After the big showdown, Fisk is taken into police custody. As the police prepare to take him away, he bellows to Spider-Man that the city will be falling apart inside of a month. Fisk claims he’s the one who’s been keeping order in the city. As it will turn out, that’s basically true.
I like this take on the character. Kingpin was never very compelling as an adversary in combat, but he’s pretty interesting as a political adversary / foil. Both Kingpin and Spider-Man love New York, and both work very hard to protect it. Sure, Fisk probably accomplishes this through bribery, extortion, assassination, and other strong-arm tactics. And yes, he probably extracts a lot of wealth from the city in the process. But it seems like he’s a sort of quasi-benevolent dictator. He keeps the trains running on time, as it were.
We’re technically free of the linear tutorial mission at this point. But none of the side-activities have been unlocked yet so instead of swinging off to explore the open world let’s stick with the main story for a bit longer.
After the showdown at Fisk Tower, Peter heads to work. He’s late and it causes problems. I mean, obviously. It turns out that in this continuity Peter Parker no longer works for the Daily Bugle. Instead he works as a research assistant for… Otto Octavius?
So this Spider-Man story takes place after the Kingpin has been defeated but before the creation of Doctor Octopus? In the comics Doc Ock pre-dates Kingpin, so this story doesn’t fit into any of the existing timelines that I know about. That’s probably for the best. It means this Peter Parker isn’t dragging along decades of clones, alien invasions, dimension-hopping, deaths, or any of the other other strange twists from the last half century. On the other hand, we’re apparently meeting this version of Spidey about eight years into his career. We’ve skipped over both high school and college, which is the status quo most non-comic fans are going to be familiar with.
I’m really glad Sony resisted the urge to try to connect this game to Spider-Man Homecoming. Sony Entertainment is the publisher of this game. Sony Pictures is the distributor of Homecoming and they technically hold the rights to all Spider-Man related movie stuff. Sony is really fond of their cross-branding exercises and leveraging their IP holdingsWhich is why they’re now making movies about Spider-Man villains that contain no Spider-Man., so it must have been tempting for them to lean on Insomniac Games and encourage them to make this game brand-compatible with the Tom Holland version of the characterAnd maybe they did! We have no way of knowing.. But that’s not what we got. Instead, this Spider-Man seems to have his own instance of the Marvel Universe where the writer will be free to change continuity, stage major events, and kill off major characters without needing to ask permission first.
Again, all of this is probably for the best.
Let’s Do the Science!
Peter and Dr. Octavius are apparently collaborating on robotic prosthesis with a neural interface. Because Peter is late, he didn’t get to check the equipment before the test. As a result, there’s a “power overload” that blows up a bunch of equipment and fills the lab with smoke. And wouldn’t you know it, Otto’s backers show up just moments after the lab fire and it’s clear they’re not happy with his lack of progress. And since Peter was too busy being Spider-Man to check the equipment, it means all of this is Peter’s fault! Can you believe his luck? Sometimes it feels like there must be some unseen force working against him.
I should note that we nearly have this prosthetic technology in today’s world, and it’s not really something that’s at risk for lab-destroying explosions. Again, this is obviously a cartoon world in conception but a realistic one in presentation and I find the dissonance to be really distracting.
And yes, the writer is already leaning into the Dr. Octopus foreshadowing. Our destination is not a surprise, and the main mystery is how we’ll get there. This is probably a smart way to handle such well-known material.
While Octavius placates his investors, Peter decides to enact some repairs. So now it’s time to play some minigames.
In a bold move, Insomniac Games has broken free of the standard minigame template and crafted something bold and inventive that’s perfectly suited to the duality of our main character and explores his most- Nah I’m just kidding. It’s pipe dream again.
To be fair, this is a really polished version of this classic time-wasting minigame. You have to lay out circuits on a circuit board, making sure to pass through certain gates in order to balance the voltage. It’s harmless. You can enable an option that will allow you to skip puzzles at will, so you’re free to try them and see if they suit you. I think they mesh well with the science nerd aspect of our protagonist and they give Peter something to do around the lab besides apologize and blame himself for everything.
There’s a second minigame here that’s supposed to represent materials research. You have to match lined patterns in a spectrograph-ish kinda machine to discover the chemical makeup of… whatever it is you’re looking at. Again, it’s not really interesting enough to be a game in its own right but it’s harmless and optional. And unlike pipe dream, it’s at least new. It certainly beats any of the puzzles Rocksteady gave to poor Batman.
And speaking of Batman’s puzzles…
Once we’re done at the lab, it’s time for more tutorials. Yuri calls Spider-Man and asks him to come to the roof of the police building. It turns out there are police communication towers around the city that – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – need to be fixed and as you fix them it will reveal crimes, collectibles, and sidequests around the area. The game even does the “slow 360 pan around the tower while playing music” when you fix one.
To fix the towers you need to make a couple of waveforms line up. You use one analog stick to adjust the amplitude and the other to modulate the frequency. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry. All you need to know is that you’re going to be playing the Batman: Arkham Sequel hacking minigame. A lot.
Yes, this open-world stuff is relentlessly derivative. On the other hand, it’s not bad. It’s an Ubisoft-styled collect-a-thon, but it’s a pretty good Ubisoft-styled collect-a-thon. It helps that this system simply encourages you to engage with the brilliant traversal mechanics. Swinging from tower to tower in Spider-Man is fun in a way that (say) walking from tower to tower in Far Cry is not.
It helps that the collectibles are pretty fun. The main collectibles you’ll be looking for are old lost backpacks that Spider-Man has left across the city over the years. Each backpack contains some bit of backstory or sly reference to other Spidey properties. Each one has a little 3D model for you to examine and voiceover from Peter explaining how the object is important to him. It feels less like a generic gathering sidequest and more like the interesting archaeological finds you could discover in Tomb raider 2013, where Lara would examine an object and geek out about its significance. We get something to look at, a bit of backstory, some characterization, and a motivation to go swinging all over the city. If more of Ubisoft’s games had this sort of collection quest in them, then the genre might not have such a bad reputation by this point.
There are other items to collect around the city, but I’ll talk more about that stuff when we run into it.
J. Jonah Jameson
If you’ve seen a single piece of Spider-Man based entertainment in the last half century then you’re probably aware of this guy. He’s usually Peter’s cantankerous boss at the Daily Bugle. He pays Peter for pictures of Spider-Man, which he uses to sell his articles of anti-Spider-Man scaremongering, outrage, and moral panic.
This is yet another riff on the idea that a lot of Peter Parker’s friends / acquaintances are Spider-Man’s enemies. Green Goblin, Lizard, Black Cat, and Venom are all examples of people who know Peter in civilian life but then end up fighting him in costume. Later in this story we’ll add a couple more characters to this list.
In this iteration, JJJ has moved on from the Bugle and now runs some sort of talk radio / podcast type show. I like this idea because it’s a good way to integrate this iconic character within a video game. It would be lame if we had to open up an in-game newspaper to read one of Jameson’s screeds, but here his podcast just starts playing as we’re swinging around the open worldYou can disable it in the menu if you like.. His shows usually appear after major plot points and have him explaining to the audience why Spider-Man’s recent public heroics are actually selfish, destructive, or insidious. I really like the angle the writer takes with this. After you listen to a couple of shows you can get the sense that he imagines Spider-Man is motivated by a desire for fame and public approval, because that’s what motivates Jameson. His scaremongering is mostly the product of his own jealousy. He craves public adoration and he assumes Spider-Man is driven by that same desire.
Having said that, the JJJ podcast is a one-note joke that gets old long before we get to the end. It’s mostly the same joke told again and again, where JJJ goes on a rant and accidentally destroys his own argument or otherwise makes a buffoon of himself. It’s not a bad joke, but there’s not enough of it to fill this many two-minute monologues. If the writer really felt the need to give him this much time and attention, then I think he needed to be more than a strawman dumbass.
 Which is why they’re now making movies about Spider-Man villains that contain no Spider-Man.
 And maybe they did! We have no way of knowing.
 You can disable it in the menu if you like.
A horrible, railroading, stupid, contrived, and painfully ill-conceived roleplaying campaign. All in good fun.
A stream-of-gameplay review of Dead Island. This game is a cavalcade of bugs and bad design choices.
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