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- Marvel's Spider-Man
Despite an admitted lack of industry-shattering megatons, E3 2017 did manage its fair share of impressive game reveals, showcases, and even in-engine gameplay demos. While several of the show’s largest brand names ranged from showing a mere titlecard (Metroid Prime 4) to impressive but pre-rendered CGI (Beyond Good and Evil 2), one title rose above the rest when it came to mind blowing footage that may actually happen, as demonstrated, once you have the controller in your hands. The title I’m talking about is Marvel’s Spider-Man, developed by Insomniac Games.
Typically big budget titles have a tendency to err on the side of being up-close, personal, and palpably cinematic, or instead zoom out, relax, and offer a free-roaming world peppered with guided quests and cutscenes. Industry-shakers like Rockstar Games do increasingly manage both with each subsequent release, but even so – we’ve yet to see a Rockstar title sporting the level of cinematic grace demonstrated by Insomniac’s Spider-Man at E3, and I doubt we ever will. This is important because there’s one big question mark surrounding the upcoming Spider-Man, and it’s answer is going to play a large role in how critics and fans alike receive the final game.
That question? We don’t yet know if the title is open world, and neither Insomniac nor Sony have been willing to answer that question directly up to this point. The Spider-Man games were always rather linear and mission-based up until 2004’s Spider-Man 2; at that point, Treyarch grabbed the series by the arachnoidal pincers and implemented dynamic, changing environments, web slinging that attached webs to actual buildings and structures rather than the sky, and importantly, a free-roaming New York to traverse, save, and explore.
I’m not suggesting that the upcoming Spider-Man has to be as sprawling an experience as Grand Theft Auto, The Witcher, or Breath of the Wild, but it ought to be a logical continuation of what Spider-Man 2 introduced, rather than what its 2002 predecessor Spider-Man continued.
With that said, ideally Insomniac’s efforts will find ways to channel both styles, and from what we’ve seen so far that may be exactly what’s in the works. 2002’s Spider-Man (as well as titles before it) actually bested Spider-Man 2 in a number of ways, including level design, graphics, voice acting, and a general sense of story flow and pacing that linearity has a tendency to embolden and make easier to provide. While Marvel’s Spider-Man certainly resembled Spider-Man 2 in a number of its scenes, it also rarely strays, at least so far, from a linear path.
Meanwhile, up-close and personal encounters appear common, suggesting an Arkham-esque style of confronting and dealing with challenges and enemies. For better or worse the Arkham series went fully open with its second and third entries; I’d almost rather see Spider-Man focus on a compelling, Arkham Asylum-esque cinematic experience first, with story missions that present themselves as linearly as need-be to get the point across and conjure a particular experience. Then, with that established, Insomniac can flesh out or tack on the expansive Spider-Man 2 style to the extent that it sees fit.
This is all of course easier said than done, and Sunset Overdrive proves that Insomniac, when it desires, has no particular aversion or issue with wide-open spaces. Still, Spider-Man is the largest IP the studio has yet tackled, and the last team to handle Spider-Man, Treyarch, has essentially become a Call of Duty factory since (with a couple of further Spider-Man games mixed in). It’s clear Marvel’s Spider-Man will be a huge game for Sony and the PlayStation brand, but it’s going to take a special development effort for it to be a huge game for dedicated Spider-Man fans as well. Here’s hoping Insomniac can pull it off.