Bringing comic book characters to life in a fitting and accurate way has always been a rocky road for video game developers. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe™ seems to be perpetually knocking it out of the park, comic to game transitions oftentimes aren’t quite as on point. With Insomniac Games’ incarnation of Peter Parker’s alter ego is looking to be an absolute jaw-dropping experience in Marvel’s Spider-Man for PlayStation 4 it’s worth mentioning that it has been a long and tangled web getting the hero to this point.
In theory, we could go all the way back to vintage Spidey titles like Spider-Man on the Atari 2600 in 1982 or even some of his 16-bit outings like Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage on Super Nintendo and Sega Genius in ’94, or even 1991’s arcade brawler Spider-Man: The Video Game. But to really get a feel for where old Webhead is now we should probably begin when he made the jump from a 2D plane to fighting crime in the third dimension. For this, we draw our attention towards the turn of the century when Peter Parker made his way to PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Dreamcast in a game simply titled Spider-Man.
This incarnation of the wall-crawler was superb. Players took control of Spider-Man from a third person perspective as he punched and kicked his way through everything from street thugs to iconic characters like Venom and The Lizard. The cutscenes and voice-overs really added personality to Spider-Man who was voiced by Rino Romano who played him in the Spider-Man: Unlimited animated TV series. There were corny jokes, sassy quips, and instances where his ever-alert spider-sense would come to life; all of this made Spider-Man feel like an authentic experience as players swung from nearby buildings and battled crooks. So much so, that a very similar gameplay format was kept in place for the fantastic sequel Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro a year later, and even the 2002 movie tie-in.
However, it wasn’t until Tobey Maguire donned the mask for the second time that Spidey really found his home in the realm of video games. Spider-Man 2 was worlds apart from its predecessors when it hit PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube in the summer of 2004. At this stage, Spider-Man was a phenomenon! Comics and the stories within were starting to get adopted by mainstream audiences after years of being niche-dedicated. His action figures lined the shelves of toy stores and his movies were making millions in theatres across the world.
In other words, he was doing quite well for a kid from Queens who’d been bitten by a radioactive spider. Perhaps this is why the game feels a lot more like a fully fledged game and less like a cobbled together title that needed to released alongside its Hollywood counterpart. Although the first movie’s game was a decent, playable romp, it was easy to see that the format created in 2000 was beginning to show its age.
Spider-Man 2 changed everything. Instead of it being a limited and linear experience where you chased the Green Goblin through the skyline while in danger of falling because there was no actual street below you like in the previous title, this one featured an entire city to play around in at your own leisure. It took elements popularized by the then-groundbreaking Grand Theft Auto III and gave them the superhero touch.
Unlike most sandbox games, Spider-Man 2 didn’t call for players to simply explore at street level. No, it let you play at any conceivable height. Pouncing onto the roofs of moving vehicles with reckless abandon to stop carjackers was always fun, diving from New York City’s highest peaks and letting fly a single string of webbing to change your trajectory and propel yourself towards your destination was nothing short of exhilarating, and doing battle with multiple foes at once while staying one step ahead of the pack at all times thanks to your trusty spider-sense provided a genuine feeling of super-heroics. It was that blend of exploration, agility, and power that made Spider-Man 2 the fondly remembered classic that it is today.
Dodging Doctor Octopus’ tentacles or hanging webbed up unconscious villains from lampposts in Spider-Man 2 really created an experience that most Spider-Man games have been falling over themselves to replicate since. The follow-up game Spider-Man 3 was almost as disappointing as the movie it was based on. Ultimate Spider-Man had a decent crack of the whip but didn’t quite pull it off, and then Spider-Man: Web of Shadows on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 followed suit with the same playstyle once again, but it never really had the same impact as Spider-Man 2. There was a certain magic there that just didn’t seem to be repeatable. In fact, the closest a Marvel game came to grasping that lightning in a bottle for the second time was the enormously enjoyable Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.
While Spider-Man was struggling to find his footing, Rocksteady Studios was bringing DC’s Batman from the page to the screen in a way that we’d never seen before. Batman: Arkham Asylum was the type of game that defines a generation. Its combat style became the norm for many action games from Mad Max to Capcom’s ironically forgotten gem Remember Me. The slow deliberate movements that gave way to lightning fast parries and attacks that felt true to the character’s source material. The wide range of weaponry and gadgets felt authentic, and the game’s detective aspects genuinely made you feel like you were outsmarting hyper-intelligent criminals like the Riddler or accurately piecing together the events of a crime scene. All in all the Batman: Arkham series had claimed the title as the undisputed king of comic book video games, and well deserved too. It left old Webhead’s adventures looking less and less convincing.
During that time, Spider-Man was getting somewhat experimental. Games like Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and Spider-Man: Edge of Time were concentrating on the old format from his early 3D adventures, but adding in different incarnations of the character from the comic books’ various alternate universes. These were linear experiences, but that wasn’t a bad thing. There was a direct goal to advance towards for each level and a lot of web-slinging fun to be had along the way. Soon afterward, these were followed by two ill-received tie-ins for The Amazing Spider-Man movies.
Taking all of these titles into consideration, along with a vast number of games that I have not mentioned, there’s no denying that Spider-Man has seen his fair share of video game adventures over the last three and a half decades. However, I don’t remember there ever being as much hype for his interactive outings as there has been for the upcoming Marvel’s Spider-Man on PlayStation 4. So what makes this title different from other games that your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has starred in? Simple; it looks awesome!
Most Spider-Man games throughout the years have felt like decent games which happened to feature an iconic wall-crawling hero. Marvel’s Spider-Man however, looks like an amazing game that’s actually about said superhero. It seems that each detail is tailor-made to create a true Spider-Man experience. The combat looks fast, fluid and powerful; filled with acrobatic maneuvers and brutal knockdowns. This is precisely how comic book fans have come to expect Spidey to fight.
The city the game takes place in is wide, sweeping, and absolutely gorgeous both in the sun-drenched afternoons and the evenings which have beautiful sunsets to take in. As Spidey traverses New York the skylines look authentic and reflective surfaces such as windows add a real element of life to the sprawling city. Although the tried and tested sandbox approach of earlier Spider-Man games became tiresome over time, this open world looks like every inch of it is worth exploring.
Marvel’s Spider-Man seems like Insomniac Games have taken the time and the care to create a game that feels like it has leaped from the pages of a comic, but with a smooth and realistic tone. Uncle Ben iconically said “With great power comes great responsibility,” and Insomniac Games have made sure that they’ve been responsible enough to deliver a powerful rendition of one of the most popular superheroes of all times. Peter Parker’s light and unassuming voice is accurate to the TV representations that we’ve seen throughout the years and the cast of supervillains to take down is robust and worthy of any Spider-Man fan’s attention. It’s taken quite some time for Spidey to discover what his role is in the world of gaming, but it appears that he may finally be ready to take back his title as gaming’s best rendition of a comic book superhero.
Marvel’s Spider-Man will be launching exclusively for PlayStation 4 on September 7. You can pre-order the game on Amazon if you haven’t already.
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