If you want me spoiler-free post about Spider-Man on Playstation 4, click here. Otherwise continue on for a spoiler-filled take on the game.
While I read Spider-Man comics as a kid, my biggest exposure to the character were the cartoons. That includes the late 1960s version which I watched on rented VHS tapes and, better still, the early 1990s version on the FOX Network that I watched at every opportunity. While Batman was okay, my superhero love always went first and foremost to Spider-Man, with the X-Men a close second.
Spider-Man, the 2018 video game, is a perfect blend of the new and the familiar. It never retreads Peter’s origin story nor does it go into exhausting detail of the background of the supervillains Peter has already vanquished in his eight years as Spider-Man leading to the game’s opening.
At the same time, it freshens up old characters by providing them new agencies. Rather than Peter’s journey to superhero, we get his science hero, Dr. Otto Octavious, descending into supervillainy. Mary-Jane Watson is spunkier and more headstrong, more a Lois Lane-like character, but with none of the secret identity baggage attached. Aunt May does charity work for a homeless shelter is never once depicted as an old maid. Norman Osborn is the mayor of New York City, in addition to being a super scientist CEO, and is rarely seen as a direct antagonist to Spider-Man.
There was also some great editing on which characters to use and which characters to hold onto for any potential sequels. For example, Screwball had a brief sidequest as a minor villain, but I had never heard of her and was convinced it was a new character until a quick wiki search revealed her 2008 origins. Likewise, the game’s primary antagonist, Mister Negative, was completely foreign to me, but a welcome addition to my knowledge of Spider-Man’s rogue gallery. I also enjoyed seeing Taskmaster, whom I have heard of, but never seen any cartoons/comics that I have experienced.
Characters like Mysterio and Lizardman are depicted but not encountered. Green Goblin and Hobgoblin are teased for a future sequel. There may be Easter eggs I missed indicating others.
While the gameplay shines in how it perfectly captures the character, Spider-Man excels best with its characters and overall story. The ending confrontation with Doc Oc hand me on the verge of crying. Peter’s voice acting perfectly nailed the conflict of the character. Despite being a superhero himself, here was a man in Dr. Octavious that Peter looked up. Frequently throughout the game he mentions wanting to “change the world” through their work together and even continues to work for the man despite no pay and a recent eviction from his apartment for failure to pay his rent.
Given that this is its own universe, there remained a sense of dread throughout that Otto would turn but I was unsure if he would, wouldn’t, or if it was a setup for a future game. When Otto does turn, it is obvious, but no less heartbreaking. By the end when the two men confront one another (Otto having deduced that Peter and Spider-Man were one in the same already), I was completely invested. This isn’t a unique take on the character of Doc Oc and I remember Peter frequently having super scientist mentors who turn into supervillains. However, here it was done perfectly and may be the best version of the classic Spider-Man arc of “superhero’s hero is corrupted by power and/or responsibility”.
Adding Aunt May’s death on top of an already emotional end took the entire plot over the top for me. There was no turn from lighthearted Spider-Man to dark and brooding from it, but there was a real depiction of a man who has to make a horrible decision and live with it. Since Doc Oc wasted so much time with the antidote for a disease he also let loose, Peter was forced to let Aunt May die so others could be cured.
One of my favorite aspects of Peter Park the character is how he always manages to be relatable, despite being a superhero and despite so often using comedy to diffuse difficult situations. Where Batman is deliberately impenetrable and Superman is intentionally unbelievable, Spider-Man strikes the perfect balance between hero and everyman. He is entertaining but he also has serious, poignant moments that you make you feel for the character and for the other characters in his universe. While these moments are almost always punctuated by a darker turn for his soon-to-be-villains, for Spider-Man, they often help underscore and support the values he holds dearest.