Bryan Intihar, one of the directors on Insomniac’s Spider-Man game, wants everyone to know that the team is working really really hard on the web swinging. Spider-Man (the game) features a 23 year old Peter Parker as a Spider-Man (the person) who’s at the top of his heroing game, and knows what he’s doing. Everyone is very aware that the traversal has to be nailed.
It’s a fair concern to have. Spidey’s own particular way of getting around NYC is about as iconic to his character as his red-and-blue suit and dead uncle (the latter having died enough times in various media that, thank God, Insomniac is skipping the origin story this time). When researching how traversal should work, the first thing Intihar realised was, ‘Those webs better attach to buildings, or people will be really pissed.’
And they do! Insomniac is treading a fine line, wanting to keep the swinging fluid and accessible, but still allowing players to feel like they can master the mechanic as time goes on. So Spidey can wall run for long distances, rather than bumping off buildings and hanging like a sad piñata. In the chase sequence we saw at an E3 presentation, you could make out a targeting reticule picking out spots for speedy web zips. There’s potential for some finer control and screaming hot turns in mid-air.
As part of keeping the movement free-flowing and unbroken, Spider-Man uses parkour to clear obstacles when his feet are on firmer ground. This style transfers into the combat, too, with Spider-Man described as an ‘acrobatic improvisor’. You may, at times, be forced to improvise, coming up against enemies that make you change your tactics with — the example we saw was a heavy who could break out of your webbing.
Aside from the webs, you’ll be using a mixture of ground combat, air combat, stealth, and gadgets, along with the ever-present Spider-Sense (though the specifics of how it’ll work weren’t talked about, you can see the standard dodge-at-the-last-minute in the video, and at one point everything moved in slow-mo as Spider-Man fired a kind of web trip-mine in front of a running enemy). There were also a lot of environmental interactions, like pulling a girder to knock down a line of baddies, or flinging a sandbag with some webbing.
The combat has already been drawing comparisons to the Arkham series, where Batman punched minions with the flowing grace of an animal much more lithe than a bat. And sure, Spidey leaps and backflips and kicks in that same acrobatic way. Tonally it looks entirely different, which is good. Peter Parker had a tough start in life, but went down the constant wisecracking route rather than the grim rodent vigilante one. Spider-Man gets serious at times, but it’s also the extended comic book universe that includes a pig version of the hero called Spider-Ham.
Insomniac’s Spider-Man is drawing inspiration from many different versions of the web-head, but creating a unique Spider-Man universe for itself, separate from any of the three (3) film reboot versions, the previous games, or any distinct comic storylines. This is part of why Miles Morales appears in the game; though Intihar didn’t want to give too much away, he loves Miles as a character and his inclusion in the game will, apparently, show a different side of Peter. Insomniac has identified that the best Spider-Man stories are where Spidey’s world and Peter’s world collide, and Intihar teased that there are ‘more surprises down the road’, with a healthy mix of well known characters and more obscure favourites for super fans. Intihar says he’s really happy with the cast they have — and that includes the city.
The team considers New York is its own character, a living city with living people — though details on the open world aren’t being talked about yet, beyond it being described as a ‘sprawling city’. All the better to dynamically swing your way around, which, again, received a lot of emphasis. Intihar checked and checked, triple checked even: the webs definitely attached to the buildings, right?
It certainly looks fun, even at this early stage. Watching it reminds you of the feeling you got in your stomach when the playground swings reached the top of their arc, the knife-edge between feeling weightless, effortless, and then dangerously heavy on the downswing. Which I imagine is what it’s like being Spider-Man in general.
Spider-Man is out in 2018 for PS4