By xanadu 8 Comments
Hey everyone, long time no see. I told myself I was going to write more this year and I totally didn't. But life, you know? Anyways I have a bit more time on my hand right now and I've been playing through Marvel's Spider-Man. First of all, I am not here to try to convince you why that new hot Spider-Man game is actually bullshit. Ultimately, I found the game to be very enjoyable. I ended up 100%'ing the game over the weekend, tearing through the game like a fiend who needs a fix. There's a lot of great stuff going on this game. Visually, Marvel's Spider-Man is breath taking. Insomniac has crafted such a remarkably beautiful and detailed world for Spider-Man to swing around in. And oh man is this a fun game to traverse through. Swinging from roof to roof...climbing up the tallest buildings in Manhattan...mastering these controls makes you really feel like you are Spider-Man and you can do anything he can do. Marvel's Spider-Man is one of the most realistic super hero simulators to date but it still falls short in one major way: The citizens of Manhattan.
It is no secret that comic book video games from years past were not exactly stellar multi-million dollar budget experiences. They largely seemed to share the same fate as video games based off of theatrical films, being rushed through development to make a tight deadline to ultimately promote the film/brand. There is always exceptions to every rule but these games really were just promotional tools and of course, the game-play always suffered for it. With that in mind, it's hard to imagine what comic book video games would be like without the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009. It was one of, if not the first time in modern video game development that a comic book video game stood on its own. There was no movie tie-in or TV show to connect the game with. Arkham Asylum was just a straight up Batman story told through the vehicle of a video game. Obviously, the Arkham games have been very successful spawning 3 impressive games from the Rocksteady Studio (and 1 sadly underrated/appricated game from WB Montreal). The comments I made earlier about feeling like Spider-Man go equally so for Batman in the Arkham series of games. However, the pedestrian presentation in the Arkham games left much to be desired as it was completely non existent. It wouldn't have made sense to have random citizens walking around a psychiatric facility in Akrham Asylum. However, the next 2 games were set out in the 'open world' and had to come up with weird excuses to explain why there was no people wondering around Gotham. The Arkham games finally delivered a superb super hero game but I felt like I was still waiting for the first superb super hero simulator. Enter Insomniac games and their hot new product: Marvel's Spider-Man. From the very first announcement, Spider-man quickly became a highly anticipated title for a lot of people. For me, I was really excited for one small feature: people.
Look at all the people! Walking around the city! Doing things! Driving cars! Being people!! The living, breathing system of Manhattans' citizens does so much to the Spider-Man experience. Chasing criminals across the streets gets sprinkled with an extra layer of excitement as you can hear horns honking while you use their truck as a launching pad, citizens rushing to move out of the way from you and the criminals as you swing by...it all feels so organic. In comparison it really makes the Arkham games feel extremely sterile if not extremely depressing. And yet, it's still not enough for me...Spider-Man presents so much potential here but ultimately treats the random pedestrians as window dressing. Perhaps it is just another classic example of having your cake and wanting to eat it too but Spider-Man still fails at making citizens an important part of the super hero experience.
Of course the main story of Marvel's Spider-Man directly involves helping citizens of Manhattan. Yet for the most part, other then preventing another apocalyptic crisis (just a regular day for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man), those people directly correlate with Peter Parkers' life. However, the side activity is where Spider-Man leaves a lot to be desired. The game definitely wants you to spend time in the world between the main missions. Often after finishing a story mission the game will invite you to explore the world until the next mission unlocks. And there is definitely a lot to do in the streets of Manhattan while you're in between missions. There's backpacks to collect, challenges to complete, even environmental clean up (your eco-friendly neighborhood Spider-Man). You can beat up thugs attempting crimes in progress, unlock new suites to wear...and beat up some more thugs. Outside of a hunched down store owner or mugging victim waiting for me to complete the next 'Thug Crime' There are 0 activities to do that involve helping citizens. There are no cats to retrieve from trees, there are no senior citizens to help cross the street, nor is there any chance to save a baby from a burning building. Even the brief interactivity you do have with people out in the streets of Manhattan left be wanting for more. Spider-Man can't attack any citizens (which is good) instead, pushing the attack button will cause Spider-Man to greet people. Even a simple system where you could sign autographs or pose for pictures could have added so much more depth.
Am I asking for too much here? Maybe. Perhaps asking for random buildings to catch fire with a chance to save people stuck in said building would be very difficult to work out. But it's not like we haven't seen games tackle these issues before. Rockstar Games Red Dead Redemption crafted a random encounter system that worked fantastically in the open world of the wild west. They never stopped but there was only a handful of them; Retrieving a stolen horse for a stranded cowboy, wrangling up a thief who just stole from a merchants shop...they were simple but effective. And best yet, you could fail them. You may stumble upon someone about to be assassinated out in the desert and you only had seconds to put down everyone trying to murder this person. If you were not quick enough, there was no restart or retry. You weren't able to save that person and you will never have the chance again. The only parts of Spider-Man that are similar to this involve the thug/faction crimes mentioned earlier. You might be saving someone from getting mugged, but its part of a checklist. Every district has a set number of crimes to complete. If you fail while attempting to complete a thug crime, you can just try again later. The stakes are completely removed and thus lose all suspense.
With great power comes great...I couldn't even finish typing that sentence without groaning to myself. Still, Spider-Man does provide an amazing world to explore which is also combined with some of the best traversel tools I have ever wielded in a video game. It is because the highs are so high that I felt so disappointed with the citizen system. Despite my criticism, I still had a great time playing through Marvel's Spider-Man. You have to imagine a high budget first party console only exclusive video game will have a sequel or two. So it is pretty safe to regard this new Spider-Man series as a trilogy at the very least. Hopefully in the next game, Insomniac can add onto what they already have and finally deliver me the super hero simulator experience I've always wanted. Until then, I'll continue swinging around Manhattan at my leisure.