Take a Breather Mr. Parker

Sadly it took me longer than I expected to finish Spider-Man (PS4) so my review didn’t get published until last week. So now this post, which I had actually starting planning a couple weeks ago, looks like an unoriginal idea in response to the recent Insomniac Games interview where they said “Spider-Man is the Iron Man of Marvel console games.” The idea behind this quote is that Spider-Man, with its 3.3 million units sold in the first three days of release, is only the start of what I guess I’ll call the MGU (Marvel Games Universe). Due to its success, we can now expect to see a whole host of, hopefully interconnected, games set in the same Marvel universe following some of our favorite heroes.

I like the idea of an MGU. I think it’s a wonderful idea that hasn’t been done well before. We have some franchises that connect several characters and games indirectly like Castlevania, Final Fantasy, and of course Super Mario.  We also have countless franchises that connect many games together directly like Uncharted, God of War, and Yakuza. But what both of these types of games fail to do is connect multiple playable characters directly across several games while also allowing each game and character to stand alone in their own right. The only franchises I can think of that do both even relatively well are Devil May Cry and Metal Gear, and I don’t necessarily think either does it exceptionally well. Certainly not compared to how plots work in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).

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I imagine such an endeavor being implemented in a big way, making use of multiple studios and quite possibly spanning to multiple platforms. But that’s not really what I want to talk about in this post. What I want to discuss is what else can be done by Insomniac Games with the Spider-Man map.

I was very impressed by the map/world in Spider-Man. I felt like it was a fairly well done recreation of New York that also integrates Marvel landmarks into it quite well. I did feel like it was smaller than ideal, but it was still quite the impressive, realistic, and highly interactive map. Some time ago, I wrote a post about how I thought it was extremely wasteful that game maps tend to get used only one time even if they have the potential for multiple projects. The original post focused on the map in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and how I thought it could easily be reused to make a completely unrelated pirate game, but I think the general concept of map reuse applies even more to that of Spider-Man.

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Even without the idea of creating an MGU, I think the Spider-Man map can and should absolutely be reused for more Marvel games. Insomniac Games can make a great Marvel game. They’ve already proved that with Spider-Man. But there’s no reason the next Marvel game from them needs to take two plus years of development. Not because they should rush out more Marvel games, but because they already have a wealth of usable assets. They have a working New York City map complete with both Marvel and real world landmarks and a bustling, interactive population of NPCs. More specifically, they already have hideouts/bases of operation for multiple would be MGU characters, big and small.

The Spider-Man (PS4) Marvel themed map locations I’m aware of:

  1. Nelson and Murdoc Law Office (Daredevil)
    1. Josie’s Bar
    2. Fogwell’s Gym
    3. Clinton Mission
  2. Alias Investigations (Jessica Jones)
  3. Sanctum Sanctorum (Dr. Strange)
  4. Embassy of Wakanda (Black Panther)
  5. Rand Enterprises (Iron Fist)
  6. E.A.R.T. Clinic (Cardiac)
  7. Damage Control HQ (Iron Man)
  8. Avenger’s Tower (Iron Man/Every Active Avenger)

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This wealth of Marvel Easter Egg locations can be the staging area for countless other games set in New York. And with the Avenger’s Tower other characters not usually based in New York can  visit the city for an adventure as well. Even Stan Lee appears in the game. So the question becomes why make an entirely new map for the next game when they can rightfully save the time and just change out the character and gameplay for a fraction of the development time and cost?

Let’s take Daredevil as a prime example. Hell’s Kitchen is a district on the map. Matt Murdock’s law office is already located in the game. Daredevil operates on the streets and rooftops of New York City. His main means of transportation is on foot mostly by climbing, hopping, and occasionally swinging from building to building. His fight style is mixed martial arts that’s fast paced, fluid, and a bit heavier than that of Spider-Man. He operates solely at night, which exists in Spider-Man, and even fights Kingpin, the first boss in Spider-Man. If they reuse this map, much of the game is already done. They would just have to change the character render(s), climbing, and fighting as far as gameplay. Most of the development would just need to go into writing a new story and altering the current enemies and bosses. Is that still a lot of work? Of course. Is it as much work as building an entirely new map from scratch including NPCs? Absolutely not.

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Because of the interconnected nature of comics, this is a rare opportunity where it not only makes sense, but is the right decision within the canon of the world to reuse the same map to make multiple Marvel character games. The shorter development time also means lower production costs which allows for an opportunity to create games for more obscure characters that might not be able to get a game greenlit with a AAA budget. Take Jessica Jones for instance. The idea of putting in the same amount of time and resources as was used for Spider-Man to create a game for her is unrealistic. It wouldn’t sell as well and probably wouldn’t be action heavy enough to appeal to a wider gaming audience. But Spider-Man already has a working camera/photography system and a perfect map for a game starring her, so why not make one with recycled assets?

While not every Marvel character could have a game set in this map, there are a host of characters that it would work perfectly for. Even characters not normally based in New York could still work as visiting heroes staying at the Avenger’s Tower.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-11 01-26-50Some characters that could work well in the Spider-Man map:

  1. Daredevil
  2. Iron Fist
  3. Luke Cage
  4. Cardiac
  5. Venom (if we want to go down that road)
  6. Moon Knight
  7. Hawkeye
  8. Punisher
  9. Hellcat
  10. Misty Knight
  11. All the other Spider-Totems

I don’t know what games are in the works or projected to be made in the MGU, but I think it would be a real waste to just throw out a perfectly good map just because we’ve already played a game on it. If implemented well, I would have no problem playing any number of different games featured on the same map. Especially if they were all connected via story and Easter Eggs. They could even have the games be interactive where if you’ve played one it affects things in other maps.

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Let me be very clear on one key issue within this discussion. I’m fine with playing multiple games on the same map, but I expect those saved development costs to be transferred to me, the end user. Spider-Man cost me $80 (Deluxe Edition). If you read my review then you know that I felt that was too high for such a short game. Especially considering that Insomniac Games usually releases games in the $30 – $40 price bracket. So if they do start reusing that map to save time and money, which I believe they should, I would also expect to see lower release prices. Even more so if these Marvel games will continue to be in the 20 – 30 hour category for the platinum completion.

It’s a good map and it definitely has the potential to spawn a number of other great games. How did you feel about the map in Spider-Man? Would you like to see other games produced on it and how much would you be willing to pay for them?

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Spider-Man (PS4) Platinum Review – 8.4/10

I think this might be the first game I ever reviewed after I had already achieved the platinum trophy. Not the first game where I’ve finished the campaign, but specifically getting the full completion. Certainly the first open world game. For the record, I got the game day one and had acquired the platinum less than two weeks after it released. It just took me an extra week to get the review prepared. That’s short for any platinum. Much less an open world game. But length is not the only important factor when it comes to judging a game so while this is an important detail to consider, there’s a heck of a lot more to say about Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games.

I was not actually planning on pre-ordering Spider-Man. I literally made the purchase just two days before it released and the only reason I did was because I happened to roll into some extra money that day and I wanted the collector’s pin for preordering the digital deluxe edition. Otherwise I would have absolutely waited for a price drop. And after having gotten the platinum, I would still recommend waiting for a price drop. Mostly because of how short it is. That being said, it was quite the entertaining experience, short or not.

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Spider-Man is a beautiful game. Not Naughty Dog beautiful, but for a comic book game, it looks very good. What I really liked about it was the character renders. I could see the real actors in the characters and because I recognized a number of them, that impressed me. At the same time, the filler NPCs are kind of low quality. They aren’t generic, which is nice. They do look, dress, and sound different. You can even interact with them on a minor level as individuals. Because it is a comic book game, it looks like what a game based on a comic book should look like rather than actually looking like a comic book or trying too hard to look like real life. It hits that visual balance almost perfectly. The world looks great as well. I’m not from New York, but I have been there and I was very impressed with all the landmarks the game has. I have heard a number of New Yorkers complain that things are missing or flat out removed from the map. But I guess that’s to be expected. What’s really cool is that they’ve also layered in a bunch of Marvel Easter Egg locations. This includes places like the Embassy of Wakanda, the Sanctum Solarium, and the Murdock & Nelson Attorneys at Law Office. If I have to explain to you what any of those are then you’re not a Marvel Fan and it will be lost on you anyway. It is a very nice map, but it’s also very small. The whole thing is made up of only nine Infamous: Second Son style districts, none of which are particularly big.

This is a very fast paced game. Think Arkham City on steroids. You’re moving quickly with just about everything you do. Fighting is fast paced and often includes 15 or more enemies on the screen at one time. Swinging, probably one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game, is extremely fast, free roaming, and variable. By all rights it should be a blur, but no such issues occur. The game truly handles like a dream. Even playing on an original PS4, I experienced no lag or other graphics related performance issues. The loading is a little slow, but not ridiculously so. The menus look really nice as well. They’re very simple. Not overly stylized or extremely detailed. But they present everything you need in a clean and clear manner that’s very accessible at a glance.

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The Spidey suits are without a doubt the most impressive visual aspect of the game. The level of detail is unreal for some of the 28 costumes available. The tips of the fingers. The fabric threads. The metal plating. It’s immaculate. The costumes look so good you can almost feel the fabric on some of them. But there are also a number of little things that really bring this game to life. Pedestrians in the streets. Planes flying over the city. The sunlight beaming on the water at dusk. Overall it’s a beautiful looking game.

The sound is expertly done in Spider-Man. It’s cartoony but practical. You hear the whooshes of his webs firing. You hear every punch and kick landed. The only thing that would have made it better was if little comic book style onomatopoeia appeared during fights. The voice acting is quite good. Each character was distinct. Many were played by actors you’re familiar with which really helped bring the audio visual experience to life. The music was good, albeit a bit repetitive, as is the case in most open world games. All in all, I was very happy with how the sound was handled in this game.

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The gameplay excels in a number of places but falls way short in others. The swinging is phenomenal. The best I’ve seen in any Spider-Man game, though I haven’t played them all. What’s good about it, albeit annoying at times, is that Insomniac Games really tried to create a realistic swinging experience. You have to take into account things like distance. You can’t just swing wherever you want. If you’re above the buildings, you have to wait till you fall beneath them so you have something to web to. You can swing upward but your speed will decrease due to drag and loss of momentum. Swinging and traversal is truly an art form. But at the same time they added a number of fail safes to make the experience more manageable for amateurs.   You can move in and out of swinging to parkour and wall running instantly. Spider-Man will automatically pass through, under, or between things like fire escapes and water towers when you swing into such confined spaces. It was made to be fun, not unruly. At the same time, this game sadly has terrible wall crawling mechanics. Wall running outside is great. It’s smooth and easy to control. But climbing around the inside of a room is just trash in this game. Simple maneuvers like crawling from wall to wall or wall to ceiling are so difficult. Spider-Man will do everything in his power to avoid changing between adjacent services. It’s easier just to jump off a wall and climb up the other one than to crawl between them. This was really depressing for me because what’s Spider-Man without wall crawling?

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Fighting is real smooth. The pacing is fast but manageable. You have an arsenal of eight gadgets to choose from by the end of the game and they all do something quite different. What I also really liked was that when you run out of stock of a specific gadget the game will automatically revert back to basic web shooting. This is very crucial for a smooth gameplay experience. Chaining combos is really smooth and easy to do in this game, and that’s what makes it so fun. Combining gadgets in different ways makes it an experience all your own. One thing I really appreciated was that the game never stops moving. If you’re in the middle of a fight and you go to change gadgets, a gadget wheel pops up in true Insomniac Games style. But you can still get hit while it’s up. Time slows down while the wheel is up to give you time to think, but you can’t just stand there indefinitely. This balance between Dark Souls where you have no time and Ratchet & Clank where you have unlimited time worked really well for a Spider-Man game and felt very appropriate. But aiming certain gadgets and special techniques can be a real pain. You have auto aim but it mostly focuses on the nearest enemy in sight. Sometimes that’s not who you want to hit. In general though, the game plays and controls very smoothly.

Probably the worst aspect of the gameplay is its repetitive nature. The gameplay is really solid, but so much of the game is just busy work to level up your stats and gear. The game’s development system is dually based on XP and tokens. XP is gained through basically everything. Fighting, hitting milestones like distance running on walls, completing objectives, and locating special items. You can hit a maximum level of 50 and then continue to level up in a prestige way where you remain at level 50 but your stats continue to go up every time you earn a certain amount of points. Leveling is automatic as far as stats are concerned but you do have to spend skill points to learn new skills and techniques. Some skills are extremely useful and will become the cornerstone of your gameplay style. Others you’ll mostly ignore. By the time you hit max level, you can learn all the skills and still have five points to spare. The other means of development comes from tokens. There are six types you can earn. Tokens try to be more variable than XP but in the long run they just seem more repetitive. Crime tokens are a good example of this.

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In each of the nine districts on the map, random crimes can happen at any time that you’re not in a mission/challenge. Dealing with crimes is optional and successfully stopping them nets you one to three crimes tokens. These tokens, when used in combination with other types, can be used to unlock suits and develop/unlock gadgets. Each district has you stop 20 crimes to get 100% completion. There are only a few types of crimes committed by four separate groups of criminals. You have to stop five of each. Almost all the crimes are the same. You fight a group of enemies without dying and you get your tokens. Occasionally you have to take out some snipers, locate a missing person, or stop runaway vehicles, but mostly it’s just win a fight. That’s nearly 180 random fights to deal with for a full completion. Plus chasing them down when they randomly appear on the map. It gets old. All the types of tokens work similarly. You do the same things over and over in order to unlock gear. There are little bonus objectives in each of these token missions/challenges, most of which you ultimately need to complete to get enough tokens to unlock everything, but after a while it all becomes a grind. It’s artificial additional playtime and many of the challenges aren’t even fun. Especially the challenge token missions. Some of them are just terrible and you’ll replay them over and over to try to get the gold completion for the additional tokens.

The story missions are great. I’d say 90% of the main campaign missions are absolute gold. Sometimes you have to play as people other than Spider-Man or Peter Parker and that can be boring and annoying at times, but all the story Spider-Man stuff was great. The boss fights. The stealth missions. The chase scenes. I was happy with all of it. Even the photography missions were pretty fun once I got used to them. The side missions are pretty good too. Really if the game wasn’t padded so much and was priced around Insomniac Games usual stuff, it would be a shorter but ultimately stronger game overall. The gameplay is great for the most part at a mechanical level, but the full completion gets old. The fact that you can hit level 50 (max level) well before the end of the game without mindlessly grinding says a lot about how much padding is in such a small map.

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This was one the best written comic book games I ever played. The writing is the way a comic book game should be. The villains are justified while also being over the top. There are multiple villains that show up over the course of the story and they all make sense. They aren’t just popping up to give you something to do. The story weaves them all together very well. The way they wrote Otto Octavius was just amazing. If you know the characters you know he’s going to become a problem later on, but the way they developed him over the course of the game was MCU quality writing. I was so impressed by the campaign narrative in this game. But it’s not just the plot that’s well written. This is a Spider-Man game. That means dialog is everything and the dialog is strong. The quips are funny and cheesy. JJ Jameson is a radio host who randomly appears on your feed while swinging around the city and he’s hilarious. Modernizing him away from newspapers and into podcasting was the right touch.

What’s really important to note is that this game isn’t just about Spider-Man. It’s also about Peter Parker, Miles Morals, and Mary Jane Watson. All of them play major roles in the plot of the game and act as playable characters at some point in the narrative. It’s not just a story about heroes and villains. It’s a story about people. And even some of the villains get some real character development, which is a good thing. The relationships and interactions the characters have with each other, including the villains, is what really makes this a great comic book experience. Probably the best game Insomniac Games ever wrote.

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Defining the replay value is a bit tough with this one. Especially having gotten the platinum in a single playthrough that took only 30-ish hours, which as I’ve said is short for an open world game in my opinion. The truth is that if you get 100% completion there are still some things you can do, like try to get golds in all the Task Master challenges and finish all the base challenge objectives, but you don’t gain anything from doing it. You do continue to get stronger by collecting XP even after you hit max level, but you don’t really need it by that point. Now of course the difficulty you play on will also play a factor here. The game has no difficulty based trophies and lets you change the difficulty level mid-game whenever you want. I played through the whole game on the hardest difficulty so there’s no reason for me to play it again. But if you didn’t play it on hard, maybe you’d want to do that in a second playthrough. But honestly, having unlocked and completed everything, I don’t really have any interest in playing through the game again. It was a great one and done experience with nothing left that I feel the need to do. Especially since I unlocked all the costumes and gadgets already. There will be a New Game Plus mode added soon, but I really don’t see any reason to play it after having gotten the platinum. DLC is on the way, so there’s that, but that doesn’t factor into replay value and probably won’t add enough content to justify the $80 price tag for the deluxe edition.

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On the other hand, this game has without a doubt the best, most addictive photo mode I’ve ever seen. It’s an amazing experience. It’s not perfect. There are definitely limitations with it that shouldn’t be there. But it’s genuinely one of the most entertaining parts of the game. You have so many filters, frames, and stickers at your disposal. You can take pictures anywhere, including cutscenes. And they can be manipulated in so many ways. I almost took the time to make my own comic book with screenshots created in the photo mode. And you really could. I took literally more than 3,000 pictures over the course of the game. Which I’m still not finished sorting as I write this, by the way. That does add quite a bit of value and length to the overall experience. Especially when you consider the 28 costumes you can take pictures in.

Overall I’m very happy with how Spider-Man turned out. Insomniac Games did a great job. It’s not a flawless game and I think it was a bit overhyped with all the 9’s it received, but it’s definitely one of the top games I’ve played in 2018. I would absolutely recommend playing this game but I will also say you can stand to wait for a price drop.

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