When I sat down to start writing this post, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. A few sentences in and it sounded like I was giving a history lesson on the Spider-Man franchise. That’s not what I want to do but it tends to happen with an article like this because there is just so much history-at a personal level and online-that one could use in this type of article. My goal is not to give you a history lesson. I’m guessing that you came here because you already know the history of Spider-Man. From the insane amount of comics available, to the toys;the posters;the movies;the shows; the games and anything else you could really shake a web at.
The reason I’m writing this is because it is the first time in a long while since I have been truly hyped about a game coming out. I’ve enjoyed plenty of games which had hype, Assassins Creed: Origins, Batman: Arkham Knight , for example but there is nothing that could quite pull on my inner child’s heart-strings quite like Spider-Man does. I will say that it is important to note that not every Spider-Man game that I’ve played has hit that note.
The first actual decent Spider-Man game I remember playing was “Spider-Man” which came out for the original Playstation in 2000. It was developed by Neversoft Studios and published by Activision. It was the first game that made me feel like I was Spider-Man and I really cared about the adventure. I was like 12 alright? You could web swing from rooftop to rooftop, albeit in controlled levels and the webs did not attach to buildings. They just kind of stuck in the sky. Combat consisted of a very basic kick, punch combo which is completely lackluster by today’s standards. At the time, I loved it! You could also web-yank enemies, shoot impact webbing, tie them up, create web fists, protect yourself with a shield of webbing and, of course, stick to walls. It was everything that one could ever want from a Spider-Man game, at that point in time.
The voice acting was pretty solid for the most part, although I will admit there were times it was a little over the top. I don’t know if anyone else is like this, but I have to connect to the voice on some level-be it emotional or quite simply at a psychological level -when it comes to a character wearing a mask. I grew up on the ‘90s animated show so I had already gotten pretty attached to Christoper Daniel Barnes who voiced Peter Parker and Spider-Man respectively. I’m not sure why, but I really like his voice. With that being said, I found myself warming up to the voice of Rino Romano who portrayed Peter and Spider-Man in the Spider-Man Unlimited TV show. He also voiced Spider-Man on the Playstation games.
I said earlier that I wasn’t going to give you a history lesson… oh well! Roll on with the punches I guess..
Nothing really changed by the time the sequel was released. Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro released the very next year (2001). This was developed by Vicarious Visions and published by Activision as well. It did not bring about anything new mechanically, besides a targeting system, which did make a few levels more interesting. The graphics were better. In fact, I remember being really, really impressed by the somewhat less jaggy looking polygons, lol. The move set was essentially the same and I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy this game, I realize now that that’s how it may have sounded when I read this paragraph out loud, but truthfully I preferred the sequel. Battling Electro on top of the World Trade Center, lightning in the sky and a dramatic thunderstorm; throw in battle damage spidey and you’re golden. The story itself felt more grounded which is a weird thing to say considering you’re battling a deranged, electrically powered individual who runs around in a green and yellow costume. But I guess, running around in blue and red spandex is no different so who am I to judge?
With the success of Saim Raimi’s Spider-Man paving the way for future superhero movies, it came to a point where we needed a new and improved Spider-Man game to tie in with the release.
Spider-Man released in 2002 and was distributed over a variety of platforms including GameCube, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Game Boy Advance and was developed by Treyarch and published by Activision. Treyarch revamped the formula that made the first two games on Playstation so successful and incorporated it onto the Playstation 2.
You had different combo’s you could master, a new story tied loosely into the film’s universe, web-swinging was still level based , web-lines still didn’t stick to buildings and you were still swinging around above the roof tops. For the first time, you could have aerial battles. I remember those segments being super difficult because the control of Spider-Man in the air felt a little clumsy. The plot was derivative and Toby’s voice acting was pathetic but the graphics were pretty impressive too for a ps2 game so there’s that.
The game was enjoyable enough though. With the hype that the movie received, the game became a success. In the same breath, it’s very easy to make fun of this game when looking back on it now owing to my opinion that it’s vision was somewhat limited in scope. However, if it weren’t for that game we would never have gotten the golden-goose of web-slinging; Spider-Man 2.
In 2004, Sam Raim’s Spider-Man 2 received critical acclaim for its well-rounded characters. For example, a villain one could relate to and empathize with, not to mention the humanity of Spider-Man. Exploring some pretty deep themes regarding one’s sense of duty, responsibility, happiness and overall sanity over being a superhero.
Encompassing one of the most popular panels in comic book history, Peter gives up being Spider-Man. We see him discarding his suit in a trash can, his back facing the audience\reader, walking out into the night, through a dark alley, only the face of Spider-Man remains slowly glowing less brightly as the screen fades to black.
The movie was a commercial success and arguably one of the greatest superhero movies of all time, pre-MCU and DCEU. As for gamers, no one really expected much from the Spider-Man 2 game. We had already grown pretty accustomed to average or pathetic movie-videogame tie-ins. In this instance, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Spider-Man 2 was released in 2004 on various platforms. Developed by Treyarch and published by Activision, the game was an instant success. In addition to this, it gained a cult following of hardcore Spider-Man fans including myself and why? It’s all in the web-swinging. Was it perfect? No, of course not but it did offer players control of what it would be like to web-swing. We as gamers- and most importantly comic book nerds- have at one point or another imagined web-swinging through New York City as Spider-Man, gliding around Gotham City as Batman or flying through the clouds as Superman above Metropolis. So when a game comes along and scratches that itch, you better believe we’ll notice it, defend it and use it as a benchmark for games going forward. The web-swinging is important for a number of reasons, some mechanically, some strategically and psychologically.
Mechanically, it just makes sense and after Spider-Man 2, I don’t know how we ever used to play Spider-Man games prior to this. Web-lines need to attach to buildings and depending on your angle, speed, and whether there are any buildings nearby for your web-line to attach to you could find yourself pulling off some insane web-swinging traversal, striking some sweet Spider-Man poses by rapidly pressing the X button while flying through the city in between shooting web-lines.
The city itself was a big enough playground. Size is incredibly important especially when using a character like Spider-Man-that swings around the city at an exponential rate. This gave us a sense of freedom and complete control. The keyword here is CONTROL. The player is always in control of his or her momentum, and trajectory. This is why the web-swinging is so important and why it can easily make or break any game that is attempting to implement it. That complete control over the character during traversal such as web-swinging allows us to be completely sucked into this world. For people like me, who suffer from anxiety or just need to chill out, starting up Spider-Man 2 after a bad day at work and going for web-swing through Manhattan was almost zen like. I could just relax and swing around for a bit. Interestingly, it was only one man named Jamie Fristom on the team who decided to implement the mechanic. According to legend he had wanted to include this mechanic as early as the first Spider-Man game on the original Playstation.
Quite honestly, the Spider-Man 2 game itself is simply ok. The story is somewhat mediocre. The voice acting is better than the first but definitely not great. The boss battles are fun and one in particular was pretty amusing. The combat system is actually pretty cool with being able to combo your moves into different types of attacks. Once fully upgraded, I would slow down time and knee a thug into the air. Following up with a bunch of kicks to the face from the air to send them right back down again. There were random crimes in the city that needed to be stopped, pizzas to be delivered -yes pizzas to be delivered- and balloons to retrieve for an idiot kid who kept losing them because apparently it takes a lot of muscle strength to hold one of those things.
“I lost my balloon!” and “Thank you Mr. Spidey-Man!” Hang onto the damn balloon kid! That was some serious grating dialogue after a couple of hours.
The one thing that got this game such great reviews was simply because of the web-swinging. Ever since Spider-Man 2 graced our gaming devices a variety of other Spider-Man games have come and gone through the years and in my opinion the slow degradation of the web-swinging mechanic. This is where we as Spider-Man fans and nerds get divisive.
In 2005, Ultimate Spider-Man was released. Developed by Treyarch and published by Activision. They reworked some of the formulaic aspects. Ultimate Spider-Man didn’t tie into the movie universe. It was based on Brian Michael Bendis’s hugely successful Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series that was published by Marvel Comics from the year 2000 to 2009. This comic book was a modern retelling of Spider-Man for a new generation of readers. It was a brilliantly executed series. The characters were well written, it was easy to follow and the drama was top-notch. The game itself wasn’t terrible, but it was no Spider-Man 2, in my opinion. That’s the part that is divisive. There are plenty of other gamers or nerds that prefer the web-swinging in this iteration of Spider-Man.
Personally, I felt the web-swinging had been dumbed down slightly. Sure, there were new things you could do, for example, climbing up the web-line that you had just shot. You could still increase your speed at the bottom of a swing by letting go of your web-line at the right angle and then shooting a new one. Web-lines didn’t feel like they were connecting to buildings. You heard the sound of it but it never felt that way. The basics were there but that was it. I never felt like this great super hero where skill was required to get around, you just got where you needed to go. At times, it didn’t even feel like you needed to web-swing. In addition to this, the lack of Spider-Man poses while web-swinging really bothered me. It was kind of dull to look at.
The city itself also felt small and rather unimpressive. I got bored with web-swinging very quickly and it just didn’t have the same appeal as Spider-Man 2. This was probably owing to the seemingly small playground that Treyarch and Activision gave us. The buildings were void of details and even though I know it was in the form of the Ultimate Spider-Man artwork, something about the skyscrapers seemed rather insipid. Some people prefer this version. I respect that opinion, but I don’t understand it.
Between 2005 and 2007, Spider-Man appeared in various titles but none that were specifically designed for web-swinging the way that I’m talking about it. For the purpose of this article, I will only be discussing the games that tried to incorporate this mechanic.
In 2007, the Spider-Man 3 game dropped in an effort to tie in with the third installment of Sam Rami’s Spider-Man series. It was also developed by Treyarch and published by Activision. While the movie may have garnished its fair share of criticism, we were hopeful that the game would be much better, considering the huge success that was Spider-Man 2.
The game itself wasn’t bad. It was adequate in fact, but it seemed to be missing something special. There were few frame rate problems and some screen tearing. It wasn’t a terribly developed game on console. It has a bad reputation though, however, it did not live up to its predecessor.
Then 2008 rolled around, and Treyarch and Activision took yet another approach on our favorite hero. Released on 21 October 2008, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows was a little more ambitious with its story telling, focusing on a much more original narrative. The map and world itself was big enough for web-swinging, however, there were critical issues. Again, people are divided on this one. The web-swing mechanic definitely felt like more of an improvement over Spider-Man 3, but had a rather troublesome camera control, latency with input and screen tearing spoiled what could have been an adequate filler for the franchise during this time. There are those that swear by the web-swinging mechanic in this game, and I agree that compared to Ultimate Spider-Man, the former would take the cake. I’m still convinced though that the web-lines are not connecting to buildings in this one. It always seems like you are shooting web-lines behind you. The game was impressive in a few other areas and while swinging was close to the mechanic of legend, it was no Spider-Man 2.
Between 2008 and 2011 Spider-Man went through a few games. Most notably during this time was the somewhat praised Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions that was developed by Beenox and published by Activision in 2010.
The game centered around four different versions of Spider-Man that were playable. Christoper Daniel Barnes, my all time favorite, took up the role of Spider-Man Noir while Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser, M.D. and How I Met Your Mother fame voiced The Amazing Spider-Man. Neil Patrick Harris also voiced the titular hero in Spider-man: The New Animated Series which ran for one season in 2003. Josh Keaton voiced Ultimate Spider-Man and Dan Gilvezan voiced Spider-Man 2099 or Miguel O’Hara, Spider-Man 2099’s real identity.
The game was level based though and so no real web-swinging was to be found. I should point out though that this game was onto something in a different area. Playing as Spider-Man Noir was a fantastic change of pace-having to use stealth to take out your enemies. It also had a black and white era from the 30’s. It looked gritty as hell, which is always a nice change of pace with this otherwise colorful character.
In 2011 the sequel Spider-man: Edge of Time was released from the same developer and publisher.
I quite enjoyed the narrative of this game. Actually, I really enjoyed the narrative. It was different but sadly, everything was still level based so no real web-swinging was to be had and the segments that did incorporate “web-swinging” felt incredibly slow. You could only play as The Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 in which their two timelines were linked. It’s a whole other thing. Point being, no web-swinging.
In 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man hit shelves. This game wasn’t too bad. The gameplay was adequate but the web-swinging was nowhere near the standards that I was expecting. It was as if we had taken a few steps back. Web-lines would connect to the sky when traversing and you really had limited control of the swinging. You never had to worry about falling to your death because Spider-Man would save himself every time, thus, taking control from the player. It was a very bare mechanic that was implemented. The combat did, however, receive quite a substantial upgrade. By this point Rocksteady’s successful Batman: Arkham games had already been out a good couple of years and set a new bar for combat in super hero games. Beenox did try to get the combat to that level so I will give points there but it just wasn’t as smooth or enticing. You could counter, dodge and attack multiple enemies but something felt off. The graphics were top-notch and introducing damage to Spider-Man’s suit as the games progresses was definitely a nice touch.
Nearly the exact same mechanics had been implemented only Beenox managed to make the game worse. The story was loosely tied into the film. The game, however, was really terrible. There really isn’t much more to say about this game.
Web-swinging was still bare-boned and Spider-Man’s extra exaggerated animations when talking to people really put me off. If you check the video at 5:20 seconds you will see what I mean.
It seemed like no one could match that special something that Spider-Man 2 had so easily achieved and to be quite frank, it seemed that Beenox didn’t even try this time round.
Right, here is where I can somewhat get on the road to the point of this article.
At, E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) 2016 at Sony’s conference Insomniac swaggers on to the stage throwing their mighty whatever around like, “yeah, here we are! We made all those games you like!” They start name dropping like anything with their big gruff voices and douche haircuts, “We made Spyro, Ratchet and Clank, that one time we did a first person shooter thing called Resistance and Sunset Overdrive You all loved it and now we’re making Spider-Man OK!” with their Boston accents. Then they stroll off stage.
OK, that’s not what happened and I have no idea how I got the Boston accent in there. It just came out when I made a voice. Insomniac are actually really nice people and are clearly passionate about Spider-Man. They interact well with the community so I have tremendous respect for them.
What actually happened surprised the hell out of me. I never even knew that a new Spider-Man game was being developed. The trailer was the last to be shown at the conference if I remember correctly and I was left completely gobsmacked.
It looked beautiful, the city, the action, the suit, the drama. All of it. I was swallowed by the hype in the beginning but then the gears in my head slowly started to turn. Everyone had hyped the hell out of this one trailer and that was with hardly any help from Insomniac themselves.
I only remembered then that they made Spyro, Ratchet and Clank, Resistance and Sunset Overdrive. Yes, I’m a terrible gamer. I really enjoyed Resistance but I’m one of those very few gamers that didn’t actually find any interest in the first two games on the developers resume. In fact, when I tried to play Spyro last year I found the humor and the voice of Spyro to be incredibly annoying. Granted, Spyro came out during the Playstation 1 days so leway must be given. I then went out and got Ratchet and Clank on the PS4, primarily due to Colin Moriarty from Kinda Funny suggesting people play it because it was laugh-out-loud funny. I got maybe two hours in and yes, the game-play is simply adequate, it looks fantastic but the story and humor I just did not get into. I found it to be somewhat childish and I don’t like to share that opinion often because… it’s the internet! There it is. I’ve never even played Sunset Overdrive even though I know it’s critically acclaimed. I would look for it now to see what the big hoobla is, but I don’t own an Xbox. I digress.
I may not have played many of Insomniac’s games, but I know Spider-Man and I know what I want from a Spider-Man game.
At E3 2017 Insomniac released a full gameplay demo of the new Spider-Man game. I cannot describe the level of excitement I felt during that demo. I loved all of it. The dialogue, the combat, the stealth, the environmental take downs, the gadgets, the graphics, the seamless transition from gameplay to cut scene and then of course, the web-swinging segment of the demo.
I mean, really!? It looked absolutely amazing. The animations during web-swinging and the transitions from web-swinging to web-zipping then wall-running and back to web-swinging. The way the city was portrayed so realistically. The debris that was caused by the helicopter crashing slightly into one of the buildings, and Spider-Man’s web-lines were connecting to the buildings! It also seemed like you had full control. There was a bit of controversy regarding this video as it was QTE heavy during a bigger set piece towards the end of the video but personally I didn’t think it was a problem, considering the scene that was taking place. It was all visually impressive. I’m pretty confident in saying that Insomniac gave every dork and Spider-Man fan out there, including myself one major nerdgasm.
For the next year, Youtubers would analyze the web-swinging from the video and start comparing it to other games from the past. Most notably Evan Filarca and Superhero Video Games with cbake76 made some interesting observations about the traversal which lead to me becoming more confident in Insomniac’s ability to implement this mechanic successfully. They have made a number of videos explaining this Spider-Man version, gameplay, potential easter eggs and of course the web-swinging so I suggest you check it out if you’d like to tumble-down this rabbit hole a little further.
It was said in some interview or tweet that the creative director, Brian Intihar was a fan of the web-swinging from Spider-Man 2 and wanted to incorporate that into their game which gave me even more hope but there was still a sliver of doubt. Considering the gaming industry as whole, publishers\developer will always show a vertical slice and tell gamers what we want to hear but the final product that we receive is most of the time never what they said it would be, or hyped to all hell, leaving us with a disappointing experience.
Last week, I found out that Game Informer had obtained exclusive coverage of the game and spent two days at Insomniacs studio. They also got to try a hands on demo with the game and the verdict? They alluded that it might be even better than Spider-Man 2. Bold words I say but because of their exclusive coverage we did get to see a small slice of web slinging in the open world and it does look great.
An interview with the director of the game later and I’m more sold that this will be the Spider-Man game that we have been so eagerly awaiting for the last twelve years. I was hyped before these new videos came out, now I am completely sold. With everything that I have seen of this game. This is it. This is the Arkham of Spider-Man games and after seeing the combat action maybe better than Arkham. I am so much more confident now that I would even like to get the collector’s edition and I haven’t bought a collector’s edition since Assassins Creed 3 was released.
One thing though. I am still worried about the humor because I don’t want to be annoyed by Spider-Man. Spider-Man quips- they don’t necessarily have to be funny but I really don’t want them to be cringe worthy. That might ruin it. That’s a very small thing to worry about though, and I really just want the game to be perfect. So far it seems to be meeting mine and everyone else’s expectations. My hopes are now riding higher than ever on this one and I’m fully aboard the Spider-Man PS4 hype train.
Good Luck Insomniac.
Spider-Man PS4 releases September 7, 2018
Spider-Man PS4 Analysis Videos:
Chris Baker YouTube- Superhero Video Games with cbake76
Chris Baker Twitter – @cbake76
Evan Filarca Youtube- Evan Filarca
Evan Filarca Twitter – @EvanFilarca
Game Informer – Spider-Man Hub (Exclusive Access)
Brian Intihar – Creative Director of Spider-Man PS4
Insomniac Game Studios