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Marvel’s Spider-Man Is Not Just A Batman Arkham Clone (First Impressions)
Insomniac Games is known for making PS-exclusive games- namely the Spyro, Ratchet & Clank and the Resistance series- but they have made some detours in recent years, partnering up with EA, Microsoft and Oculus for original new IPs. Now they are back with another PS4 exclusive and their first licensed game, Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Insomniac believes that they and Spider-Man shares the same DNA, and they are excited to be able to make an original take of the wisecracking superhero, working in tandem with both Marvel and Sony.
We were invited to a preview event courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment Hong Kong Limited Singapore Branch (or as we like to refer to as PlayStation Asia) to get our hands on a build of the game, playing the early segments of the game. We were not sold on the game after seeing gameplay videos, but playing it changed our minds.
It’s not just a Batman Arkham clone. Here’s why.
With Powers Comes Great Responsibility (On Getting The Swinging Right)
After a short tone-setting intro, the game starts swinging, literally. Immediately the game introduces you to the most important mechanic: the swinging.
Insomniac Games’ Community Director James Stevenson was present at the preview event. When asked about how Insomniac derived the swinging mechanics- a question the team has of course answered many times before this- he strongly stated the team knew what fans were expecting.
“There are obviously a lot of rose-coloured glasses for Spider-Man 2. People loved that game,” he said.
When developing the swing mechanics, it was all done from scratch while taking notes from past games like Spider-Man 2.
“There’s some things we knew early on,” Stevenson said. “Webs must attach to buildings. There must be a fulcrum for the swing. It has to be physics-based but doesn’t need to be slaved to physics either though.
“Player control is very important. The camera is very important. So there’s a lot of experimentation with the camera, to develop the whole mechanic. Parkour, wall-running, point-zipping. How all that plays into it. It took a lot of iteration time.”
The web swinging is at the core of Marvel’s Spider-Man. Even up to the preview event the team were still getting it right, taking feedback from players who managed to play it at places such as E3 to iron out edge cases.
“Basically we started heavily on [the web swinging] early on. That’s one of the most important point to prove,” Stevenson added. “We kept working on it, we still keep on working on it.”
Marvel’s Spider-Man has gone gold at the time of writing.
Come Out Swinging
You press or hold R2 to start swinging and immediately it feels great. You can pick the right time to let go and swing, carrying more speed if done correctly by pressing R2 at the right time.
Or if you’re not in the mood, holding R2 will have Spider-Man automatically shoot new webs towards the direction you push as he reaches the top of his swings. Not the fastest way of doing things but it gets the job done.
Hold R2 doubles as your fast movement, something reminiscent of Shadow Of Mordor/Assassin’s Creed where you sprint and automatically do parkour. You can also run on walls ala Prototype/Saint’s Row IV as well.
As you turn during a swing, so do the camera which helps sell how graceful yet acrobatic Spider-Man is, accompanied with an orchestra soaring louder as you keep on traversing New York City. Only when you set your foot down will the music gradually fade.
On the ground, you can just walk by just fine as a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, with pedestrians reacting to your presence. Manhattan may not be a 1:1 scale- the game took creative liberties to ensure it’s fun to traverse around- but boy is it big and fully fleshed out. The streets feel alive and bustling. Heck, even the traffic can get gridlock as you would expect from the city. While you can surf a car, they are usually crawling in traffic. It’s faster to swing.
But what happens when you don’t find a tall building to swing by? If it’s just a wee bit out of reach you can press X to dash a bit to the front, shooting webs and pulling you just close enough for another swing. Or you can just point-zip (L2+ R2) to predetermined ledges (the small circles you see coming in and out from gameplay videos) to stop and perch there, keep moving forward with more momentum going by pressing X at the right time when you reach it to fling ahead and continue. There’s no fall damage and you can manually swan dive (L3) to a free fall, gaining speed which is useful to get some more momentum on your swings.
I never touched any of the Spider-Man games before so I can’t tell if it’s as good or better than Spider-Man 2. But rest assured, without us having any rose-tinted glasses, it still feels amazing in the hands. All the aerial movements feel great to execute once you get the hang of the controls. So fun we kept getting sidetracked from the critical path.
There’s plenty of stuff to do in NYC. There are side missions to do, like helping out citizens from a car accident. Collectibles and radio towers that uncover a region are present but when getting there is half the fun, it doesn’t feel like a chore, it’s just an excuse to keep on swinging.
Spider-Man: Arkham? No, Not At All
But what about the combat? On first glance of gameplay videos it looks like the tried-and-tested (though old-and-boring by today’s standards) Batman Arkham games. But the devils in the details.
“Batman is a bruiser,” Stevenson said when asked about people comparing Marvel’s Spider-Man combat to Batman Arkham games. “Spider-Man is acrobatic, he’s flipping around, dodging and using the webs.. it’s surface level [the comparison]. If you sat them down side-by-side, I don’t think there are.”
“Pick up the controller and play. Then you’ll see it’s not like it.”
For one, you don’t have a counter button. Square is your bread-and-butter melee strikes. Instead of a counter, triangle has Spidey shoots a web to stop an enemy, a risky but stronger move. You’re not staying still and waiting for counters here. The early missions already have enemies with guns that forces you to dodge and move around constantly.
You will know when an enemy is about to attack thanks to the markers on the Spidey’s head- explained as Spider Sense. No, not on the enemies, but on Spider-Man. Before enemies fire a gun, there will be a line from Spidey to the enemy signalling that it is about to attack.
Environmental attacks are available in most combat sequences, from pulling down a scaffolding to grabbing and heaving a sewer manhole with just the spider webs.
Also, you have access to gadgets. You start with the good old web shots that can stun enemy and if focus-fired enough, will have the target tangle in a web cocoon for a few seconds. Though later gadgets have properties that’s basically behave like Ratchet And Clank weapons, accessible with the weapon wheel (L1). There are gadgets that behave like the Agents Of Doom and the Tesla Claw.
Also, there’s a focus meter, build by racking up combos. You can pull a finisher ala Arkham when the bar is full but you can also cash out early to heal yourself by pressing down on the D-Pad.
Combat will take time to master, especially to mix your use of all the arsenal Spidey has. On the hardest difficulty, you are severely punished by one wrong move, so be wary.
Essentially, you are always encourage to keep the fight going, even if you are just dodging a lot until you find an opening. Spidey is tricky, thrives in improvisation and always on the move.
Peter Parker The Science Guy
The game’s not all about Spider-Man however. There will be segments where you play as regular-old Peter Parker. In this universe, Peter isn’t a journalist but a scientist. And you get to do some comparatively mundane work and uncover some lore. There are pipe puzzles like you see in Bioshock but not exactly that- you’re in no rush completing them.
These sections help keep Marvel’s Spider-Man’s pacing a bit more balanced. After enjoying long bits of traversing the city and taking out goons, it’s good to have your feet on the ground and be immersed back to the story.
Just like what Ultimate Spider-Man did, in this original universe, the story features familiar names in some slightly different roles. Stevenson mentioned that this will be a tale of mentorship and companionship as its main core themes.
The latter can be seen in the SDCC story trailer where Spidey is working together with Mary Jane Watson and Miles Morales. The world of Peter Parker and Spider-Man will be intertwining throughout the story.
Intriguingly, we do see some groundwork being laid should Marvel wish to develop their own Gaming Universe. But that’s speculation on out part.
From we played of Marvel’s Spider-Man, it definitely feels like a perfect match of IP and developer.
While it does not look and play anything like Insomniac’s long list of creations at first glance, the traces of this DNA can be felt. The fun traversal mechanics that they nailed hard. An interesting twist to Arkham-style combat. The jovial, pun-filled, self-aware wise-cracking humour from Spider-Man. The well realised open world.
And most importantly, it’s no Batman Arkham clone. But hopefully it’ll achieve a similar level of success.
“Ultimately, if at the end of the day people think we did for Spider-Man what Arkham did for Batman, then that would be a success point to us,” said Stevenson.
Marvel’s Spider-Man will swinging by the store shelves both physical and digital on September 7th, exclusively for the PS4.
Preview access provided by Playstation Asia