. He's now part of Miles' backstory. I don't ever think his split personality is acknowledged by anyone besides Jameson on his podcast, and Martin Li is definitely aware of his evil side's actions. I don't really think any of the changes are to his detriment, the only issue is how his personal hatred against Osborn clashes with his mob boss status.
For around 30 missions, Mr. Negative is the main villain. Then, 16 hours into the game for me, he's replaced with Dr. Octopus for the last 10 missions, or about six-ish hours. They try to make this baton pass work by having the villains share some history and motivations. Both of them hate Osborn. Both of them were involved in the experiment that killed Li's parents, Li as the victim and Octopus as Osborn's helper who wasn't told what was going on. As time passes, both of them become people Peter look up to who then turn out to be evil. It's a pretty weird setup. Most stories don't have two mentors with so similar stories and relationships to the main character, coming right after the other, and it feels pretty contrived.
Placing him among the Sinister Six doesn't particularly work for me either. Personality wise, Mr. Negative isn't really as outrageous as most of Spidey's villains. He's pretty muted, just some dude after revenge, and you learn most about him via audio logs and text boxes. And his position as a crime lord with a huge gang working for him doesn't naturally make him belong in a group of six weirdos out for themselves. He's the odd man out, a current and fresh character that sticks out like a sore thumb next to all the classic villains modernized with power armor. Reminds me a bit of those old Marvel VS Capcom games, which would always cover the iconic basics like Wolverine, Spider-Man and Hulk but would then bring in currently active weirdoes like Marrow, now lost to time. It'd make more sense for someone like Shocker to join up with the gang(as he has many times in the past) while Mr. Negative returns as an unrelated but allied party after the breakout. Especially when Li has so few lines after getting arrested. You don't get to talk it out with Mr. Negative the way you do with Otto, and after Spidey yells at him to not break bad during the last boss fight against him, Otto just swats him away. It's a strange ending to his story.
They don't explain much about Mr. Negative's criminal empire. At some point you can see he's smuggling crooks in from offshore, presumably from his old gang in China. But it doesn't feel like he's got much to do with running a gang- the only thing he cares about in this game is hurting Osborn. And it's pretty weird to mix that kinda personal, somewhat understandable, one-man vendetta with a man making a business out of people's suffering. I guess it isn't unusual for mob bosses to be spiteful and do things out of petty revenge, at least in media, but his status as supervillain feels at odds with his crime lord thing to me, in a way Fisk doesn't since he just sits on his ass ordering goons around until confronted. And more importantly, Fisk doesn't base his entire gang around his hate for some other man. When the demons show up, Spidey has no idea who they are, like this gang has never even appeared in town before. These aren't necessarily plot holes, and you can excuse a lot of things with mind control and comic book multiple personality disorders, but I'm confused about the specifics. I feel like they gloss over the details of him running a criminal empire here to try and keep him somewhat sympathetic even as he mind controls innocents into suicide bombing police officers.
Speaking of which, that scene was also pretty confusing to me. During the E3 trailer, there's a big helicopter chase where Spidey catches Mr. Negative. In the game, Mr. Negative in this scene is replaced with a random lieutenant. But afterwards, at the rally, Peter speaks as if though the conflict is now over, despite Mr. Negative being nowhere in sight and indeed, nothing having been solved. Then Mr. Negative blows up the rally, and Spider-Man can't do shit, but I guess Li forgot to put on his aura before rolling up 'cause Spider-Man can easily tell that it's him. It's a little silly. I feel like something weird happened here in production, and they did the best they could to paint over it, but the cracks are showing. Right before that scene is also the last time you hear from Fisk before he disappears with no fanfare from the rest of the story, including when the big prison break happens.
Mr. Negative has got a pretty unique design and I think he largely works as a bad guy. It helps that he's a fresh face. Similarly to how Spectacular Spider-Man used Tombstone as a mob boss rather than Kingpin, Mr. Negative was definitely chosen for the prominent role here because using him will separate this game from all the other continuities. I also like that while Norman Osborn is in many ways responsible for the creation of Dr. Octopus and certainly Mr. Negative, none of this was planned by him. They're accidents caused by his selfishness. That makes Norman Osborn seem less omnipotent than if he deliberately crafted these criminals and sent them after Spider-Man, and is more in line with their comic book origins compared to them being part of some Osborn conspiracy.
But while Mr. Negative works fine overall, the details around him are fuzzy, and I don't see him supplanting any of the more famous classic Spidey villains. He's not that legendary yet, not that iconic, not that charismatic. Luckily, Insomniac had another man in mind.
I love what they did with this guy. Pete interned for him back in Spider-Man 2, but I don't think we were two scenes in before the accident happened and he went bananas. Here, they combined a few influences(Spider-Man 2, Slott, Pete's usual internship at Dr. Connors) to make something cool.
When the game starts out they're such teases about him. He was the one main villain they didn't reveal in trailers, and they try to fool you at the start when Pete talks about working for Doc in the lab. It's easy to imagine he's talking about Curt Connors, the Lizard, who he's worked for in many continuities in the past. Instead we get to the lab and instantly see Dr. Octopus, hanging around in a harness and with wires going out of his back resembling tentacles, and the whole thing catches fire and looks like it's gonna go wrong then and there - and then it doesn't, it's all good, and this Doc Ock is such a nice guy.
I like his slow build to villainy. The neural interface being an evident danger to his mind aside, when it is revealed he worked with Osborn on his experiments it's clear he's gone wrong before, and you gradually visit Doc Ock's lab and see his plans build after Norman takes away his funding. It's fun to see him receive funding from A.I.M. instead, and work on the Raft's security systems as a side gig, and of course, build his arms. It's all very obvious stuff for anyone who's ever experienced any Spider-Man before, but I don't mind. It's cool.
Making Spider-Man surprising after these stories have been retold for 60 years is difficult and honestly not worth it. You can only do it by changing who the characters are completely, like when Vulture was suddenly Liz Allan's dad in Homecoming. Which isn't as much writing the characters as they are as it is throwing random relationship darts at a board filled with random character names. A story in which Batman's butler Alfred turns into the Joker might be a surprise, but you're not really respecting either the characters or the fans here, you're just changing it to shock the audience, just for the sake of being different. Keeping Doc Ock natural and instead adding some depth to him is a much smarter idea.
They're kinda stealing Connor's schtick for some of his arc. Connors did experiments to regrow his lost limb. Ock makes cybernetic prostheses theoretically for the good of the world, but really, because his own body is failing him. He's having a hard time controlling his limbs, and eventually, he won't be able to move.
This is slick for a number of reasons. It gives him ample motivation to develop his arms and want to stick to them. When the arms' interface proves to be unstable and influencing his mind in subtle ways, he's got a reason to keep using them anyway(That's a Spider-Man 2 thing, as far as I know. Doc Ock in the comics never needed any help being an arrogant dirtbag). It means there's a layer to his act of selfless research, too. I do believe the Doc Ock of this setting started out wanting to make the world better. But at the end of the day, he's still looking out for himself, and that's the difference between him and Peter. When he's beaten and talks about how it's the burden of the better to improve the lesser of the world, you can't be sure how much of that was the brain degeneration doing the talking and how much he was rotten all along.
You can look at the equipment and plans he made in the lab after the fact and Peter will wonder just how long he planned this, how long he used the interface, and if he meant to act it out all along or if he got worse along the way. It's uncertain not just how long Doc Ock was planning to terrorize the city, but how much Peter helping to make all his gear contributed to turning him into the monster he becomes. But regardless of that, you can see how he changed from seemingly an ideal, kind, selfless man to an arrogant dirtbag with a one-track mind over the course of the game.
He's a good foil not just for Spidey, but for Miles, MJ and aunt May, who're all portrayed in this game as more altruistic than normal. Doc reads "With great power comes great responsibility" a little differently than Peter. While Pete learns to rely on his friends, Doc Ock doubles down on his intense feelings of superiority. This is a much better way to make an emotional battle than to have Doc do all of this because of a sickly child, a dead wife or whatever else kinda generic villain backstory that half of all the "deep" villains get, including several in this game. It uses a sickness, sure. But the sickness is just a contributor to his descent. The problem is Otto himself. This is much more elegant than just giving him a dead wife, Spider-Man 2 style. It's something deeply personal to him, not to anyone else. Gave me good flashbacks to Kraven's Last Hunt, in that sense.
This also sets up things for the future, if they want to. In the comics, Otto's regular human body was damaged from years of fighting with superhumans, and that lead to him wearing a huge mechanical cocoon for a while and moving around with just his arms, eventually hijacking Pete's body and kickstarting the Superior Spider-Man plan. If they want to do more with Doc Ock down the line, and I hope they do, they've set up reasons for Ock to want to get out of his body and made it a core part of his motivations. This isn't just my interpretations or anything either, Ock has many lines about the failings of his own body and his desire to improve it or leave it behind. It's stellar. I don't think it is super likely that Insomniac would take the story in this direction down the road, for some reason I'm imagining they think that it's a bit too out there and imaginative for the setting they've created, but I would personally love it.
While the way he takes over as the bad guy is a bit awkward, I do appreciate what they did with him a lot, and the slow burn he took to turn into a villain. I particularly liked the scene where he gets his robot arms to juggle a barrel full of balls.
The Sinister Six and pacing
It's bizarre that these dudes all showed up at the end of the game. On paper it seems like a balanced game. "For the first half of the story, our bad guys are Kingpin, Shocker, Tombstone and Mr. Negative. For the second half it's the Sinister Six". However, Kingpin is beaten in the first mission and is no different from a regular Heavy/Brute/Whatever enemy, and while welcome, Shocker and Tombstone aren't enough to pick up the slack. A big problem is that Mr. Negative is a very clear villain, but you don't actually fight him until 16 hours in, for me anyway. That's more like two thirds of the way through the game than half of it. Secondly, Tombstone and Shocker aren't helpful when it comes to apprehending him, they're just hired goons.
So the game is incredibly top heavy, with most of the plot and most of the boss fight happening in the last act, while the first two thirds are a lot of beating up of random mooks which will in some way lead us closer to Mr. Negative, who does what he does for reasons we don't know until we've already kicked his ass. It's a severe flaw with the game, and pretty similar to the end of Arkham Asylum, where you get no big boss fights besides Bane clones for most of it and then end up fighting Croc, Poison Ivy and Joker near the end. I suppose there isn't enough time in the world to have every villain here go through their origin story episodically, like Spectacular Spider-Man treated them, but that does result in a game where you do nothing but beat up mooks in suits for 16 hours until the Robot Zoo enters the arena. I dunno if the story of chasing around Mr. Negative's shadow for 16 hours is really better than the story of Jameson turning Mac Gargan into the Scorpion, is what I'm saying.
As for the Sinister Six themselves, there isn't enough time to give them much depth. Not that these goons are that deep in the first place or anything. They're as classic supervillains as you get, mostly dudes that got in the same kinda experiment or accident as Peter and decided to use their powers for selfish means instead. But they have gotten some added depth over the years, with things like Electro's absolute desperation at his situation as a man that can't help but elecrify everyone around him played up. I can imagine someone that just knows Vulture from Homecoming being a bit disappointed that the working class superweapons manufacturer/burglar is here with nothing to his personality at all besides being mad at Spider-Man and being bald, a big uncool robot beak covering his lower face.
Speaking of which, their suits. They've all been given upgrades by Doc Ock, which is Insomniac's excuse for giving all of them robotic suits. Even Electro, the lightning man, gets a robotic vest. I'm not a fan, you should just own up to the corny costumes of yesteryear and sell them with enthusiasm and craft, not make everyone into robot cosplayers of themselves. Make a more robotic Scorpion, sure. But don't do that to Rhino or Electro. I think this is good old realism getting in the way of fun again. It's easier to make mechanical Power Armor with vaguely similar features to the original costumes than making the original costumes not look corny, in the designers' eyes. Even Pete's costume here has got tech out the ass, when it used to be something he sewed with aunt May's needles in his bedroom. Personally I'd love it if they just embraced the camp rather than try so hard to be taken seriously at every turn. Like, you kept Spider-Man's classic suit largely identical, only adding the Marvel Cinematic Universe-style eyelenses and adding realistic seams and textures to it, even if it's meant to be tech underneath the hood. Why couldn't you do a similar treatment on the spandex of the other guys?
It's a dude with spider-powers fighting against a strong man dressed up as a rhinoceros, man. There's limits to how you can make it. It's totally fine to make something fun and silly and still have serious and touching story moments. I think Insomniac of all people should know that. You can making a silly-looking character look cool by having him do cool things, or play on his silliness for laughs. Spider-Man's whole shtick is basically built on bullying his enemies with jokes till they lose their cool.
To be fair, this is more an issue I have with their costume design rather than their story, which does juggle heavier segments and heartfelt or funny moments excellently. Maybe this aesthetic is campy enough for the mainstream crowd? I watch a rhino robot suit and think it's a mundane lameification of this, but I can imagine some other audience member thinking a rhino robot suit is pretty stupid.
But I digress. Besides their designs they're a fun bunch. Despite their lack of character here, they really spice up the drama when they arrive, especially after the spectacular prison break sequence everyone saw in that E3 trailer. Even with just a minimum of characterization their designs are iconic and their personalities outsized, and they wouldn't be out of place in a fighting game with how played up they are. They're perfect boss material, larger than life characters with unique combat gimmicks.
So they show up and do their thing and the boss fights are pretty cool in concept because they team up in duos. Given that Sinister Six' charm is how it is this big teamup of all the biggest foes, that's a fun way of doing them. Rhino's Russian accent is outrageous, he sounds like an evil Zangief, and I'm not a big fan. It's fun how Vulture and Electro are the best bros while Rhino and Scorpion hate each other's guts. I appreciate that Electro has yellow comic book lightning.
But get Rhino some full plating, dudes. I can live with armor if I must, but at least have it cover his whole body if the point is that he's impenetrable. I think the idea might be that Ock has managed to dissolve his armor to free him and gave him some breathing room as a test? But it just looks like he would be a lot more vulnerable to kicks in the ribs at this point. The exposed muscle fiber, if that wasn't visible before doc managed to make a dissolvent, is enough. Seeing more of Rhino's skin than his ugly mug feels practically indecent.
My favorite thing they brought to the table besides the boss fights was the cutscene of Vulture dragging Spidey through town and Electro providing the chase through the Raft. Rhino gets to be an obstacle in Miles' last stealth section, which isn't all that. Meanwhile, Scorpion ambushes and poisons you, leading to a hallucination segment where the city is flooded with poison and huge scorpion tails and you move all around town to generate an antidote. It also leads you into sections where you jump through floating rubble in a void chasing an image of Dr. Octopus and occasionally fighting Scorpion illusions. It's pretty lame, a less unnerving version of Arkham Asylum's sick Scarecrow illusions, and I think it might be a reference to an old Spider-Man game that did a similar segment with a poison-filled city. Props for teaching me how to fight Scorpion in isolation and all, but this didn't land. Felt like the most generic of dream sequences.
What I said earlier does apply: I do think the combat is especially dull during boss fights. The bosses only have a few attacks each, and all you do is either R1 them with the web, dodge their combo and hit them on their cooldown, or throw an object at them with L1+R1. The shallowness is the game's biggets issue, 'cause it takes all the fun away from a climactic confrontation when all you do in a fight against Scorpion is spam R1, hit triangle to web over to him and than combo him till he breaks loose. Him teaming up with a larger, slower, more powerful guy helps, but that's just the basic concept. In a game like God Hand or Dark Souls, a fight like that could be legendary. You have to learn attack patterns, go in aggressively, plan it out, it'd really be something else. In Marvel's Spider-Man, you just follow the instructions to do predetermined animations a couple of times and you're golden. It's more cinematic, but that's because your approach is so restricted.
Obviously you can't just mimic another game mindlessly, you have to make it fit Spider-Man. I'm not sitting here saying a Spider-Man game should copy one of those games' systems whole-hog. But I think it's entirely reasonable to want more than what's there from these climactic combat encounters, and those games are just what come immediately to mind for me.
Even for the final boss of the game, all you do is web up Ock with R1 and combo, then L1+R1 throw some rubble at him, and then for the final phase hit the dodge prompt and keep mashing otherwise. It's so lame. It's less involved than Dynasty Warriors. In an eventual Marvel's Spider-Man 2, this is absolutely the biggest issue that needs to be addressed.
This happened to me several times so I feel obliged to mention it: when you die and continue in a boss fight, the music sometimes cuts out, leaving you with nothing but silence as Rhino and Scorpion insult one another. That was a bit of a bummer.
But even when the music does work, it's entirely forgettable. It's just a bland, movie-like score. An exciting boss fight demands a hype score, man! You gotta give these showdowns a track that really gets you pumped to take out these scumbags. Ultimately this is as much up to taste as anything else I complain about(I'm never gonna relate to people who think Mass Effect music sounds remotely interesting), but I don't think it can be argued that Insomniac didn't just go for the most generic options possible when it came to music. They wanted something bland that just fades into the background, and they got it. I don't think it's painful to listen to as much as I just forget that it exists.
Even outside of the boss fights, besides the puzzle theme, the only song I somewhat remember is this one that always plays whenever you start swinging around. It's a little Sam Raimi-like, which I expect is the point. I'd have loved to have a music player while swinging around, like Metal Gear Solid 4 did, especially since Spidey already listens to Jameson's podcast. You could fill it full of all the Spider-Man themes of the last 60 years. I could probably listen to only the 90s cartoon opening for a few of those hours.
If that's not an option, a couple of variations in the songs that play when you swing around would be a godsend. No matter how good it was, any song that always plays would get old eventually.
The Superior Spider-Cop
There was a minor controversy around this game where a few bloggers weren't fond of the game's depiction of the cops. Spidey's working with them a bit more than usual in this game. Yuri Watanabe is his Commissioner Gordon and essentially best friend if we're not counting his ex, he does a mission with Jefferson Davis and does sidequests for a couple of minor cops, and he even helps them restore their surveillance equipment, which is this game's justification for a bunch of open world map markers and random crime reports. Spidey also beats up a bunch of inmates that break out of prison and start terrorizing the streets. One of the random crimes even involves busting up drug dealers.
Meanwhile, the impression I get of the real NYC police department from these blog posts is that they're real bastards and you wouldn't expect them to lift a finger to help anyone. They just spy on people and shoot black dudes. The prison, on the other hand, is filled with unjustly prosecuted and generally nice people who'd never lift a finger against Spider-Man, and is about to be decommissioned. All the cool kids do drugs.
I'm not really in a position to judge whether the game's deption is accurate, or insensitive, or anything related to real life, being from a different continent entirely and not reading that much news. Not really my call. But I can compare it to the comics.
Spidey doesn't normally get that along with the police, in the comics, and I did think his behavior was noticably off in the game. He has a contact, sure. A different one for each era/writer, usually. But he doesn't take orders from them. His relationship with comic book Yuri is nowhere near as cordial as it is here. None of her original storyline from the comics shines through either. Instead, I'm guessing she's here for three reasons:
- To provide radio banter and mission briefings for Spidey, as half Oracle and half commisioner Gordon. I think this is something the devs just thought we had to have now, so you get some talking in your ear during the open world game. It gives Spidey someone to talk to so we don't have to listen to him talking to himself all the time. It is some pretty good banter, too. In what's quickly becoming one of those most well-known gaming fun facts, Yuri and Peter's voice actors are married in real life, and it naturally feels like there's good chemistry between them.
- To separate Insomniac's universe from other established adaptations. Yuri is a fresh face. I don't think even the Ultimate cartoon or the cartoon that replaced it uses her. In order to stand out, you use the characters that haven't been used for 60 years already.
- For diversity's sake. Another thing that comes with being a 60 year old franchise is a lot of white dudes. White dudes account for most of Spidey's classic rogues gallery and supporting cast. For that reason most modern adaptations try to change up people's ethnicity, which I don't mind at all when it's a character I couldn't care less about and do mind a lot when I actually care about that character. You can't remain faithful and at the same time change everything about a character's looks. A character isn't just a vague collection of personality traits and a name attached to whatever design. Personally I prefer the method of giving the characters Spider-man does have that aren't white a prominent role, like with Yuri, Jefferson, Miles and Martin Li in this game. A middle aged, female, Asian police officer that's also a tutorial giver, quest giver and voice in your ear are a lot of roles filled neatly at once.
Spider-man's relationship with the police doesn't have as clean a depiction as described above, natch. The very first mission of the game includes corrupt cops attacking Spider-Man on Fisk's orders. There is some lip service paid to Spidey not usually getting along well with the cops, often commenting he should flee the scene of a random crime before the police arrives. Yuri mentions that Jefferson is a good cop and tells Spidey to cooperate with him, implying he's one of the few cops she trusts.
Later on, Osborn's private army of Silver Sable mercs start acting as the de facto police force, forcefully rounding up citizens that are out during curfew, stealing their possessions, and so on. That's the point where they become the game's final enemy type. Similarly, Spidey might hack into the Police's surveillance network, but it was originally an Oscorp project. So it's not like the law is promoted as saints here, exactly. It's mainly the game's chasing of gaming trends(a voice in your ear over the radio, open world quest markers) and the way the devs justify them that give this impression.
During the Superior Spider-Man run, one of the many things Doc Ock does after taking over as Spider-Man is starting with surveillance of New York. Instead of going out on patrol all the time and wasting his precious time, he mass produces Spider Bots that spy on all of New York for him, also using Uatu's face recognition tech, alerting him when there's a crime going on. This kinda thing would have been really cool to see in a game that eventually adapted the storyline. Imagine if it happened in, say, the third or fourth gamegame. You start out as Spider-Man, but in a climactic early battle you're taken over by Doctor Octopus who's returned once more, and your UI becomes entirely different. You could suddenly get all those map markers and alerts as part of Ock's "improvements" on Spider-Man's routines.
Later on in the comic, Green Goblin manages to hack the Spider-Bots so that they ignore anyone wearing a Goblin mask. This means Spidey is taking out all of his competitors while he can recruit any leftovers into his gang, leading to him creating a massive army that Spider-Man doesn't even know exists. A game using this stuff would be a great way to have the big villains from both the first game and the inevitable sequel return in interesting ways.
Instead, Spider-Man here is already doing the surveillance stuff as part of his normal patrol, 'cause this is an open world game and you have to have the map barf. The face recognition tech is even used as the framework for a side mission, where Phillip Chang developed it and uses it to guess at where his corrupted classmates have gone to. Spider-Man even praises him for it. It's a bit of a missed opportunity on Insomniac's part, and for very little reward. It's not like the side missions in this game have garnered a lot of praise, and you could easily justify them with Spider-Man just listening to police radio or something similar.
Overall though, I didn't lose sleep over any of this, and I think it's sad to hear that the real New York City police force is so awful that it's dissonant to some people when it's depicted as largely competent and decent.
In this game, Spider-Man's supporting cast is very anemic compared to what he can have. Which, granted, with a publication history of 60 years, dude has a lot of supporting characters, some entirely lost to time. Nobody at the Bugle make an appearance in person, and the only other employee at Dr. Octopus' lab is Doc Ock himself. Yuri Watanabe is the only named police officer besides Jefferson. Horizon Labs plays no role in the game, though it does exist in the city as a regular office building. There's no Betty Brant, Gloria Grant, Robbie Robertson, Hobie Brown, Jean DeWolff, Curt Connors, Anna Maria Marconi, Debra Whitman, Max Modell, Ned Leeds, William Lamont, Carlie Cooper, Flash Thompson, Madame Web, Liz Allan, Ben or Phil Urich, Gwen Stacy or George Stacy. Harry Osborn, Felicia Hardy and J. Jonah Jameson only make an appearance in audio, with Felicia in particular being slated for the first DLC. Surprisingly, Dr. Morgan Michaels, AKA Morbius the living vampire, has a prominent story role as the only man with a sample of Devil's Breath. However, he's completely unrecognizable. I have a hard time imagining this dude turning into the troubled, longhaired vampire any time soon, giving me the impression he was just chosen to attach a familiar name to a character with little relation to him.
No characters from the extended Marvel Universe show up either, even those Spider-Man usually goes on adventures with. Several of them have hints and cameos, like a card Spidey got from Matt Murdock, and Black Panther getting namedropped when you take a pic of his embassy. But they don't appear in-game, so no Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Dr. Strange, Fantastic 4, the X-Men or any of the Avengers. You get no comic book-style brotherly relationship with Johnny Storm, no argumentative adventures with Wolverine, no surrogate father relationship with Tony Stark like in the movieverse, no fanboying over Captain America, no co-op missions with Daredevil in Hell's Kitchen.
This is a blessing in disguise - it's best to focus on Spidey's own set of characters first and marvel universe crossover crap later, even in the case of characters Spidey has a long and storied history with. Everybody might know Spider-Man from osmosis, but shoving all of Marvel's expanded universe down our throats is better saved for a sequel down the line, if ever. Especially if Marvel's push for better Marvel games do end up crossing over into one another like the movies did.
Mary Jane Watson, Miles Morales, Yuri Watanabe and aunt May are the entirety of Peter's friends and family in this game. Half old familiars, half newcomers. There's a lot of weight on them to be good. Mary Jane is the one that carries that weight the best. She's reimagined as an investigative reporter for the Daily Bugle, which is largely a matter of convenience. During this game, the devs wanted her to have a conflict with Spider-Man over trust and overprotectiveness. Spidey wants to keep her safe, which means keeping her away from all the action that he's much more equipped to handle, being a superhero and all. He knows personally not just how dangerous it can be, but how hard it is to lose someone you love. He sees MJ recklessly throwing herself into situations that she's not equipped to handle the way a superhero is. MJ, meanwhile, has chosen a dangerous job to try and improve the world in ways she can even without any superpowers, and she feels like Peter is babysitting her and not respecting her to handle herself. She doesn't just wanna get saved - she wants to do the saving, too.
This is an interesting conflict. They both love one another, but they've got a fundamental disagreement about what the relationship should be like, and you can easily see why they both feel the way they do. They've both got their issues, with Spidey being a touch overprotective and MJ being more than a little reckless. This relationship is given time to shine, too. There are several scenes where MJ and Peter are just talking, eating dinner, or taking care of each other. While Pete still does a majority of the saving on account of being the superhero, MJ does get to rescue him once or twice, and they end up compromising and cooperating.
The relationship can work again once Peter trusts her to handle a dangerous mission, and she is able to call in him for extraction without feeling like she's helpless. This also meshes neatly with the general theme of Peter Parker relying on his friends rather than try to change the world on his own.
They've got good chemistry, and they're both likeable. She's brave and capable, usually dealing with being in these dangerous situations very calmly. And as always, I think she's cool and beautiful. Pete and MJ are as sweet and romantic a couple here as they regularly are in the comics. I do think Mary Jane's behavior here is gonna annoy some people. While understandable, from a certain perspective, she's the girlfriend who also wants to work with you instead of doing her own thing. And who comes along with the fireman boyfriend to rescue people from burning buildings. It doesn't make any sense mapped onto real relationships, but I didn't mind. It worked for me in the moment.
The issue I have with Mary Jane in this game, and this might sound more severe than I mean, is that she isn't Mary Jane. The MJ from the comics, from the cartoons, from basically all other Spider-Man I've seen, is a party girl. She's been a model, an actress and a club owner. She's a fun, cool, caring person and a great supporting cast member. Usually her backstory is that she got out from a rough home situation(I believe her original situation involves a criminal father and a dead mother) and is now trying to make it big. Conflict over her relationship with Pete often came down to what level of priority she was rather than wanting to be out in the field together with him, it's hard to be in a relationship with a guy who flies out the window at the slightest provocation to save a schoolbus full of children, for many reasons. Obviously her portrayal differs a little bit here and there- sometimes she's a childhood friend, sometimes she's a high school sweetheart, sometimes she's the wife- But I like her in all of her appearances. She's sassy and she's fun and she does her own thing.
This Mary Jane? She's just Lois Lane. Or possibly Elena Fisher from Uncharted. She also overlaps a lot with Peter's old photographer job at the Daily Bugle, where he would get into a dangerous situation as Pete, run away, and return as Spidey to clean up the bad guys. They've just separated that aspect of him into a separate character, now that he's Dan Slott's researcher Peter Parker instead. This is not a smooth translation like giving the Shocker identity to Montana in Spectacular Spider-Man, they've taken the name and basic features of Mary Jane and changed the entire rest of her. And as much as I also like Lois Lane and Elena Fisher, I don't think you needed to do that.
You could've made a new love interest. You could've changed Gwen Stacy, like everyone else does, since the original Gwen has been dead for 45 years and nobody can remember if she had a personality in the first place. I wanna stress that I still like this game's MJ, and I can see why they changed her. You wanted that plot with the cooperation and learning to rely on others, and you wanted MJ to be a journalist putting herself into dangerous investigations instead of a model running into the bad guys all the time and getting captured. It's very defensible to change her. But personally it's hard not to feel like we didn't just give this new character an old character's name, when her character's essence was changed.
If the devs didn't want her to be the damsel in distress and that was the primary motivator, it would've been easy to just not have the gameplay segments with her, and/or never have her be in direct danger from a bad guy's attack. No law dictates you need scenes where the bad guys attack her. You don't need MJ to show a regular person's perspective on the ground, either. Miles fills the same role, and it's not like the Bugle was suffering from a lack of other journalist characters to pull from. If Insomniac felt playing as Spidey all the time would get too tiring and monotone, why not change up the ways you play Spider-Man, Arkham-style, with stealth rooms and exploration bits, instead of walking segments? I haven't talked about it much, 'cause it's again pretty shallow stuff, but you do have stealth mechanics for Spider-Man.
And if you didn't like MJ in her roles as club owner, model or actress, why not something else in the entertainment industry that fits her personality? If you wanted a love interest in an active, dangerous profession, and a conflict over trust, why not Yuri Watanabe's friend and fellow police officer, Carlie Cooper? This isn't me shipping, Carlie and Pete were in a relationship together that you could pull from, it even happened during Dan Slott's run and would fit neatly with the other elements they took from it. If you wanted a more classic girlfriend with abilities more on par with Spidey, who's also in the superhero/villain game and could easily be his active partner, why not Black Cat? It's been a while, but they were a couple once too(considering those 60 years of publication and all the alternate universes, Peter Parker has probably had more lovers than James Bond at this point). Did you just want MJ's iconic look and relationship with Peter without any of her actual character and traits? I don't get why Mary Jane can't just do her own thing instead of having to be Spider-Man's partner in crime-fighting.
There's more to MJ than just "Loves Spider-Man, has red hair", and I don't think Insomniac's version of MJ is MJ in the same way that their Peter is Peter. You wouldn't suddenly turn Lois Lane into an actress, you know. You wouldn't make Elena a model. Or a firefighter for that matter, or a police officer, or anything else that isn't a natural progression of their characters. You can defend completely changing MJ, for gameplay reasons, for progressive reasons, for story reasons.
But she is no longer the same character. While changing everything about her is one way to go to make other parts of the game work, it sure wasn't the only way. As a result, I have a hard time pinning down my opinion on MJ in this game. On one hand she's a solid character, I love her. She's a lot of fun, she's a cutie, she's got some goals and quirks going on that are her own, and the relationship with Peter is swell. On the other hand, she's a stranger wearing the face of another character I love, and I kinda hate that. It's not as bad as the chick from Spider-Man Homecoming calling herself MJ right before the credits(like how the policeman from The Dark Knight Rises called himself Robin right before the credits), this Mary Jane is more similar than that. But yeah, it's not very satisfying as a portrayal of her original character, even if the new one is fun too. It's difficult.
The other major supporting cast member is Miles Morales. If you're unfamiliar, Miles Morales is a barely seven year old character who took up the mantle of Spider-Man in the Ultimate comics after Peter Parker was killed by the Green Goblin. It was a big event that got a lot of publicity, and made Miles Morales one of the most famous Spidey characters overnight. He got bit by a spider that gave him Predator stealth camo and an electric sting that works like one of those kung-fu moves where you hit someone and they only go flying a few seconds later.
He had a run of something like 26 issues, which I read. During that run his uncle and mom got killed and his father had to start walking with a crutch, he beat up a giant woman and had a fat best friend they put into Spider-Man Homecoming as Peter's fat best friend. It's not exactly the most riveting arc I've ever read. The Ultimate line of comics then promptly shut down and ever since they've tried integrating him into the main comics, and put him in new adaptations from the start.
So. I don't think Miles Morales, the Ultimate character, is any good. While I was already ready to like MJ, Spidey and aunt May, I was prepared for disliking Miles. During his run in the comics, his defining features were being a coward, being a big Spidey fanboy, being born and raised unfunny, being gifted at science in an unspecified way that never manifested into a plot point and getting his family killed very effectively after getting his powers. Some of his characterization was very meta, a lot of feelings of inadequacy compared to the deceased Peter he succeeded. Which yeah, no shit this bland kid couldn't fill his shoes. Miles had no memorable villains, no interesting developments and no fun adventures. I don't think his popularity stems from any story with him I've read as much as it's just "Finally, a black Spider-Man!" Which isn't really a selling point for me. I don't like other Spider-Men in the first place, but Miles in particular gets under my skin because they keep putting him into things, and he's such a dull dude. Not painfully obnoxious the way some characters are, but there's no spark to him either.
Take something like Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, which switches protagonists for each part of the epic story as it moves through the decades. We start out with Jonathan Joestar. A good man to a fault, serious, honorable, naive, brave and gentlemanly. He's very archetypical, but he's a great match for the villain, who's as base and underhanded and despicable as they get. He's a great classic hero, who journeys all over England to defeat vampires in a gothic, tragic tale during the late 19th century.
Then we move into Joseph Joestar, his grandson. He's a trickster with a goofy personality who hasn't worked a day in his life, but gets through his troubles with clever thinking. He faces down monsters much more powerful than him, but thanks to quick wit and a lot of luck, he's able to come out on top even if he panicks along the way. He might not be a purehearted soul who has empathy for everyone, like Jonathan did, but he loves his family and friends with a passion. He's also a great hero, of a different kind, who goes on an Indiana Jones-style adventure in the lead-up to World War 2 with cyborg nazis and superpowered cavemen(they're the creators of the vampires I mentioned).
Next is Jotaro Kujo. He's a mean-looking, stoic, Man with No Name-like cowboy, who doesn't say much but communicates entirely in action move oneliners. He's very strong, and very calm and collected, and he defeats tricky scumbags both with his overwhelming strength and his cool. Like Joseph, he cares most for his family and companions, but he also cares greatly for the powerless that get taken advantage of by the powerful. He's a wonderful hero in his own way, too, and goes on a trip around the globe during the eighties to defeat a reborn vampire with psychic powers manifested as guardian spirits. These characters might all share common features in terms of a heroic nature, but they're all distinct and entertaining in their own way, with awesome adventures to their name that all have their individual settings and tone despite being part of a cohesive whole.
Miles Morales, on the other hand, is like Peter Parker without the charisma, with a big fanboy boner for Peter, with none of the memorable supporting cast, and with none of the exciting adventures Pete has gone on for the last 60 years, set in the exact same place as him.
There's been a lot of Spider-Men, from Spider-Man 2099 to various Spider-Girls to clones of Peter Parker, and not only are none of them fun characters, it feels like they dilute the original brand of Spidey. If you just wanna tell alternate universe stories, then sure, swap out the protag Jojo-style for a different character but with the same kinda heritage. But what's the point of having them crossover with the original guy? And what's the point in having a character that's Peter But Duller, in a story where he doesn't inherit Peter's position? Finally, why would you wanna replace Peter with this bland dude in the first place?
It's like how Street Fighter has all these shotoclones. Yes, some of them play differently, yes, some of them are wearing something different, yes, you can position them as foils to Ryu. But it's still like getting six Gokus in a Dragonball game: It's extremely boring. You can make different characters with somewhat relatable but not the same abilities, who are foils to Ryu, and who look different. Some examples in Marvel are Scorpion, who can do a lot of Spidey's stuff but is a tougher guy with his own unique moves, or Phil Urich, who shared Pete's Daily Bugle position and had a secret identity as the Hobgoblin instead of as a hero. Or take Dr. octopus in this game, who's very much Peter Parker with a twist. You don't have to make the foils into shotoclones. In this metaphor, Peter is Ryu and Miles is Sean. Why would you ever go out of your way to put Sean into anything?
However, they try pretty hard with Miles in this game. During a mission investigating Mr. Negative's operations you cooperate with his dad, who's a police officer this time around. He's a pretty nice guy. Jefferson Davis(Did Miles take his mom's name to avoid being Miles Davis?) heroically saves bystanders during the confrontation with the Demons and ends up getting his face in the Bugle. It's a cool mission too. Jefferson mentions he has a son like twice and is nothing but a nice guy, so you're not getting any prizes if you see what's coming next. But I thought it was nice to have a stealthy, puzzly mission with him before a big action scene at the end where he throws stun/smoke grenades at the enemies to help you out.
When Osborn later wants to award him at a re-election rally, Mr. Negative blows up the place and kills Jefferson. His mom and his dad got their places swapped, compared to the original story(In Miles' origin, his dad's brother is Prowler, and gets killed in a confrontation with Miles after trying to use Miles for his schemes. Miles' mother Rio Morales later gets shot in the chaos when Venom attacks Miles at a hospital. It's meant to be a bit of a "Got ya!" that his dad is the one who gets killed here, but since he's a thoroughly kind black guy who keeps mentioning his kid I'd be way more surprised if he didn't).
Miles is heartbroken, and when he dismisses Peter's condolences at the funeral, Peter invites him to work at FEAST to have something meaningful to do. Miles takes him up on this offer rather than do more therapy, and ends up helping out throughout the rest of the game. In particular, he looks after May. He gets quite a few scenes where he gains more confidence and gets a few pep talks, and one sweet scene in particular where Spidey teaches him how to punch him in the face. He and MJ cooperate to save both aunt May and Spider-Man's life in a dramatic fire, too.
I hesitate to say I'm a fan of Miles Morales after this game, but I do think he's better here than he was before. He gives a civilian perspective to all of the events, and I felt really bad for him when his dad bit it. I liked that they integrated him so seamlessly into the story, and made his parent's death a result of someone else rather than because Miles got his powers. I would've liked if they changed him a little more, 'cause Miles still isn't the most stimulating dude. He's not outright an annoying character, he's just kind of a bland milquetoast. But he's better here than he was in his own comic book. As a side character, he doesn't have to carry the whole story. He's just this decent kid with a sad backstory that grounds the more spectacular events. He's nice and he tries hard and he's not bad at all. If there's anything to criticize about his presence, it's that the plot wouldn't have to be changed at all if he just didn't exist. He's here because he's Miles Morales, and Miles Morales is popular. You want him around in this game so it makes sense when there are two Spider-Man come Spider-Man 2.
Miles and MJ are playable three or four times each in the campaign, during....
Life is Strange and stealth sections
One of the things that makes Marvel Spider-Man into one of those Everygames is how heavily it cribs from others. Some open world towers here, some noisemakers here, some walking and talking there. With Miles and MJ you get these modern adventure game sections where you walk around, look at things and talk to people as the character talks to themselves inside their heads. It's not exciting gameplay, but that's kinda the point, to break away from swinging and combat for a moment, take a little breather, and do some slow worldbuilding and mystery solving. The best of these sections are used to show the world from the perspective of regular people who can't crawl on walls, and specifically, to build the relationship between MJ and Peter. Miles' sections develops his relationship to both Spidey and Peter, but more in a big bro/senpai~ kinda way.
In addition to walking around like you're Max Caulfield in Life is Strange, each character has simplistic stealth sections. Miles' first section right after the bombing of the rally resembles the intro to Metal Gear Solid V, with Miles crawling around and seeing other bystanders get slaughtered(in PG-13, offscreen, bloodless ways) by Mr. Negative's demons. I thought the resemblance was funny.
During these sections you have to avoid glass on the floor and knocking over boxes, and any time someone catches you, you're instantly dead. MJ eventually gets the option to throw a lure and knock out guards with a tazer. Miles gets the ability to hack things, creating distractions like he's a Watch_Dogs protag. I don't think these sections are terrible, but it's telling that they only get fun when Spider-Man is around. The highlight is right before the first boss fight with Mr. Negative. MJ ran to the station to pick up on a lead and got herself captured by Mr. Negative, but this leads to her being in a position where she can stop the release of Devil's Breath and rescue the hostages in ways Spidey can't. It also leads to some good cooperation, where you can direct Spider-Man to take out guards after luring them away from their patrol route, and some sweet catharsis afterwards when you play as Spider-Man again and can beat them up, finally. Peter and MJ's constant banter in this section is pretty great!
Ultimately I can't fault anyone who hates these segments because of how shallow they are, how linear they are, and how much of a break they are from being Spider-Man, which is after all what we're here for. Personally I was fine with most of them, although I imagine they'd kill any replay value, 'cause you can't skip them. If there is any gameplay from this game I would be completely fine with cutting, these stealth sections should certainly be the first to go. You already get enough variety and downtime in gameplay with the swap between the combat and the swinging around. These are nice for characterization and exposition, but it isn't anything you can't just have in a cutscene, especially considering how tightly scripted they are.
During the last stealth mission as MJ, she infiltrates Osborn's penthouse apartment and discovers a secret lab where he keeps his computer, a locked cabinet, his hints that he's gonna become the Green Goblin next game, and a whole bunch of radioactive spiders. Spidey's origin story is never brought up in this game, but it looks like we're going with the setting where the spider that bit Peter is a result of Osborn's experiments, and he's now trying to recreate it in secret.
I've seen that in the Ultimate cartoon and, I believe, the Amazing Spider-Man movies. Both might lead back to the Ultimate comics, I forget. It's all an attempt to make the original comic book canon, in which very little was connecting all these accidents that made all these superpowered people, a bit more coherent. Lots of adaptations try it. It's why every exciting villain in the Flash tv show is suddenly the result of some storm that just handed out superpowers to people that "died" during it. It's probably part of the reason why the X-Men are so popular, you can just explain everyone's powers instanly by saying they're mutants.
Anyway, MJ knocks over a container with the spider that's got Miles Morales' abilities, it sneaks into her bag, and later escapes and bites Miles right before the final boss fight. I half expected Miles to show up and kill-steal Doc Ock, but thankfully he didn't. During her escape from the building, she calls in Spidey, who swoops in and carries her away. This is their "good partners" mission after their "bad partners" mission on the train station, but it doesn't quite feel like it since the train station was a much more fun segment where you controlled both of them rather than just MJ. It does show how Spidey trusts her to handle herself more though, and it also shows how she is comfortable with letting him swoop in and help her when she needs him to. He's gotten over his need to protect her at all times, and she's not as reckless anymore. Now all that's left of the story to talk about is...
The game's ending changes a few things substantially. Aunt May dies, reducing Peter's family from one to zero and his social circle from three to two. Three months later, Mary Jane gets together with him again. Peter getting back together with MJ is a short and sweet scene, and feels like the only point you could end on to make the ending bittersweet instead of just bitter. Miles Morales reveals to Peter that he's gotten powers, and Peter in turn tells him that he's Spider-Man. Finally, there's a scene in Osborn's secret lab where Norman opens the locked cabinet. I expected it to contain his goblin suit. Instead, it reveals a comatose Harry in a tank full of green goop, breathing through a tube. All this time Norman has been trying to cure him of a genetic disease, and Devil's Breath was a result of those experiments. Harry's surrounded by black, liquid-like webs, and as Norman places his hand on the tank, black webs shoot out and attach to the tank. They were doing a Venom teaser all along!
Let's get into the parts I disliked first. Aunt May dies because they need to use the cure for Devil's Breath to generate more antidotes, and it won't be done in time for May to survive. She and Pete both know what's right, and save the cure for the people of Manhattan. Aunt May's death, while appropriate for the self-sacrificing greater good nature of both herself and Peter, doesn't feel like a good idea to me. Peter loves two women more than anything, and it's her and Mary Jane. Killing her off feels very "movie-like". "We're not gonna be making this forever. Also we need to separate ourselves from all the other adaptations as best we can. So let's kill off a major supporting cast member for some emotional impact, and make sure to tell the audience she knew Pete was Spidey all along". That fell flat for me. And I'm not some cold-hearted dude, I'll cry like a baby if a piece of media makes me really care, this just didn't.
I certainly feel sorry for Peter, who looks justifiably torn up at his aunt's deathbed. But I don't feel sad about this game's aunt May, because of her depiction. She looks nothing like old aunt May, so my residual love for the character can't attach itself to her. And in-game she's defined so much by her tireless FEAST work, a rather small part of her in every other depiction, that she feels like a different person, similar to Mary Jane. And unlike Mary Jane, she doesn't get a ton of story sequences to build that new relationship with Peter. Rather than feeling sad, or even shocked, that aunt May is dead, I just feel sad that they closed off all the stories they could've told with her, and that Peter's supporting cast is so reduced from the low number it already was. Insomniac didn't put in the work with her to make me care.
Jefferson Davis was enough of a death, Doc Ock and MJ's relationships with Peter was enough of an emotional ride. This just felt like an attempt at adding more "weight", and hearing the ending described as "bold" in reviews more annoys me than rings true to me. It's kinda like with the villains, you know. In the comics, in the cartoon, not every villain needs to have a sad connection to Pete. Most of them are just out there doing their own thing, and Pete stops them 'cause that's his calling. They're fun, entertaining adventures. Often drama in Pete's own life lends the stakes. That's enough. But when trying to make something filmic, when trying to make it matter, to make it "heavy", devs or directors feel the need to add that emotional element all the time. Doc Ock got his wife in the second Spider-Man movie, Sandman got his family immediately in Spider-Man 3, that kinda thing. Either that or some kinda sickness and kid is involved. Was it Amazing Spider-Man 2 that had the Osborn family sick from a genetic disease where they needed Spider-Man's blood to get better? Like come on. The villain always, always discovers who Spider-Man is underneath the mask, 'cause it's the only thing they can think of to raise the stakes. "This time it's personal!" Yeah, this and every other time.
In this game, the villains are either there for a brief boss fight, or they're relegated a ton of time that attempts to make them have some sympathetic depth, and they always learn Spidey's secret identity and Pete's mask gets ripped up so they can look each other right in the eyes. It's not only generic, there's no room for a medium. Aunt May's death, in my eyes, feels like that sorta attempt, when it would've been just fine to have her survive and keep doing her thing. But she doesn't get to, 'cause that's not "heavy", and this frustrates me. Thematically, having Peter literally choose between what he selfishly wants and the greater good, and going with the opposite of what Doc Ock would've chosen, that works. It can also be good to add depth, or realism, or an element of sadness to a character.
But it's absolutely not a necessity in every case to have those things to create something great, or an iconic villain, or a memorable character arc. Just as often as it works great it will be some generic ineffective attempt, with dead parents and wives. In the case of Norman Osborn in this game, he has both a dead wife and a sick son, suffering from the same disease, and I just don't see the point. You can't turn everyone sympathetic or deep by just giving them dead family members as a motivator for the absurd evil supervillain shit they do. And I don't think May's death and Pete choosing to save the people of New York City gave the game anything we didn't already know.
Aunt May's death did not lend greatness to this game. It's great despite her death. And now, no matter how many sequels happen or if there's a shared Marvel game universe or whatever, she's gone. You just threw out one of the best supporting characters in superhero comics for no grand payoff. That's the bummer here.
Miles "Tails" Prower
I won't repeat everything I wrote about Miles, suffice to say I'm not exactly stoked that he's become a full-on superhero by the end. They tried pretty hard with him in this game, and I think he's better than the Ultimate comics version. But I still don't want Spidey to have other Spider-folk running around lending him a hand, if I can avoid it. It might be thematically fitting for a game in which Pete's whole arc is learning to rely on others, but as I mentioned earlier, I think Miles Morales is hell of boring. The thought of spending a lot of time playing as or communicating with him during Spidey gameplay, in a series with one of the best depictions of Peter Parker ever, isn't appealing to me in the slightest. Meanwhile, Spidey is great when he's out on adventures alone, only doing the occasional team-up with a character who is different from him, like Wolverine or Dr. Strange. Not when he's babysitting the wannabes. So thanks, but no thanks. This also applies to any future Spider-crossovers. I might think Spider-Gwen has one of the best costumes of all time, but I don't wanna see her swing around in the continuity here. That just reads like fanfiction to me. Do give me a Gwen skin for open world cleanup tho.
Rather than taking over like he did in the Ultimate Comics, I get the impression Miles is relegated to sidekick(if only because if he took over at the end of the second game, I would not buy the inevitable third game). I haven't watched a lot of the current cartoons and I'm a couple of years behind on the comics, but I get the sense that this is how they're placing him in those. I could see a Marvel's Spider-Man 2 where you occasionally play some missions as him with his unique abilities, a la Catwoman in Arkham City. Maybe you could switch back and forth between Spidey and Miles the way some fights in Arkham Knight or Nier Automata went, but I hope that's not the "innovation" they're cooking up to up their combat the next time. That'd be underwhelming to say the least. I guess it's good for fans of Miles, but the part of him I appreciated in this game was the civilian perspective on the dramatic events, and it helped that he had a minor side role rather than being the main character. I don't need Spider-man to have both a Lois Lane and a Robin. Miles doesn't have a personality, style and abilities different enough from Peter's to really provide that contrast and cheerfulness Robin can give to a brooding Batman, and taking on sidekicks isn't a thing Spidey has been big on traditionally. And I don't think the kung-fu sting is gonna make me change my mind on him when he's Sidekick Fanboy Spider in the next game. Though I reserve my right to do so if it looks really sick.
If Miles Morales does get his own full-on playable sections in the next game, I expect them to cover a version of his origin story where Prowler(as his uncle Aaron Davis, not Hobie Brown from the regular continuity) tries to use Miles' newfound powers for evil, and ends up accidentally killed while fighting Miles. It's the only confrontation in Miles' entire run that feels remotely memorable 'cause it's a mean uncle tempting and blackmailing him into doing crimes instead of Peter Parker's uncle Ben guiding him down the right path. It'd also be a parallell to Peter Parker losing control over his morals thanks to the Symbiote suit, if he does end up with it in this continuity. Perhaps Peter could help Miles out while Miles returns the favor later, who knows.
Get the Punisher in there too for a brief mission(it's been a long while, but he did to my knowledge start out as a Spider-Man villain) and you can weave in some themes about how you use your powers, revenge, and the nature of vigilantism, which could fit a dark middle chapter. In the comics, Yuri Watanabe takes on the mantle of Wraith and becomes a vigilante, at one point killing a criminal. While never referenced in the game, this is the hook of her character from the beginning, rather than functioning as Spidey's Commissioner Gordon. If you wanna work with what you got and not rely on bringing in Punisher, you could easily use that dark turn together with the rest of it instead.
During the events of this game, Dr. Morgan Michaels/Morbius operates on Spider-Man after Doc Ock beats him up, and also helps mass-produce the cure to Devil's Breath. He's heavily involved in its production in the first place, too, giving Peter a complicated relationship with the man. It also gives Michaels access to all sorts of stuff since he's had his hands on Peter Parker, maybe taken a blood sample or something. I dunno if they're gonna pick up on this later and actually use him as his vampiric self or not, but if they want to, the seeds are planted. He easily fits into the same tragic scientist mold as someone like the Lizard, if they wanna go down that route once more.
You add Morgan transforming into a vampire and having uncontrollable urges on top of the symbiote stuff, you've got the ingredients for a game with a bit more dark to it. You can also easily save Morbius from his fate with some blood packs or somethin', as opposed to Harry and Norman, who are topping the list for "villains most likely to die" in every adaptation. Norman's probably gonna get stabbed through the chest with his own glider and Harry is currently dying from a disease and might be in a situation where he won't survive without the symbiote, so I imagine both of them to be goners by the end of the second game for dramatic purposes. Morbius would be a nice opportunity to actually have a villain become better.
The Goblin and the Symbiote
I mentioned earlier that I don't mind adaptations changing things if I think they're for the better, and I do mean that. The game has obviously set up Osborn to be the Green Goblin next time around. But the devs seem aware of how tired the goblins are. Norman Osborn has dominated the comics forever. Him and Harry's stories have been portrayed several times on the big screen, too. He was the bad guy in the first Raimi movie, Harry was around for that whole trilogy and eventually became the Green Goblin himself, and during Amazing Spider-Man 2 he returned and killed Gwen Stacy, as he always does. He's been there in every single cartoon I can think of. I can't speak for everyone, it that wasn't already obvious from how much I don't care for Miles, but for my money they had to do something to spice it up.
Here's the thing. Another tired story and character I dislike is Venom. If we're doing the Street Fighter metaphor again, Venom is something like Akuma or Evil Ryu, and because nothing is more cool than Evil Version Of Good Guy, Venom is beloved. But he's also a dumbass 90s edgelord character co-created by the Spawn guy, with very little going for him. He's just an angry, wounded jerk who hates Spider-Man and likes being violent and saying goofy shit. Later on he's got his own stories in which he's the kinda anti-hero Punisher is. He kills people, but they're big jerks, so for readers that like anti-heroes that's good enough. In my book there are only two things worth salvaging from Venom. One is his position as Spider-Man But Stronger. He's great for a rival fight, the way Vergil is in Devil May Cry. You gotta have him around for a cool battle. He can do everything you can do(although less so now that Spider-Man relies more on gadgets), and the liquid animations on Venom by Insomniac should look very stylish. The other thing is him knowing Spider-Man's secret identity and coming after his family, but frankly, at this point Spider-Man no longer has a familyto go after, and half the bad guys know his secret identity anyway(You didn't mess this up at all, guys).
Point being, you can easily remove the catholic journalist Eddie Brock and replace him with someone else as the host. My favorite is the Eddie Brock of the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, who was Spidey's long-time friend and science senpai~ but who gradually got frustrated as both Spider-Man and Peter Parker accidentally made his life worse. It's pretty similar to Doc Ock's slow burn in this game, and him becoming the season finale villain after such a long buildup helped a lot. Them changing Venom's host to Harry in this universe... well, it all depends on how they write Harry, obviously. In this universe we only know him from audio logs and letters, and he seems like a nice guy who cares about his friends and the legacy of his dead mother. But it's almost certainly an improvement on comic canon Eddie Brock, and it's gonna freshen up the Green Goblin story at the same time. It's a pro move.
I hope they aren't going the Ultimate route with Osborn, though. I understand that somehow it's more grounded and beliveable that he transforms into a Hulk-like Ogre that can chuck fireballs at people, rather than put on a Halloween outfit, fly around on a hoverboard and chucking pumpkin-shaped grenades, but one of those is a classic and one of those is interchangable for any other monstrous character. I have some hope that this will turn out alright. His mask and grenades are both in his apartment, as more mundane prototype versions of themselves. Additionally, there's an Oscorp exhibition during the Grand Central mission, and one of the display objects is a drone that looks exactly like his comic book glider.
Edit: According to some googling, Venom was designed as a cure for cancer in the Ultimate Spider-Man comics and used by Harry Osborn in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, two of my blind spots. It's nice to be on board with an Ultimate idea for once.
Some final nitpicks
- To my knowledge there's no skip button for cutscenes, which even MGS4 mercifully had. It's not a big deal on a first playthrough, but in a game as cutscene-heavy as this(an MGS4 All Cutscenes video on youtube is 9 hours long. Spider-Man's is 8 hours) it's a lot to ask to sit through every minor scene again. And of course, it's a bother if you die and have to play a segment again. Edit: Having started another playthrough, it appears you can skip some cutscenes? I'm not sure what the differentiator is. Perhaps it only works when there aren't any QTEs involved.
- The game only slowed down for me once, so props for that. The load times are also incredibly merciful, usually only around ten seconds besides when the game changes time of day, which is a whole lot better than games like Bloodborne and Horizon Zero Dawn. Miraculous, really, for the size and look of the world. However, the game crashed several times, and I once loaded into a mission and just fell through the floor.
- You can't stand on the boats, come on man!
- The open world sidequests are too uninteresting to go into depth on. Partly 'cause there's not much to say, partly 'cause I couldn't be arsed to do that many and largely mainlined the game. I did all of Black Cat's, which was like doing the world's simplest Riddler trophies: Just look at this picture until the controller vibrates and you see a stuffed animal. I'm aware there's a Taskmaster boss. I've looked at a video, and considering the fight involves L1+R1-ing him again before beating on him I don't feel like I'm missing much. It's cool how he ambushes you after you've finished his challenge though, throwing a bola at you and bringing you down to the ground with no warning.
- The game's version of Twitter is about as bad as in real life. I keep checking it and then instantly regretting it.
- The game is a bit "baby's first game" when it comes to tutorials. Even in major story missions, the objective of the immediate moment will usually light up on screen, and if it isn't there, then Spidey will either say to himself or someone else what he needs to do. Same for button prompts, not just for QTEs, but for basic mechanics you've been using for hours. If you're in a scripted sequence, and you are, a lot, then Spidey is always gonna tell you if you're not doing the right thing. It's like the complete opposite of Platinum Games or FromSoft where they tell you nothing at all, and personally it became a little overbearing. I'm fine, mum, let me play the game on my own. I'll figure it out.
- The QTEs feel so aged. I haven't seen this many since what, Resident Evil 4? You can turn them off in the options, and I sure did that at once, but the cutscenes still has to show those parts, just without the button prompts, which means there are awkward pauses in all the action scenes now.
- You're also able to skip the minigames on the tower and in the lab, which just begs the question of why they're included in the first place. If you know they're needless busywork, why include them at all? I appreciate that I can skip them, but they're still there, and I dunno who they're supposed to be for.
- I guess this is a thing only I care about, but I wish there was a bit more variety in terms of people in the game. I mentioned that about the enemies you fight, but it goes for the regular joes in the street, too. You get slim ladies and regular dudes and that's about it besides the big burly enemies and aunt May. You telling me there are no fat blokes in all of New York? No children, no old ladies? This is a really minor thing, and probably just a matter of priorities, but I couldn't stop thinking about it once I noticed it. Feel free to correct me if there's pregnant women hanging out in the parks or wherever, but I don't remember seeing them at all. Something for the sequel, just a couple more types of bodies.
- While a great idea, Jameson's podcast can't keep it up for the game's runtime. Most of the jokes are just Jameson saying something nice about himself and then proving himself a hypocrite the next sentence, and that gets old fast. It's just the most basic joke. It makes him seem outrageous and cartoony, when my favorite depictions of him do have a good side somewhere in there, always looking out for Peter when some bad guy shows up at the Daily Bugle to look for Spidey.
I can't overstate the love and care(and also money and time) I feel like Insomniac has brought to the franchise. From the beautiful depiction of New York, to the perfect portrayal of Peter Parker's and Spidey's characters, every aspect of the game is brimming with fondness for Spider-Man. There's endless amounts of little details and tricks and cameos that show how much they cared, and how much they put in and sacrificed to make on of the most polished games I've played in years, not counting Nintendo titles. While it's far from glitch free, as far as open world games go, this is one of the least janky I've seen. I didn't even mention the cool suits they made, pulled from all kinds of movie adaptations and decades of the wallcrawler's life.
This blog has pointed out a lot of things that annoyed me, because ultimately, that's easier and more cathartic than kissing their ass and heap compliment upon compliment on their accomplishments. It's easy to sit here and write "uuuh I di'nt like this part", only putting in an afternoon into a long blog post, it's something else to make an awesome game over the course of many years. I have a ton of complaints about each individual aspect of the game. But in a lot of cases, it's merely that they're shallow individually, and the game taken as a whole is an amazing experience anyway. I want them to improve the aspects I complain about, naturally. But I wanna make it clear that I wrote this because I adore the game they put out.
Some of my favorite missions in the game are the humanizing ones. There's a section when Miles first starts working at the FEAST center where one of the homeless guys watches the news about his dad's death, and insults him without knowing Miles is his son, a situation that Peter defuses. There's a really good mission where Peter gets kicked out of his apartment and all his belongings get trashed, and he chases garbage trucks during the middle of the night while this unusually chill music plays, and he just wants to go to sleep. The conversations he has with the garbage disposal dude over the phone sell how he's lived his whole life in New York and knows it like the back of his hand. That he is the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Then there are all the jokes. The Halloween party stands out to me, with all the little cameos. Shuma-Gorath as decoration on the wall, all the partygoers dressed up in cheap versions of the classic costumes of the villains. There's even an appearance from two Lizard and Mysterio cosplayers, villains who are otherwise absent from the game completely. It's great when Mr. negative empowers the jackass in the Rhino suit and you get this super short fight against him. Even Greg Miller's fat shirtless belly has a cameo at that party, I'd recognize that torso anywhere. And although I have no idea how that happened, it's great as a gag even without knowing whatever context lead to it being in the game.
I stand by the complaints I have - The open world activities are a bit dull and the gameplay is too simple and shallow(from another perspective, I suppose it's accessible, but it did not give me enough engaging gameplay personally). I would have liked for Insomniac to have done some characters and storyline aspects differently, and I don't necessarily feel like the themes lead to my ideal version of Spidey's world. Somehow the webswinging, while it feels good, doesn't really speak to me the same way it seems to do to others. But ultimately, I can forgive a lot of frustrations when a game made me feel like Spider-Man for a few, wonderful hours. The way Insomniac absolutely nailed so much of the aesthetic, movements, characters and setting of the series got me immersed in a way I don't often get. I realized that as I swung through the rain, sad at Jefferson's death, beating up some drug dealers in the mud near a construction site, and it was four in the morning outside 'cause I didn't want to turn the game off.
While it must be exhausting to think about, like Horizon Zero Dawn, they've got some amazing building blocks here to make a sequel with, and a ton of unused characters to pull into the story. I've already mentioned the supporting cast, and obviously Venom and Goblin and even a return of Dr. Octopus is hinted at. I expect Green Goblin to be the main bad guy and Venom to be the rival character, or possibly the one to take over right at the end after Norman is dealt with. Or alternatively, we get a two-pronged final boss with Miles and Peter versus Green Goblin and Venom.
Besides those villains, we've yet to see an appearance from characters like Mysterio, Kraven, Sandman, Lizard or Chameleon, and those are only the bigger names. They could use Shatra for all I know. Bring Molten Man out for a spin. Try on Boomerang and Beetle, I hear they were good in Superior Foes of Spider-Man. Tempt fate and bring in Jackal and his clones, se how well that goes. Hobgoblin, while fairly popular, can't really show up until a while after Green Goblin, so that's a third game kinda bad guy if we get that far I think. Bring Shocker back, his whole charm point is that he's workmanlike. He should rob something in every game.
And then there's other heroes' villains that he's tangled with in the past. They already used Taskmaster, but I'd love to see Juggernaut or Dr. Doom in here. Those guys have had some absolutely classic confrontations with the webslinger.
If we're being realistic, I'd say you should save a couple of the recognizable names for the inevitable third game, 'cause Venom, Octopus and Green Goblin are the three big baddies, and by the third game they're all used. Odds are one of them is gonna return with a vengeance, but if they're not, you need a couple of classics to bring in the crowd. Chameleon and Mysterio work well together, so maybe save that duo until you need it.
If you use the second game on Venom, Goblin and then a bunch of C-listers like Morbius, there'd be enough characters left in the third game for a second Sinister Six that doesn't share any members with the original other than Octopus(I'd go Doc Ock, Mysterio, Chameleon, Kraven, Sandman and Shocker, but you can use that last spot for someone underused and modern like Mr. Negative again if you want to). So yeah, my money is on Ock returning. Like I've mentioned, I feel like Norman and Harry set off too many death flags to survive till a third game. While I would like Green Goblin as a recurring nemesis, I just don't think that's in the cards for a company that'd kill off aunt May in the first game. Dr. Octopus, on the other hand, seems like he has a lot of adventures left in him. Even if they never do Superior Spider-Man, I want to see him in the major villain role again. He's so good.
I'll be interested to see what they're pulling out of their hat for the DLC besides Black Cat. The remaining two missions are named Turf Wars and Silver Lining. Silver Sable is bound to return for that last one, but who knows about the other ones. I suspect Silvermane, he's about the right level of still recognizable but very minor character who can be a DLC bad guy. Besides, he's a cyborg, so Insomniac get to flex those robot armor muscles they love again. He also shares the silver motif with Sable, so if they wanna they can tie him to her like in Spectacular Spider-Man. Try getting the Silver Surfer in there too just to really blow my mind.
I also expect Fisk to make a return, since he was unceremoniously dropped from the story midway through but seems unlikely to return as a major bad guy in the future, having been defeated very thoroughly already. Turf Wars makes it sound like gangs are gonna fight to divide New York between them, and the only one mentioned so far that hasn't shown up in the game is, to my knowledge, Silvermane's band of crooks. Perhaps Daredevil could be persuaded to put in a guest appearance if Fisk shows up. Maybe we'll get some ninja enemies. Other suspects, I suppose, would be the Owl or Hammerhead. But those are some hard C-listers, Owl in particular.
I hope they'll utilize the DLC's well. There's a ton of Spidey villains who would be fun to fight, but don't exactly have that emotional weight. The Spot is my dream example. Funny-looking character, actually amazing and unique superpowers with his portals, not really any emotional weight or strong storylines to pull from. Great as a hired goon for any mobster. Great for a boss fight. Meanwhile, Alistair or Spencer Smythe's robots would bring some much-needed variety to the enemy encounters.
Aside from dudes you fight, I think the city Insomniac has built can support many more games. I want them to change up the seasons, and maybe open up a few of the surrounding areas like Queens or the statue of Liberty, but overall I'd be happy to see this city return for a sequel. You kinda have to use New York for Spider-Man. I doubt the press will be impressed, but for me it's enough with a layer of snow on top of what's there to make me completely ready for a sequel in the exact same environment otherwise.
Insomniac has since, through director Bryan Intihar(incidentally a lovely man who liked my photo mode Spider-Man pics on twitter), talked about this game as if it is their Iron Man. Meaning that the same way Iron Man kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic universe, by just making a stellar movie that people enjoyed, this could be the start of a Marvel... Gamey?.. Universe. While there have been a ton of Marvel games before this one, it seems like they are currently courting big-name devs to develop prestige games based on their properties. I think next one out is Avengers by Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal.
I dunno if Insomniac's Spider-Man will play any part in that, but I thoroughly don't mind Marvel throwing money at the games industry to develop actually good games based on their properties for once. My only worry at the moment is that like Spider-Man, they might end up suffering from being overly cinematic and simple for widest possible appeal. I'm hopeful I'll have fun with them, though.
I'm not gonna dole out a score, but depending on how much of a Spider-Man nerd you are, and maybe even if you're not, it's well worth picking up. This might not be my favorite Spider-Man universe, but y'know, it's definitely up there. I like it more than any of the Spider-Man movies for sure, and the only ones offering real competition for me are the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon and the original comics. Insomniac did an extremely good job with this game, and yeah, honestly I think I love it.
And if you're the one person who bothered reading this whole super long rant: thanks! Feel free to just use this to talk Spidey spoilers.