At the end of the attack on city hall, the camera pans over to reveal the horrible truth that the leader of the demons is actually… the guy we already guessed it was! Dun dun duuuun!
We cut to a week later. There’s a funeral scene for Officer Davis, and Peter Parker and Miles Morales meet. Over the coming chapters they’ll make friends and Peter will get Miles a job working at FEAST.
When the funeral is over, Pete changes to Spider-Man and asks Yuri if the police have located Martin Li yet.
Hang On. When Did You Figure That Out?
It feels like we missed a pretty big story beat here. How does Spider-Man know that Martin Li is the leader of the Demons? Yes, that fact was revealed to the audience in the previous cutscene, but Peter wasn’t anywhere near Li when that happened. Moreover, Pete was unconscious at the time.
At some point in the last week, Peter Parker discovered that his friend – who is also Aunt May’s employer – is a mass-murdering terrorist. That’s a really big deal! It’s also the answer to the mystery he’s been chasing for the last couple of missions. And yet this discovery took place off-screen?
This muddles Peter’s bonding with Miles. He gets Miles a job working at FEAST despite knowing that the guy who runs FEAST is the same guy who killed Miles’ father? That’s like finding out one of your friends is a traumatized 9/11 survivor, so you get her a job at Osama Bin Laden’s soup kitchen. What the hell, Pete? What made you think this is a good idea?
Normally I chalk stuff like this up to lazy writers who aren’t paying attention, or developers who don’t really care about the story except as a vehicle for trailer-friendly cutscenes. I can’t really say that here. I have many stylistic gripes with how the story is written and presented, but they’re mostly a matter of taste. Even if I’m not crazy about all of the writer’s choices, I freely admit they know what they’re doing. Scenes are economical, dialog pulls its weight, setups and payoffs are properly connected, stakes are established, etc. This writer knows how to build a story and get us interested.
This apparent oversight wasn’t caused by carelessness or incompetence. So what did cause it? I have a few theories:
- In the original E3 demo, Mr. Negative appeared during the big set-piece helicopter chase that I talked about a couple of weeks ago. I assumed they just put him in the demo so they had a supervillain to show off for E3. But it’s also possible that originally he was supposed to be revealed much sooner. Maybe there was some last-minute shuffling around of plot points and story beats and they didn’t have time to make a new version of the reveal, so it wound up getting cut.
- I only got the standard edition of the game, not the deluxe edition, or the super-primo-deluxe, or whatever the publisher calls the exorbitantly-priced “The Entire Game Edition”. I know there are a couple of extra missions I’m missing on account of going with the “cheap” version. It would be super-scummy to put major plot points into the upscale editions, but I suppose it’s possibleI doubt it. I’m sure I would have heard about it by now..
- I know the developer is planning on releasing DLC at some point. Maybe that “One Week Later” time-cut is where they plan on putting this new content, and maybe it will fill in this detail? Again, that would be pretty scummy, but I suppose it’s possibleI think all the DLC is out now, and this doesn’t seem to be the case..
- Maybe the writer decided the audience-reveal was enough? The Osborn rally ends with a shot of Mr. Li commanding the Demons in his Mr. Negative form. At this point the audience knows who the bad guy is, and maybe the writer felt that having a scene where Peter caught up to what we already know was too much of a snooze?
I dunno. It’s not a serious problem, but it is a perplexing omission no matter how we look at it.
Tracking Down Martin Li
Spider-Man needs to prove to the police that Li is behind the Demon gang. We get a couple of missions where he and MJ work together to explore some of Li’s properties around the city.
The game is very clearly borrowing the rhythm of the Arkham games. You’ll do a stealth section. Then the game will force you out of stealth for a brawl. Once the mooks are snoozing, you’ll get some sort of door-opening puzzle in the form of “Use your detective vision / Spidey vision to find all the switches and then use your Batarangs / webs to activate them”. When the game designer is feeling devious they might put one of the switches on the ceiling or behind an easily-moved box, but for the most part the puzzle isn’t so much a brain-teaser as a momentary breather.
Once you’ve gone through the three gameplay modes you’ll get a cutscene and the cycle begins again. It’s not a bad formula, although I really wish the Spider-Man puzzles had a little more ambition.
After a few rounds of our three gameplay modes we reach Li’s staging area with all of his nefarious plans. Li and his men are all Chinese-speaking immigrants, so I guess it’s lucky they drew straightforward diagrams of their schemes so Spidey is able to make sense of them. Along with the plans, Spider-Man finds explosives, weapons, and even designs for truck bombs.
Again, here we have a supervillain that doesn’t feel very supervillain-ish. His methodology is straight-up terrorism, with mass murder being both his goal and his methodology. His “costume” is just a business suit. His most dangerous power is brainwashing. His secret “lairs” are just regular offices and warehouses. Within the story he doesn’t even get a supervillain name. This guy is not a Spider-Man villain. This is a villain for someone with oversized guns that takes themselves too seriously.
Luckily, such a person enters the story at this point. Unluckily, she’s not on Spider-Man’s side, everything she does makes matters worse, and she’s ultimately useless to the conclusion of the story.
When Spider-Man emerges from Li’s secret lair / storage room, he runs into a couple of Sable agents, who look like space marines but talk like rank-and-file Fisk goons. To be clear: “Silver Sable” is a hero in the Marvel universe and “Sable International” is her goon squad of mercenaries.
The Sable agents decide to execute a couple of helpless Demons who have already been defeated by Spider-Man. Spidey intervenes and knocks them out. It would be nice to do this in gameplay, but instead it’s all handled in cutscenes.
At this point Silver Sable drops in and kicks Spider-Man’s ass.
Times Silver Sable has defeated Spider-Man in a cutscene: 1
Silver Sable feels like the writer’s pet… villain? Antihero? I have no idea. She wins every fight with Spider-Man. She also wins every argument with Spider-Man by getting the last word and making all the threats. She gets character development she doesn’t deserve and takes up screen time without being strictly relevant.
In a few hours, Spider-Man will have a fight with the entire Sinister Six roster at the same time. Rhino, Vulture, Electro, Doctor Octopus, Scorpion, and Martin the Terrorist. He does pretty well and manages to hold his own before they overwhelm him. And yet somehow this regular human is able to best Spider-Man repeatedly.
Even ignoring pedantic nerd-bait arguments over power level, this character just isn’t cool enough to repeatedly best our hero.
This is what Silver Sable is supposed to look like:
Yeah, that’s a very comic-book style design. With her skin-tight suit and over-sized guns she’s coming from the same stylistic space as classic Frank CastleAlthough I was always pretty resistant to the idea that the Punisher ought to be much of a threat to the web-head, who can supposedly dodge bullets and throw cars. But that’s another argument.. That’s a wild look and I can imagine a comic where someone like this can keep up with a superhero. But that’s not the Silver Sable we get. This is what Silver Sable looks like in the game:
That’s terrible. It looks like Aunt May decided to cosplay as Switch from The Matrix. This constipated bore has no reason to be winning fights against A-list superheroes. Once again, the grounded visuals are holding this game back.
Mayor Osborn hired Silver Sable and her vast army of paramilitary thugs after the bombing. I think she’s supposed to be a foil for Spider-Man, but the cutscene just established that her goons are morons that execute prisoners for no reason. Silver Sable is their leader, which means Silver Sable is effectively a supervillain in this game. Except, nobody treats her like one. Spider-Man doesn’t even tell Officer Yuri about the attempted execution. Does she know? Does she care?
At any rate, you’re supposed to make your villain cool BEFORE they beat the protagonist. You don’t make them cool BY defeating the protagonist. You can’t steal coolness. It can only be earned. This isn’t Kai Leng levels of terrible or anything, but we’re sort of headed in that direction.
I’ll have more to say about Silver Sable as this plot thread develops. For now let’s just move on.
Pete, Are You not Paying Attention?
After discovering that Martin Li plans to attack points all over the city, Spider-Man has a phone conversation with MJ. She points out that Aunt May is working for the man they think bombed city hall, and MJ quite sensibly asks, “You don’t think she’s in danger, do you?”
Spider-Man replies with – and this is not hyperbole – the stupidest line in the entire game. He says, “No. Li’s only got one target on his mind… Norman Osborn.”
Spider-Man, have you forgotten the terrorist attack – which you personally attended – where Li deliberately slaughtered a crowd of innocent civilians? You literally just now uncovered his plans for truck bombs. So far Li’s entire methodology has involved the deliberate targeting of innocents.
You dense bastard.
Martin Li is the weakest part of the entire game and I always felt like I was missing some detail from the comics. I really can’t get what the writer is doing with this character. His motivation is simple: Get revenge on Norman Osborn. And yet his methodology is so ridiculously over the top, contradictory, and convoluted to the point where nothing he did made sense to me. I understand that he’s torn between a good side and an evil side, but that doesn’t explain why his plans for getting revenge on Osborn need to involve the deaths of thousands or even millions of New Yorkers who aren’t Norman Osborn. What’s causing that? Is he crazy? Mind-controlled by a demon? Is he an idiot?
Even ignoring all of that, why doesn’t Peter notice?
 I doubt it. I’m sure I would have heard about it by now.
 I think all the DLC is out now, and this doesn’t seem to be the case.
 Although I was always pretty resistant to the idea that the Punisher ought to be much of a threat to the web-head, who can supposedly dodge bullets and throw cars. But that’s another argument.
Spec Ops: The Line
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