The main story has just dropped us into a false sense of security. The big obvious threat is ended and our “main” villain is on his way to jail. The Octavius plot is still simmering in the background, the Peter and MJ plot just hit a low note, and the credits didn’t roll, so the player probably knows the story isn’t really over yet.
This seems like a good time to stop and talk about a few of the sidequests.
Here we have the inverse of the Mass Effect 2 problem. In Mass Effect 2, the optional loyalty missions were solid and the main plot collapsed under the slightest scrutiny. Here in Spider-Man, the main story feels like a proper comic book series and some of the side-content feels like filler sidequests devised by game designers with no experience in writing.
They’re not all bad, though. In particular, I like the sidequest involving…
This content is a little repetitive, but it’s fun and playful and has a bit of a twist at the end. I’ve always assumed that Black Cat was just Catwoman with the serial numbers filed off. I mean, they’re both sexy female cat burglars with “cat” in their name with a black leather costume who have an ongoing relationship with a major superhero that swings between flirtatious and antagonistic. Catwoman is a popular character that predates Black Cat by almost 40 years, so it’s understandable that people might assume that Black Cat is just a ripoff. But the truth is that she was originally devised as a foil for Spider-Woman. While I haven’t read the Black Cat stories myself, I get the sense that she wasn’t a conscious attempt to recreate Catwoman. Rather, once writers had Spider-Man facing against a woman, they were naturally pulled in the direction of Catwoman by simple convenience.
Hey, we’ve got this sexy lady going against Spider-Man. Why not have them flirt? We can’t actually have Spider-Man date a thief because that’s incompatible with his values. We can’t have her stop being a thief because then she stops being interesting. So I guess we just have them flirt without the relationship going anywhere. If that gets boring, we can make it seem like maybe she’s going to go straight, but then she turns back to crime. She can constantly skate the line between good and bad to keep the reader guessing.
Spider-Man has to explore the city, investigating places where Black Cat has pulled heists. At each location he finds a cute little cat plushie. Spider-Man tells the police about it and they apparently go out and collect the plushie as evidence.
Once you’ve found all the locations, Spider-Man is able to use his computer to look at all the robbery locations and determine the location of her secret hideout. Yes, that’s silly. Whatever.
In her hideout, he finds all the loot she stole. It turns out she didn’t want the loot at all. She left all the stolen goods behind on purpose so Spider-Man could recover them.
Those plushies you’ve been rounding up were actually a trap. They had computer chips in them. Once they were all gathered up, they networked and took down the police security from the inside. Once the security was down, Black Cat slipped in and recovered her costume and gear from the evidence room. It’s a fun twist, and plays into her playfully ambiguous alignment.
At the end Yuri laughs at Spider-Man, claiming that Black Cat “played him”Oh, so that’s what the “play me” message was all about at the start. That’s cute.. I get that this was the intent of the twist, although it didn’t work for me. Spider-Man gave the location of the plushies to the cops, but he never handled them himself and securing the evidence lock-up is not his job. Still, I liked the sentiment behind it.
I hate this over-serious skull-faced tryhard. He leaves challenges for Spider-Man around the city. Some are timed races where you have to round up and disable bombs before they go off. Some are checkpoint races where you need to pass through fixed waypoints. Others are timed fights or timed stealth encounters.
The challenges aren’t bad, but Taskmaster takes all of the fun out of it. His dialog is one-note and he doesn’t have anything clever to say. Spider-Man doesn’t even do a great job of poking fun at him.
Once you complete enough challenges you get to fight Taskmaster himself, and his boss fights are even worse. In a good boss fight, the game will push you to explore the full range of abilities and powers. When Batman faced off against Mr. Freeze in Arkham City, the game never allowed you to use the same trick twice. The result was that the designer rewarded you for fully exploring the gameplay systems. That would be a brilliant way to handle Taskmaster. His gimmick is that he can learn any move just by seeing it performed. The game designer could use this to justify why you can’t ever use the same trick twice.
Instead he’s just magically immune to all but two kinds of attacks. Don’t worry, the game won’t make you figure it out. You just need to read the on-screen prompt telling you to throw objects at him because your punches and webbing and gadgets won’t work. It’s a shallow fight against a shallow guy and I’d ignore it entirely except you need to complete some Taskmaster content to get access to the late-game upgrades.
Like I said in my Escapist column last year, it would be so much cooler if these random challenges came from Mysterio. That would allow us to use a classic Spidey villain that wouldn’t otherwise fit with these brawling mechanics. Mysterio could do for the Spider-Man games what Riddler does for the Arkham games.
I hate, hate, hate these stupid sidequests. Around the city are these little science outposts perched on top of buildings. Each one has a little gameplay challenge for you to do. For example, one requires you to dive bomb from a tall tower and another one requires you to get around the city without using your normal web swinging. The design here is simple:
1) Think up a random challenge or activity for the player to do.
2) Invent some science bullshit to justify doing it.
My problem is that the “science” behind these things is stupid to the point of being distracting. The writer can’t just settle for giving you a task and leaving it at that. They feel the need to mix in their embarrassingly misunderstood and badly garbled take on real science. Then they try to shoehorn in some tension by making everything an emergency that’s about to kill people. So you randomly arrive at a science station while exploring the open world and you just happen to get there five minutes before some ongoing science experiment starts killing everyone.
Spider-Man discovers that Manhattan’s steam-heating system is clogged up. The mission says that “steam is more efficient than fossil fuels”.
Look, if you want to employ some silly science then just make up some nonsense like “Harbulary Batteries” or “Vibranium” and I’ll be happy accept whatever you say about it. But in the real world Manhattan uses steam for indoor heating, and it’s not an “alternative” to fossil fuels any more than a hamburger is an alternative to meat. You don’t need to make this an educational game, but is it too much to ask that you not make it anti-educational?
Apparently, the steam pipes are backing up, and threatening to cause an explosion. So Spider-Man has to swing over to the affected building and… cover the steam vents in webbing to prevent an explosion from overpressure???
Just to make it really uncomfortable, this near-explosion wasn’t in downtown. It was in Harlem.
At the end Spider-Man is so proud of himself because he saved this science station that was built to prove how good steam is for the city. I’m thinking if it nearly killed hundreds of people, then maybe folks need to re-think this whole steam system idea. Yes, I understand that steam is a magical vapor created by fairies for free and thus don’t burn fossil fuels, but I think human lives ought to figure into the equation here. If anyone should have a say in the use of magical steam, it should be the high-rise full of people who nearly died. Spider-Man doesn’t see fit to involve them in the conversation. They don’t even know they nearly died. Instead he leaves a note that the system needs better safety protocols and calls it a day.
That’s actually kinda evil. Arrogantly treating the masses like disposable peasants because you’ve decided you already know what’s best for them is a super-villain trait. Sure, maybe it’s a little dangerous, but I’m a good person because I care about the environment! Especially when the costs and risks are borne by people who are not me!
In another mission he gets a gizmo that makes him totally invisible, but he concludes he doesn’t want it because he can’t use it with his web-shooters. You can turn the invisibility on and off at will, so there’s no real downside to it. Just turn it off when you want to web-swing, dumbass. Shit, even if Spider-Man is too stupid to see how useful this thing is, doesn’t anyone else want free invisibility? It’s this universe-breaking device that only exists to justify a one-shot side activity that could easily have been handled some other way. The entire gimmick only exists so you can hide from drones, so the writer didn’t need to introduce unlimited invisibility as an available technology. They could simply have come up with a “scrambler” or some other non-overpowered tool for this mission. This is just so clumsy and thoughtless.
In another mission Spider-Man is trying to engineer a bacteria (or whatever) to consume waste plastic. Rather than getting some proper science equipment like a sane person, he decides to store the stuff in his web shooters. This prevents them from working.
The thing is, when the game takes away your web-swinging it does so by disabling the use of the R2 button. R2 is used for web-swinging, but it’s also used for super-jumping. So you try to super-jump and Spider-Man complains that his webs don’t work. Somehow storing random science stuff in his web fluid or turning invisible takes away his ability to use his legs for jumping.
It’s all incredibly lazy and poorly thought out. The missions all have Spider-Man talking about this great environmental work he’s doing to help the city while doing all of these scientifically nonsensical and morally questionable things. I realize it’s just lazy writing, but I find it incredibly off-putting.
Spider-Man has to face off against an internet celebrity called Screwball, who has violent toxic fans and deliberately creates dangerous situations to boost the viewership on her live streams. Her dialog sounds like a Baby Boomer trying to imitate how millennials talk on social media. She’s annoying and the story is insufferably proud of itself. It has a twist you can see coming a mile away and ends with the nonsense conclusion that Screwball can’t be punished because she didn’t personally perform the acts of violenceAsk Charles Manson how that defense worked out..
This feels like moral panic in story form. It even ends with Spider-Man lamenting the state of the internet these days like he’s an old man that just found out about 4Chan.
I loved this one. Spider-Man realizes he’s got a doppleganger on the loose. He’s worried it’s the Chameleon againThe Chameleon was Spider-Man’s first foe, all the way back in 1963 with Amazing Spider-Man #1.. Then he tracks the guy down and as the search goes on it’s clear that this other Spider-Man:
- Is a decent guy.
- Has no superpowers.
It turns out that Spider-Fake is just some guy with a blackbelt and a cheap halloween costume who thought he could do some good. The two Spider-Mans team up at the end and Spider-Fake learns the lesson that without great power, you probably shouldn’t pick a fight with great responsibility.
My favorite gag is just how bad his costume is. It would have been easy to just re-use the default Spider-Man model, but they made a totally different model that illustrates what any serious cosplayer can tell you: It might look easy, but re-creating a costume is friggin’ hard.
And The Rest
There are other side missions in the game, but I don’t have much to say about the rest of them. In the list above I’ve covered the best and worst, with the remaining missions falling somewhere in between. Some are amusing. Some are little more than open-world filler.
Sadly the two worst ones (Taskmaster and the science stations) tie into the in-game currency used to unlock gadgets, upgrades, and additional costumes. Science missions give you Science Tokens and Taskmaster’s nonsense gives you Challenge Tokens. You’ll need both to get the best equipment. The really good missions (Fake Spider-Man and Black Cat) just give regular XP and not any of the upgrade tokens. Although, the Black Cat mission does give you a cool costume, so that’s something.
I know I usually try to avoid pointing fingers in these retrospectives, but I’m willing to bet you a deluxe no-prize that the Black Cat and Fake Spider-Man missions came from the veteran comic writers on the team and the goofy-ass science stations were devised by game designers. I apologize to breaking my usual etiquette, but it’s sort of obvious when you play through the disparate side missions how much they differ in terms of tone and style. Some missions are witty, clever, and filled with references to Spider-Man’s sprawling lore. Other missions are just lazy nonsense cooked up by someone who clearly just wanted to justify five minutes of novelty mechanics and thought that the story doesn’t need to fit with the world or make sense on its ownThat person is wrong, BTW..
That’s it for the sidequests. Next week we’ll get back to the main story.
 Oh, so that’s what the “play me” message was all about at the start. That’s cute.
 Ask Charles Manson how that defense worked out.
 The Chameleon was Spider-Man’s first foe, all the way back in 1963 with Amazing Spider-Man #1.
 That person is wrong, BTW.
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