Yeah that headline sounds a little harsh, but there’s a *cough* Stark
*cough* reality here -- Insomniac’s Spider-Man is very, very much an Arkham-like game. But
, there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean we have “Souls-like” games now, right? And if you’re utilising a template that works, what’s wrong with that? If it ain’t broke…
So yeah, combat in Spider-Man is very much in-line with the Batman: Arkham series -- you have a combo counter and the game-world essentially shrinks to a small arena with stupid guards, stupid thugs and stupid minions who think they can somehow beat a guy who can literally climb walls and knows what you’re about to do, before you even know you’re gonna do it. He also has webs that stop you. But I digress.
Inside combat, the differences here are actually pretty large -- Spidey can use more of the environment, he has more projectile options and his agility allows for what’s known in the fighting game space as “aerials”, the juggling side of this is button mash at best, but adding aerials to your combo counter gives you even more “Focus” and it’s in focus we come back down to
Earth, where Spidey can perform finishers and takedowns. He can also heal himself, which is kind of new to the experience, and to Spider-Man as a known entity, but once again, I digress.
What stands out here from a positive note is that the team at Insomniac is happily wearing influence on its spandex sleeve, and that’s okay. Because the big differentiator between both of these (hopeful) series is that Spider-Man’s world -- while dangerous -- is light and full of expansive options. The Arkham games have always been contained to within a 24 hour narrative period, but here there’s a longer narrative that includes living
the life of the hapless Peter Parker. In fact, it appears the Spider-Man side of the game is just one part, with Peter constantly juggling his modular life; Aunt May, Mary Jane, science and tech and paying the bills. And while I didn’t get the full exposition of how this will work, I had a quiet taste in a mini-game/sub-game component that I won’t spoil for you other than saying this part of the game requires no Spider-Man suit, no combat and no web-slinging, but it goes a long way to fleshing out the large game-world before us.
But on that web-slinging front, it’s where I have the most resistance to the game. In titles past, web-slinging kind of happened with imaginary, hidden anchor points, or some sort of newfangled cloud-sticking web technology. In short, it was ridiculous. In this Spider-Man, anchor points are real and physics *kind of* plays a part. That is to say the system here makes you feel
like you’re making an impact on traversal, but for mine the input side of it all is a missed opportunity. You press R2 to fire weblines out and then maneuver Spidey through the city, but it’s not as fluid and player-controlled as it should have been. And Insomniac forgets there are two triggers and that Spider-Man has two arms.
A true physics-based traversal system where the player controls both arms and two web-shooters just feels more like how they should have handled it. New York is a unique place because
of its skyscraper-first attitude, allowing for unheralded movement through the space. This might have been trialled during development and failed, but to me it’s the most obvious way to get around the Big Apple and here it just fails to deliver on what that experience should
have felt like. That being said, I had less then two full hours with the game, so as you unlock new abilities and skills, this might change. But I -- right now -- lament the lack of dual arm web-slinging.
And on that skills and abilities comment -- the game has a traditionally modern spin
on RPG-lite. Which is to say you gain XP from combat and completed missions and side-quests which you then invest in skills and abilities from a skill-tree (not sure why they didn’t go with a “skill-web”). These are separated into three groups: Innovator, Defender and Webslinger. Largely, much of this is tied to combat, but loosely each one has an impact on traversal and other components of the world I haven’t yet explored. The UI and character progression side of the game looks to help you tailor your experience and also features throwback content from Spider-Man history, which should play to the completionist and comic book hardcore, which is a good thing. Especially because in this
Spider-Man, you’re not chasing floating comic book pages in order to collect them.
What Insomniac has perfected here, most importantly, is that the vibe is very Spider-Man –- like, they’ve nailed the character; his quips, his life which is always hanging by a proverbial “thread”; socially, economically, emotionally and professionally –- both as a crime-fighter and as an out-of-luck boy-genius. It’s all there and it’s all very good. I’ve avoided spoilers, but you will have a Rogues Gallery of baddies either taking part in the story, or finding a way to be mentioned in it, and throughout it. So, while it is an “Arkham-like” game, it’s very much a Spider-Man title handled with passionate aplomb and utter respect. I also only encountered a few QTEs (Quick Time Events) throughout my playtime, while the city above, and on the street, was alive and bustling -- and this part could be the one major differentiator between Spider-Man and the Batman games. Well, that and daylight. Sweet, sweet daylight.
Consider us Spider-tingled at this point.