Spider-Man Part 25: Webbing Up Loose Ends

By Shamus Posted Thursday Aug 15, 2019

Filed under: Retrospectives 47 comments

Spider-Man brings the Devil’s Breath antiserum back to FEAST. The scientist tells him that they need the entire sample to synthesize it in bulk for widespread distribution. On the other hand, Aunt May is on death’s door.

Now he has a choice: Use the cure to save Aunt May, or let the doctor have it to save New York. We know he’s going to do the right thing, but we can see how bitter this moment is for him. He has the power to save May, and he has to let her go for the greater good.

Aunt May Dies

I know I'm usually really negative about photo-realistic graphics and higher fidelity images, but Insomniac did a phenominal job with these characters. This tear-jerky stuff is where videogames usually falter, and here everything is bang-on. The acting is fantastic, and the character models are able to convey the performance.
I know I'm usually really negative about photo-realistic graphics and higher fidelity images, but Insomniac did a phenominal job with these characters. This tear-jerky stuff is where videogames usually falter, and here everything is bang-on. The acting is fantastic, and the character models are able to convey the performance.

May wakes up and tells Spider-Man to take off the mask. She’s known about Peter’s second life for “some time” now. The story even hinted at this earlier where she asked him pointed questions with double meanings. She’s proud of him and gives Peter’s alter-ego her blessing before she goes.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s a well-executed scene with a well-written character. It’s a powerful, quiet moment to counterpoint the sound and fury Spider-Man went through to get here. 

Having said that, it really does feel like the game is wallowing in misery at this point. The city is trashed, tens of thousands are infected, and the streets are filled with prisoners fighting fascist goons. In a story where Spider-Man failed to save the day, it seems like overkill that he couldn’t even save this one person. This entire last chapter has been him fighting to save May, and he failed.

The writer tries to walk back this bleak tone in the following cutscenes. We see the cure being distributed, and once we return to the open world post-credits we get some congratulatory dialog from Yuri. For me it all rang a little hollow. This catastrophic citywide disaster would make 9/11 look like a joke in comparison. The sheer scale of the damage and loss of life ought to cripple the city for years to come.

Then again, I get that this is nominally a comic book world and we’re not supposed to think about this kind of stuff. Just like the heroes that protect them, comic book cities are supernaturally resilient. If Gotham can keep running despite the crazy death toll racked up by the likes of Joker and Scarecrow, then I guess Manhattan can bounce back from the 4 punch combo of bombing campaign, mass prison escape, supervillain rampage, and deadly epidemic.

No More Heroes

Nice try, Pete. But you failed.
Nice try, Pete. But you failed.

In the end this game did a pretty lousy job of delivering on the sort of escapism I look for in comic books. Spider-Man failed on a citywide scale, and also on a personal scale. I understand that one of the key themes of Spider-Man stories is that the hero can’t have everything, but in this story he couldn’t have anything.

I realize this is a matter of taste and I’m sure some people will love this ending because it’s “dark” or “realistic” or “thought provoking”, but if this is a statement of intent from the writer then I’m going to have a rough time with this franchise. I’m just not interested in the story of a guy who sacrifices everything and loses anyway and everyone hates him for trying and everything sucks forever. I already have the evening news, thanks. I was hoping for something lighter from my stories about a guy in red spandex who fights crime while telling jokes.

Having said that, it’s an amazingly well-executed scene. This might be the first time since the end of Last of Us where I saw a character cry in a video game and felt the emotion of the moment rather than being distracted by uncanny expressions and plastic tears. This kind of stuff is hard to do, and the developers at insomniac weren’t afraid to put the camera close and allow the performances to carry the scene.

I’m questioning the wisdom of killing Aunt May. She’s an important part of Spider-Man’s world. She’s his moral center, sounding board, guide, and ideal to live up to. I’m worried the next writer might find it very hard to tell a proper Spider-Man story if Peter doesn’t have anyone to disappoint. Now that May is gone, he no longer needs to guard his secret identity. She was the last of his family. At this point Peter’s life suddenly becomes a lot easier. This move strikes me as being a lot like Peter’s marriage in the 1990s. It’s a nice “event” to get everyone’s attention, but will make it harder for future writers to do their job.

The Determined Little Spider

C'mon, bite her you coward! It'll give the fanbase something to bicker about!
C'mon, bite her you coward! It'll give the fanbase something to bicker about!

Back in the scene where MJ was sneaking around Mayor Osborn’s penthouse, one of his science spiders climbed onto MJ. From there it remained hidden in the folds of her coat when she went skydiving off Osborn’s building. It held on as Spider-Man swung across the city with her and dropped her off at FEAST. It remained there, unseen, for hours while she hung around the shelter during the time where Spider-Man went to confront Martin Li. Then it at last crawled off of her without being noticed and without having bitten her during all their time together. Then it hid under a box until Miles Morales came along.

That is a very motivated spider with a very good understanding of the script. Towards the end of the spider’s ride I was wondering if Miles was a fake-out and the writer was going to have it bite MJ.

Like I said earlier in this series, I don’t like the idea that there are a bunch of science spiders out there that can make more spider-based super people. Aside from concerns over “but then why doesn’t someone do X?” type plot-hole arguments, it makes our hero less special and unique.

Miles Morales

I'd ask how they're doing this with their shoes on, but it's not clear how you do it WITHOUT shoes, so... let's not go there.
I'd ask how they're doing this with their shoes on, but it's not clear how you do it WITHOUT shoes, so... let's not go there.

Once the crisis is over, Peter Parker moves in with Miles and his family for a few weeks until his housing situation is resolved. Once Miles and Peter have a moment alone, Miles reveals that he’s gained spider powers. I should point out that Miles doesn’t know that Peter Parker is Spider-Man until Peter turns around and tells him.

What are the odds? Miles didn’t tell his family. He didn’t tell his best friend, who was already established earlier in the story. Instead he tells the guy he met a couple of weeks ago, and by blind chance that guy happens to be the original Spider-Man. Miles gained his powers more or less through random chance totally unrelated to Spider-ManAlthough Spider-Man did unwittingly transport the spider from the mayor’s penthouse to FEAST., so this is quite a coincidence.

I’ve heard about a one-off comic where someone got spider-based powers though a blood transfusion from Peter Parker, but I haven’t been able to find any reference to it on the internet. This seems like a better way to pass the powers off, since it could cover up these massive contrivances. It would have been easy to set up a blood transfusion scene around the time that Spider-Man saved Miles from the fire, and that would let Miles put 2 and 2 together on his own instead of accidentally revealing his secret to the other Spider-Man.

Yes, I know contrivance is basically a condiment in comic book stories. Still.

Harry Osborn

Don't worry, son. My next plan is to give you a scary mask and a little glider. Once you're a supervillain, you're effectively immortal as long as you keep selling books.
Don't worry, son. My next plan is to give you a scary mask and a little glider. Once you're a supervillain, you're effectively immortal as long as you keep selling books.

After the credits, Norman Osborn returns to his secret science room and we get the big reveal that Harry Osborn isn’t in Europe like he claimed, he’s in dad’s glowing green science tank. Dad is trying to cure his son’s case of Plot Disease. Devil’s Breath was supposed to cure him. Norman’s dialog seems to indicate that project is shut down now.

Harry is wrapped in black web-like tendrils. One of the sticky threads reaches out and touches the glass. End scene.

This is an interesting change to the lore. In the comics, the Osborn boys took turns being the Green Goblin. Here in this universe there doesn’t seem to be a Green Goblin, despite the fact that Goblin is Spider-Man’s top foe. Instead it looks like the writer is going to turn Harry into… Venom?

This gives us some hints about their sequel plans. When Aunt May died I figured the writer was going to have Peter Parker hang up his pajamas and retire, leaving us to play as Miles in the next game. (And then maybe have them team up in the third one.) But it wouldn’t make dramatic sense to pit Harry Osborn against Miles. You’d have to do all this work to help the audience understand how gentle Harry became Venom, and none of those reveals would mean anything to Miles. You’d bear all the costs of contriving and explaining how another one of Peter’s friends turned evil but without any of the dramatic benefits.

I don’t know. Maybe they’ll have Peter and Miles team up next time and we’ll switch between the two. Then again, switching between two science nerds who are always late for things because they’re both Spider-Man seems like a bad idea.

I guess we’ll see.

Wrapping Up

Nice try, writer. But seeing the cure distributed doesn't really make this a happy ending. Or even a bittersweet one. This story went too low, too early, and for too long. If I wanted to lose all the time I'd play Dark Souls.
Nice try, writer. But seeing the cure distributed doesn't really make this a happy ending. Or even a bittersweet one. This story went too low, too early, and for too long. If I wanted to lose all the time I'd play Dark Souls.

I know I did a good bit of complaining in this series, but most of it was focused on matters of taste. Maybe I made it sound like this game had a lot of problems, but the truth is that this is a really solid experience. I know I picked on Martin, Silver Sable, and that once scene where MJ turned into a villain for 5 minutes. But this game is also packed with a lot of great moments. This isn’t like Wolfenstein: The New Colossus where everything was a never-ending onslaught of mediocrity punctuated by brief moments of total incompetence.  Insomniac’s Spider-Man is an outstanding game with a couple of perplexing flaws. When Wolfenstein’s story fell apart, it wasn’t surprising because it felt like nobody on the project really knew what they were doing. When we get a bad scene in Spider-Man it is surprising, because everything else seems so solid.

The Aunt May scenes were heartfelt and genuine without being sappy. The MJ plot had several good scenes and a brilliant conclusion. The Doc Ock scenes were a joy to watch. The Black Cat and fake Spider-Man sidequests were stellar. The Miles scenes had several good moments.

To sum up my gripes with the game:

  • The Martin plot was pretty wonky. I never cared about the character, I didn’t understand what drove his dual personality, and the redemption idea had no stakes. Maybe the writer was depending on the player knowing about the character from the comics. That would be fine, except Martin got a lot of screen time. His wonky story directly preceded the Doctor Octopus plot, which was the exact same idea with a far better execution. I have no idea what went wrong here. 
  • Silver Sable was hot garbage. Boo.
  • The combat is serviceable, but it could use another pass to bring the brawls up to the same standards as the rest of the experience.
  • I don’t like how dark the story got or how the conflict ramped up to such  a ridiculous scale, particularly for the first game of a franchise.
  • I’m not sure the death of Aunt May was a good idea.
  • Having Miles get superpowers is fine, but this particular version of that story felt sort of forced and hurried.

Half of those are a matter of taste. The other half feel like a new series finding its legs. Wolfenstein felt like a series that was falling apart, while this feels like a series that started strong and needs a little refinement to become a classic.

Some Constructive Criticism

Can someone hold this for me? I need to scratch my nose.
Can someone hold this for me? I need to scratch my nose.

In order to end this on a constructive note, here are a few suggestions for the developers who will probably never read this:

This game feels like an unstable truce between a group of gameplay designers and a group of writers. The two groups often seemed to be at odds. This problem is expressed in a lot of different ways:

Boss fights stop for cutscenes that negate gameplay. If you need to move the fight to move to a new venue, you don’t need to have the villain grab Spider-Man, negate his powers, and toss him into the next arena. The bad guy can just leap into the next room and Spider-Man can follow. Don’t reward progress by using the player as a punching bag. 

Cutscenes are marred with underwhelming quicktime events. If you’ve made an interesting, beautiful action scene, you don’t need need to clutter it up with lame button prompts. Don’t vandalize your cinematography in the name of fake gameplay. Just keep the cutscenes short and you won’t need to placate the player with pretend interactivity. 

The science station missions run on nonsensical story logic and clumsily constructed “stakes” that only exist to facilitate brief moments of completely disposable gameplay. Figure out how to call a truce between the gameplay designer and the writer, because everything is better when those two are cooperating. Most importantly, don’t let the gameplay designer do writing. They are bad at it, and bad writing is worse than no writing.

The combat system is built around a series of overpowered gadgets that are thematically inappropriate for our main character. I wouldn’t say get rid of them. Just cut the weapon wheel down to a few web-based gadgets and give the player shortcuts so they can change powers without needing to use the flow-breaking weapon wheel.

The tutorials aren’t integrated into the narrative, which means they need to be fed to the player via brute-force information dump and clumsy popups. Slow down. Teach a concept, have the player execute it in a low-stakes scenario, remind them about it later, and then make it part of the normal gameplay rotation. The best tutorials are the ones the player doesn’t notice.

Most of the collect-a-thon gameplay is disconnected from story threads. When Batman finds all the Riddler trophies, he catches the Riddler. When he does all the phone missions he catches Zsasz. When he completes all the assassination investigations, he catches Deadshot. When Spider-Man finds all the backpacks he… unlocks a new costume. When he turns on all the towers, Yuri calls him and thanks him. When he defeats all the prisoners / Sable agents / Demons in a district, he’s done doing that and nothing else happens. The one exception to this pattern is the Black Cat mission. You only need to find 12 things instead of 50, and it offers a proper payoff at the end. Try to integrate them with the story / world building when you can. 

Wrapping Up

Okay, I guess that counts as something happy for the ending. Also, kudos for the first videogame kiss I've ever seen that isn't creepy or unnatural.
Okay, I guess that counts as something happy for the ending. Also, kudos for the first videogame kiss I've ever seen that isn't creepy or unnatural.

This story was solid. It was fast-paced, witty, interesting, and emotionally resonant. Characters hit their marksAside from the business with Martin Li and and Silver Sable, which I’ve already belabored. and the dialog is always telling the story while also revealing the characters.

Likewise, the gameplay was pretty good. The traversal mechanics are the best in the business as far as I’m concerned, and the combat is acceptable. It’s fun to play and full of variety.

The problem is the ugly seam between these two halves. These two good aspects don’t quite fit together. I realize this is pretty weak criticism, but that’s because this is a really strong game. Yes, it could be better, but for the first entry in a new franchise we’re off to a pretty amazing start.

So that’s about 50,000 words on the new Spider-Man franchise. If you’d like to support my efforts, please consider joining my Patreon. Thanks so much for reading.

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] Although Spider-Man did unwittingly transport the spider from the mayor’s penthouse to FEAST.

[2] Aside from the business with Martin Li and and Silver Sable, which I’ve already belabored.



From The Archives:
 

47 thoughts on “Spider-Man Part 25: Webbing Up Loose Ends

  1. Ivan says:

    You talked earlier in the series about how the traversal mechanics are all about making the player seem skilled, whilst using sleight of hand to fudge a fluid looking result. Basically, compensating for inexactitude in player inputs, and in the control scheme itself, in such a way the player doesn’t notice the puppetry. At least, this was my interpretation. I haven’t played the game, to be clear.

    So, I kind of wondering, would an option to turn this stuff off, be an option you’d appreciate? Basically turn the game into a game of movement mastery, if you so choose. Possibly calling it Extreme Sports mode. And do you think that is a feasible thing, or are those puppetry strings hiding/smoothing over limitations in the engine or mechanics, as well as the players clumsy inputs?

    1. Arkady English says:

      I found the drone challenges did this for me. I really enjoyed chasing the drones, as they forced me to actually master the movement accurately. But I think there’s no need for generally getting from point-to-point gameplay to make you feel bad for messing up slightly.

  2. Redrock says:

    The death of Aunt May is what solidified my suspicion that the Insomniac Spider-Man sequels will inevitably feature a passing of the torch from Peter to Miles, either via the usual way, i.e. Peter dying heroically in a dramatic interactive sequence, or via some Dark Knight Rises retirement bullshit scenario. Because, yeah, Aunt May is a big part of Spider-Man stories, and killing her off only makes sense as the first step to ultimately tearing down Peter’s life completely. And, well, with Red Dead Redemption having pulled that trick not once but twice, changing protagonists in the epilogue of an open-world game is basically a claasic move at this point.

    1. Christopher says:

      My bet’s still on an Arkham-style multiple playable characters situation for the sequel.

      I know Miles originally took up the torch after Peter died, but I think that arc is pretty dead after Miles started getting integrated into non-Ultimate canon since you can’t just have Peter dying all the time so the new kid can take over. Batman isn’t in any danger of immediate death just ’cause there’s a Robin around. If there’s anything Miles being playable signifies, it’s that we’re gonna get some version of the Prowler story next game as a side dish to Green Goblin and Venom.

      My hope is for a third game after that which features the return of Doc Ock, since he’s fantastic, perhaps accompanied by Kraven, Mysterio, Sandman etc for another Sinister Six. There’s still a lot of classic unused baddies. I say Venom and Green Goblin can prop up guys like Morbius and Lizard. It’d be pretty good thematically to have all of the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde villains in one game. And then the bank robbers in spandex can take another shot during Spider-Man 3.

      Though, if Insomniac don’t wanna do this forever, I could see them ending a trilogy this way. I’d prefer if they didn’t, but what can you do.

      1. Sartharina says:

        Robin didn’t replace Bruce. Terry McGinnis did, after Batman retired. The fun thing is that… in all honesty, Peter Parker should have retired/faded out as Spider Man in the main comics instead of divorcing Mary Jane. Sure, keep him around for a few one-offs and team-ups, but he’s an Established Adult Hero at that point like Iron Man, Captain America, and Everyone Else, instead of the Teen/Young Adult hero in his transitional phase of life.

    2. Jabberwok says:

      Or, they could just relaunch again, call the next game Spider-Man, and kill off Aunt May in a different way.

    3. Dreadjaws says:

      You are correct. In the comics, having Aunt May die ended up with Peter retiring and his mantle being taken by his clone Ben Reilly. Of course, all of this was undone later because editors hate anything not status-quo.

    4. Syal says:

      I say Aunt May resurrects due to unknown Devil’s Breath properties, and becomes Aunt Venom.

      EDIT: …oh. It’d be Auntie Venom wouldn’t it.

      1. Ancillary says:

        You were *this* close to greatness.

    5. Orophor says:

      The death of Aunt May is where I stopped playing. I just couldn’t see any of what the game put Peter through as heroic, it was all too tragic. Everything he did failed. He lost his mentor, his girlfriend, his job, his apartment, his only living family and even after all that, the city still goes to hell anyway.

  3. Christopher says:

    May’s death fell a bit flat for me. After the emotional rollercoaster that was Doc Ock, it didn’t completely work for me when this version of aunt May, who’s been in all of like five scenes, dies right after. She even does the same thing Ock and Li did, where they figured out who you are under the mask. That stops being special pretty quickly.

    I get that it’s supposed to show Spidey’s self-sacrificing nature, and mirror Miles’ loss. One of the most notorious issues in the comics is One More Day, where Spidey makes a deal with the Marvel version of Satan to save aunt May’s life. Of course you don’t want a repeat of that. But I feel like I already knew pretty well what Pete’s personality was like, while May was still fairly underused, and Peter’s has already lost both his parents and uncle Ben. It just felt like a waste.

    I totally agree with your final opinion on the game. Hopefully some of the devs do read at least a little of it. Having watched the developer commentary of Mike Stout and Tony Garcia(formerly of Insomniac) on the Ratchet & Clank games, one of the quotes I took to heart was that a developer will see what you’ve written. Maybe not all devs are like that, but lots do go looking for what people write about their games, even if they don’t engage with it. I like to think Brian Intihar knows very well by now what Marvel’s Spider-Man did well and which areas they could improve for a sequel. Matters of taste aside, I trust that man and his team to make an even better game next.

    No pressure, right?

  4. Hal says:

    It was an interesting reveal for May to know about Peter’s double life, but I don’t think they foreshadowed it enough. I wasn’t thrilled about the death of May either, but I think this does present some good narrative options and distinguishes the game from all the other Spider-mediums. That is, there’s a pressure to make properties like this conform to a mold: Spider-Man has to be a certain age, dealing with certain issues, with very specific relationships to various characters. This does give us familiar territory to travel, but if you’re trying to tell a story, it can be very limiting. Taking the story in a new direction by removing May opens up other possibilities and allows for different stories to be told.

    Just so long as that story isn’t “One More Day.”

    As far as Harry/Venom goes, this isn’t entirely without precedent. In the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series, the Venom symbiote came about from Norman and Otto experimenting on a sample of Spider-Man’s blood, trying to reverse engineer the process that gave him his powers. The symbiote ended up bonding with Harry, who would wrestle with kicking it out of his system because of how empowering it was. That, and major daddy issues.

    My suspicion is that the eventual sequel will allow you to swap back and forth between the characters, with Peter having the gadget-based play-style and Miles having his more diverse natural suite of options. One of the science station missions gave you temporary invisibility, which is one of Miles’s powers; I suspect they were priming the pump to have him in the game, couldn’t make it fit, but didn’t want to abandon the mechanics they’d developed.

    Although in theory you could introduce some sort of co-op game with the two characters, I rather doubt that would mesh well with the mechanics.

  5. Hector says:

    I would have loved to see a Mary-Jane Watson SpiderGirl or whatever. You could have that as a new charactre in the squel with a much less developed ability set and a distinctive style, which gives you a lot of room to build and develop without having to take away all of Spider-Man’s abilities so he can earn them again.

  6. Lars says:

    Also, kudos for the first videogame kiss I’ve ever seen that isn’t creepy or unnatural.

    You should play the first “The Darkness” then. (Another comic book game with photo realistic graphics – Sadly PS3 exclusive) The relationship between Jackie and his girlfriend is really well done – even in all-time first person view.

    1. Gautsu says:

      Couldn’t be a PS3 exclusive since I played it on the 360

      1. Lars says:

        Yeah. I read the wikipedia page after posting and saw that there was a 360 version. Still waiting for a PC port to replay it. That game was damn good.

  7. Michael says:

    I’m just not interested in the story of a guy who sacrifices everything and loses anyway and everyone hates him for trying and everything sucks forever.

    A lot of people did seem to find Charlie Brown an appealing character. Then again, the recent movie completely trashed the idea.

    I think it worked in Peanuts because of all the other characters. Charlie Brown can never win, but you don’t have to be reading his story all the time.

    1. Scampi says:

      In other words: Charlie Brown would have made for a horrible super hero. And due to that, I now want to see someone take that on in some form.

      1. Kylroy says:

        If gritty nihilist ’90s antihero counts , I give you:

        https://www.whatisdeepfried.com/weaponbrown/

        1. Joshua says:

          “And then the ultimate showdown, where the identity of history’s greatest cartoon duo will be settled by blood: either a man and his dog, or a boy and his tiger.”

          I’m heavily biased towards Calvin & Hobbes over Charlie Brown & Snoopy.

          1. Kylroy says:

            Early “Peanuts” was actually really good – I grew up with some collections of the ’50s and ’60s stuff, and I’d put a lot of it on par with Calvin & Hobbes. Without those collections, I’d only have the limp ’90s version to remember – Schultz had long since run out of ideas (as would most people writing a daily strip for decades on end), but I guess the money or the fame or something kept from closing shop until he was physically incapable of producing the strip.

            I think watching an uninspired Peanuts limp on long past the point it was good played a large part in both Watterson and Larson walking away from their strips shortly after the quality began to decline.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              I’m also a big “Peanuts” fan, with many fond memories of re-run strips from the older eras of the comic.

          2. Nimrandir says:

            I think Garfield and Odie could take them all. I mean, if it weren’t too much work for Garfield. And beyond Odie’s ability to understand what was going on.

  8. Ninety-Three says:

    When we get a bad scene in Spider-Man it is surprising, because everything else seems so solid.

    This is surprising to me. Following your series, I could tell that you liked the game despite your complaints, but I never got the impression that you liked the writing despite your complaints. Trying to recall narrative you liked without going back and checking I’m coming up with:
    The Aunt May scene mentioned in this post
    You seemed to think the Doc Ock final confrontation was fine
    You… mentioned Black Cat in like two sentences and I don’t think it was negative so maybe you liked that?

    I know it’s easier to write about why something is bad than why it’s good, but the way your plot summaries gloss over everything except the complaints really makes the game look like it seesaws between forgettable and objectionable.

    1. Shamus says:

      I didn’t notice this during writing, but it’s pretty clear this series would have been stronger if I’d highlighted some of the good scenes and made a big deal about them. Particularly since a lot of them happened before Martin’s plot took off. It would have made for a really strong contrast.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        That’s an unfortunate side effect of the way most human minds work, in my experience. We feel compelled to dissect things which bother us, while we simply attach adverbs to ‘great’ or ‘awesome’ when it comes to positive stuff.

        For what it’s worth, I’ve enjoyed the series in spite of a general lack of attachment to Spider-Man. I’ll probably go so far as picking up a copy soon, so Insomniac can thank you for another sale.

        1. Asdasd says:

          I agree that it’s generally observable in fandom. I do it all the time too – I loved The Other Kind of Life, for example, but I was very nitpicky about what I felt were its minor flaws.

          Which makes it interesting is if you look at games media going back a few decades, we managed to generate an enthusiast press which is known for being broadly lenient and generous in its criticism of games.

  9. One-Note Pony says:

    Spider-man has always been about loss, but this story in particular is about the already-orphaned Peter losing his surrogate mother (May) and father (Otto). It is harsh, but emotionally it worked for me. I’ve always been partial to the “May knows” idea (c.f. Straczynski in the comics, and the second Raimi movie), and this is simultaneously the most relatable and scariest Ock I’ve seen in any medium…and Peter loses them both.

    It’s a very bold choice, and as Shamus mentions it sets up logistical and narrative problems for the character as we know him in sequels. But it dovetails withe Insomniac’s choice to not make this yet another rehash of Spidey’s origin: this is not about the boy superhero, this is about growing up. You move away from your parents’ shadow, you take responsibility (not the “great power” kind this time, but the kind where you own up to why you made your romantic relationships fail), and you start thinking about your legacy. Marvel has played with this a bit in the comics – even at their glacial rate of character aging Peter is at least in his mid-twenties, not scrambling for rent, and mentoring assorted other spider-totems – so it’s refreshing to see the character grow up in non-core media as well.

    Hard agree on Martin Li, Silver Sable, and the story/gameplay Chinese wall.

  10. 0451fan0451 says:

    The Aunt May death was one of the few things in the story that really connected with me. It was such a Spider-Man moment where he has great power and has to be responsible. He had to choose the greater good over his personal desires like in first Raimi film which I love.

    1. Cubic says:

      MJ should realize what this means for their future and her lifespan and break up with him immediately. This time he sacrificed his beloved sole living relative, what will it be next? Walk away, MJ!

  11. Oliver says:

    My issue with the “You can save your Aunt May, or you can save The City” conundrum is that it requires May to be the only person on the verge of Devil’s Breath based death. Everyone else in The City can hang on for long enough for the mass synthesis and distribution, but May just doesn’t have enough time.

    That is a very specific level of being infected with a super virus.

    Of course it’s also likely that Spider-Man actually failed to save thousands of lives here and not just his Aunt; it doesn’t sound like that is recognised in the game though.

    Also, do the various terrorists super-villains take full blame for all this or does MJ do some investigative reporting to publicly reveal any Osborn based activities?

    1. Hector says:

      Also, realistically if Aunt May is that I’ll, she won’t make it either way. Medicine isn’t instantaneous. You can fudge that in a more flexible comic-book universe, but for this one they aimed for much more realism.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      That is a very specific level of being infected with a super virus.

      Standard Resident Evil stuff.

    3. Eric Fletcher says:

      Well, everyone else on the verge of death is dead either way since they aren’t in the same room as the serum.

      So, it’s either save Aunt May and another dozen nearby folks, or (almost) everyone elese

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    Having said that, it’s an amazingly well-executed scene. This might be the first time since the end of Last of Us where I saw a character cry in a video game and felt the emotion of the moment rather than being distracted by uncanny expressions and plastic tears. This kind of stuff is hard to do, and the developers at insomniac weren’t afraid to put the camera close and allow the performances to carry the scene.

    I did like that scene. I actually felt more emotion in it than in anything that happened in Avengers: Endgame, but probably because this version of Aunt May is the closest one to the one from the comics in recent adaptations, so I already feel attached to her. Someone who’s new to the mythos might be underwelmed because they’re not familiar with the character and the game doesn’t do a particularly good job of developing her.

    I’m questioning the wisdom of killing Aunt May. She’s an important part of Spider-Man’s world. She’s his moral center, sounding board, guide, and ideal to live up to. I’m worried the next writer might find it very hard to tell a proper Spider-Man story if Peter doesn’t have anyone to disappoint. Now that May is gone, he no longer needs to guard his secret identity. She was the last of his family. At this point Peter’s life suddenly becomes a lot easier.

    Oh, man, you’re bringing some bad “clone saga” memories. They killed off Aunt May there (in a scene that was 100% the inspiration for this one, and by “inspiration” I mean “they pretty much copied it almost word for word”), but people were happy about it. The character had been there for years and it was time to move on. But, of course, it didn’t last. They used one of the dumbest twists in comic book history to explain how she didn’t die and brought her back.

    This move strikes me as being a lot like Peter’s marriage in the 1990s. It’s a nice “event” to get everyone’s attention, but will make it harder for future writers to do their job.

    I mean, the MCU Spider-Man has a lot of success despite its version of Aunt May being an entirely different character. Neither of them ever show any worry about the other despite she knowing his identity. Now. I absolutely don’t like this dynamic, but it’s clear that people do.

    I’ve heard about a one-off comic where someone got spider-based powers though a blood transfusion from Peter Parker, but I haven’t been able to find any reference to it on the internet.

    Never heard of that. I think you’re confusing two stories: the one where Hulk gives a blood transfusion to his cousin and transforms her into She-Hulk and the one where Peter gives a transfusion to Aunt May and poisons her.

    This is an interesting change to the lore. In the comics, the Osborn boys took turns being the Green Goblin. Here in this universe there doesn’t seem to be a Green Goblin, despite the fact that Goblin is Spider-Man’s top foe. Instead it looks like the writer is going to turn Harry into… Venom?

    The abysmal Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon had already done that change to the lore. I don’t know how well it resonated with fans because I honestly stopped watching that piece of crap way before I could muster any sort of care to read the TV Tropes page.

  13. ccesarano says:

    I find it funny that you bring up blood transfusion when I had a similar thought posts ago, but because I didn’t understand how it works I got madly corrected on my bad science. Thing is, I cannot see Peter giving Miles a transfusion consciously, knowing that his blood is infected.

    Nevertheless, I was not a fan of magical traveling spider.

    I think, for me, the Aunt May thing was part of the whole thematic angle regarding “Great Power, Great Responsibility”. Harry, Doc Ock, and Martin Li are all granted great power in some fashion, but not a single one of them uses it in a positive manner. Heck, Martin Li does good things with F.E.A.S.T., but then he uses his literal powers to kill a whole lot of people in the name of… a nonsensical plot to bring down Harry? I also think we’re supposed to see how Doc Ock starts out using his inventions for others, but finally uses it for himself instead. Harry’s research was at first devoted purely to his wife, and is now to his son, both of which are things he keeps secret. Peter does not use the cure for himself, but he instead uses it for the city, and he does it when he’s about to lose one of his last emotional Peter Parker ties (as opposed to Spider-Man ties).

    I can see what they’re trying to do, but they’re also counting on us knowing Aunt May from other media in order for the gut punch to work. The production on the scene is incredible, but because this Aunt May is new to me, the impact fails to work for me. This feels like sequel ideas being tossed into the first one in order to do something different.

    As opposed to Doc Ock. I was actually uncertain whether to expect him in this game or not. It felt obvious, but at the same time, so many of the optional laboratory mini-games were all in service to Peter unwittingly helping his friend become a villain. I actually would have found it interesting if they played with that somehow, like the boss fight being harder as a result, but balanced by the fact that you had more points with which to upgrade your gear (which, as you noted, was pointless anyway). At the same time, it was very reminiscent of Arkham City, where you accomplish the murders only to get a tease for Hush to be a villain in Arkham Knight (and is then promptly taken care of in a… five minute stand-alone mission? One of those spots you can tell writers changed between City and Knight). I was wondering if perhaps the reward for completing the mini-games, in addition to the upgrade points, would have been a teaser of Doc in the sequel.

    But clearly that’s not the way they went, and it just feels messier that everything was all about Martin Li at first with a lame build-up of the Sinister Six.

    In any event, I certainly enjoyed the game, but the further away I get I really think the opening gives you a really good first impression that the majority of the game fails to live up to, and yet maintains that high well enough that the flaws are far less noticeable compared to other games.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      In fairness, your last paragraph sounds like one of the most solid starts for a newish franchise since . . . well . . . um . . .

      Oh dear. Now I’m depressed.

    2. Mr. Wolf says:

      Re: Blood Transfusions

      Listen bud, he’s got radioactive blood. Take from someone else instead, unless you want Morales dead.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Dreadjaws mentioned it above but to be more specific there is a comic book story where Peter’s blood is used in a transfusion for aunt May and she gets (the comic book version of) radiation sickness from it, forcing Peter to go after some anti-rad… I think it’s even Doc Ock who has/steals the cure at the time and Peter has to beat him up for it.

  14. Gaius Maximus says:

    Well, the blood transfusion thing worked in Penny Arcade.

    https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/12/29

  15. kdansky says:

    So you liked everything apart from

    * The plot
    * The writing
    * The combat
    * The side-activities
    * The graphics
    * The theme
    * The cutscenes
    * The QTEs
    * The villains
    * The stealth
    * The bosses
    * The tutorial
    * The middle
    * The ending

    So really, you only liked the swinging, but you liked that so much it made up for what is clearly just a mediocre game. You made some exceptions here or there, like saying the dialog is solidly written, but when what the characters say is hot garbage (e.g. taking revenge on the mayor by killing civilians), no amount of clever writing will ever fix that on closer inspection.

    I had no interest in the game because it’s a mainstream action game about a hero I don’t care much for, but now I would not touch it with a ten-foot pole after reading this brutal dissection. You thoroughly unsold me on it.

    But it’s not your criticisms which are the “subjective” aberration, the single thing that does not fit the picture you painted is that you say you like it and that it is a good game. Maybe sometimes we need to admit that we like crap. I like Warframe, but I know it is mostly a horrible slot machine.

    1. Gurgl says:

      Of course you can’t discount that liking something is nowhere near as tirade-friendly as a deconstruction, it’s a gaming blog after all and an article that says “eh, it’s pretty good, you can expect a fun playthrough” won’t fill your gas tank. That said, in that case the explanation is probably much simpler.

      It’s obvious Spiderman is a franchise very dear to the author, and once you’re there a game has a lot of leeway: all it needs is to be solid and have high production values. Can I name a WW2 shooter that will instantly climb to the top of your list of favourite games? Probably not. Can I name a solid, fun, but otherwise cookie-cutter WW2 shooter that will give you a few evenings of fun if you really need to scratch that itch? You bet.

      Franchise games have it even easier: as long as it’s not downright terrible, people will have a lot of tolerance towards its shortcomings, because of how powerful a draw the setting is.

    2. ccesarano says:

      I think part of the issue is that there’s far less to say about what makes Marvel’s Spider-Man work, and even in moments that it is enjoyable, it continues to be flawed. The swinging mechanics are, without a doubt, the best executed aspect of the game. The combat, regardless if you’re coming in from a more action-intensive background of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, or the rhythmic pummeling of the Arkham games, has some issues that prevent it from truly shining.

      There’s clearly a lot of things the game could do to be better.

      That there’s far more to critique in this fashion doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, though. It’s just part of the struggle with criticism, especially when you’re seeing endless praise for a game as being “perfect”. Not nearly as unanimously as other titles, but my first impression of Spider-Man was really strong, and it took further play and the first DLC to step away thinking “You know, it’s pretty good, but man could it use some improvement”.

      Sometimes that’s just how it works. The gameplay is adequate enough to be enjoyed, but you cannot help but discuss all the ways in which it wasn’t more.

      Nevertheless, reading through this critique, I very much understand a lot of Shamus’ points and why the tone at the end is what it is. I can also see how his negative views aren’t nearly as severe as they were for Wolfenstein or even Mass Effect II in parts.

      Maybe the problem is we just don’t have a lot of good (recent?) examples of Shamus having more love for something than criticisms.

  16. Sleeping Dragon says:

    I will say killing May in the opening game (assuming that’s what it is) is a curious move for a franchise. Is it just because they want to establish a more adult Peter Parker who is already past the “foster mom” stage of his life and dealt with that loss? Are they setting up a more bleak tone for the franchise? Did they just feel the game did not have enough emotional umph? The DLCs kinda sorta dip into more serious overtones as well but then we have Miles in the background who has more of that “teen Spider-Man” cheer and enthusiasm with Peter being a bit more mentory and responsible.

  17. Mousazz says:

    would make 9/11 look a joke in comparison.

    The article is missing a “like” in between ‘look’ and ‘a joke’ here.

  18. Duncan says:

    After reading this whole retrospective I do have to agree with the final statement that it was a pretty good game overall, but that there are areas where the game needs to improve for a sequel. For me the combat is in the biggest need of some tweeking.
    I hope this isn’t unrelated but you mentioned several times what you think works, and doesn’t work as an adaptation of Spider-Man, or what doesn’t work as an escapist fantasy. So I’m curious to know what you thought of previous Spider-Man adaptations. (Movies, cartoons, games, drama cd ect.) Do you feel any of the previous takes on Spider-Man have properly adapted the character and his world to a different medium?

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *