I don’t think any developer has more experience in modern AAA game development than Insomniac Games does. Initially the developer for Spyro before it was sold to Activision Blizzard unlike its sister studio Naughty Dog (located in the same California neighbourhood) Insomniac remains an independent second party studio that miraculously has developed exclusives for both PlayStation and Xbox consoles among a very large variety of platforms including mobile and emerging Virtual Reality technology. Their open world Xbox Exclusive; the interesting fast and fun Sunset Overdrive is what likely had them considered for the job of adapting the most popular superhero of the 21st Century (despite the acclaimed sandbox superhero inFAMOUS developer Sucker Punch being right in Sony’s pocket.) In taking the famed web crawler to the interactive screen, Insomniac does the brand justice by making their most sprawling and least personal project ever.
To describe Marvel’s Spider-Man, part of a corporate deal likely struck out of Sony and Disney’s film agreement is to describe Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight. The game is big, full of characters and side quests with decent execution and some unoriginal ideas wrapped in a strong presentation. The game doesn’t match the visceral thrill of swinging through Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2 metropolis, but it does its own way and more, although lacks its predecessors strong sense of humour, a following of Sunset Overdrive. The downside to PlayStation’s Spider-Man approach is that its gameplay ideas don’t always line up with its storytelling. The game which just released its first DLC, isn’t exactly about anything. It carries some generic ideas about social responsibility that have followed each telling of the character with no gravity, but the relaxed approach is what keeps the game accessible. Omissions like not making Peter late for everything or giving him a strong internal life to bump up against is a welcome relief that keeps away storytelling exhaustion like the umpteenth reset of Parker and MJ’s relationship. Additionally, ordinarily out of character stealth missions are served better by side characters; the aforementioned MJ and a more interesting Miles Morales give some dimension to Peter who also benefits from being a slightly older and more practiced, mature Spider-Man. Other characters like the Osbornes’ also unfold their story beats in a very interesting way, but all the proper pacing in the world can’t save the game from character beats that come a little out of turn and improbable logistical leaps. For example, how is a known suspected terrorist able to show up freely at a heavily expected place of interest so soon after a terror attack. It is comic book style logic and as far as video game writing goes, it’s par for the course. Just not aspiring to inFAMOUS level heights of ambition the material at this point really needs to stick. Perhaps the upcoming planned DLC (of course!) will stick.
Marvel’s Spider-Man gets the swinging right, the characters right, it goes by rather quickly but feels long enough, its a work done by a competent journeyman studio that otherwise feels unimaginative. It’s hard to get creative on a character that has been so endlessly redone, Insomniac manages that anytime it doesn’t focus on the Peter Parker/ Spider-Man aspect. It’s hard to complain about a game that does nothing really wrong, the makers clearly respect the source, maybe a little too much to put their own spin on the material. I would’ve admired a game that takes more memorable creative risks. There is nothing new here that you haven’t seen before. The stealth aspects and combat lifted from the recent Batman games and many of the side quests and collectibles are a mix of the best parts of Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2 and the last generation of gaming. It’s all put together in a nice package that if done by a lesser but competent studio like Activision’s Beenox, WB Games Montreal would be hailed as a triumph. However, coming from the makers of Spyro, Resistance, Ratchet & Clank, and Sunset Overdrive it seems like a disappointment. Perhaps as a commentary on the industry in 2018, a good game is never finished, and the last word on 2018’s Marvel Spider-Man is yet to come. It remains to be seen what lies around the corner of the next building.