Experienced Points: Where Marvel’s Spider-Man Fails

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Oct 10, 2018

Filed under: Column 56 comments

My column this week is… well, you can probably guess from the title. I love the new Spider-Man game, but that won’t stop me from picking at its flaws.

I have some other gripes about the game. In fact, I have a lot of gripes. Like I said a few days ago, I’ll be doing a full retrospective on this game in the coming months. When the time comes we’ll spend a lot of words analyzing this game and its comic influences. I’m currently on my fifth play-through of the game. Actually, my fourth and fifth play-throughs are concurrent. Number four is the one where I’m capturing all my gameplay footage and doing 100% of all the side content, while number five is just me blasting through the story as quickly as possible and ignoring all side content.

There’s nothing I can say here that won’t spoil what I’m going to write later. So instead let me share some screenshots with you. If you examine these very closely, you might be able to spot one more little gripe I have with the game. It might be subtle, so keep your eyes open!

Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything major jump out at you? Look close!
Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything major jump out at you? Look close!

Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything major jump out at you? Look close!
Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything major jump out at you? Look close!

Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything major jump out at you? Look close!
Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything major jump out at you? Look close!

Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything major jump out at you? Look close!
Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything major jump out at you? Look close!

Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything major jump out at you? Look close!
Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything major jump out at you? Look close!

If you find the problem, don’t spoil it for others! It’s so much more rewarding if you can figure it out for yourself.


From The Archives:

56 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Where Marvel’s Spider-Man Fails

  1. Redrock says:

    I must say I disagree with you a bit on the subject of dodging. One of the things I liked about Spider-Man’s combat was that it feels slightly more freeform than the rock-paper-scissors rigidity of the Arkham games. That does make the dodging a bit looser, true, but I don’t think you’re expected to rely on it as much as in Arkham. It’s telling that Spidey’s dodge doesn’t have an automatic counter unlike other Arkham-style systems. It seems to me that you’re expected to mostly use dodging against projectiles, and with projectiles it mostly works fine.

    The weapon wheel, however, sucks, and was my biggest gripe, especially once I got more gadgets. I don’t think an Arkham system is the key – again, I personally never liked the combat gadget system there because of how restrictive it feels. I suspect a Dishonored-style favorites system is a better idea, where you can assign any 4 powers to the d-pad. Yeah, the d-pad is already in use, but I think they could shuffle those functions elsewhere.

  2. Dev Null says:

    So, uhm… in the last image in the column, is there some clever in-story reason that Skull Skater (Taskmaster?) is slitting his wrist at you?

    1. Shamus says:

      He’s supposed to be holding his hand over the blade. For some reason.

      This image was captured during gameplay by dropping into photo mode. We don’t get to see the guy in a cutscene, and his gameplay model is usually moving fast enough that you don’t notice this sort of stuff.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Am I missing an image? The last one for me is the Blue Screen Of Death…

        1. whitehelm says:

          They’re talking about the last image in the actual Escapist column, not this page.

  3. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Freaking QTEs man! When I’m president of the world they’ll be punishable by death (unless the designer can press 18 buttons in a quick random sequence).

  4. Hal says:

    I think I see it? I dunno. Are we going to have to wait a week to find out the answer?

    1. Nick-B says:

      My bet is on the blatant and blinding “lens flare” in the first picture.

      1. Syal says:

        There are more than eight limbs visible in those shots; there are eight on the logo, and then up to four additional arms and legs he’s using to move around. This isn’t Centipede Man. How does an animator mess that up?

        …although I’ll admit I’m at a loss for the final screenshot.

  5. Mephane says:

    My take on your screenshots: Spidey’s webs are invisible in photo mode.

    1. Redrock says:

      Hmm, possibly. Although, to be fair, most of these screenshots don’t look like the things in question are even supposed to be there?

    2. Hal says:

      That was my guess as well. But there could easily be something else happening there that I’m not seeing because I don’t have an eye for these things.

    3. Kriellya says:

      I don’t want to play with the spoiler script, cause I don’t trust my memory of how Shamus has this setup, and some platforms actively disagree with them… so let’s go grab rot13 I guess.

      V guvax vg unf gb qb jvgu gur ohvyqvatf.

      1. Mephane says:

        The spoiler “script” is just a custom style for the strike-tag. There is no reason to assume it shouldn’t work on any modern browser.

        1. Kriellya says:

          That was more of a ‘Shamus doesn’t have a more full featured comment editor, and I can’t remember and don’t want to look up which markup system he’s using to add features to what is otherwise notepad.’ And that ‘modern browsers should’ is a very different statement from ‘all browsers do’. It should work, highlight spoilers are generally pretty reliable, but it’s an excuse to not fix the first problem ?

    4. Ninety-Three says:

      My guess, based on the last screenshot being a crash, is that the first four shots are the game being frozen as it crashes.

      1. Mephane says:

        Well, if the gripe is just that the game crashes often, then the first four images provide no hint whatsoever to that fact, and seem to serve more as a distraction.

  6. Darren says:

    Thank you for commenting on the dodge timing! It’s so weird that I’ve seen people defending Spider-Man’s combat as being better than the Arkham games. I actually decided to replay Arkham Knight after wrapping up Spider-Man just to confirm that I wasn’t crazy, and indeed, the combat is way better all around.

    I also wasn’t very impressed by the mook variety or in Spider-Man’s inclination to just load the player down with increasingly powerful tools. Batman’s gadgets mostly just leave enemies open to punching, and there’s a lot of trade-offs to consider when choosing your next move. Spider-Man hauls around tons of toys that can practically win fights in and of themselves.

    1. Hal says:

      Yeah, I thought for quite some time the problem was on my end: I wasn’t paying enough attention, I just wasn’t very good at this sort of game, I was button-mashing in lieu of strategy, etc. I only played Asylum, but my memory of it was that I wasn’t very good at it, so I assumed I was simply importing my problems from that game over here.

      It’s nice to know that people who were good at those games are saying, “The mechanics are at issue here.” It’s not just me!

      1. guy says:

        I’m not finding the dodge mechanics that bad, but then again I suck at Arkham-style games and dodging in general so maybe I’m just not noticing. But usually I use the spider-sense as my cue to vacate the area promptly more than to time my dodge. I think you get warned much further in advance but dodging doesn’t cancel the attack automatically until very late; they’ll reposition a good bit to follow you. But if someone is prepping to punch you and you hurl ten meters away to punch someone else the first guy will cancel his attack.

    2. Redrock says:

      Eh, the way I see it, Arkham’s combat is certainly better as a game system. No question there. But I maintain that Spider-Man’s combat is better at, to quote every review and ad ever, “making you feel like Spider-Man”. Or, rather, think like Spider-Man, perhaps. Arkham’s combat doesn’t make me think like Batman. Unless Batman is always thinking “Man, gotta use each of my gadgets exactly once during this fight to maximize my gadget variety bonus. Lucius gets super sad when I don’t use the silly-ass explosive gel flip trick”. Although I’m sure there’s a “what if” comic that has something like that. There’s one for everything.

  7. Distec says:

    I cannot spot the issue in the screenshots, and my impatience is killing me.

    Somebody ROT13 the answer!

  8. Hal says:

    I might also point out there’s learning curve issues in the game, too. There’s a lot of stuff that it takes pains to introduce to you, but then other things that get thrown at you without any fanfare at all.

    Vehicle chases, for example. You stumble on one of these, and the game gives you no instructions or indications as to how they work. Is this a QTE? Does it act like normal combat? I don’t know. I got my butt shot off of cars quite a few times before I just started mashing buttons to succed. But even then, I never expect to have to catch the car at the end, and have yet to successfully do so because it doesn’t give you enough time.

    I also ran into an issue with heavily-armed mooks. I was activating towers on a lark when I was asked to go track down this side-mission. Sure, why not? I’m just goofing around in the city. Well, I swing onto this roof top and suddenly there are guys with rifles. I haven’t seen that yet, just mooks with pistols at the worst. Not only that, but they have backup in the form of snipers on another roof top. They made quick work of me.

    I don’t think that’s an entirely unfair thing, given the system and world, but the game did a lot of hand holding in terms of introducing you to types of enemies and dealing with their tactics, only to unceremoniously drop sniper support on the player. Oof.

    1. guy says:

      I think you probably stumbled into something that’s on the map but you’re not expected to find by that point; I found snipers on a plot mission first.

      Car chase is relatively simple; you need to get within about 30 meters, then web it. Then you commence a boarding action where you use the standard movement keys to crawl over it and can yank people out windows with the standard attack key when they lean out to shoot you. Then there’s a QTE but it’s just mashing one button and anyways in the street chases failing it isn’t game over.

  9. SharpeRifle says:

    Oh for the love of what did they do to Taskie?
    They ain’t writing him right……he doesn’t have all his weapons……unless there is some secret stage where you take down one of his mook training facilities complete with advertising material(thus the fights with Spidey) he makes no sense. They just wanted to have some kind of Deathstroke character and he’s probably the closest they could come up with(and Why not Kraven the Hunter for this crap…good lord this is almost a copy paste of the type of thing he DID in the books).

    And why not give him his original costume instead of this Agent X Deathstroke mish mash…….all the jokes Spidey coulda made….

    1. Viktor says:

      Yeah, I was going to say Mysterio, but you’re right, that’s totally Kraven. A straight-up “Prove you’re on my level by going through this random obstacle course so it’s more rewarding when I kill you” series of challenges fits him perfectly.

      Taskmaster should be a boss fight. Just a straight-up arena battle against a guy with too many weapons and very little for you to use against him. Either make him the Dragon before taking down a non-combat villain like Chameleon, or use him as an optional post-game challenge. If you can’t do him justice for whatever reason, leave him for DLC. Even fans are not going to be complaining about your game not including Taskmaster.

    2. Christopher says:

      Pretty sure it’s Taskmaster so that they could map Spidey’s moves on to him and save some time. Him using the finishers on you both looks cool and is easy to do, and he’s also not a major Spider-Man villain, yet has tangled with him enough times to be relatively recognizable(he’s been in the Ultimate cartoons at least a couple times, for one thing). He can be a sidequest baddie without people begging to see him done properly in a sequel, unlike the Sinister Suix regulars. Kraven and Mysterio are big names. You wanna save them for further down the line.

      I think Taskmaster was just the right man at the right time for Insomniac.

  10. Christopher says:

    PS4 games really aren’t as stable for me as the 360 games were. It’s not all games, but SOMA, Death’s Gambit, Spider-Man and Just Cause 3 have all just dumped be back on the main console menu several times each. It’s a bit of a bummer.

    Inevitably, the discussion about Spidey’s mechanics is gonna come up again for the retrospective. Personally I have a lot of issues with each individual element of the game(combat, stealth, walking and talking, swinging around), which are often shallow, QTE-laden and heavily scripted and restrictive. It’s as a whole that the game shines, as this beautiful, overall well-polished mesh of all its individual parts, with strong presentation of a decent story with some good characterization and memorable scenes. Did I already say this in the last Spidey comment section? I’ve been writing about this game so much, can’t get it off my mind. I do still love it, I was just born and raised a nitpicker, which is how I ended up here in the first place.

    I think the “finish move cutscene at the end of a boss fight” complaint is missing the forest for the trees. I guess I can understand the killsteal aspect, but to me those are just elaborate, boss-specific super moves that you get as a fun reward for beating them. The problem isn’t that we end with a dramatic cutscene, it’s that the fights are interspersed with them(often with QTEs), that all the moves are tightly controlled to look cinematic, that there’s only one or two ways to even damage a boss in the first place so your regular combat mechanics don’t have any functio and that the boss’ move list is pathetic. Fighting Rhino in this game isn’t much different than fighting Bane in Arkham Asylum a decade ago, and it got called out for being bad then.

    I imagine our different experiences with the Arkham combat is gonna give us some pretty different takes on it even if neither of us is entirely pleased, lol. I never minded the dodging ’cause it made the combat feel less like a continual QTE the way it felt to hit the Batman counters for me. It’s a warning flash rather than a prompt to immediately hit a button.

  11. Grey Rook says:

    It seems like the Escapist won’t load for me, it just displays a loading icon forever. Which is irritating since Shamus’s articles tend to be both interesting and informative. Do I need to switch browsers or something to read the new Escapist site?

    1. Redrock says:

      Hmmm. Setting aside some low-hanging political jokes, what browser are you using? Works fine in both mobile and desktop Chrome for me.

      1. Hector says:

        It may be that he’s disabled JavaScript. I do this, and it does render many sites unusable. I view the security advantage as a worthwhile trade-off.

      2. Grey Rook says:

        An old Internet Explorer install that I never got around to upgrading. How do I activate JavaScript?

    2. WarLadle says:

      I had the same problem, turned out to be that I had JavaScript disabled and the new Escapist site requires it.

    3. Cubic says:

      Hey guys, I’m experiencing pretty slow downloads from The Escapist. I’m compliant with RFC 1149 so everything should be OK? Should I implement RFC 2549? Bandwidth seems fine (256 GB/packet recently) but I’m seeing packet loss.


      1. Richard says:

        It’s best-effort, so maybe you’re just not trying hard enough?

  12. William says:

    You can’t see below you

  13. Modran says:

    There’s… There’s Orange and Teal in these pictures, isn’t there?

  14. Wiseman says:

    Has the Diecast changed days?
    Also, I figured out what the problem was. Spider-man is a fashion disaster in this game. Red, blue and white Spandex OMG!

  15. Dreadjaws says:

    These decisions are weird. It’s like the game is trying to ape the Arkham formula while at the same time trying to divorce itself from it.

    Anyway, I have a major issue with cutscene boss fights. The moment I realized the game was going to have them was the moment I decided to cancel my preorder and wait for a discount instead. It might seem like a silly gripe, but I detest this gameplay decision with a passion, and I refuse to encourage it. I’m the player, let me fight the damn boss! I hate having to spend a lot of time and effort trying to beat a boss for all of it to go away in a cutscene one way or the other. Arkham Origins and Mass Effect 3 are major offenders in this regard, but Spider-Man games have been doing it for quite a while.

    1. Cubic says:

      Yeah, it’s annoying. I don’t really like the ritualistic boss fight either, but these cut scenes are just another way the frustrated little movie auteurs get to indulge themselves and make the fights worse.

  16. ccesarano says:

    Y’know, I was wondering what your take on the combat was going to be. It reminded me more of the free-flowing style of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, a type of action game I’ve become more invested in the past few years, than it did with the Arkham games. I think what really begs the comparisons are the stealth segments (those are straight-up Arkham), and the fact that it’s super-hero with a similar “alert” provided via the Spidey-sense. However, even getting the perfect dodge timing right means you slow down time, as you might in Bayonetta or Transformers: Devastation.

    I was very much thinking of you when wrote about the combat on my own blog. It’s been some time since I’ve played the Arkham games, but at the most basic I feel like the philosophy behind that game is to remove any advantage the opponent has over Batman. On the contrary, Spider-Man is always at an advantage… provided you have the right upgrades at the right time. Are rockets becoming more common? Hope you got the ability to toss ’em back!

    I personally enjoy the Spider-Man combat more myself, but it’s because I have more practice with that sort of combat from other, similar games. I’m currently playing through Darksiders 1 and 2 right now to catch myself up for 3, and they also have a similar dodge mechanic. The only difference is the game relies on you, the player, to figure out the timing rather than providing a Spidey-Sense, or altering the color of the Spidey-Sense.

    All that said, I agree with a lot of your other points. I may not have had as many issues with the camera, but there were certainly plenty of times a lock-on would have been nice, or the game would have automatically shifted focus to the final sets of enemies on a distant ledge about to fire bullets up my nose. Similarly, that whole “dodge timing” thing, combined with the aggressive behavior of the foes, meant a minor mistake could be costly. On one hand, I could average in the 30-40’s of combos with my max being 125 in the fight against Tombstone. On the other hand, it stinks to have your combo broken because you dodge too early and the Brute – the big, hulking, slow guy with the most inertia thrown into a punch – can just swivel on his heel at a 140 degree angle and connect with your jaw nonetheless.

    My worst experience was being in a tight, confined playground space in Central Park for a Crime, and I dodged towards the swingset expecting the swings to be physics objects I’d pass through. Instead the swingset was effectively a big solid block, so Pete got backed into a corner by two Brutes. Couldn’t cancel out of the painful reeling animation with a dodge, so I just got slugged constantly until I went unconscious.

    So even if I think giving them the Arkham “wait and see” approach would be too easy, there definitely needs to be more awareness of what kind of enemy is attacking and holding back. It becomes a lot to try and dodge a rocket, three machine guns, and an electro-whip all at the same time.

    1. guy says:

      I’m not sure how much of this is intentional and how much is an accident of bad camera design, but I ended up basically treating the spider-sense as my main source of combat information. If it starts up I cancel whatever I’m doing and either dodge or web pull away. It might depend on the enemy class, but so far I’ve been generally able to successfully dodge most things if I react to it starting up and at most catch a stray assault rifle round from a burst.

      Though I also very actively hunt ranged enemies at every opportunity, since they mean more incoming attacks in a given timeframe, so maybe the stray rounds add up more than I think.

      For me, though, it’s the brutes and whip guys that keep getting me; when I’m pressed by a group I tend to just go continuously on the offensive to keep people reeling and Spider-man moving, so anyone I can’t safely punch is a problem, and disabling their defenses requires holding still for a couple seconds, AKA the thing I try to do literally never.

      The system is rough around the edges, but I do think it generally incentivizes leveraging Spider-man’s mobility and speed advantage and is thematically fitting.

      1. ccesarano says:

        With the Brutes and Whip Guys I’d have very specific gadgets I’d use to either remove them from the equation temporarily or negate them altogether. It did remind me, though, that even how the gadgets are implemented was an issue. I wouldn’t necessarily want the unnatural finger combinations of the Arkham games, as those became quite encumbered, but I would have liked to have customized which gadgets I want on the D-Pad. The drone became pointless once you unlocked the Stark Suit and had a much more powerful drone as your R3 ability, and I never used the regular web shooters since the Impact Web did a much better job in a shorter time. So if I could have had the D-Pad access Impact Web, Suspension Matrix, Web Bomb and Electric Web, I’d have swapped and used each one a lot more often. As it is, as Shamus says, when you’re in the flow of combat you’re not gonna be thinking of pulling up a radial menu to swap active gear. I know for many the D-Pad may not be much better, but having played plenty of games with such power mappings… yeah, it makes a difference.

        1. guy says:

          I do use the gadgets, but between ammo limits and the radial menu issue I generally just kept the standard web shooters and spammed them when I wanted to gadget at someone. Disabling a brute takes a full clip off those, and I often use the other gadgets up on clusters of standard enemies.

    2. Hal says:

      Ugh, the Brutes are definitely there to give it a “video game” feel. If Spider-Man can hold a car, he can punch a big guy in the face.

      Don’t tell me, “Well, he’s holding back so he doesn’t hurt somebody with his punches.” He doesn’t seem to have that problem with the normal mooks.

      Unless you want to say he’s holding back enough to hurt the normal mooks but not enough to hurt the brutes. That’s a very specific level of holding back.

      1. guy says:

        Yeah, Spider-man is supposed to be eight times stronger than humanly possible. No one should be able to outmuscle him. I can kinda take it from whatshisname the opening boss because he’s like a spetnaz ninja or what have you, but even that’s marginal. If they insist on having the enemy type they should only be decked out in power armor or just coated in crackling energy all over at all times.

        Also frankly I hate enemies being mixed into mobs who counter the standard attacks you’re using to sweep the other ten people. Their main threat is that you lose track of who you’re locked onto and hit them by accident; they’re not actually difficult to beat once you clear the chaff. Shield guys I don’t mind so much because they won’t counter in the first three punches so you have time to notice.

        Partly it’s because in games with dodge mechanics I like to just attack continuously to interrupt people so I don’t have to dodge as often. I spent Tales Of Berseria just controlling Velvet because 90% of the time she can sweep a fight by simply continuously going on the offensive. The game has dodge and parry mechanics but I never really figured out how they worked.

      2. coleusrattus says:

        Oh yeah, I agree! The brutes look goofy and lore and gameworld wise (spidey pulls a tanker truck from subway tracks one time) they don’t make sense.

        I do kind of see why they’re there, but they’re simply not fun to fight.

        And while I like that Sable doesn’t have them, they gifted us with two goons I like even less:

        The power armor club wielder, which is the same as every other club wielding enemy except he takes thrice as long to take out, thus gettting tedious to fight even when he’s alone.

        And last but not least, the jetpack soldier, which not only gets occasionally stuck in buildings, but is also a pain in the ass. Hard to dodge AoE and stun attacks and a very quick ranged attack make them pretty dangerous, while the camera and auto targeting make it very fiddly to actually engage them before cleaning out the ground based units.

      3. ccesarano says:

        Oddly enough the very specific level of holding back doesn’t bother me, but at the same time Spider-Man’s strength has always felt dictated by what the plot needs at that specific moment. He’s stronger than your average goon, but a regular human that’s just pure meat-packed muscle like Kingpin isn’t going down in a single punch. He can stop a train with the help of his webbing, or pull together a tanker with the help of his webbing, but he’s got no chance against Thor or The Hulk or one of the actual super incredibly powerful Marvel beings.

        In my mind, he’s strong enough to withstand the punishment he receives, but his real power comes from his acrobatic prowess and ability to quickly think through a situation. The game gets the acrobatics down pat.

        1. guy says:

          He’s supposed to have superhuman strength, though it’s not his primary power, so random human goons shouldn’t be able to outmuscle him. The Kingpin is specifically extremely well trained in combat as well as a wall of muscle, so that makes sense, but just some random buff thug being straight-up immune to punches from a guy who lifts cars is a bit much.

  17. Elorex says:

    I agree with most of your points, but with a small twist. I don’t think we need to get rid of cutscene fights (or even dreaded QTE’s) they just need to be implemented better. If it doesn’t feel like a natural extension of the fight, or it feels like you’ve lost all control then it’s doing it wrong. QTE’s should be short (1-3 inputs max) and it should look natural. You could even spread them out throughout the fight as long as it doesn’t seem mechanical.

    You whooped Kingpin hard? He’s breathing heavily and holding his ribs during it. Show that your regular fight had an effect. Don’t make a separate fight that happens after you “won.” As an aside I really hate when boss fights make it so only 1 or 2 things hurt the boss. By all means make some stuff do more or less damage, but don’t make me do the same thing 3-5 times in order to win.

    1. Elorex says:

      I like to think of them as short little vingettes that you can participate in. And when done right can give you a little cinematic flair. However they also seem to be stupidly hard to nail just right. The best solution I have is: same controls as gameplay (don’t mix people up, no surprises), make it clear what’s happening, don’t go overly long (lots of modern games have extremely long cutscenes), have very little in the way of punishment, and related to that have a way to turn them into a cutscene for people who don’t like/want them.

      1. Christopher says:

        It’s probably help if you just activated them yourself, right? When a boss has been taken down to just a pip of his health in Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising, a QTE pops up that tells you to finish them(Missing this can be demotivating, though they do checkpoint you just before). This QTE then activates that finisher cutscene where Bayo or Raiden kicks the boss’ ass, usually with some mashing during.

        I don’t think Spider-Man is altogether that bad about this. Fisk only throws you to the floor so he can miss you and smash through it, falling all the way down the building you just fought your way up. However, if that’s too frustrating for some players, just go the Platinum route and make it a scene you activate yourself of Spider-Man kicking their ass cinematically to finish them off.

  18. bruh says:

    scripted web-wrangling

  19. Durrican says:

    I’m two-thirds through my second playthrough and the game hasn’t crashed a single time for me, so the joke at the end mainly just confuses me. Have I just been really lucky to avoid a common issue?

    1. guy says:

      Possibly; I’ve only had it crash on me once so far. I tend to expect console games to just never crash, but that seems to be less reliable on the newer generations.

      1. Christopher says:

        Finally getting some of that PC experience

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