Spider-Man Part 5: How to Spider-Man

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jan 31, 2019

Filed under: Retrospectives 74 comments

During my Batman Arkham City series, I praised the game for the way it seamlessly wove the tutorials into the flow of the story. It’s a big game with a lot of different systems. You’ve got brawling encounters, stealth encounters, detective mode investigations, traversing the worldStuff like gliding, swinging, and parkour., and using gadgets to solve “puzzles”.

The challenge the game designer faces in these kinds of games is that you want to teach the player as quickly as possible. We want the player to have access to the full open world so they can engage with whatever content seems fun to them. That’s the whole point of having an open world. But we can’t let players off the leash until they know the basics because if they explore the open world and encounter gameplay system they haven’t learned yet, they’ll get confused and blame the game. At the same time, ramming too many tutorials down their throat at once is just as bad. It’s tedious, it gets in the way of the narrative right when we’re trying to get the story off the ground, and players will have trouble remembering the lessons if they’re packed too close together.

What you want to do is introduce a concept, allow them to try it, and then give the player a few minutes of doing something else. Then you remind them of the concept. Then later you give them some sort of “final test” where you present the challenge again, only this time with more pressure. Maybe they’ll have to deal with a time limit, or they’ll have less room for error, or they’ll have to blend this concept with another one. The point is that it sort of follows the rule of three in the form of “setup, reminder, payoff.”

How Batman Does It

Yes, this game gives us a little button-prompt tutorial to teach us how to knock out a mook. More importantly, the game will make sure we use this lesson again in the next ten minutes, so the knowledge will stick.
Yes, this game gives us a little button-prompt tutorial to teach us how to knock out a mook. More importantly, the game will make sure we use this lesson again in the next ten minutes, so the knowledge will stick.

So we need to teach the player as quickly as possible, but we also need to pace that training so they don’t get overwhelmed and the lessons don’t blur together into a meaningless series of button-prompts. In Arkham City, the tutorials are woven together beautifully. Check out the first forty minutes of the game:

Introduce strikes & counters: Catwoman’s fight during the prologue.

Reminder on counters: Bruce Wayne is thrown into Arkham City and needs to fend off the first wave of inmates.

Reminder on strikes: Bruce has to defeat Penguin’s thugs.

Introduce climbing / traversal: Bruce climbs Ace Chemicals, dons the Batsuit, and glides to the courthouse.

Payoff strikes & counters: Batman defeats the group of thugs in front of the courthouse in the first “proper” fight of the game.

Introduce stealth encounters: Batman knocks out the gunman overlooking the courtroom.

Introduce detective mode: Batman investigates the courtroom to trace the sniper shot to the church.

Reminder on gliding: Batman goes to the church.

Reminder for stealth encounters: Batman has to defeat the hostage situation at the church without being spotted.

Reminder for climbing: Batman climbs the bell tower.

Reminder for detective mode: Batman has to use detective mode on the sniper rifle. This is also the introduction to diving out of a window.

Payoff gliding: Batman crosses the city.

Payoff climbing: Batman climbs over the hazards in the steel mill.

Introduce Bat-gel: Batman has to blow a hole in the floor to proceed. This also works as the payoff for detective vision, since the player needs to use it to find the weak spot.

Payoff stealth encounters: The big hostage situation in a room with patrolling enemies.

The point is that there’s generally a gap between the introduction of a concept and the reminder, and another gap between the reminder and the moment where you must use it in more challenging conditions. Batman manages to pull this off and seamlessly weave these lessons into the story. Button prompts appear on screen without stopping the action and the game doesn’t expect us to read a bunch of text in the middle of a fight.

How Spider-Man Does It

I don't have time to read all these tooltips right now. I'll just wait for the tutorial to come out on Kindle.
I don't have time to read all these tooltips right now. I'll just wait for the tutorial to come out on Kindle.

Spider-Man is not nearly as graceful about this. The flow of Spider-Man’s tutorials is like this:

Introduce web-swinging then five seconds later introduce the web-zip move. After a cutscene, introduce pulling yourself towards an enemy then immediately introduce strikes then immediately introduce dodges. Once that fight is over, a cutscene brings in a fresh batch of guys and we introduce dodging bullets. As soon as the player hits that button, immediately introduce shooting webs at enemies. As soon as they successfully web someone up, introduce holding the attack button to launch guys into the air. (This is the first prompt that doesn’t pause the game.) Then while the fight is still going on, explain that they can hit X+Square to jump off a guy that’s already in the air. This prompt will appear even if you’re not in a position where you can use it. It doesn’t pause the game, and it vanishes after a few seconds even if you never successfully execute the move.

Then while the fight is still going, you get some additional text telling you that fighting in the air is safer than on the ground, and further explaining how to look up the moves list later. It’s a two-sentence message, which is pretty hard to properly read and absorb while you’re in the middle of a fight. There’s no way to pause the game to allow you to read this message. Any of the menu / map buttons will take you to another screen and cover up the tooltip. The message will disappear on its own.

That’s ten concepts dumped on the player in the first encounter without a single reminder! The short prompts pause the game, the longer ones don’t, the tutorial will often proceed even if the player doesn’t demonstrate mastery, and the whole thing happens in a live encounter with multiple enemies while Spidey and Yuri are also bantering about plot stuff.

I can't talk right now, Yuri, I'm trying to read these tooltips.
I can't talk right now, Yuri, I'm trying to read these tooltips.

In the reviews I’ve read, a lot of people have complained / cautioned that the game is pretty unforgiving. It certainly felt that way on my first trip through the game. But I think the real problem is that the tutorial is too much of a clumsy info-dump.

Later in the game I found myself dying repeatedly to clusters of Sable agents. Their mounted turrets were wiping me out in seconds and the prompt to disable the turrets was kind of capricious. On my second time through the game I noticed the Kingpin fight also had a quick tutorial teaching you to web up turrets before you try to tear them down. That lesson didn’t stick because it appeared many hours before the Sable teams appeared, there was never a reminder, and that lesson was given in the middle of a boss fight that was also teaching the player about throwing objects and fighting large brutes.

It doesn’t help that the on-screen prompts are variable in terms of importance. Some are prompts for buttons and others are strategic advice like, “Fighting in the air is safer than on the ground.” Players need the former in order to play the game, but they could discover the latter on their ownThey might even prefer to do so..

This creates the classic exchange:

Complaint: “This game is too frustrating!”

Retort: “It’s not bad at all, you just need to  pay attention and get good at it.”

The tooltip is two sentences long and it pauses the game. And it DOESN'T ACTUALLY TELL YOU WHAT THE DODGE BUTTON IS. For contrast, Batman simply displays the glyph for the counter button until the player successfully performs a counter, without needing to pause the game or force them to read while fighting.
The tooltip is two sentences long and it pauses the game. And it DOESN'T ACTUALLY TELL YOU WHAT THE DODGE BUTTON IS. For contrast, Batman simply displays the glyph for the counter button until the player successfully performs a counter, without needing to pause the game or force them to read while fighting.

The problem isn’t really the difficulty or the lack of attention. The problem is that the tutorial is an unreliable info-dump where important concepts are easy to miss and where the player isn’t sure what information is vital or when it will become important.

It doesn’t help that Spidey is incredibly fragile. Batman can take quite a thrashing before you get a game over, but at the start of the game it only takes ~three firm punches to put Spider-Man into his near death stateYou know the drill: Sounds are muffled and you can hear a heartbeat sound.. Batman usually introduced concepts in low-stress conditions and you have lots of room for error, while Spider-Man teaches multiple concepts during a hectic scene where it’s easy to die while trying to read the on-screen text.

Here's the reminder for air launches, which doesn't appear until after you've had dozens of battles and fought a boss. These tutorials are usually dumped in batches rather than being spaced out.
Here's the reminder for air launches, which doesn't appear until after you've had dozens of battles and fought a boss. These tutorials are usually dumped in batches rather than being spaced out.

Yes, everyone eventually muddled through. I’m not suggesting the game was impenetrable. I’m just saying the introduction was clumsy in a way that frustrated some people with things that weren’t intended to be difficult.

I’m making a big deal about this because I’m worried Insomniac Games will misdiagnose the problem. They’ll read all the feedback complaining about unforgiving combat and decide that what we want is a shallow game of cheap empowerment with an even lower low skill ceiling. What they really need to do is space these tutorials out so that players are prepared for the challenges they’ll be up against.

The combat system itself is a complex topic and it’ll get an entry all to itself later in this series. In the meantime, it’s important to note that…

We Need Depth Somewhere

Whee!
Whee!

I’m fine with the swinging gameplay being kind of shallow. I’m fine with the stealth system being a little shallow. I’m even fine with a shallow combat system and shallow collect-a-thon stuff. But they shouldn’t all be shallow. We need at least one of these gameplay systems to give us something to sink our teeth into. I’m not saying the combat is currently too shallowAt least, I’m not saying that YET., I’m just saying it would be a disaster if Insomniac “streamlined” it in response to the feedback people have been giving them. The game doesn’t need to be easier, it just needs to do a better job of teaching the player its systems.

Note that deep doesn’t necessarily mean hard. Batman’s system is pretty deep, but the game is a cakewalk even for first-time players. Regardless of how punishing or forgiving the game is, we need one of these gameplay systems to offer us something where we can improve over time and where an experienced player can really distinguish themselves from a newbie. Maybe the expert can do it while taking less damage, or do it faster, or do it more stylishly. Maybe the game can rate the player’s performance in some sort of post-brawl letter grade.

Something. Anything.

It’s true that this game performed well and got a lot of glowing praise. And to be fair, I got a ton of enjoyment out of it. But having a shallow game is a dangerous thing. It’s easy for the audience to burn out. This is particularly true for Spider-Man, who is pretty much inseparable from Manhattan as a setting. If the next game is going to offer the same city and the same shallow gameplay, then what’s the draw? Why plop down $60 for the next title instead of playing through this one again? Am I really paying $60 for a fresh batch of cutscenes?

Everything is f- hang on, this is the wrong place for this gag. Sorry.
Everything is f- hang on, this is the wrong place for this gag. Sorry.

Sure, maybe some people play for the story. But it’s not like we’re hurting for Spider-Man stories these days. Moreover, I think it would be a disaster for a mechanics-focused game to try to sell itself on its story. Given how many franchises thrive despite having atrocious stories, I think the overall importance of story is pretty low. If the public really cared about good writing, this blog would be a lot more popular, Capcom would have folded years ago, and David Cage would be in jail.

As it stands, Spider-Man 2018 is a cotton candy game. The first few bites are really special and you might wonder why you don’t have it more often. By the time you’ve eaten the whole thing, you’re done with cotton candy for a while.

The point is that Insomniac Games got away with giving us a game that’s miles wide but an inch deep. That worked this time, but they need to refine and deepen some of these systems if they plan to keep making these things. More importantly, they need to smooth out the tutorial to make it more instructive and less intrusive.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Stuff like gliding, swinging, and parkour.

[2] They might even prefer to do so.

[3] You know the drill: Sounds are muffled and you can hear a heartbeat sound.

[4] At least, I’m not saying that YET.



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74 thoughts on “Spider-Man Part 5: How to Spider-Man

  1. Asdasd says:

    Step one, shot web?

  2. Ander says:

    I distinctly remember the game giving me tutorial prompts for a basic maneuver in the second to last bossfight of the game. It was for the move where Spidey shoots at a wall/ceiling to zip and stick to it. On the one hand, I really didn’t remember how to do the move since it only came up a few times in the quite long game. On the other hand…something’s gone wrong when they knew that prompt would be needed at that point in the game.

  3. Redrock says:

    Whoa, you can web up Sable turrets? Huh. I was totally going to write a post defending the game, until I realized I’ve played through it and never once realized the turrets can be webbed. So, seems you’re onto something there.

    That being said, I think it’s another good example of how Spider-Man’s approach is different from Arkham. In the Arkham games, there’s generally a sort of a pretty rigid rock-paper-scissors kind of system. Every situation has a particular counter. The combat is almost a rhythm game. Spidey is much more loose in that regard. Most moves you can either use or not depending on your preference, while in Arkham you are usually expected to counter particular types of mooks with particular attacks. So Spidey can get away with that messy tutorial, while an Arkham game has to be meticulous at explaining its systems.

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      Honestly, I’m finding more and more that I prefer tight rock-paper-scissors systems to loose “try your own approach” systems. Looser systems often incentivize you to use one move over and over again (in Spiderman’s case, the “web an objet, spin in around you 3 times and throw it at a mook” one), and become a trade-off between playing the fun way or the efficient way.

      See also Dishonored 2, where you can try a variety of Looney Tunes schemes to non-lethally dispatch your enemies, or you can jump on them from a height over and over again, which is easy, immediate, quiet, doable wherever the NPC is, and doesn’t cost resources.

      1. The Wind King says:

        Besides having a spot to jump on your opponent from which isn’t always possible.

        But for the most part, yeah, a single approach of Slow / Stop Time, sleep dart, or Arc Mine, and quickly scurrying back into my hidey spot was how I finished the game because it even worked on the Clockwork Soldiers, and Grave-Hounds.

        1. PeteTimesSix says:

          Honestly though, jumping-off spots are required for about maybe the first mission-and-a-half, after which you pick up the increased jump height and can goomba-stomp anyone on demand.

          Or was that only Dishonored 1? What Im getting from this is maybe Ive now forgotten enough of it to replay Dishonored 2.

      2. Scimitar says:

        I think what you’re pointing out in particular too is that often “looser” systems aren’t looser intentionally, but as an accident. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a looser system in the hypothetical, there are advantages in letting players figure out a playstyle that suits them, but the game still needs to be tightly balanced so that those individual playstyles still are interesting without there being a specific dominant strategy.

        Tightly woven rock-paper-scissors stuff has a much more direct and well defined system, which I think has the knock-on effect of making the rest of the system better designed because the designers are already being forced to think of encounters and powers balance-wise.

        1. Kylroy says:

          Bingo. Rock-paper-scissors design is just simpler – it’s easier to balance, and any imbalance comes to the fore in a big hurry. When you go from balancing three variables to a dozen or more…it’s just about impossible to make them all equally effective.

          1. KillerAngel says:

            I think Breath of the Wild did this part decently well, the weapon types are in general pretty nicely balanced rock paper scissors but there is still room for preference and any weapon can beat any other just not with the same level of ease. All of this is couched in the larger sandbox of tools in the world which generally offer a lot of freedom.

            The combat is hilariously broken in other ways but not in that respect.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              Breath of the Wild has combat? I had too much fun sneaking past and outrunning monsters.

            2. Axehurdle says:

              BotW had rock-paper-scissors weapons? I didn’t notice at all. I felt that all the weapon types were identical, there was no basically no play feel difference between them.

      3. Ander says:

        That’s interesting. If the game is too open with approach, then the player’s inclination will be to stick with what they’ve learned to do well and use it nearly every time. I, for example, used almost no gadgets at all when playing through the game. I wasn’t comfortable with popping up the gadget wheel during combat in the midst of dodging and combos, so I stuck to the basic web shooter and used the electrified-punch suit ability whenever I could. And the game let me do that. Freedom of approach is a virtue of its own, but it might not be worth the trade-off in directing the experience toward variety and skill.

        And, the game will never hit every desired approach. Not usually a flaw, but I think something is lacking in the base clearing missions that almost encourage you to take out wave 1 stealthily before trying to force a brawl for the rest of the mission. It’s not just that stealth wasn’t supported; it’s that it’s supported just a little bit before being taken away without reasonable explanation.

        1. Hal says:

          Your observation about the base clearing missions is spot on. If I had to speculate, I’d say that the entire problem is one of escalation. It wouldn’t make sense for you to clear out all of the goons, only to have the next wave show up and just take their places without any indication whatsoever. It would have to escalate; but there’s no real sense of escalation for the stealth part of the game. You’re either detected, or you aren’t; if you’re detected, they’re really good about homing in on you, and if you aren’t, they don’t exactly hunt for you overhead.

          1. Taellosse says:

            That’s something I’d really like to see improved in the next installment. I actually rather enjoyed clearing out that first wave by stealth in the bases, but the mandatory massive brawl when Wave 2 arrives was sometimes annoying. I think I’d have been much happier if it just got progressively harder and harder to stay in stealth. Like Wave 2 comes out already on alert, but they don’t know exactly where you are. They don’t STOP being on alert, either, so it’s much easier to get spotted. If you manage to take them all out too, then Wave 3 comes out on alert AND they’re all looking up constantly (as I recall, basically no enemy does this – if they don’t magically know your precise location because you’re in active combat, their vision cone never changes angle).

      4. Hal says:

        The “use the one move that works for you over and over” thing is real. I made a real habit of spamming Web Blossom when I first started playing. It was pretty foolproof; crime comes over the radio, you swing down into the middle of it, Web Blossom, and mop up anybody who didn’t get taken out the first time.

        Had to recalibrate once the the bases started getting introduced; that works for one wave, but the ability doesn’t regenerate in time to use it more than twice in a base event.

        1. Chuk says:

          That was me once I got Spider Bro.

  4. Cubic says:

    Quite true, many such cases! I don’t really have a lot to add to this observation, except your eyes roll uncontrollably while replaying the game and discovering all these useful moves you missed out on. In a sandbox it should be straightforward to add random mini-missions or mini-fights where you can practice the various moves to your heart’s content. (I know several games do have something like that, like InFamous and Saint’s Row.)

    A similar problem appears when you put a game down and pick it up a week later. You simply might not recall all the little details so well.Likewise when you have an involved story, and getting through the game is tough so there are days between seeing each cut scene. Just telling the characters apart can get dicey at that point, never mind keeping track of their clever plans and long monologues.

    (Oh yeah, I also have to admit I never did learn fighting gud in Arkham Asylum, lol. Maybe they should have run some of the fights in slow motion so us slow learners could get it.)

  5. Hal says:

    I do think it helped quite a bit that the menu had a list of all the button moves and combos. There was a lot of stuff I had to study the menu to remember or figure out. Maybe that’s not the best way to have those things in the game, but I found them valuable all the same.

    I think it also helps that, during the early part of the game, you have all of these random crimes you come across to stop. Yes, you can fail, but they’ll still be there for another go. I think those represent a rather “low stakes” opportunity to get comfortable with the combat mechanics as you move along.

    I don’t know if I’d call the combat shallow, because I’m not sure I understand what the criteria would be for saying it was deep or not. I know the game was a very different experience for me on my second playthrough due to considerably different mastery of the combat. I also know that, even after a second playthrough, the game is still scratching an itch and making me contemplate a third go of it.

    On a completely unrelated note, it looks like you’ve got a screen cap of the scene when Spider-Man first puts on his fancy new suit. On subsequent playthroughs, you can put on the suit where you’re only in the Spider mask and boxers for that scene, which substantially changes what the game seems to be showing off to you at that moment.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      The utility one gets from a move list may be a function of your background. I grew up playing fighting games, so checking to see how normal attacks cancel into each other, then into a special move of some sort, is second nature. If you’re coming from modern shooters or the Arkham series, though, that might not be something you’re used to doing.

      From an immersion standpoint, it would probably also help to have a training arena of some sort to practice. Granted, random mook fights can serve that purpose, but if the designer is going for a superhero empowerment vibe, getting your butt kicked by a street gang flies in the face of that.

  6. Jabberwok says:

    This is absolutely one of my pet peeves with modern games. Too many onscreen prompts at times when I don’t have time to read them, often with tiny text that makes me think the designers assume I own a giant HD TV. I remember the Assassin’s Creed series being terrible about this, and it seems to have only gotten more pervasive since then.

    1. Lars says:

      Red Dead Redemption 1 was worse. The manuell was a joke, which explained nothing. (In the old days PS3 games still had manuells. Ah, good old days) The only things explaining how the game works were prompts.
      In a menu you could re-read those prompts, but only the last 30-ish, unsorted as they appeared in your play-through.
      I somehow managed to win the first duell in the game, but didn’t remember how the duell-system worked in the second one. And the explaining prompt had long vanished since then. Instand death over and over again.
      Internet barely helped. I still hate that game for that and other reasons.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        Yeah, I played RDR on an old tv about as wide as my forearm. A lot of the onscreen text was completely illegible.

  7. BlueHorus says:

    It’s never the wrong place for Ryder’s ‘EVERYTHING IS FINE’ face. Meme-ify that sucka! (or re-meme-ify it, or whatever.)

    Well, until it gets old. But it’d make a great Lazy Sunday Post…

  8. Kylroy says:

    “Batman’s system is pretty deep, but the game is a cakewalk even for first-time players.”

    Magic: The Gathering designer Mark Rosewater coined the term “lenticular design” for this kind of gameplay (“A minute to learn, a lifetime to master”), and holds it up as pretty much the holy grail of game-making.

    1. Matthew Downie says:

      “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master,” is usually a good thing, but it isn’t always needed. Examples:

      A Story Experience game. You’re only supposed to play it once, and it’s more about atmosphere than challenge. You should have mastered everything by the end of the story.

      A Casual Competitive Multiplayer game. I own board-games where mastery steadily increases the more you play. I can’t play them with anyone I know because my mastery has got so far beyond theirs that they’d have no chance of winning, and that’s going to spoil their fun.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      I’m genuinely confused here: what does “being shaped like a lentil” have to do with this kind of game design?

  9. MilesDryden says:

    “Introduce strikes & counters: Catwoman’s fight during the prologue.”

    Is this part in the original version of the game? I thought it was added with the Catwoman DLC. I know it’s in the GOTY edition but that came with the DLC prepackaged.

    Or am I completely misremembering something?

    1. GoStu says:

      I don’t know the answer to that, but even if that section doesn’t exist in the game-as-launched, the first scrap with Penguin’s goons is also fine to introduce “Press X to attack, don’t press X to not attack.”

    2. Geebs says:

      Yeah, I was going to bring up the same point. Arguably, though, that’s Warner Brothers’ fault and not Rocksteady’s. I’m pretty sure they’re the ones responsible for carving the game up.

      IIRC Arkham City does throw in a bunch of new (and fairly crap) mechanics into the Ra’s Al Ghul and Sandman fights, though.

      Personally I thought the more gradual, Zelda-esque progression in Arkham Asylum was much more satisfying than City’s approach.

      1. MilesDryden says:

        I would compare Asylum to a metroidvania rather than a Zelda game, but otherwise I agree. City was the better game overall, but Asylum had the better level design and the Scarecrow scenes were the best moments in the whole trilogy for me.

      2. Taellosse says:

        Now I’m sitting here trying to remember who you must mean when you said “Sandman” – because the DC versions of a character by that name aren’t in any of the Arkham games. Are you referring to Clayface? I can see why you might mix the two up – the Marvel version of Sandman does fight a lot like Clayface. And given that Sandman IS a Spidey villain, it makes sense his name would come to mind.

        1. Geebs says:

          Yeah, I reckon you’re right. I was actually thinking about Ra’s decidedly sandy boss fight at the same time and conflated the two.

          Also clayface is basically just moist sandman.

          1. Taellosse says:

            For combat purposes, anyway. Sandman can’t disguise himself as other people effectively (at least AFAIK). He appears to only be able to take on the colors he possessed when he first became living sand, unlike Clayface, who can change his color as readily as his shape.

          2. Christopher says:

            lmao that’s the sickest burn I’ve ever seen anyone throw Clayface’s way

    3. Lars says:

      The PS3 had Catwoman as a DLC extracted from the game. In the PC Version it was included from the beginning.
      I don’t know on which system Shamus played it on.

      Catwoman as the introduction of the brawling-mechanic wasn’t very good. The playstyle for her is a bid different from Bats. And the brawl was in a tiny place with narrow walls and low ceiling. Even though I mastered Arkham Asylum I failed this tutorial-brawl because camera and movement issues.

      1. MilesDryden says:

        The first Catwoman scene always felt awkward to me and I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was a DLC add-in. Did someone at Rocksteady confirm that it was taken out to sell back to us? Or is that just an ugly rumor, because it really FEELS to me like something that was created and crammed in afterward.

  10. RCN says:

    One type of mook the game really glossed over on how to deal are the whip mooks. They’ll grab you and take you down whenever you’re in the air close to them. Or not even that close. If the game gave me a tutorial on what’s the best way to deal with them I missed it, because punching them doesn’t go too smooth as they’ll block and counter and most web gadgets will just fail to do anything to them.

    I just learned to save takedowns for these bastards so I don’t have to deal with them and be able to jump, because dodging on the ground is pretty unreliable.

    1. Hal says:

      Splash effects hit them, so if you web bomb or electrocute someone nearby them, then they’ll get it as well. Then you can take them down.

      You can also throw stuff at them just fine.

      1. RCN says:

        Whenever I try to throw someone or something at them they interrupt my throw…

        But I’ll try AoE effects.

        1. Hal says:

          The perk that lets you web someone in the face after a Perfect Dodge also works on them, so that’s an option as well (assuming you’re not being mobbed.)

    2. Misamoto says:

      I’ve played through my DLCs on highest difficulty setting and found that when you die that easily, the easiest way to deal with whippers is to simply punch them. Just be really ready to dodge the moment they shrug off your attack. Takedowns didn’t work because I had to constantly heal with the meter, I seldom had 2 full bars

      1. RCN says:

        Hard when you’re surrounded by other mooks who’ll not let you land a clean punch. Then I try to get some distance to deal with them in smaller groups and the whip guy just pulls me down right in the middle of the crowd again.

        It feels frustrating because they start showing up more and more, and when there’s two at the same time in an encounter it just feels unwinnable unless I do a very safe strat of staying very far and picking people one at a time at a distance, but that’s boring and I don’t think that’s the intended gameplay experience.

        I just feel like you should be able to dodge their grapple from the air.

        1. Olivier FAURE says:

          You can tell how good a combat system is by how much NPC kiting the average player needs to do to win :P

    3. guy says:

      I’ve mostly been relying on dodging under them or using Arms Race to stun them. They’re also subject to throwables, including thrown dudes, but I tend to have trouble aiming throwables at specific targets.

  11. Piaw Na says:

    The problems with the combat really escalate in the DLC bases. I platinum’d the base game, but the DLC bases were so hard I didn’t even bother after succeeding at one and repeatedly failing at the others. The unforgiving checkpointing system in the DLC also worked against me even trying. But I’m just bad at video games in general, so it speaks very well of the game that I platinum’d the base game at all

    1. Taellosse says:

      I had a similar experience. I made fairly minimal use of the gadgets playing through the base game – I tended to use a few of them occasionally as supplements to my stealth takedowns, rather than bringing them into combat much. I enjoyed bouncing around the space relying on fists and basic webs just fine. But the difficulty spike of the DLCs, with enemies like the machine gunners and energy shield dudes and so forth, forced me to start incorporating a lot more gadgets. The machine gunners in particular are incredibly annoying to fight manually, and considerably less so with electric webs (still irritating, but manageable).

      Even so, while I 100% all 3 DLCs, I wasn’t remotely tempted to platinum them like I did the base game.

  12. ccesarano says:

    It’s funny, because I think it is incredibly telling that everyone continues to compare Spider-Man’s combat with Batman when my first thought was “Huh, this is actually a lot more like Devil May Cry than Batman”. Your point still stands in regards to how things are taught and introduced, but I think that’s also part of the problem a lot of players had with it. They went in with preconceived notions and never once thought “Maybe I should stop playing like it’s Batman”.

    Which isn’t to say it’s a complete copy of a character-action game, either. It’s too basic for that. However, it very much does seem to mash ideas from Batman together with a character-action. The thing about Batman is all the buttons were dedicated more-or-less to your gadgets, whereas Spider-Man limited gadgets to a smaller selection of buttons. Regardless, I recall my biggest gripe being that the most interesting combat abilities needed to be unlocked. For me, combat wasn’t interesting until I had those options available. I don’t know how much more streamlined you’d make combat, but given I’ve been diving deeper into character-action the past few years my perspective is going to be different than those that are primarily playing AAA open-world romps where combat is as broad as possible.

    Spider-Man didn’t just need to make its tutorials a bit more clear, it needed to communicate to players that they needed to approach it with the notion that they had more agency in combat than Batman provided. Spider-Man is more prone to screw-ups than Batman, and thus the combat didn’t need to completely simulate the martial arts prowess of the world’s greatest detective.

    1. Ander says:

      That’s a fair point; I could see more similarities to DmC and Bayonetta than Batman in the way the game eventually wants you to play. Unfortunately for me and those interesting techniques, I was already in my groove and didn’t have much desire to mess with some of the special abilities, and the game didn’t give much reason to. I did like being rewarded for dodge timing and such, however.

  13. Christopher says:

    I’ll save my combat rants for when we get to the combat, so for now I’ll just second the depth thing. I already felt the fatigue set in from playing the DLC. I went from starved for more after finishing the main quest, to completely tired of it in the span of those three DLC bits they put out for the season pass.

    The cutscenes and story aren’t worse, and there’s setpieces and bosses in the DLC as good as what’s in the main game. But that’s also all it’s really got, with no further depth to really explore. They’ve successfully made something very accessible(although the tutorial is evidently pretty bad, I also never realized you could web up sable turrets first), but without anything to really sink your teeth into it’s gonna be a tough sell beyond playing through the story. Now that they’ve got all the basics in place and presumably are gonna develop a sequel in only a year or two this time, I really hope they focus on improving their systems so there’s more to learn and master in them.

  14. Kdansky says:

    And this is why I skipped the game completely. I saw Yatzhee streaming it for an hour, and he was basically bored constantly, and it was very obvious that the game is as shallow as if Bethesda had been contracted. I am not a big Spiderman fan to begin with, and I already played the better two Arkham games (and the combat did start to get stale at the end of the second one), so this would never keep my attention.

    That is why I’m in the camp which argues that the game is too easy: I cannot really come up with a good solution to make it deeper without also making it harder, because everything is already dumbed down in favour of the power fantasy.

    Similarly, God of War: Boy! A game which removes most of the meat of its systems in favour of more “cinematic feel”, such as the no-cut camera that’s definitely way too close.

    This is very much a AAA disease right now. Destiny does the same: Slow FPS gameplay where you essentially click respawning heads for three minutes in a closed arena, then walk to the next waypoint and do it again. Everything is paced and balanced so your inputs barely matter, and the best and the worst player will finish at roughly the same speed. Rule of thumb: If you cannot speed-run a game, it probably has not very good systems.

    Just watch a Quake speedrun and compare it to a “speedrun” of Destiny’s story-mode. It’s like those are different genres, and Spiderman is firmly in the latter.

    1. Guest says:

      “That is why I’m in the camp which argues that the game is too easy: I cannot really come up with a good solution to make it deeper without also making it harder, because everything is already dumbed down in favour of the power fantasy.”

      “And this is why I skipped the game completely.”

      Oof.

    2. PPX14 says:

      (and the combat did start to get stale at the end of the second one)

      It was stale almost immediately!

    3. Isaac says:

      “Similarly, God of War: Boy! A game which removes most of the meat of its systems in favour of more “cinematic feel”, such as the no-cut camera that’s definitely way too close.”

      gotta completely disagree with this take. In fact, I think GoW4’s combat is way better than Arkham’s.

    4. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Your opinion on Destiny is extremely ill informed. There are time trials for the toughest Nightfall strikes. A poor player will struggle to even beat those, a pro will be putting in 400k scores with very short times.

  15. PPX14 says:

    Batman’s system is pretty deep, but the game is a cakewalk even for first-time players.

    In what way is it deep?

    If it is, then either I was playing it badly, or perhaps Arkham Asylum’s method of tutorial didn’t work very well for me.

    1. Shamus says:

      I dedicated a whole entry to it in the Arkham City series.

      Very briefly: If you think that winning means surviving, then the game is a snooze.

      If your goal is to ace a fight in a single combat without getting hit and using as many gadgets and special abilities as possible, then it’s a challenging game that will take a lot of work to master.

      1. PPX14 says:

        Oops I knew I’d read something like that somewhere…(!)

        Ah I see. Somewhat like a game being completely different and requiring different tactics or the use of additional techniques, if you turn up the difficulty to Insane (Alice Madness Returns was quite an experience on Nightmare difficulty; Hard Reset on max difficulty required a very careful use of one’s weapons and their alternate fire modes). Or if you play it with your own thematic rules as I suppose I do on Thief.

  16. Zaxares says:

    I think that when it comes to making games more or less difficult, devs should always err on the side of making games less difficult. The thing about difficulty is that you only really get the feeling of accomplishment from beating a hard encounter ONCE; repeated victories (and they WILL come as you get more skilled and experienced in the game) will never match the thrill you had the first time you conquered it. On the other hand, there are always ways for players to increase the challenge for themselves; they can challenge themselves to do it in a shorter time, never taking any damage throughout the entire fight, using the weakest weapons available to you, fighting a boss solo when it’s intended for a group/party of players etc. Erring on the side of lesser difficulty means that, like Shamus’ example of the Batman series, more players will get to experience the joy of the game rather than missing out.

    1. Syal says:

      True to a point, but I prefer the game to provide its own challenges. Yeah, repeated victories won’t match the original thrill, but easy victories don’t have any thrill the first time. I’m not super creative, and for anything where “never take damage” isn’t an option (I mostly play RPGs and RPG roguelikes), self-made challenges may be impossible.

      …I’ve been trying to shoehorn in a plug for Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass, so here it is; Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass is an RPG largely about fighting nightmares, and while some of the fights are hard in the wrong ways, the whole concept would suffer if the fights were easy. (Some of the fights got toned down after release for not being fun, and while they really weren’t fun and the game is better with the weaker versions, I kind of miss the old versions.)

      I like Tales of Berseria’s approach of just having lots of difficulty settings. Normal mode is a cakewalk, Chaos mode can kill you pretty regularly.

      1. Zaxares says:

        Well, yeah, the best solution is simply to have different difficulty levels. ;) Most modern games have those, although they do cause their own problems among the fan communities where it’s like “You didn’t beat it on Nightmare mode? Git gud, you scrub!” I’ve just seen the damage that this kind of elitism causes to a game’s long-term health (and sometimes to the game’s bottom line too), and I think it’s something that devs need to be aware of when planning for a game’s intended audience.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I find it odd you’d say that because while it ‘s obviously not true for all of them many roguelikes are notorious for players doing self-imposed challenges such as beating the game without using or only using certain skills/weapons/spells/mechanics or beating it with specific race-class combination.

        1. Syal says:

          They’re certainly not mutually exclusive. Salt and Sanctuary is a hard game, and it has built-in weapon restriction challlenges that make the game harder.

          I haven’t followed game communities in a long time, so I’m thinking of the old Final Fantasy community challenges like FF8’s No Junctioning or FFT’s Solo SIngle Class, and how much savescumming some of them required.

  17. Lun says:

    David Cage really can’t get a break, eh? At this point I feel people drone against him just as a meme, as if thoughtlessy repeating something they’d heard from someone else.

    I agree with your point about Spidey’s tutorial. However, I disagree on the game being too easy (try it at max difficulty, and it becomes challenging without being frustrating).

    1. Ander says:

      To be fair to Shamus, he has complained about Cage since the Indigo Prophecy days.

  18. Carlos García says:

    The bit on the difficulty, specially the part where something too easy is not what we want, it reminds me of that video someone posted here about Shadow of Mordor’s combat.
    I didn’t have any Arkham game and I wanted to taste those mechanics, but didn’t want to spend 60€ on it. So when I saw Shadow of Mordor on sale, knowing it was said to have the kind of combat, I picked it up… It was frustratingly easy. After half an hour of bashing enemies with zero, and I mean zero, effort, I decided to let the enemies kill me. Now that was hard! Hit me! Come on, orcy guy, hit me!, zwish zwish, Y U NO HIT ME?! I pressed the attack button of boredom waiting… splortch! orc dead. I refunded it. I think that was my first Steam refund. I told them, I’m refunding because this is such a no challenge, I’d rather wait for your sale of an Arkham game. Eventually the sale came and I bought Arkham City. That was so much better. Sure, it’s not a game that requires to be on top form, but if I stand there without touching anything I’ll get killed, I need to have a decent level of caution and skill to get past the fights.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      The first few hours you’re only exclusively playing against regular orcs, who aren’t any sort of challenge, and aren’t supposed to.

      1. Syal says:

        I think every game benefits from having some kind of optional challenge very early on that a new player is expected to fail, just so the player isn’t asking “is the whole game going to be this easy?” before they get invested. The opening is supposed to set expectations for the game, and if it’s a cakewalk I’ll expect the rest of it to be one too.

  19. Hrrmm, very interesting. Thank you for the link to your previous Arkham entry, too; I was looking for that recently but I only found the bit where you mentioned Batman in passing while talking about GTA.

    (I’ve been writing a series on a D&D module intended to introduce the game to new players, heavily inspired by your characteristic long-form game analyses. The first encounter is an ambush in which the enemies have a nonstandard detection method, namely scent. More critically, the ambush is likely to spring while most of the party is climbing a cliff. I’ve been trying to think of ways to contrive a use for the scent rules and the climbing rules prior to that fight, but I think you make a good point that it might actually need a setup and a reminder for each concept before using it under pressure.)

    1. Ander says:

      Cool link! The title, “The main villain and his undead tree” hooked me real quick.

  20. RandomInternetCommenter says:

    I like infodumps, whereas I couldn’t get past the tutorials in any Batman games. Tried several times, dropped them all after the first half hour. Different strokes for different folks.

    As a fan of Dark Souls, I wasn’t surprised to see you mentioning the “it sucks! / git gud!” exchange, Shamus. I think there will always be a disconnect, and that disconnect comes down to how each player approaches death.

    For people who see any death and repetition of a previous sequence as an unacceptable waste of time, there needs to be a gentle slope letting them learn and assimilate all gameplay concepts. But that very same slope will feel like a neverending snoozefest to the other type of player, ruining their immersion.

    Neither player is inherently less or more skilled than the other, nor values their time more or less. Their enjoyment is just different on a fundamental level. There’s a spectrum of handholding each player is willing to accept, and some players even prefer being lost and figuring out the solution on their own.

    So it’s not mere incompetence at work. If there was one true way to do tutorials, all game studios would follow it religiously. Let me play right away, make my own mistakes, and I’ll figure the game mechanics bit by bit.

  21. Richard Andrew Clark says:

    Shamus, are you okay? I haven’t seen any posts in several days.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      He posted something to Twitter yesterday and didn’t mention anything awry.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      No details, but Diecast was canceled this week due to Shamus “Not feeling well” on Saturday. Google hangouts activity indicates he’s still alive.

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