When it comes to Superhero games, most people will automatically refer to Rocksteady Studios’ Arkham series as the gold standard of the genre. I would unequivocally agree with them, that is, until now. Insomniac Games’ newest release Spider-Man proves that it’s not necessary to be a carbon-copy of another franchise simply because they had success with their respective formula. Here is how Insomniac Games managed to dethroned Rocksteady with Spider-Man. I’m going to be breaking things down into two categories; Traversal, and Fundamentals of the Hero.
In Rocksteady’s Batman series, you mostly got around using your Grapple-Gun to grapple to rooftops, launch into the air, and then glide around the city. The only exception to this being Batman: Arkham Knight (released 2015), where you were able to drive The Batmobile around Gotham City and eject out of it into your glide. I can’t deny that Rocksteady’s traversal works, but in my opinion it has always felt like the Arkham series was lacking in some aspects. Running, mantling over obstacles, and jumping from building to building, for example, always felt clunky. The series never really managed to nail the feeling of Batman’s true agility, or show that he is capable of hopping from rooftop to rooftop with ease when chasing down criminals. You may be able to grapple to any building and glide around at your heart’s content, but there is a disconnect between the level of fluidity present while gliding as the Caped Crusader and his on-foot traversal.
Arkham Knight managed to alleviate this slightly with the addition of The Batmobile. You could just avoid this when exploring Gotham by using the Batmobile as your main method of transportation. Seeing as how just about every boss battle in the game amounted to little more than a tank battle though, by the end of the game I was left feeling sick of Batman’s newest four-wheeled gadget. The problem is, when you beat a Superhero game you are usually left wanting to traverse through the world available to you. The Arkham series’ traversal mechanics feel limited and in my opinion won’t stand the test of time as effectively as Insomniac Games’ newest crack at the Superhero genre.
On the flip side, in Spider-Man, web-swinging, sprinting, mantling over obstacles, and leaping from building to building all feel smooth and satisfying. You never feel like anything in front of you impedes your ability to get where you need to go. While web-swinging, if you come into contact with a wall Spider-Man will transition seemlessly into a Wall-Run. If you need to, you can change direction on the fly and even hold the circle button to whip around a corner into the next swing. Similarly, if you are running up a building and are about to hit the top you can press X and Spidey will whip over the building in a pendulum motion allowing you to clear the rooftop and continue swinging. When on-foot, if you hold R2 you are able to sprint. If you sprint into an object Spidey will use parkour to flip over it. You can even hop between obstacles with ease using this feature and it makes you feel like the true acrobatic master that you’d come to expect when thinking of Spider-Man, even when on-foot.
When in between a swing you can press X to Web-Zip, keeping you in the air longer and giving you a way to boost momentum. You can also dive bomb while falling to gain speed leading into your swing by holding down the L3 button. There’s even a skill that lets you do Aerial Tricks for extra experience points while traversing. A simple addition, but somehow never gets old. Here’s looking at you, “Spider-Roll”. If you need to zip to somewhere specific, you can aim at a point and press both L2 and R2 together and Spidey will Zip to wherever you’re aiming. If you press X before you reach that point you can Point-Launch off of it, which also gives you a burst of speed while looking stylish in the process.
My point here is that Insomniac Games has provided the player with a lot more flexibility in how they can traverse in this urban playground. The end result of this makes Web-Swinging through Marvel’s New York an absolute blast, and it becomes something that is always fun to do. I quickly found myself losing track of time whenever I decided to swing around for “just five more minutes”. It is this addicting feeling that will ultimately bring you back to the game. Insomniac has raised the bar when it comes to traversal in Superhero games, much like how Rocksteady’s Arkham series did years ago.
Fundamentals of the Hero
The Arkham series has a phenomenal story arc, and has had three games to build its universe. These three games are hands down, the greatest Batman games ever made. I won’t argue that. I will however argue, that not one of those games is the “Best Superhero Game of All Time”. Here’s why.
In the Arkham games they did a phenomenal job of portraying Batman as a character, coupled with Kevin Conroy’s voice work it truly was a match made in heaven. That being said, Rocksteady only ever really focused on Batman. To me, the greatest Batman stories center around the duality between Bruce Wayne’s day to day life as a billionaire playboy philanthropist and how he spends his nights as the Caped Crusader. Yes I know, the Arkham series played with this idea in the Hush Missions in Arkham City, and concluded this story thread in Arkham Knight when Tommy Elliot impersonated Bruce Wayne and took Lucius Fox hostage at Wayne Towers. In my opinion, this was a massive missed opportunity; Bruce Wayne is such an integral part of the character’s identity and it was used only in Side Missions and subplots.
Where Rocksteady focused mainly on the Hero in the costume, Insomniac Games didn’t shy away from the man behind the mask. They demonstrated both Spider-Man’s responsibility to New York, and Peter’s struggles as he attempts to balance his relationships with family and friends all while hitting his stride in his adult life. He struggles with paying his rent, but always manages to save the day even if, in doing so, his personal life suffers. It’s this element that really shines bright and puts the human into “Superhuman”. Spider-Man feels refreshing compared to the Arkham Series, where half the core of the character was absent. With this Insomniac has done a fantastic job of breathing new life into the Superhero games genre. Their decision to focus on Peter/Spider-Man’s duality was one that paid off in the end, and this is why I’d argue that Insomniac’s version of our favourite Web-Head is a better Superhero game than any of the Arkham games. They fundamentally understood the character, and did a better job of executing those core elements than Rocksteady. If I was handing out titles, I would consider Spider-Man to be the new gold standard of the Superhero games genre.
Insomniac’s newest outing is a perfect example of what I want from a Superhero game. It made me feel like a ten year old kid again, restored my love of Spider-Man games, and above all else managed to create my absolute favourite version of Peter Parker/Spider-Man to date. When you understand what makes a character great, you can truly deliver on a Superhero experience that reminds us all why these characters hold such a special place in our hearts. The combination of absolutely addicting traversal, that is easy to pick up and play, but rewarding to master, coupled with Insomniac’s understanding of what makes Spider-Man such an interesting character, is why I believe Insomniac Games has dethroned Rocksteady’s Arkham Series with Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Check out Gamer Professionals’ review for Marvel’s Spider-Man here.