I want to open this by saying that the PS4 Spider-Man game is an absolute delight and, yes, you should totally get it.
So complaints that I have about the story not working for me 100% need to be seen in the context of the Batman Arkham games. The Arkham games were, I’m coming to understand, as close to perfect as mere mortals are capable of creating. So my saying “the game isn’t perfect” isn’t me saying “the game is bad”. It’s good enough that you should get it and play it and have the game dawn on you naturally without encountering the spoilers that I’m going to get into below.
Still here? Okay. Here’s my problems with the game:
This is an “in medias res” kinda game. You’re an established Spider-Man in an established city as the game takes off. You’re a former photojournalist and your former editor is a former newspaperman himself who has moved over into talk radio. You have a healthy-enough-as-these-things-go relationship with your former girlfriend. Heck, most of your enemies are already in “The Raft” (think Alcatraz for supervillains). As you collect stuff from around town, you find little pieces of evidence that you’ve already fought and beaten a number of familiar names: The Scorpion. The Sandman. Electro. Mysterio. Vulture.
But it’s still before Doctor Octopus arises. You’re Otto Octavius’s lab assistant and you work with him to help develop prosthetics. As the game progresses, you see his signature goggles on a table, his signature outfit on a hanger… and then it happens. There is a jailbreak on The Raft and Doctor Octopus reveals himself and frees five other of Spider-Man’s villains and OH MY GOSH! YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SINISTER SIX STORYLINE!
And while that’s awesome, it feels rushed.
I can’t help but compare to the beginning of Arkham Asylum. You begin the game by driving The Joker to the titular facility. Sure, you’re starting in the middle of the action. They don’t show you “becoming” The Batman. They don’t even show you beating the Joker. He’s already in custody! But the backstory it assumes you know isn’t particularly complex. You’re Batman. That’s the Joker. There’s an Asylum.
For the Spider-Man game, the backstory is a lot more complex. You and Mary Jane broke up? When did that happen? You don’t work at the Bugle? When did that happen? J Jonah Jameson is a talk radio guy? When did that happen? Your nemeses are in prison? When did that happen? Oh yeah. We’re in medias res.
I’m not saying that this stuff doesn’t work and the game isn’t good. It does and it is. I mean, how else are you going to get a speech from JJJ every 10 minutes? He’s not going to call you on the phone. So, in video game logic, it’s downright *GOOD* that JJJ doesn’t work at the Bugle anymore. But that’s a change from what everybody passingly familiar with Spider-Man knows deep down.
It’s not that I’m disappointed with the game. I’m not. I just wish I could play the first one before I played this one. The one where I work at the Bugle. The one where I’m in a relationship with Mary Jane. The one where I put Rhino, and Scorpion, and Electro, and Vulture into prison the first time. Sure, as the game progresses, I can lose my job at the Bugle and have to get a job with Otto Octavius. I can break up with Mary Jane. I can see JJJ “retire” and get into the radio biz. I can set the stage for this game and not find myself asking “when did this happen?”
As it is, it feels like they wanted to skip the first game in the trilogy and get immediately to the second game.
But, as complaints go, “I want to play more!” is probably the second best compliment you can give a game.
So… what are you playing?
(Picture is HG Wells playing a war game from Illustrated London News (25 January 1913))