A reader compares PS4 exclusives Spider-Man and God Of War and explains why he thinks the wallcrawler comes up short.
*** WARNING: Spoilers for Marvels Spider-Man and God Of War ***
As a child in simpler times, before Twitter and Facebook, when I was about eight or nine the intellectual debates of the time revolved around weighty worldly problems, the type the UN may be called to arbitrate on due to the intransigence and bullishness of both positions. Things like who would win in a fight Godzilla or King Kong, or which was the better programme Knight Rider or The Dukes of Hazzard. And finally one of the biggies, if you were on an island made of food what would the food be? Mine would be spaghetti and chocolate.
This last problem popped into my head as I polished off the last of Marvels Spider-Man over the weekend. Imagine an island made of your favourite food. Imagine that was all you could eat. How long would it take for the novelty to wear off and for the indulgence to lose its lustre? Basically, how much of a good thing can you handle before you get tired of that good thing? At the end of Spider-Man, I felt ready to be done with it. I loved parts of it but at the end I felt like that nine-year-old with spaghetti and chocolate smeared over my face, with a distended belly and a sour expression on my face.
Spider-Man profits from an amazing first impression, by God they got the traversal bang on. It is a liberating, exhilarating, and powerful rush. You really feel each swing in your belly, the metronomic loop to your destination is bliss and I never felt tempted to use fast travel because it was much too much fun to take the scenic route. Indeed, the traversal reminded me of a game with similar issues, in Just Cause 3 zipping and wing-suiting and parachuting Rico around his island home gave me a similar feeling and if only this was enough to hang a game around both games would easily be 10/10s, unfortunately though it is not.
Before we stray into the negative Id like to shine a light on two other aspects of the game I was very pleased with. Firstly, praise the sun that this was not yet another origin story. Spider-Man was just Spider-Man, already renowned in the city and we got on with the job of crimefighting without the painful, excruciating drawn out process of seeing him bitten by the spider or learning about his powers. Or the grief porn of him seeing his uncle killed. Even MJ didnt have to do the whole, Oh my god, youre Spider-Man! reveal. Everyone knows these stories and it was a very savvy move to sidestep this easy but by now too well trodden path into a world we knew and could just get on with having fun in.
Secondly, Spider-Man differs from the likes of Superman or Iron Man in that he is a local hero, he doesnt own a jet or can fly and as a native of New York he is recognisable and relatable. His humanity, good nature, and optimistic outlook are all aspects which endeared him to me and were shown well in the game through the dialogue and cut scenes. Spider-Man is shown as a man who bleeds when injured and is skint all the time, two very human traits.
Spider-Mans exceptionalism is in how he portraited as an eternally upbeat person, as the chaos escalates throughout the game what shines through is Peter and Spider-Mans never say die, fierce commitment to saving the town he loves. Spider-Man isnt saving the planet and as a result we can relate to him and even under the fantastic trappings of the game its Peter who you root for and its a credit to the game that this intimate character study succeeds.
To take us back to the spaghetti/chocolate island metaphor I opened with Id like to introduce another game that has aspects in common with Spider-Man: God Of War. God Of War for me was the better game of the two, though it could easily have fallen into the exact same traps Im about to accuse Spider-Man of falling into. Namely God Of War knew to get you off spaghetti/chocolate island while you still wanted more, it knew not to overstay its welcome and never repeated any activity often enough for them to become tiresome, not so the case with Spider-Man.
Spider-Mans cardinal fault was to over pepper the map with activities which while initially varied and interesting later became a chore due to them being recycled ruthlessly with reskinned enemies and involving the same but different gameplay which again wasnt varied enough to justify their inclusion. When your game is being compared unfavourably to the school of Ubisoft game design you know youve probably gone too far.
Basically, Spider-Man dropped you off at spaghetti/chocolate island and told you to gorge relentlessly until you were sick. It wasnt a failing of design, but a failure of volume. Ironically, had Spider-Man had less content I think it would have been better received.
One thing both games inexplicably avoided, given their heritage and pedigree, was any truly epic encounters which was something of a hallmark for both franchises. Whist God Of War didnt stay long enough for you to notice, instead focussing on the relationship between Atreus and Kratos, in Spider-Man you had the illusion of epic encounters which boiled down to short battles interspersed with QTEs that took the agency, and therefore urgency, out of these struggles and made them feel lifeless and detached from the rest of the gameplay.
In fact, this speaks to a wider trend in video games. What has happened to the mid and end of level bosses? Why has this old reliable gameplay quirk fallen on hard times? In both God Of War and Spider-Man the toughest challenges (Valkyrie battles and Taskmaster challenges respectively) were optional and sidelined from the main story. Boss battles for me serve a very real purpose. They are a test of how far youve came as a character, a way for you to showcase any new skills. And finally, they are usually a narrative speed hump at the end of a chapter to change the state of the world or add a vicious full stop to the end of a characters arc.
Despite what Ive said I enjoyed both games, Im glad I played them and am happy that both will hopefully get sequels that they both richly deserve but thats not to say that there is no scope for development with both franchises. The margins at the very top of the gamings best is fine to say the least. As I walked away from Spider-Man, aside from pondering my nine-year-old self I also found that I wanted to have some of Peters optimism, some of his joie de vivre. If I could have some of that maybe I could be the sort of person who could let things slide, or more my luck I could be an insufferable quippy teenager that supervillains never seem to tire of wanting to shoot.
By reader Dieflemmy (gamertag/PSN ID/NN ID)
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