As I watched Spider-Man swing from the Empire State building to The Avengers tower near Park Avenue during the closed preview session of Insomniac’s Spider-Man in Kuala Lumpur a few weeks back – it hit me. This game may be the video game equivalent to what Robert Downey Jr’s depiction of Tony Stark in 2008’s Iron Man was for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
It’s like square one to a much larger universe and like how ol’ Shell Head was spearheading it on the silver screen, we have the wall crawler laying down the foundations for Marvel’s footprint in the video games world.
One Big Leap
When asked if this is a sign of a larger, linked video game universe, Insomniac Games’ Community Director, James Stevenson replied “It’s all for Marvel Games to say since it is their IP. But what I would say is that we are just focused on this game and obviously it is set in a larger Marvel universe. We’d like people to realize that. They (the Avengers) exist in our world hence the (Avengers) tower; and we are living in a ‘Marvel New York’.”
Reiterating that their focus is solely on this game, and nothing beyond that, Stevenson added “The MCU started with just Iron Man – it wasn’t a Marvel Cinematic Universe back then- they just focused on making a good movie.”
In the most impressive depiction and recreation of the Big Apple to date, Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac not only fleshed out the Spider-Man current-gen home consoles deserve, but also a brand new take on the character we’ve always known throughout the years.
This isn’t an origin story. In this game, Peter Parker is a 23-year old adult with about eight years of web-slinging experience under his belt. He’s no bumbling teen in spandex, but an experienced crime fighter who have formed a complex relationship with the city and its inhabitants which he protects. As confirmed by Stevenson, Spider-Man in their game lives separately from the movies, comics or any other iteration produced prior.
A Yuuuuge, Big Apple
When talking about an open-world game, the scale is important. Commenting on how close is the map size compared to real-life New York, Stevenson said “It’s not a 1:1 scale to the real thing, but it’s pretty close.”
“It’s the largest map we’ve created, several times bigger than Sunset Overdrive,” Stevenson added. “It wasn’t necessarily being 1:1 for us, but more of getting the feeling right. So as you swing, the neighborhood changes and feels like it should.”
Elaborating more on the New York City and its inhabitants, Stevenson commented “The buildings are in the right place, the city is populated, there’s traffic and it feels like a bustling New York.”
As you swing around the city, you can hear passersby holler and comment on you which adds a bit more life to the surroundings. Our only gripe was that we anticipated more surprised reactions when we land unexpectedly into the middle of a crowd – but then again, we were playing a preview build hence we expect this minor bit to be fixed once the game hits retail.
Parkour, fluid wall-to-wall acrobatics and swinging are the core movement mechanics in the game and Stevenson let in on a dirty secret to make it much more fun. “We did cheat a bit in terms of scale, as the buildings in the game are taller than they actually are (in real life) to make the swinging much more fun.”
But that does not mean they skimped on the detail.
“We took a lot of time with the fire escapes,” Stevenson enthused. “People wanted fire escapes because if you don’t have them, it isn’t New York anymore. So you can play around the fire escapes – there are a lot of custom animations like if you try to run up one. We’ve put a lot of work on that. It’s crazy but that’s the sort of stuff we were doing to make it feel accurate.”
While Insomniac did include some assistance for the players when it comes to web-slinging from one block to another, the game accords the players satisfying controls and prompts allowing them to either jump of any obstacle, web-catapult or even wall-run creating an almost seamless transition between animations which translates into that rewarding feeling of being the most acrobatic four-limbed living being to ever set foot on Earth.
Tracing the Web Back to Marvel
“Very early on, during the first few months of the game we worked closely with Dan Slott (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Superior Spider-Man, Iron Man, Silver Surfer) in conceptualizing the story and some of the initial ideas.
Most of the project, our writers worked with Christos Gage (House of M: Avengers, Spider-Man/ Fantastic Four, Superior Spider-Man) who coincidentally is working on the upcoming Spider-Geddon (with Dan Slott) series which will see OUR Spider-Man from OUR Spider-universe join other Spider-Men for one giant crossover.
You just cannot make a superhero video game without putting extra care on its combat mechanics. In Spider-Man, Insomniac was very well aware of what separates and is expected of a Spider-Man game compared to other superhero titles.
Take Rocksteady’s Arkham series for example. Batman has always been a bruiser who focused on power to implement quick, efficient and brutal takedowns. Spider-Man on the other hand is more on the acrobatic, improvise-as-you-go kind of style.
If we are to compare them to cinematic martial artists of opposite styles, it would be Batman’s Bruce Lee to Spider-Man’s Jackie Chan. The former knocks you out cold before you hit the floor while the latter uses everything in sight to embarrass you before he too, deal that knockout blow.
Insomniac allow players to experiment and create their own favored fighting style based on their preference. I tend to silence the gun-totting goons first with quick web shoots before pulling off a combo to take everyone out in one chain move.
You may prefer utilizing everything in sight like manhole covers and letter boxes to deal some serious damage instead. The choice is yours and with the deep skill tree available to unlock even cooler power moves later on, you’d be hunting for thugs around the city in no time just so you could pull off that perfect chain combo finish.
Against the bosses, Insomniac ramped everything up to 11 which forces players to be more aware of their surroundings while at the same time formulate the best way to handle the opponent on the fly.
Without giving too much away, Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk is the first boss battle in the game and in that fight, players can try a multitude of ways to take down the behemoth of a man. I’ve seen other players opting to throw back whatever was flung their way while me on the other hand, focused more on executing chain hits after webbing Fisk.
I do hope there’s an option to revisit these boss fights once you’ve unlocked new moves in the skill tree though. Imagine the replayability.
Sign Webbed, Delivered…
Our biggest takeaway from the two hours spent on the game as along with Insomniac’s representative was that it only jacked up our enthusiasm for the game’s release much more. Everything points towards the right direction and dare we say it – this is the Spider-Man game every PlayStation 4 owners deserve.
Exclusive to the PlayStation 4, Insomniac’s Spider-Man hits stores September 7th 2018. Sony Interactive Entertainment recently released a special, red PlayStation 4 Pro Edition tied to the game and you can read more about that here. We also reported on the available versions of the game at launch, and what each edition entail.