Spider-Man brings the Devil’s Breath antiserum back to FEAST. The scientist tells him that they need the entire sample to synthesize it in bulk for widespread distribution. On the other hand, Aunt May is on death’s door.
Now he has a choice: Use the cure to save Aunt May, or let the doctor have it to save New York. We know he’s going to do the right thing, but we can see how bitter this moment is for him. He has the power to save May, and he has to let her go for the greater good.
Aunt May Dies
May wakes up and tells Spider-Man to take off the mask. She’s known about Peter’s second life for “some time” now. The story even hinted at this earlier where she asked him pointed questions with double meanings. She’s proud of him and gives Peter’s alter-ego her blessing before she goes.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s a well-executed scene with a well-written character. It’s a powerful, quiet moment to counterpoint the sound and fury Spider-Man went through to get here.
Having said that, it really does feel like the game is wallowing in misery at this point. The city is trashed, tens of thousands are infected, and the streets are filled with prisoners fighting fascist goons. In a story where Spider-Man failed to save the day, it seems like overkill that he couldn’t even save this one person. This entire last chapter has been him fighting to save May, and he failed.
The writer tries to walk back this bleak tone in the following cutscenes. We see the cure being distributed, and once we return to the open world post-credits we get some congratulatory dialog from Yuri. For me it all rang a little hollow. This catastrophic citywide disaster would make 9/11 look like a joke in comparison. The sheer scale of the damage and loss of life ought to cripple the city for years to come.
Then again, I get that this is nominally a comic book world and we’re not supposed to think about this kind of stuff. Just like the heroes that protect them, comic book cities are supernaturally resilient. If Gotham can keep running despite the crazy death toll racked up by the likes of Joker and Scarecrow, then I guess Manhattan can bounce back from the 4 punch combo of bombing campaign, mass prison escape, supervillain rampage, and deadly epidemic.
No More Heroes
In the end this game did a pretty lousy job of delivering on the sort of escapism I look for in comic books. Spider-Man failed on a citywide scale, and also on a personal scale. I understand that one of the key themes of Spider-Man stories is that the hero can’t have everything, but in this story he couldn’t have anything.
I realize this is a matter of taste and I’m sure some people will love this ending because it’s “dark” or “realistic” or “thought provoking”, but if this is a statement of intent from the writer then I’m going to have a rough time with this franchise. I’m just not interested in the story of a guy who sacrifices everything and loses anyway and everyone hates him for trying and everything sucks forever. I already have the evening news, thanks. I was hoping for something lighter from my stories about a guy in red spandex who fights crime while telling jokes.
Having said that, it’s an amazingly well-executed scene. This might be the first time since the end of Last of Us where I saw a character cry in a video game and felt the emotion of the moment rather than being distracted by uncanny expressions and plastic tears. This kind of stuff is hard to do, and the developers at insomniac weren’t afraid to put the camera close and allow the performances to carry the scene.
I’m questioning the wisdom of killing Aunt May. She’s an important part of Spider-Man’s world. She’s his moral center, sounding board, guide, and ideal to live up to. I’m worried the next writer might find it very hard to tell a proper Spider-Man story if Peter doesn’t have anyone to disappoint. Now that May is gone, he no longer needs to guard his secret identity. She was the last of his family. At this point Peter’s life suddenly becomes a lot easier. This move strikes me as being a lot like Peter’s marriage in the 1990s. It’s a nice “event” to get everyone’s attention, but will make it harder for future writers to do their job.
The Determined Little Spider
Back in the scene where MJ was sneaking around Mayor Osborn’s penthouse, one of his science spiders climbed onto MJ. From there it remained hidden in the folds of her coat when she went skydiving off Osborn’s building. It held on as Spider-Man swung across the city with her and dropped her off at FEAST. It remained there, unseen, for hours while she hung around the shelter during the time where Spider-Man went to confront Martin Li. Then it at last crawled off of her without being noticed and without having bitten her during all their time together. Then it hid under a box until Miles Morales came along.
That is a very motivated spider with a very good understanding of the script. Towards the end of the spider’s ride I was wondering if Miles was a fake-out and the writer was going to have it bite MJ.
Like I said earlier in this series, I don’t like the idea that there are a bunch of science spiders out there that can make more spider-based super people. Aside from concerns over “but then why doesn’t someone do X?” type plot-hole arguments, it makes our hero less special and unique.
Once the crisis is over, Peter Parker moves in with Miles and his family for a few weeks until his housing situation is resolved. Once Miles and Peter have a moment alone, Miles reveals that he’s gained spider powers. I should point out that Miles doesn’t know that Peter Parker is Spider-Man until Peter turns around and tells him.
What are the odds? Miles didn’t tell his family. He didn’t tell his best friend, who was already established earlier in the story. Instead he tells the guy he met a couple of weeks ago, and by blind chance that guy happens to be the original Spider-Man. Miles gained his powers more or less through random chance totally unrelated to Spider-ManAlthough Spider-Man did unwittingly transport the spider from the mayor’s penthouse to FEAST., so this is quite a coincidence.
I’ve heard about a one-off comic where someone got spider-based powers though a blood transfusion from Peter Parker, but I haven’t been able to find any reference to it on the internet. This seems like a better way to pass the powers off, since it could cover up these massive contrivances. It would have been easy to set up a blood transfusion scene around the time that Spider-Man saved Miles from the fire, and that would let Miles put 2 and 2 together on his own instead of accidentally revealing his secret to the other Spider-Man.
Yes, I know contrivance is basically a condiment in comic book stories. Still.
After the credits, Norman Osborn returns to his secret science room and we get the big reveal that Harry Osborn isn’t in Europe like he claimed, he’s in dad’s glowing green science tank. Dad is trying to cure his son’s case of Plot Disease. Devil’s Breath was supposed to cure him. Norman’s dialog seems to indicate that project is shut down now.
Harry is wrapped in black web-like tendrils. One of the sticky threads reaches out and touches the glass. End scene.
This is an interesting change to the lore. In the comics, the Osborn boys took turns being the Green Goblin. Here in this universe there doesn’t seem to be a Green Goblin, despite the fact that Goblin is Spider-Man’s top foe. Instead it looks like the writer is going to turn Harry into… Venom?
This gives us some hints about their sequel plans. When Aunt May died I figured the writer was going to have Peter Parker hang up his pajamas and retire, leaving us to play as Miles in the next game. (And then maybe have them team up in the third one.) But it wouldn’t make dramatic sense to pit Harry Osborn against Miles. You’d have to do all this work to help the audience understand how gentle Harry became Venom, and none of those reveals would mean anything to Miles. You’d bear all the costs of contriving and explaining how another one of Peter’s friends turned evil but without any of the dramatic benefits.
I don’t know. Maybe they’ll have Peter and Miles team up next time and we’ll switch between the two. Then again, switching between two science nerds who are always late for things because they’re both Spider-Man seems like a bad idea.
I guess we’ll see.
I know I did a good bit of complaining in this series, but most of it was focused on matters of taste. Maybe I made it sound like this game had a lot of problems, but the truth is that this is a really solid experience. I know I picked on Martin, Silver Sable, and that once scene where MJ turned into a villain for 5 minutes. But this game is also packed with a lot of great moments. This isn’t like Wolfenstein: The New Colossus where everything was a never-ending onslaught of mediocrity punctuated by brief moments of total incompetence. Insomniac’s Spider-Man is an outstanding game with a couple of perplexing flaws. When Wolfenstein’s story fell apart, it wasn’t surprising because it felt like nobody on the project really knew what they were doing. When we get a bad scene in Spider-Man it is surprising, because everything else seems so solid.
The Aunt May scenes were heartfelt and genuine without being sappy. The MJ plot had several good scenes and a brilliant conclusion. The Doc Ock scenes were a joy to watch. The Black Cat and fake Spider-Man sidequests were stellar. The Miles scenes had several good moments.
To sum up my gripes with the game:
- The Martin plot was pretty wonky. I never cared about the character, I didn’t understand what drove his dual personality, and the redemption idea had no stakes. Maybe the writer was depending on the player knowing about the character from the comics. That would be fine, except Martin got a lot of screen time. His wonky story directly preceded the Doctor Octopus plot, which was the exact same idea with a far better execution. I have no idea what went wrong here.
- Silver Sable was hot garbage. Boo.
- The combat is serviceable, but it could use another pass to bring the brawls up to the same standards as the rest of the experience.
- I don’t like how dark the story got or how the conflict ramped up to such a ridiculous scale, particularly for the first game of a franchise.
- I’m not sure the death of Aunt May was a good idea.
- Having Miles get superpowers is fine, but this particular version of that story felt sort of forced and hurried.
Half of those are a matter of taste. The other half feel like a new series finding its legs. Wolfenstein felt like a series that was falling apart, while this feels like a series that started strong and needs a little refinement to become a classic.
Some Constructive Criticism
In order to end this on a constructive note, here are a few suggestions for the developers who will probably never read this:
This game feels like an unstable truce between a group of gameplay designers and a group of writers. The two groups often seemed to be at odds. This problem is expressed in a lot of different ways:
Boss fights stop for cutscenes that negate gameplay. If you need to move the fight to move to a new venue, you don’t need to have the villain grab Spider-Man, negate his powers, and toss him into the next arena. The bad guy can just leap into the next room and Spider-Man can follow. Don’t reward progress by using the player as a punching bag.
Cutscenes are marred with underwhelming quicktime events. If you’ve made an interesting, beautiful action scene, you don’t need need to clutter it up with lame button prompts. Don’t vandalize your cinematography in the name of fake gameplay. Just keep the cutscenes short and you won’t need to placate the player with pretend interactivity.
The science station missions run on nonsensical story logic and clumsily constructed “stakes” that only exist to facilitate brief moments of completely disposable gameplay. Figure out how to call a truce between the gameplay designer and the writer, because everything is better when those two are cooperating. Most importantly, don’t let the gameplay designer do writing. They are bad at it, and bad writing is worse than no writing.
The combat system is built around a series of overpowered gadgets that are thematically inappropriate for our main character. I wouldn’t say get rid of them. Just cut the weapon wheel down to a few web-based gadgets and give the player shortcuts so they can change powers without needing to use the flow-breaking weapon wheel.
The tutorials aren’t integrated into the narrative, which means they need to be fed to the player via brute-force information dump and clumsy popups. Slow down. Teach a concept, have the player execute it in a low-stakes scenario, remind them about it later, and then make it part of the normal gameplay rotation. The best tutorials are the ones the player doesn’t notice.
Most of the collect-a-thon gameplay is disconnected from story threads. When Batman finds all the Riddler trophies, he catches the Riddler. When he does all the phone missions he catches Zsasz. When he completes all the assassination investigations, he catches Deadshot. When Spider-Man finds all the backpacks he… unlocks a new costume. When he turns on all the towers, Yuri calls him and thanks him. When he defeats all the prisoners / Sable agents / Demons in a district, he’s done doing that and nothing else happens. The one exception to this pattern is the Black Cat mission. You only need to find 12 things instead of 50, and it offers a proper payoff at the end. Try to integrate them with the story / world building when you can.
This story was solid. It was fast-paced, witty, interesting, and emotionally resonant. Characters hit their marksAside from the business with Martin Li and and Silver Sable, which I’ve already belabored. and the dialog is always telling the story while also revealing the characters.
Likewise, the gameplay was pretty good. The traversal mechanics are the best in the business as far as I’m concerned, and the combat is acceptable. It’s fun to play and full of variety.
The problem is the ugly seam between these two halves. These two good aspects don’t quite fit together. I realize this is pretty weak criticism, but that’s because this is a really strong game. Yes, it could be better, but for the first entry in a new franchise we’re off to a pretty amazing start.
So that’s about 50,000 words on the new Spider-Man franchise. If you’d like to support my efforts, please consider joining my Patreon. Thanks so much for reading.
 Although Spider-Man did unwittingly transport the spider from the mayor’s penthouse to FEAST.
 Aside from the business with Martin Li and and Silver Sable, which I’ve already belabored.
So what happens when a SOFTWARE engineer tries to review hardware? This. This happens.
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