It’s been so long since gamers got their hands on a decent Spider-Man game. While movie iterations have come and gone, the games have remained fairly faithful to the same core concepts – with increasingly lackluster returns for gamers. With Insomniac’s upcoming Spider-Man, there’s a hope that the veteran developers can breath some new life into the franchise. But while the game looks great up to now, there’s more than a few concerns threatening to tip over this exciting game. And that’s a real shame.
First off, I’ve always loved Spider-Man. As a kid, he was the superhero I’d most want to be. The idea of swinging around skyscrapers and soaring through the air at incredible velocities, kicking ass and saving the day always tickled my fancy. Off the top of my head, I’d say I’ve played just about every one of the major console releases with the Spider-man name since the original PlayStation. From the early action platformers to the open-world adventures on the PlayStation 2 onward. And well they aren’t very good, generally speaking.
My favourite Spider-man game, and probably all-time favourite movie tie-in (which isn’t saying much), Spider-man 2 got a whole lot right; The swinging felt quick and accurate, for the most part at least. The sprawling verticality of Manhattan felt vast and open. It was the closest a game had been to feeling like you were the wall-crawler, spandex and all. But beyond that the story was dull and fell into all the usual Spider-man tropes, the combat was clunky and unresponsive and the side-missions were infuriatingly repetitive to the point of actively trying to steal a little girl’s balloon. But that was over a decade ago, you’d assume that Spider-man games have come a long way since then, that the basic formula has evolved. And you’d be wrong.
Some of the later games took several steps back; the Amazing Spider-Man took away the intuitive web-slinging where you’d have to actually attach it to something, Web of Shadows was so repetitive and forgetful I almost forget it existed and let’s not even discuss Friend or Foe. The better of the games in the past decade all stripped away the open world in place of a more cohesive narrative, which was a good move in some ways. Shattered Dimensions probably is the most compelling, offering several different Spider-men to play as but it took away from the core thing that I loved most about Spider-man, swinging about freely. The more recent Amazing Spider-man 2 had a really good swinging mechanic, it’s just a pity the rest of the game ranged from middling to just plain bad.
Then in comes Insomniac’s new and fresh take. And I’ve got to admit I was excited. But the more I see of this new PS4 exclusive, the more I get flashbacks of the frustrating quick time events or mashing buttons to punch car windows in Spider-man 2. And that’s not good. Every time I hear something along the lines of “This is just as much a story about Peter Parker than it is about Spider-man” I get worried. Does this mean we’re going to have to play through dull sections taking pictures like in The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Not that it couldn’t be done well, but the Batman games succeeded by letting you be Batman and not have to deal with the other stuff.
The sheer amount of quick time events (QTE’s) in Sony’s E3 conference is also a cause for concern. QTE’s aren’t entirely bad, but if they make up the bulk of the combat set-pieces then the excitement can quickly be sucked out, especially if there are annoying penalties for missing the prompts. Of course, these are likely to only be in the main story missions, but the cut-scenes could be so saturated with them that it puts people off. The combat itself looks fluid and intuitive, with an interesting use of interactive environments. But it’s hard to really gauge how freely the combat flows in a guided demo.
Another thing that worries me is those side-missions. Insomniac have stated that this their biggest game to date, around five times bigger than the map of Sunset Overdrive. Granted, we haven’t seen much in-game footage outside the story, only a snippet shown at D23 but Spider-Man’s history of boring and simplistic side-missions and optional content is likely one of the reasons the open-world format was temporarily neglected. And the Amazing Spider-Man tie-ins did nothing to resolve that. But a big world doesn’t mean that everything in it is going to be fun. And a world that feels alive is important for the sandbox elements of this game, saving civilians has to feel like you’re actually making an impact. Not just doing the same fetch quest or chase over and over.
Maybe I’m being too cynical, or maybe I’ve just had my heart-broken by the web-slinger’s games too many times to get my hopes up too much. After all, this is an entirely new developer, not a Beenox or Activision logo in site. And Insomniac have a track-record of delivering quality platformers. The animation is fantastic, the combat looks fun and the graphics are real pretty.
I just hope they don’t fall into the same trap previous Spider-Man games have.