After the prison break, Doctor Octopus goes to Times Square and releases Devil’s Breath. It turns into a fine red mist and floats out over the city. The cloud covers the area and Doc puts on a breathing mask. Yes, he waits until he’s enveloped in the cloud before he puts on the mask. No, I have no idea why the animator chose to have him do things in that order. It’s weird.
We do a time-cut to one day later. A lot happens in this missing day. Aunt May gets infected, but keeps tending to the sick and homelessShe wears a mask to avoid spreading the disease. I mean, in most cutscenes, anyway. at FEAST because that’s what saints do. Mary Jane releases a special report that says Devil’s Breath was invented at Oscorp. That’s a huge break for Doctor Octopus, since his plan was to expose Osborn and without this report he had no way of doing that. Then again, this report doesn’t seem to change the way anyone thinks or behaves so…. I dunno.
Yuri fishes Spider-Man out of the river and gets him patched up. After that he returns to duty, even though he still has “14 broken bones”.
Spider-Man needs to track down Doctor Octopus, so he heads to Times Square. Here the game straight-up swipes the “Detective Vision” of the Arkham games and does the now-familiar “find the bad guy by following the trail of particle effects”. That’s fine, although this system isn’t used elsewhere in the game so it feels sort of random. If nothing else, they could have borrowed this mechanic for those silly-ass science missions. It’s not a deep gameplay mechanic, but it’s better than a few of those side missions and it maps more easily to doing “science things” compared to the mechanic of (for example) not web-swinging.
To explain the next scene, let’s imagine it from our villain’s perspective.
How To Kill Spider-Man
I ambushed my best friend and beat him within an inch of his life before tossing him into the East River. I did that to warn him to stay away from my evil plans, but I’ve suddenly changed my mind and decided to kill him.
I think the best solution is to place a bomb in my staging area over Times Square. I’m sure Spider-Man will find that place. All I need to do is wait for him to show up and have it explode.
I could just set it up so that the bomb will go off when someone tries to enter, but maybe it would be better if I meticulously mapped out my entire scheme for him before I blew him up. I have a bunch of expensive prototypes and equipment that I paid for somehow even though I’m on a shoestring budget, and I think it would be good to make sure all of that stuff gets vaporized in the explosion. I’ll also leave audio recordings for my five colleagues explaining their character concept and backstory and addressing them directly even though I could just talk to them if I wanted.
I’ll leave a detailed map of my plans for Spider-Man to discover. The lynchpin of these plans is to make sure that nobody cures this disease I just released. Sure, the city is sick and Norman Osborn has been exposed as the inventor of the bioweapon, but it’s really important to my plans that all of these innocent people die. So I’m going to have Martin Li (note to self: Can we get this guy a supervillain name? It’s really awkward calling him Martin all the time) go and steal the antiserum that I already know exists somehow. Also I guess I’ll let Martin kill Osborn on his own without me present even though my goal is to make Norman suffer and to make him regret crossing me.
Anyway, I should leave detailed plans explaining all of this to my best friend before I vaporize him in an explosion.
Once Spider-Man has read the plans, I’ll trick him into opening a laptop that’s connected to me via videoconferencing. I guess this means I’ll need to personally sit in front of my computer for hours or days until Spider-Man shows up, but it’s really important for me to tell Spider-Man that I’ve decided to kill him before I set off the bomb. I imagine that he’ll just continue to stand there in front of my laptop bomb and make no effort to leave once I activate the bomb’s very loud and alarming wind-up sequence.
If by some miracle he escapes by jumping through the open hatch directly over the bomb, I’ll have Vulture grab him and drag him to the edge of the city where he can kill Spider-Man with the help of Electro. Maybe I should have Rhino and Scorpion help too? Nah. They’re busy enacting my plan to poison the city water supply. I mean, how am I supposed to get revenge on Norman Osborn without poisoning the water?
If Spider-Man somehow defeats Vulture and Electro, then he’ll have to fight Rhino and Scorpion. This is all part of my brilliant plan to team up into an unstoppable group of six and then immediately split up into groups of one or two.
I love these goggles. I look so cool.
The Sinister Sucks
This plot needed way more time. I’m totally willing to believe that Doc Ock is sabotaging his own plans because he’s crazy and fighting some inner demons. The problem is that:
- We just did that plot.
- We never get to explore this idea of Doctor Octopus doing dumb or counterproductive things despite his great intellect.
We spent 75% of the story chasing a different villain with the same motivation and now we’re rushing through this Sinister Six plot. Doc Ock is so much more interesting than Martin Li and it feels really weird to fight one main villain for the first three-quarters of the game and then have that villain return as part of a team of six guys for the last 25%.
We’re giving most of the screen time to the least interesting character and the least screen time to the most interesting character. Martin Li isn’t compelling enough to carry so much of the game on his own, and Doc Ock’s story is so good that he really deserves more screen time. If the Sinister Six came together much sooner in the story then we could give each of them a little arc so their backstories didn’t wind up crammed into stupid audiologs. That way they could seem like a major threat. As a bonus, we could give William Salyers more time to chew the scenery, since he’s so fun to watch.
Instead the Sinister Six are defeated right after being introduced and they only occupy a small part of the story. This is the first game in the series and we took four of Spider-Man’s classic foes and threw them away.
Damnit, game. Save something for the sequels.
Doctor Octopus is Crazy-Pants
I doubt you’ll be shocked to hear that Spider-Man escapes the explosion. After he defeats Vulture and Electro, Spider-Man has a radio / phone conversation with the good Doctor:
Doctor Octopus: Spider-Man, I presume. If you REALLY cared about this city, you’d be helping me expose Osborn for the criminal he is!
Spider-Man: By killing innocent people?!
Doctor Octopus: I would’ve restored the power!
That line from Spider-Man is what I’ve been waiting for since Martin Li began his conquest to get revenge on Norman Osborn by murdering all the non-Norman Osborn people he could. Confront the villain with the fact that their goals and their actions are in direct conflict!
It’s not that I expect that Doctor Octopus will repent the moment you confront him. I assume he’s thought this through. I assume he’s got an answer to this question in that crazy mixed-up head of his. It doesn’t need to be a rational answer, it just needs to reveal something about his character.
Otto Octavius has transformed into a different person thanks to this neural interface. Previously he was a humble scientist who spent his own limited resources on developing prosthetics for people in need. He was compassionate, kind, and driven. Now he’s a megalomaniac with the blood of thousands on his hands. I want to know this new version of the character because that’s where the drama comes from.
Here are a few possible answers Doc could give when confronted with his atrocities:
“Their lives are nothing compared to what Norman has done over the years!”
(Not true, but now we understand he’s villainizing Osborn and exaggerating Osborn’s crimes to justify his own.)
“Their blood is on NORMAN’S hands, not mine! Don’t you see? He MADE me do it!”
(The classic abuser blaming the victim from making him abuse them. It’s shifting blame because the abuser doesn’t see themselves as responsible for their own actions.)
“Their lives were a regrettable loss, but I’m willing to make the hard choices to make sure justice is served.”
(The defense that doing bad things is okay as long as you feel bad about them and your end goals are noble.)
“Innocent people, Spider-Man? They elected him. Supported him. Loved him, despite his evil. Being weak does not make you innocent.”
(Ah, he sees the people as DESERVING of the things he’s doing to them.)
Instead Doc’s reply is, “I would’ve restored the power!” That’s a complete non-sequitur. Worse, Spider-Man doesn’t follow up or press the point. Doc’s goals and actions don’t line up, and this was our chance to reconcile that while also characterizing our villain and also explaining what happened to dear Otto Octavius. We just skate right past this, when it might be one of the most important lines of dialog in the game.
Yes, I realize this is a comic book and if you want to wave your hands and say it doesn’t matter and supervillains don’t need to make sense, then I can’t really prove you wrong. It’s not like villainous plans with questionable rationale is some alien concept to the genre. Doc Ock is a lot of fun either way. I’m not saying this is a plot hole or anything. It’s just that this is a missed opportunity to characterize and deepen our villain.
Also, it feels good when our nagging questions are addressed by the text. It builds that all-important trust in the storyteller and rewards us for thinking about and engaging with the material. But here the writer acknowledged the question but then dodged answering it. That’s better than not acknowledging the question, but not nearly as satisfying as, you know, answering it.
 She wears a mask to avoid spreading the disease. I mean, in most cutscenes, anyway.
The Loot Lottery
What makes the gameplay of Borderlands so addictive for some, and what does that have to do with slot machines?
A screencap comic that poked fun at videogames and the industry. The comic has ended, but there's plenty of archives for you to binge on.
Two minutes of fun at the expense of a badly-run theme park.
Game at the Bottom
Why spend millions on visuals that are just a distraction from the REAL game of hotbar-watching?
The Best of 2014
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2014.