You’ll never have so much fun being a superhero as you will playing Marvel’s Spider-Man, a new video game created for Sony’s PlayStation 4. Releasing on September 7, it was developed by Insomniac Games.
I spent about four hours playing the game during a media event in Los Angeles last month. In that time, I progressed through the first couple of hours of the story and spent lots of time just moving through the virtual Manhattan.
It’s difficult to consider any superhero game these days without comparing them to Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series. Those games nailed the Dark Knight’s atmosphere and tone but, more importantly, they made you feel like Batman when you were sneaking around and fighting criminals.
Insomniac has done the same thing here, perfectly capturing the essence of the character of Spider-Man and the city of New York.
Spider-Man’s New York City isn’t Batman’s Gotham. It’s bright and cacophonous. And Spider-Man isn’t Batman. He’s young and sarcastic, eager to please. He moves like a gymnast.
So much of what makes Spider-Man is how he moves. Insomniac knew that creating an authentic game required that it be fun to journey through the landscape. “The number-one thing to get right is flinging,” creative director Bryan Intihar admitted.
Traversing through New York is central to the game and it is joyful. The system is forgiving enough to prevent any frustration, but you’ve got plenty of control over your movement, and once you get a handle on the options, it’s exhilarating to just swing.
The game is designed to keep you moving around, too. In addition to the story missions, this open-world experience provides plenty of side missions and collectibles. Completing them gives you tokens that are the currency for upgrading gadgets like your web shooters as well as your outfit.
And the Spidey costume here is different, characterized by a white spider graphic.
There’s a reason for the costume’s white spider
Art director Jacinda Chew was given license to come up with new character designs.
In an interview with the Straight, Chew explained that the goal was to keep what made the original designs iconic, modernize the design, and give it a narrative hook.
“The Ditko suits were red and blue with clean lines,” Chew said, speaking about Steve Ditko, the artist and writer who created Spider-Man with Stan Lee. “We modernized it by giving it an athletic shoe instead of a booty,” she explained.
Chew revealed that there is a story-based reason for the novel costume, but she wasn’t willing to give anything more away, simply asking, “Why the white spider?”
Leveraging the Spider-Verse
As much as Marvel’s Spider-Man is familiar, it’s different from other incarnations of the character you’ve seen.
At the media preview, Intihar said the development team was inspired by writer Brian Michael Bendis and his work on Ultimate Spider-Man, in which he came up with the notion of the “Spider-Verse”. That idea, of how the spider-influenced superhero might be realized in other dimensions, is a tremendous creative engine.
It’s what gave Intihar and his team liberty to come up with an original story, with unique takes on characters and plot lines from the Spider-Man canon.
We’re not burdened with an origin story, either. Lead writer Jon Paquette and his team respect the players by alluding to all that’s gone before without needing to explain every detail. And it’s clear that lots has happened. Peter is not a teenage high-school student in this game; he’s a scientist, having left his college job as a photojournalist behind.
And as much as you play Spider-Man, you also play the game as Peter Parker, trying to make rent, trying to get to appointments on time, and trying to balance being a superhero with being a person.
The characters you expect are all here, although they may be a bit different than what you’re familiar with. J. Jonah Jameson is podcasting. Aunt May works in a social agency. And Mary Jane Watson is an investigative journalist.
Insomniac is letting us play as MJ, too. In the sequence I played she was sneaking around and solving puzzles. It’s another way that the developer is telling the story of Spider-Man, Peter Parker, and all the other characters outside of cutscenes.
The perfect studio for the job
The truth is that Insomniac’s portfolio made them the perfect studio for this game. In Spider-Man, the studio found a franchise that would allow them to use all of the mechanics and gameplay elements they’ve become expert at.
The world-building and traversal mechanics from Sunset Overdrive are at the core of this new game. The gadgets and weapons from Ratchet & Clank are found in the way you can upgrade Spidey’s arsenal and abilities. The mature and complex characters and storytelling developed while making the Resistance games are also here.
Insomniac’s take on the webhead is refined and original. At once familiar and unique, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a blast.