Sinister: Six things the PS4’s Spider-Man needs to get right
We recently got hands-on with a new build of Insomniac’s Spider-Man, an exclusive that looks to attempt to knock the Batman: Arkham games from their lofty lightning-lit gargoyle perch. Can it succeed?
The short answer is “yes”. But boy, is it going to take a lot to do it. And having gone hands-on with the game, we’re in a camp of quiet optimism around Insomniac’s chances of becoming the new superhero development benchmark. Unironically, our “yes” and “optimism” is because Insomniac hasn’t shied from taking a lot of what makes the Arkham games so great. Combat is very like-for-like, while traversal and an eye for detail in the visuals department also stand out. Spidey obviously also has his own Rogues Gallery, so they also have that, but even with just under two hours with the game we saw enough different between the two to see that, while they’ll have similarities, both will actually wind up being quite different.
Here are six things the game needs to web stick to the wall to be awesome:
PARKER QUIPS, THWIPS AND SLIPS
Batman is stoic. He’s an immovable object who borders on emotionless. Spider-Man or, Peter Parker more importantly, is not. He’s a kid, first and foremost. He’s in his is formative years in the persistent timeline proper, and he struggles with life like the rest of us. He’s not rich and he certainly doesn’t have a massive amount of help around him. Moreover, his secret identity is always on a knife’s edge where, if it were ever revealed, the myriad people around him he loves would be in infinite danger from his enemies. He’s also driven to live up to his single mantra from his late Uncle Ben: “With great power, comes great responsibility”.
This new Spider-Man needs to stretch Parker thin. His social life with Mary-Jane, his responsibilities to Aunt May, his job and then his "Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man"-ing, all need to conflict and throw him into life-management chaos, but he also needs to be his consistent annoying self; quipping his issues away and generally annoying the bad-guys. Importantly, however, the player needs to feel like they can impact this in some way. But provided this part of Peter and Spidey’s life is managed throughout the experience, the studio will be on the right track to delivering a great Webhead tale. And from what we played, this looks to be the case.
The city is full of people and the inviting skyscrapers beg to be swung from or climbed...
THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS
I’ve personally explored this in-depth elsewhere and on numerous occasions, but every superhero’s stomping ground needs to be as much of a character, and as important, as the titular lead. The Batman: Arkham games nailed this: Gotham felt and looked like Gotham. Unfortunately in one area they didn’t capitalise was in the civilians who live there. And while Rocksteady contextually kept the innocents of Gotham off the street, it always felt like a missed opportunity.
We already know from our hands-on that Insomniac’s New York is bustling with civilians. It actually reminded us of Watch Dogs to a degree, with Spidey able to interact with numerous NPCs on the street for unique bits of dialogue and (hopefully) more. They gasp and awe at him. He has a line to the media as part of his suit and we heard a right-wing conspiracy-theory-like rant from J. Jonah Jameson. So already they’re on the right track. The city is full of people and the inviting skyscrapers beg to be swung from or climbed. But it’s also the dirty, graffiti-filled back alleys and train lines -- the subways and more. And also, how Peter, Spidey and everyone around him fits into this world. Again, Insomniac is on the right track, but we need the complete product to know for sure. Don’t let New York down, Insomniac.
CATCHING MORE FLIES WITH HONEY-FLAVOURED WEBS
We know there’s going to be a massive story spanning many points of Spider-Man’s life and with plenty of villains. We know we’ll see Scorpion, Electro, Rhino, Doc Ock and the Green Goblin. We know we’ll see Wilson Fisk and we know there are also new enemies and characters. And that’s great. But what we also need is for Spider-Man to be a true crime fighter -- that is to say he also needs to tackle the regular thugs that make up the population of those aforementioned graffiti-filled alleyways.
He needs to be able to do a lot for the city of New York that attaches us, as Spider-Man, more deeply to it. And sometimes that’s in the smaller details. Heck, we’ll even take saving a cat out of a tree if it helps. Just let us see him doing his regular crime-fighting job on top of the over-the-top superhero stuff, and also allow that stuff to be regulated by the player, but let us know the world is safer and better for the work we -- as Spider-Man -- are doing.
As mentioned in our intro, Parker doesn’t have much money, but what he does have is a brilliant mind. Fans lamented Sam Ramey’s decision in the first Spider-Man movies to have his webs as an organic ongoing side-effect to the radioactive spider bite, citing the genius of his own web spinners was twofold: it showed his ingenuity and spoke large to his embracing that bite and who would become.
We want it as part of the larger game-world and universe Insomniac has crafted, and we want some form of control over it...
Thankfully in the new game we’re back to technological web-slinging, but it needs to go further and we need more of Peter’s genius on-show throughout. And we don’t even mean on-the-fly or during combat. We want it as part of the larger game-world and universe Insomniac has crafted, and we want some form of control over it. We know Insomniac is telling a story, but this is also an open-world game and Peter’s scientific abilities need to be highlighted, embraced and most importantly, rewarding for the player.
It’s a no-brainer, but combat does need to be king. We can tell you right now this is a more explosive adaptation of the Arkham style of combat, with Spidey having greater access to the environment and clearly more agility, but we also want fights to expand beyond the shrunken ‘arena’ concept crafted by Rocksteady.
We’re talking gravity-defying player-input combat that isn’t managed as cinematic Quick Time Events. We didn’t fully experience this in our hands-on, and in this idea it will really only work with supervillains, but we’re talking about a character who can do and see things others can’t. If this isn’t utilised as directed by the player and is more a handheld Insomniac experience, it will do a massive disservice to Spider-Man, the Spidey fans out there, and their own vision for capturing his world and abilities in full.
THEY MOSTLY COME OUT AT NIGHT… MOSTLY
Spider-Man is as much a stealthy character as he is a loudmouth and we need some love in the dark...
What we played took place during the day. And we also know the game doesn’t do the Batman: Arkham series trick of only taking place at night over a 12-24 hour period, so the story and timeline will be longer, which will work to the game’s story. But we do want some nocturnal activity taking place.
Spider-Man is as much a stealthy character as he is a loudmouth and we need some love in the dark. Hopefully the city changes as night as well and we get a differential between the day-night system. The best thing here would be if Insomniac embraces a more-than-24-hour gameplay clock, and if all of the above sits modularly amidst it.
We’re so close to the game’s release, so obviously none of the above can be implemented if it’s not already a part of the game, but as fans of Spider-Man, fans of gaming and fans of superhero gaming (which still has a long way to go), this wish-list is largely that: a wish-list. What we can tell you is most of this appeared in some form in our hands-on, and that makes our Spidey-sense tingle.