One of the more cliché phrases used in video game journalism, especially journalism involving games about super heroes, is saying that a game excels because it makes you “feel like the character”. Often, this phrase is attached to reviews of combat and super hero games. The originator of this phrase in the last few years was the fantastic Batman: Arkham video game series. This phrase is used so much that it is considered a joke, an empty statement that is obligatory with any review of super hero games.
Well, sadly enough, I find myself needing to use this cliché when speaking of Insomniac Game’s Spider-Man, released on Ps4 on September 7th, 2018. This game truly does make you feel like Spider-Man. How does this game achieve the feat of letting us slide into the skin of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man? Is it through the combat? Are we webbed up through the riveting story? Each of these components contribute to a thrilling gaming experience. However, what truly made me feel like I was in the mind of Peter Parker was feeling that there was so much to do in the game, but not enough time to do it.
In the Swing of Things
When we meet Peter Parker in this game, he is spread more thinly than usual. No longer working for the Daily Bugle, he is using his scientific mind in order to help a pre-villainous Doctor Otto Octavius make cutting-edge prosthetics. This day-to-day job always seems to clash with Peter’s double life as Spider-man. As the player, you are constantly asked to maintain a balance between being Spider-Man and being Peter Parker. Some of the larger plot points in the story happen because Pete is too tied up with his Spidey work, and so his personal life suffers. He misses appointments, dinner with Aunt May, and paying his rent. In this time-crunch I truly felt the anxiety and hectic nature that Spider-Man constantly lives in.
Swinging through the city, there are hundreds of different events to capture your attention. There are every-day crimes like muggings, kidnappings, and carjackings. Each scenario presented to players in a sort of radiant quest style, popping up on your radar every so often. Then there are the bigger story missions which link the narrative together. While swinging your way to one of these story missions, it’s not unusual to get sidetracked. You may find yourself doing your super hero thing and helping the common man. While you do this, you’re doing it with the express knowledge that you are putting off something bigger. Sure, Shocker may be robbing the bank, but these people need help right now. A store owner has a gun in his face or a woman is getting mugged. Which is more important, which do you prioritize?
This is one part of the game that I also felt like could use a little more difficulty and consequence. The game is, after completing it and thinking on it, more or less consequence-free. You aren’t penalized for missing the radiant crime events, and they will repeat until you clear them. Story missions are presented to you with urgency, but will sit there statically for hours until you actually move into place to start them, which creates a bit of ludo-narrative dissonance. The Police Chief is telling you it’s urgent to get downtown and stop the kingpin, but in reality you could take three or four hours to get to that mission and nothing will be different.
For a few shining moments, before I realized I could put off my super hero duties and gleefully swing around a fully-realized New York City, I felt the anxiety and stress that Spider-Man must feel on the daily. So many people to help, so little time. How do you do that math, to figure out what crime is more important? Do you help out the common man, or go for the bigger threats posed by super-villains with robot armor? It is in this way that Insomniac’s Spider-Man allowed me to feel fully immersed in the Spider-Man experience, and for that alone I consider it a triumph.