Spi­der-man

Games TM - - REVIEW -

The beauty of Spi­der-man rests as much in what it doesn’t do as what it does. It does em­brace the idea of be­ing Spi­der-man; it doesn’t do any­thing else. Ev­ery ac­tion, mis­sion, side-quest and col­lectable feels gov­erned by the ques­tion: “What would Spi­der­man do?” By con­stantly re­turn­ing to this point of ref­er­ence, the re­sul­tant de­sign is fo­cused, well­honed and, cru­cially, makes you feel like Spidey more read­ily than any comic book game be­fore it.

What In­som­niac Games has proven here is that plac­ing in­tel­li­gent lim­i­ta­tions on game de­sign al­lows cre­ators to drill wholly into what is im­por­tant, height­en­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence through a small num­ber of solidly and lav­ishly con­structed pil­lars, as op­posed to adopt­ing the all-time com­mon scat­ter­gun ap­proach. Not once are you pulled out of char­ac­ter by be­ing asked to do some­thing that feels atyp­i­cal for the hu­man­spi­der hy­brid, al­low­ing you to sus­pend your dis­be­lief and be­come Peter Parker, as op­posed to feel­ing like a player play­ing as him.

This kind of per­for­mance play is rarely achieved by open-world games, as they strug­gle to le­git­imise their large en­vi­ron­ments by cram­ming in as much ‘stuff’ as pos­si­ble, of­ten cor­rupt­ing the orig­i­nal in­ten­tion and end­ing up trans­form­ing them­selves into a boor­ish se­ries of elab­o­rate scav­enger hunts for un­re­lated ob­jects. In­ter­ac­tions here are split sim­ply into com­bat and ex­plo­ration, the de­tails and con­tents of both fit­ting the space and the char­ac­ter as snug­gly as a Spi­der-suit. Thus, each el­e­ment feels con­nected to the next.

Key to this co­he­sion, and the el­e­ment that most read­ily links the pre­sented com­bat and ex­plo­ration chal­lenges, is move­ment; the pac­ing and sen­sa­tion of which is stun­ning in how well it im­i­tates our un­der­stand­ing of Spi­der-man’s su­per­hu­man ca­pac­i­ties from comics and movies. His web sling­ing is his quin­tes­sen­tial dif­fer­en­tial as a char­ac­ter, and it seeps into ev­ery­thing you do here.

Suc­cess in com­bat, for in­stance, re­quires you to link at­tacks to­gether into what is essen­tially a piece of freestyle dance, the fi­nal form of which is dic­tated by the num­ber and type of en­e­mies you’re fac­ing and what­ever help you can im­pro­vise from the world around you. Kicks and punches chain into slides be­tween en­emy legs that ex­pose their un­guarded rear, and front flips and spins can be pulled off while si­mul­ta­ne­ously fir­ing your web shoot­ers at an in­com­ing rocket and re­turn­ing it to sender.

The sheer speed of Spi­der-man’s at­tacks and the flu­id­ity with which ev­ery form of strike, dodge and web swing can be com­bined is mes­meris­ing, and takes some get­ting used to. From the off, you’re given enough tools to dom­i­nate your op­po­si­tion if you’re pre­pared to con­cen­trate on keep­ing the tempo high, and sub­se­quent skill­tree-cen­tric un­locks only add to your arse­nal down the line.

Crowd man­age­ment is the aim of the game when it comes to stay­ing healthy, with all non­boss en­e­mies – wisely – choos­ing to swarm and sur­round you in an at­tempt to limit your op­tions. There’s no one-en­emy-at-time-com­bat – à la var­i­ous Bruce Lee movies – respite here. As such, it’s as im­por­tant to use Spi­der-man’s abil­i­ties as a means of con­trol­ling the space as it is a means of in­flict­ing dam­age.

To pre­vent your­self be­ing vic­timised by your op­po­nent’s su­pe­rior num­bers, you need to think of your abil­i­ties in a plu­ral­is­tic man­ner. The web shoot­ers that can snatch rock­ets out of the air are also used to pull man­hole cov­ers from the street, weapons from en­emy hands and as a means of cat­a­pult­ing your­self to­wards foes in an at­tempt to nar­row the space and pre­vent ranged at­tacks. You need to con­sider all of these op­tions if you har­bour any am­bi­tion of im­i­tat­ing the grace we know our avatar is ca­pa­ble of.

Dis­arm­ing com­bat­ants early in a fight can save you later when your en­ergy is low and any lucky shot will kill, and those man­hole cov­ers – when swung around your head – are per­fect for stun­ning thugs just long enough for you to zip out of the main fray and re­assess your ap­proach.

This might all sound com­plex and dif­fi­cult to pull off, but it’s not. In­deed, it’s all rather easy and straight­for­ward to ex­e­cute au­da­cious com­bos given that a small num­ber of but­tons are used to em­ploy a wide va­ri­ety of con­tex­tu­ally based ac­tions. What you have to mas­ter is the tim­ing and di­rec­tion of those ac­tions and whether you want to risk mas­ter­ing a few or gain­ing a knowl­edge of them all.

Ease of ac­cess is key here. If com­bat was too dif­fi­cult to en­gage with and you found your­self dy­ing of­ten or con­sis­tently un­able to move flu­idly be­tween one move and the next,

then you wouldn’t feel like Spi­der-man at all. Im­por­tantly, this isn’t a game in which Peter Parker be­comes a su­per­hero and is learn­ing how to use his pow­ers; this is a game in which he’s a fully fledged de­fender of New York, and play­ers of all skill lev­els need to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence what that feels like in or­der for the premise to work. Even in those mo­ments in which you’re asked to slow down and pick off en­e­mies by stealth­ily web­bing them to walls or string­ing them up from street lights, the abun­dance of on-screen cues in­form­ing you of whether or not it’s safe to act means the pace can stay high if you choose it to.

Ex­plo­ration en­joys the same ease of ac­tion but spec­ta­cle of re­sult as com­bat, it be­ing pos­si­ble to look ef­fort­less in tra­ver­sals of the city that are pre­dom­i­nantly un­der­taken by swing­ing above the streets and be­tween the sky­scrapers. You don’t need to aim and po­si­tion your web for ev­ery swing, but the na­ture of the en­vi­ron­ment around you de­ter­mines what you can do. With only the trees to cling to, mov­ing through Cen­tral Park is a case of stay­ing low to the ground, for ex­am­ple, while in the midst of Mid­town and Times Square you can take flight as high as you like and ex­per­i­ment with more elab­o­rate flips and dives.

It is not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that there’s not an­other open-world game that claims to pri­ori­tise speed and flu­id­ity of move­ment that comes close to what In­som­niac has pulled off with Spi­der­man. one of the ma­jor rea­sons that the side mis­sions and col­lecta­bles are en­joy­able to tick off is just how fun it is to move around the city. You'll want to com­plete those lists of col­lecta­bles be­cause it’s great to have an ex­cuse to glide above the side­walks.

Nar­ra­tively, how­ever, the line snaps and those sky­scraper highs are crim­i­nally lack­ing. There’s a pal­pa­ble clum­si­ness in how the plot fails to en­gage in­ter­est­ingly with its char­ac­ters’ per­son­al­i­ties and de­sires, and the over­all pac­ing is so hap­haz­ard that any at­tempt to cre­ate mean­ing from plot beats comes across as con­fused and am­a­teur­ish. By the end of pro­ceed­ings you feel as though the writ­ing team didn’t know what they wanted to say or how to say it.

This is es­pe­cially dis­ap­point­ing given that there are some great in­di­vid­ual scenes that in iso­la­tion suc­cess­fully man­age to blend both nar­ra­tive and in­ter­ac­tive in­trigue into a seam­less whole. The in­tro­duc­tion of Mary Jane Wat­son is one such mo­ment, set­ting up the char­ac­ter in an in­ter­est­ing way through mul­ti­ple forms of game­play, good di­a­logue and a be­liev­able com­bi­na­tion of set­ting and goal.

Spi­der-man’s end­ing, too, is a mo­ment the cre­ators can be proud of, as it sends the game off in bril­liantly over-the-top style while – fi­nally – man­ag­ing to in­stil some emo­tional res­o­nance into a chief an­tag­o­nist that suf­fers up un­til that point from in­cred­i­bly crude and forced ap­pear­ances.

The qual­ity of the end­ing ul­ti­mately and most pow­er­fully winds up act­ing as a sym­bol of po­ten­tial lost, though. Spi­der-man ad­heres to the tra­di­tional Hol­ly­wood three-act struc­ture to such a de­gree that you’d be for­given for think­ing that it’s a par­ody of the whole con­cept, with its three parts feel­ing more like sep­a­rate sto­ries than a means to con­trol in­for­ma­tion re­lease with a view to cre­at­ing ten­sion and in­trigue.

In par­tic­u­lar, the move from act two to three rep­re­sents the kind of ex­treme shift that should be saved for se­quels and spin-offs. At this junc­ture, a plethora of Spi­der-man char­ac­ters are re­leased

one of The Ma­jor rea­sons THAT The Side Mis­sions And col­lecta­bles Are en­joy­able To Tick OFF is just how Fun it is To Move Around The city

old School Sand­box

in many re­spects, Spi­der-man feels like a throw­back to a dif­fer­ent era of sand­box game mak­ing. with its tow­ers to ac­ti­vate and col­lecta­bles to find, it is a game that leans on gamey me­chan­ics rather than the more nat­u­ral­is­tic, emer­gent world el­e­ments of some more re­cent open ex­plo­ration ex­pe­ri­ences. in fact, we would say that it has more in com­mon with some­thing like Crack­down than ti­tles such as As­sas­sin’s Creed Ori­gins or Breath Of The Wild. But in­ter­est­ingly, that doesn’t feel like a bad thing. There’s a fresh-faced in­no­cence, per­haps em­bel­lished by the over­all tone of the game and per­son­al­ity of peter parker, to the whole game that helps to lift it above its more well-trod­den or trope-ad­ja­cent me­chan­ics. like find­ing orbs in Crack­down, get­ting all of the col­lecta­bles not only gives you re­wards, but is fun to do in it­self thanks to the strengths of the core fea­tures of the game. into the story in a way that is as heavy-handed as could be, their ap­pear­ance un­der­min­ing the char­ac­ter con­flicts and re­la­tion­ships that had up un­til that point taken the spot­light. The plot is spent spin­ning into its own web of mean­ing­less­ness as it tries to man­age ev­ery­thing that it sud­denly finds it­self hav­ing to wrap up in its fi­nal act.

Such is the un­gain­li­ness of the pac­ing that you can’t help but think that the script changed mul­ti­ple times dur­ing pro­duc­tion, and there was no con­sis­tent con­sen­sus on how the story was go­ing to reach its con­clu­sion. Ei­ther that or the game was orig­i­nally de­signed to in­clude more plot beats in the fi­nal third than it did as a means to be­liev­ably in­cor­po­rate the bloated cast.

Spi­der-man’s char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion man­ages to sur­vive the con­fu­sion, but only be­cause of the fact that the me­chan­ics do such a won­der­ful job of defin­ing him. If you re­move those and fo­cus only on the nar­ra­tive then it’s ac­tu­ally Mary Jane, ‘MJ’, pre­sented as more than the usual side­kick love in­ter­est, who is most in­ter­est­ing.

Where Peter Parker is a naive, in­no­cent ide­al­ist who is too child­like to look head-on at his emo­tions, MJ is adapt­able, re­flec­tive and al­ways look­ing for the al­ter­na­tive ap­proach. While Spi­der­man tries to con­trol it, she’s the one who best em­bod­ies and re­flects the chaotic world around her and seeks to un­der­stand it.

In a sense she’s the ev­ery­day New Yorker of the sort the city ad­ver­tises it­self on: smart, tough, in­ven­tive, ro­man­tic and al­ways ready to lend a hand in a cri­sis. She deals with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of know­ing Spi­der-man’s real iden­tity, and she’s the one who pro­vides the sup­port and ideas that he so badly needs to get the job done. With­out her, he couldn’t ex­ist as a hero. He’d sim­ply be a kid with cool moves.

It’s a good thing those moves are so cool, then, be­cause MJ isn’t around all of the time. De­spite its prob­lems in sto­ry­telling, Spi­der-man achieves its pri­mary goal of mak­ing you feel like the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter. In a way even more im­pres­sive than the lauded Bat­man Arkham se­ries, this is a game that takes the bound­aries de­fined by the rel­e­vant pop cul­ture and uses them to build an ex­pe­ri­ence that re­flects its he­roes sen­si­bil­i­ties and tropes bril­liantly. If it could add some of Bat­man’s sto­ry­telling nu­ance then it would be even more de­serv­ing of praise.

Hope­fully, what In­som­niac has achieved here will stand as a les­son to other open-world cre­ators in why it’s so im­por­tant to build your world, and ev­ery­thing in it, around your char­ac­ter – as op­posed to cre­at­ing a char­ac­ter to fit your world. Ev­ery­thing you can do here is po­si­tioned to cel­e­brate Spi­der-man’s abil­i­ties, and that means ev­ery­thing you can do makes you feel like Spi­der-man.

left: The level of de­tail in the city is im­pres­sive, per­haps as much for the tricks it pulls to giveNew York more depth as for the real en­gine power un­der­neath. Win­dows with room boxes in­side give ev­ery build­ing an im­proved sense of re­al­ity. Sun­set over­drive

AS­SAS­SIN’S creed ori­gins

Be­low: We can’t even be­gin to ex­press how much it warms our hearts to see the Scar­let Spi­der cos­tume in this game. It’s a Nineties Spi­der-man fan thing that is too con­vo­luted to ex­plain, but we love this out­fit. right: There are a hand­ful of sec­tions where you play the game not as Spi­der­man, but as Peter Parker, Mary Jane or oth­ers. These do a great job of not just chang­ing up the pace, but also help­ing to put Spidey’s skill set in bet­ter con­text.

left: As you un­lock new web­bing tech­niques and abil­i­ties, be­ing able to chain moves to­gether and con­trol a crowd of thugs be­comes very sat­is­fy­ing. In­som­niac could have gone with the tried and tested parry sys­tem of com­bat, but found some­thing more di­rect and ex­cit­ing in­stead. Be­low: Spi­der-man’s ap­proach to stealth is not en­tirely un­like that of Bat­man in the Arkham games, but re­ally this game is more about pace and di­rect con­fronta­tion. You can thin out the num­bers, but this game is at its best in full flow.

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