What Makes Marvel's Spider-Man So Great
Insomniac's Unique Take
Throughout the many years of Spider-man's history there have been many games spanning a fair share of consoles and ranging in quality. With the recent release of Marvel’s Spider-man by developer Insomniac Games being both a huge critical and financial success, the collaboration has proven to be a great first step in a new and promising direction for Marvel. Every aspect of the game feels as if it was created with the utmost care for the character and source material with the added benefit of not being connected to any existing media. (Major spoilers ahead!)
Familiar Neighborhood Spider-Man
From start to finish the game exudes an overwhelmingly positive attitude that lends itself to an outstanding original story full of emotional highs and lows that remains extremely lighthearted, fun and genuinely compelling with an absolute great sense of humor, even in the darkest of beats. The story follows an older Peter Parker who has been Spider-man for 8 years when we’re introduced to him, taking down Wilson Fisk AKA Kingpin but instead of crime in the city getting better, the city eventually falls into chaos at the hands of Martin Li (Negative Man), his gang called The Inner Demons, Doctor Octavius and eventually the Sinister Six, as Fisk was keeping all other crime besides his own under control. With help from Mary Jane, Miles Morales and a few other important characters, Spider-Man must fight to save his city from disaster and bring down quite the large list of villains.
Although the story seems familiar, which is inescapable considering the amount of media Spider-man has covered over the years, Insomniac made many changes to the cast of characters we’ve come to know and love, from Aunt May to Peter Parker and Mary Jane almost everyone was rewritten in a way that compliments them as a character rather than making changes just for the sake of being different. We see Peter no longer working at the Daily Bugle, but instead as a promising scientist working with Doctor Octavius to create ground breaking prosthetic's, Mary Jane is now an investigative journalist for the Daily bugle and works as Peters partner throughout the game, while Miles Morales starts in the world rather than coming from another dimension, Yuri Watanbe acting as Spider-Man's inside woman on the police force feeding him information, and finally Aunt May helps Martin Li(as his Philanthropist alter ego) to run the F.E.A.S.T(Food, Emergency,Aid,Shelter and Training) shelters around the city to create safe environments for the homeless.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsiblity
Through these relationships Insomniac builds a story that manages to bring together the responsibilities (and the burdens) Peter Parker has to his job, his community and his personal relationships with those he loves, with Spider-Man's duty to protect New York. The writing captures the many emotions Peter deals with through the story in a largely relatable way, from having to work with his ex MJ and trying to figure out where their relationship stands in all its awkward tension, to the brotherly relationship Miles and Peter develop through the shared hardship of losing a loved one, the love peter has for Aunt May and how he looks up to and idolizes Doctor Octavius as his mentor and father figure. And what is a Spider-Man story if our main hero isn't relatable? While Peter Parker may be capable of spectacularly heroic deeds as Spider-Man, his life outside of the mask is just as important to any Spider-Man story.
Sharing Screen Time
Even for as much nuance given to Spider-man as a main character, Insomniac showed the supporting cast just as much love through their superb writing. The core focus of many character relationships we see in the game center around mentorship, from Aunt May and Doctor Octavius acting as idols and parental figures to Peter throughout the game, to Peter acting as an older brother to Miles after his father dies in a terrorist attack by Mr. Negative while being honored for his own heroism, and finally Miles' adoration of Spider-Man (who until the end he doesn’t know Spider-Man and Peter are the same person). While it may be a Spider-Man game, the help he gets from his makeshift team consisting of MJ, Miles and Yuri, proves to be just as invaluable to the city as his own efforts to protect as many people as possible. MJ uses her skill set and cunning as an investigative journalist to help gather evidence on Martin Li that simultaneously helps Spider-Man prevent further catastrophe and creates a solid string of evidence to ensure a proper legal case is built against him. Meanwhile Miles helps Aunt may create a safe welcoming environment for the less fortunate at F.E.A.S.T, whether this means simply supplying coffee, fixing a tv or eventually sneaking through an area full of escaped prisoners to secure medical supplies for the shelter. With MJ and Miles being the only other playable characters, these sections help to give our protagonists equally important roles that show us that even without superpowers or a mask, they can still be hero's and play just as integral a role as Spider-Man.
Web Of Villainy
In similar fashion, villains are given clear motivations even if they aren't always the strongest, each appearance adds to the overall story. The main villains we meet/beat up include Mr. Negative, Electro, Rhino, Scorpion and Vulture, all brought together by Doctor Octopus (only referred to as Octavius in game.) after the take down of Wilson Fisk AKA Kingpin. Promising each member, a differing reward based upon their individual wants and needs under the condition they work together to take down Spider-Man, Octavius unites the Sinister Six for the first time in this take on Spider-Man. Each being disparate from each other, their many motivations differ greatly, as Doc promises Mr. Negative revenge on Norman Osborne for the experiments on himself that caused the deaths of his parents, pledging to free Rhino from his suits he has become imprisoned inside, giving Electro the ability to become pure energy as he wishes, simply giving Scorpion money as he's more than willing to take any opportunity to fight with Spider-Man and finally giving assurance to Vulture that he can cure the cancer given to him by the use of his exoskeleton over the years. although Doc is the mastermind behind many of the problems players encounter, he doesn’t initial begin as a villain but is twisted into it, as he loses control of his body from a degenerative nerve disease and in turn uses experimental tech developed by himself and Peter that allows him control over prosthetic limbs. In order to do so, the tech must connect to Docs brain, but in turn vastly changes his personality by drawing out his frustrations with Norman Osborn from years past when the two worked together and turning these feelings into pure hatred. With several other villains in tow such as Shocker, Taskmaster, Screwball, Silver Sable (her role as a villain fluctuates to reluctant ally as the story progresses.) Tombstone and Norman Osborne (also now mayor) the game mostly focuses on Mr. Negative and Doc Ock as main villains but never puts a character in as fan service without fleshing them out in some way.
A Perfect Storm
While Insomniac spare no effort in their character building, the same can be said for the absolutely fantastic gameplay on display for the roughly 20+ hours it takes to playthrough. From simply swinging around (more on that in a moment), to fighting tons of bad guys and generally exploring the city, the game constantly remains fun and fluid from start to finish. The web swinging itself deserves an enormous amount of praise, as its simple to understand but tough enough to master that when you do so it feels like an accomplishment without ever being punishing for the uninitiated. Said learning curve comes from the skill set players gradually unlock through skill points and otherwise learn while playing that helps you to stay in motion while also showing off major style while doing so. Even the fighting is fun while being similar in style to the Batman Arkham series which once again has the easy to learn but hard to master approach (harder so than the web swinging is in my opinion) in which players build combos through a mix of acrobatic brawling,well timed dodges and the use of creative gadgets to often control crowds of enemies far outnumbering spider-man. Through the combination of fun gameplay, enjoyable collectibles and memorable missions, Insomniac weaves the many parts together to create a vast web (pun whole heartily intended) of gameplay that is truly euphoric to experience.
Not Just Fan Service
Marvel’s Spider-man recently launched to huge critical and financial acclaim, quickly becoming another in a long line of strong PlayStation exclusive titles. With its compelling and original take on the source material along with a story that feels like it was pulled right from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Insomniac created a game full of passion, adoration and an almost unrivaled level of devotion for the character and his world. With its near flawless (excusing minor bugs and glitches here and there), Insomniac has created a new standard for AAA game development as a whole in my opinion. While it's not the only great single player game on the market, the attention to detail and seemingly endless affection for the project on behalf of the development team shows in a finished product that from start to finish feels truly amazing and entirely faithful to the character we all know so well.