Insomniac’s ‘Spider-Man’ Is a Power Fantasy With a Human Story at Its Core: E3 2017 Preview
Last year, Spider-Man fans were delighted to see Insomniac Games had taken up the charge on a new web-slinging adventure for the PlayStation 4, Marvel's Spider-Man. At the time, all we got was a brief teaser hinting at the possibilities, but at this year's E3, Insomniac unveiled the first actual gameplay from its upcoming action title. We got to see Spider-Man in action like we hadn't seen before, and learned a bit more about Insomniac's vision for what's sure to be one of 2018's most spectacular games.
The demo we witnessed was virtually the same as the one shown off in the lengthy PlayStation E3 Conference earlier in the week. However, this time it was actually directed by one of Insomniac's developers in the room rather than a recorded session. If you missed it, the footage showed off Spider-Man investigating a construction site under attack from a group called the Inner Demons. Though the site was actually one of Wilson Fisk's, Spider-Man had put in him in jail prior to the events of this game, leaving a power vacuum to be filled by any number of sinister villains. Anyone familiar with the comics knows that the Inner Demons are Mr. Negative's lackeys, and he's certainly an interesting, and modern, choice for the first villain to show off in any footage for Marvel's Spider-Man.
"With this game, we have the opportunity to not only show classic villains like Kingpin, but we also have the ability to introduce people to characters they may not be familiar with," creative director Bryan Intihar explained. "Mr. Negative fits into that category."
On one side, what we liked about him and the Inner Demons is they provided Spider-Man a challenging enemy to fight from a gameplay standpoint. On the story side, we saw Mr. Negative as a way to get Peter's and Spider-Man's world colliding. Martin Li runs the FEAST shelters around the city, and Aunt May works at those shelters as a volunteer, and we can really see those two worlds colliding. When his villains have a tie to his life as Peter Parker, it just makes for great drama."
Insomniac's game promises to be just as much of a fulfillment of the Spider-Man fantasy as it does a story about Peter Parker's dual lives. Though the demo didn't have a lot of narrative, what was included certainly captured the spirit of the character. Throughout the mission, Spidey quipped about the villains he was facing, made jokes at Kingpin's expense, and had a little bit of that trademark self-doubt that's made him such an endearing character to so many.
"A lot of the things you'll see in the character are when Peter succeeds, Spider-Man fails, and when Spider-Man succeeds, Peter fails," said Intihar. "That balancing act is what life is like, where your work life is going well and your personal life is blowing up. There's stuff about this character that we can all identify with."
A great portion of the playable action in Spider-Man will focus on the agility and web-slinging abilities Spidey brings to the table. During our time with the game, we got to see some fantastic combat, including gadget-based abilities. From the outside, it looks like Insomniac took a lot of cues from Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham franchise, but that's not a bad thing. There are some key differences we picked up on though, including Spider-Man using his movement and acrobatics a lot more when stringing together moves. Additionally, his webs are a common part of the action, as he used them to slide under opponents, tie up others, and latch onto loose items like bags of cement to even the odds. Intihar wanted to make clear though, Insomniac's game is about more than just slinging webs and beating up rogues.
"For me, it's about fulfilling that power fantasy of being Spider-Man," Intihar said. "From the combat to the traversal to the set pieces, you've got to fulfill that fantasy. We all do the web-shooter hand gesture, right? The other thing we wanted to stand out was to tell a very human story, and to go beyond the mask a little bit. Peter's journey is just as important as Spider-Man's."
I know I talk about them as two separate people, but they are the same person, just two different sides. I think if we can connect with people beyond the action, we're going to have something really special. That's what we're pushing hard to do, and building it around that fantasy."
Despite having very close ties to the comic book world, Insomniac's Spider-Man is very much set in its own universe. You might have noticed Miles Morales making a brief appearance at the conclusion of the E3 footage, and he will indeed be part of this Peter Parker's journey. In this world, Peter and Miles inhabit the same space. There's no multiverse shenanigans involved. Though this is very much Peter's story, Miles will play a part in Pete's journey. Obviously Insomniac was tight-lipped about what that meant, and if there will be any other Marvel nods hidden throughout the game, but the team clearly loves this world and lore enough to explore it to the fullest they can.
You've read this far and noticed we haven't touched on that new suit yet, but we're getting there. All the hallmarks of what makes Spider-Man's suit are certainly present, from the mechanical web-shooters to the expressive eyes (which came about completely separate from the MCU). That big white spider icon and white accents are what really set this uniform apart from the comic and film versions we all know so well. It's not just for show or to make a statement; there's a purpose to it.
"There are a couple of things in this game that really went through the process of iteration, and the suit is one of them," explained Intihar. "We really want to respect the traditions of the franchise, so when you look at that suit, you know that's Spider-Man. You see the red, the blue, the mask, even the spacing between the webbing; it's an art form."
But at the same time, he has that big white spider. That's different and unique, and you know that's the Insomniac Spider-Man. It's not just for shock value, it's tied to the story. There's a particular reason why the spider is white, and I think people are going to be real surprised about how that comes to be. Everything we do, we try to tie to story. It can't just be because it looks cool."
Luckily for Insomniac, looking cool is something this Spider-Man game does with relative ease. Marvel's Spider-Man looks fantastic, has all the combat elements you could hope for, and a team that knows just how important Peter is to telling a great Spider-Man story. It might still be nearly a year away, but everything we've seen and heard from Insomniac gives us the indication the video game adventures of Spider-Man are going to be back on track in 2018.
Marvel's Spider-Man will be out exclusively on the PlayStation 4 in early 2018.
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