Earlier this week, Insomniac Games unveiled more information and a full gameplay trailer of its Sony exclusive Spider-Man title due out next year. The trailer was one of the big highlights of Sony’s presentation and showed not only a great mix of fighting and locomotion but a detailed understanding of what makes Spider-Man games so great. There have been a lot of amazing Spider-Man games but there have also been Amazing Spider-Man games which weren’t very good at all and if Insomniac takes the right lessons and cautionary warnings from the webhead’s long history of video games, they could produce the greatest Spider-Man experience yet.
The gold standard for Spider-Man video games is 2004’s Spider-Man 2 for PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube, which was a tie-in to the movie of the same name. A fantastic game in its own right, it also set the bar for video game tie-ins to popular movies. Few other games in that category have comes close to capturing the feeling, excitement and straight up quality of Treyarch’s masterpiece. The highlight of the game is the open nature of its Manhattan environment, and the ability to swing around any of it to your heart’s content. While every Spider-Man game has web-swinging, few have managed to convey the rush of adrenaline that comes from swinging down Broadway or talking a tight turn Uptown like Spider-Man 2 and every subsequent game has been judged on that exact criteria.
Thankfully, Insomniac’s Spider-Man seems to have nailed the swinging aspect of the game, at least that's how it appears based on the lengthy gameplay trailer released earlier this week. The developers have confirmed that, like Spider-Man 2, the swinging is entirely physics-based, as Spider-Man’s webs will attach to the environments with locomotion determined by how the player approaches their angles. The one thing that a lot of Spider-Man games such as Ultimate Spider-Man got wrong was a lack of verticality in its exploration, but Spider-Man seems to take place high up in the sky for a fully authentic web-slinging experience.
The second most important thing a Spider-Man game needs to get right is the combat, which is actually one of the worst aspects of the classic Spider-Man 2 game. Combat in a Spider-Man game needs to be as acrobatic and improvisational as Spider-Man himself and it seems that the game may have taken some tips from the Batman: Arkham series of games for its fisticuffs. It’s a great move to make to apply to Spider-Man because it allows him to take on multiple enemies at once and his Spider-Sense allows him to sense attacks before they happen and dodge them, a key component of this time of combat.
The two Amazing Spider-Man tie-in games tried a similar approach to combat, but ultimately leaned too hard into the Arkham style to the point that Spider-Man didn’t seem like he was having fun. Thankfully, the combat in Spider-Man looks incredibly improvisational, and the moments where Peter uses his webs to bring the environment into the fight were some of the coolest moments in the trailer. If that integration is as smooth in practice as it is in presentation, this could be the new standard for superhero combat in video games.
Speaking of the two Amazing Spider-Man games, their biggest failing was that they took too much control away from the player and replaced it with quick-time events, a drastic mistake when it comes to allowing players to become Spider-Man. Players want to feel themselves in control of the hero, and want their inputs to directly correlate to what Spider-Man does. Unfortunately, the gameplay trailer did show a number of QTEs during some of the most important scenes. Hopefully the quick-time events are reserved to enhance cut-scenes rather than restrict gameplay, otherwise players may feel robbed of some of Spider-Man’s coolest set-pieces.
Another key aspect of an open-world Spider-Man game is crafting exciting and rewarding side-missions that don’t feel repetitive, another area where Spider-Man 2 often falls down. As much nostalgia as we may have for the little child shouting “My balloon!” it serves as an example of how repetitive and limited the side-missions and emergent gameplay was. Somehow, the Amazing Spider-Man games were even worse, mostly featured random muggings that were the exact same encounter every time, usually with the same dialogue and bad jokes from Spidey. If Spider-Man has similar randomly occurring crimes and events, hopefully they feel varied enough that they’re not tedious, and Insomniac records enough instances of varied dialogue to keep us from going crazy.
Judging by the trailer, Insomniac's Spider-Man seems heavily based on comics of the last decade, with a heavy influence from Dan Slott’s run on Amazing Spider-Man in particular. Aside from Spidey, Kingpin and a surprise character we’ll talk about in a second, the two other characters featured in the trailer are the villain Mr. Negative and police captain Yuri Watanabe, also known as the vigilante The Wraith. If the game is pulling from the post-Brand New Day timeline, there’s plenty of awesome characters that could show up, including Anna-Maria Marconi, Norah Winters, and maybe even Cindy Moon AKA Silk. In terms of villains, there’s dozens of new creations to pull from too such as Clash, Massacre and Overdrive, all of which could cause Spidey trouble down the line.
One of the biggest points of consternation regarding the new game is Spider-Man’s costume, with its giant white spider taking up most of the hero’s chest. Apparently it has a story reason for existing, but like the Arkham games we’re hoping for a robust range of unlockable skins with some of our favorie Spidey costumes. How great would it be to swing around that fully-realized New York as Superior Spider-Man, the Iron Spider or the Amazing Bag-Man? Spider-Man has a wealth of continuity begging to be explored, and we really hope Insomniac exploits it to its full potential.
The biggest surprise of the trailer came right at the end with the reveal of Miles Morales as part of the game’s story. While it’s unclear what role Miles is going to take in the game, it’s going to be really disappointing if he’s not playable. Ideally, the game would be about Peter mentoring Miles, offering an Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate-esque dynamic where you could switch between them as their different play styles offer differing strengths and weaknesses depending on the missions. Previous Spider-Man games such as Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions were built around different Spider-Men with their own skills and play styles and adapting that to a full-open sandbox should be the next logical step.
A truly great Spider-Man video game is a tricky needle to thread, and even just a few lackluster elements can ruin the entire experience. So far, from what we’ve seen, Insomniac is on the right path to the greatest Spider-Man game ever but our hopes have been high before and our hopes have been dashed far too many times. With the information available, Spider-Man could be an absolute classic in the making but we’ll be keeping a close eye on its development to see if it lives up to the potential already showcased.