Each Spider-Man comic book cover tells the reader to expect something extraordinary. The artwork amplifies these commanding words, often showing the red-and-blue wall crawler soaring through the air, shooting webs, or pummeling evildoers. Just looking at the cover is an oddly exhilarating experience – a formula Marvel has successfully used since Spider-Man was first introduced in the 1962 comic book Amazing Fantasy #15.
Spider-Man’s relevance has only grown stronger in the years that followed. He’s on the silver screen, on your TV, and in so many comic book series even the most ardent fans can’t keep them all straight. He just doesn’t have much of a pulse in video games, even after several titles from yesteryear showed us he’s a great fit for the medium.
Developer Insomniac Games hopes to change this narrative with its own interpretation of Spider-Man – one that adheres to the decades of comic-book history fans have come to expect, but also explores narrative territory they wouldn’t. The fantasy every Spider-Man fan wants harks back to those comic book covers – snapshots of Spider-Man doing amazing things transformed into fluid gameplay. Insomniac delivers that Spider-Man dream, but isn’t afraid to focus on the man under the mask. The studio also wants players to get to know Peter Parker, who deals with the issues many of us face every day: relationships, finances, and just being a decent human being.
Almost every person I talked to from Insomniac and Marvel echoed one sentiment: The best Spider-Man stories are when Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s worlds collide. Peter gets a lot of face time in this game; you’re going to see the web-swinging action slow to a crawl to focus on his life. We got our hands on Spider-Man, and were shown just how Insomniac is trying to create interesting gameplay and moments for both the hero and the man. It all begins with an unexpected ending.
Viewed from a certain lens, New York City’s skyline is a showcase of wealth and power. These billion-dollar towers lift the sinful fat cats and corrupt politicians closer to the heavens they’ll likely never occupy. They rule this city. They believe they are untouchable at this height. That was before the arrival of capes, spandex, and a 23-year-old struggling to pay his rent.
Peter Parker has the power to clean up this city. In the eight years he’s been Spider-Man, he’s tangled with these tyrants, chipping away at their empires in a seemingly endless dance of violence and destruction. Today, one of them will finally fall and bring closure.
The first seconds of the game focus on a black spider twisting and turning as it descends on a thin line of silk in front of an open window, backed by vibrant sunlight. The camera slowly pans to the right, giving us enough time to see a series of photographs, the first showing the smiling faces of Aunt May and Uncle Ben, and a second a glimpse of a youthful Peter sitting with friend Harry Osborn and ex-girlfriend Mary Jane Watson.
We then see Peter’s entire life come into focus in just a few seconds, moving from an old police scanner he uses to track crime, to a plant that appears to have died from lack of water, to a notebook with illustrations of web shooters and new gadgets, to a handful of Daily Bugle newspapers hanging precariously on the wall, each highlighting a different villain. The names and faces of Electro, Scorpion, Rhino, and Vulture are front and center.
The tight framing of this shot echoes Peter’s lifestyle. He lives in a microscopic studio apartment, made smaller by a mess of clothing and food containers. You’d be hard-pressed to find one inch of this living space that isn’t occupied.
Even in a partially awake state, Peter is quick to put on his web shooters, two high-tech devices he places on thin wristbands he nonchalantly wears about town. Before donning his costume – the iconic version from the comics with the black spider on his chest – he comically tosses two pieces of bread into the toaster and uses his webbing to snag them mid-air as they pop up, slightly browned. He scarfs down one piece, and suits up.
Before leaving his apartment, he sees another eviction notice under his door. He hesitates for a brief second, debating if he should do something about it, but then turns his gaze to the police scanner, which has come to life and is barking out chaos. In the distance he can hear the roaring of police sirens racing toward their target. The earpieces in his mask also carry the voice of Yuriko Watanabe, the police chief and friend who has a lead on Wilson Fisk.
Known in the criminal underground as Kingpin, Fisk has operated outside of the law, taking advantage of the inept bureaucracy of the city to gain considerable wealth and power. He hides high atop Fisk Tower, a massive landmark that flaunts the wealth of its owner with gaudy gold elevators, marble floors, and a giant, gold logo with heavy emphasis on the name Fisk.
After watching Spider-Man soar between redbrick high-rises and run haphazardly along the side of a metal railing, I suddenly find myself in control of him. Had the game not paused to deliver my first instruction of “Press R2 to web swing” I likely would have watched him fall to the street. The transition between the cinematic and gameplay is seamless.
As Spider-Man’s weight pulls him closer to the street crowded with taxis, moving trucks, and citizens on the sidewalks, a web rockets from his wrist and attaches to a building to his…