First, let me say I love Spider-Man, but the newest Spider-Man video game falls flat by playing it safe. It does not play its cards close to the chest, and thus presents an uninteresting, unfulfilling story. Now before you start throwing pitchforks my way, hear me out. Like me, you probably loved the web-slinging mechanics (it makes you “feel” like Spider-man), enjoyed the use of combo attacks on the villains and grinned at the many Spider-Cop quips. However, in the end, after Aunt May dies, and Peter moves in with Mary Jane, were you also like me in that you wanted more?
The Villains are Underused.
If you played Spider-Man, it’s likely you played Batman: Arkham Series.
I loved the journey, the fights with Scarecrow, Solomon Grundy, and Mr. Freeze. Batman makes good use of villains, especially when compared to this Spider-Man game because Arkham interspersed mini-bosses throughout the stories. Spider-Man does not. Each villain added a different flavor of gameplay elements, forcing you to think of different (albeit at times simple) tactics.
Unfortunately, the first and second acts of this Spider-Man suffer from a lack of a career storyline and don’t rightly include the villains. Instead, these acts feature bosses like King Pin and Shocker in what can best be described as a tutorial on the mechanics.
The mechanics of the bosses were a let-down because the patterns are too simple. In less than a minute, you will know the pattern and will easily be able to dodge the bosses; it is hardly a challenge. A simple mix of smashing the ‘dodge’ button and the ‘hit’ button with a few web attacks is all you need.
I spent most of the game fighting easy thugs. You have to wait until further in the game when the jail opens, and the inmates and Sable Soldiers arrive before the difficulty increases, but again, by this point in the game, you know all the mechanics already.
To be fair though, there were times when I did feel like Spider-Man; going around the city, beating up thugs and winning some awesome boss fights.
It Lacks a Story Line
Remember “Hero’s Journey” and how there were no great things for Peter Parker to overcome? Spider-Man 2 is very similar, in that it follows a formulaic pattern, the pattern of:
“Peter’s close friend becomes the villain.
Peter must choose between his friend, and helping others.
Peter must choose between saving Aunt May, and saving the citizens of NYC.”
We all know what Peter is going to do. There are no surprises.
The storyline of this game suffers. I had only fought two villains by the time I had completed 68% of the game! Understandably, stories and gameplay are difficult to combine. Never before in human history, have we had the ability to play a story and doing so is very, very difficult.
Usually, a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Also, usually, a story takes just a few minutes to tell a friend or maybe two hours to tell as a movie. However, in a video game, people can spend many hours on one story. So how does one tell a compelling and emotional story and keep the player engaged in the gameplay?
Insomniac Games does it through missions that despite being surprisingly engaging, lack substance. Spider-Man 2 is rated as one of the best Spider-Man games of all time, but the missions hardly have any impact on the actual story. I was left wondering if they served any point other than to extend the length of the game.
A Few Suggestions
I would love to see all the villains interspersed throughout the entire story instead of waiting to meet the majority of the villains until only after a majority of the game has been played. Instead of waiting for the villains to escape The Raft, let’s start the story with their escape! Let’s start the story with the city held in a prison-like state so that Sabel can protect the citizens.
You would get to see how each villain would terrorize the city, like Venom or Carnage, or capitalize on the situation, like Kingpin. Dr. Octavia could provide Peter with the technology to efficiently fight more villains. Alternatively, perhaps, Dr. Octavia could fight for the city he loves while simultaneously showcasing his technology and advancements to recruit more investors, leading him down onto a path of greed?
On the other hand, what if Insomniac got bold? What if Mr. Li was the main villain instead of Dr. Octavius? Instead of – no surprise again – Dr. Octavius that every Spider-Man fan knows will eventually betray Peter? Telling the same story that we all expect to hear will eventually kill the success of the Marvel Universe we all love so much. Fans will lose interest in Spider-Man if games like this follow the same path. We will be kept in a lull until we don’t care about Spidey anymore, and I pray this never happens. I think that Insomniac has a great track record overall, and they need to keep up the excellent work. Keep us guessing with your next project, and take more risks.