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Test: New Spider Man Game

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For almost 20 years now, Spider-Man has been swinging his way through open worlds on various systems under the banner of Activision or fighting his arch enemies in classic action adventures. The spider man’s new adventure is not only available exclusively on PS4. With Insomniac Games (Ratchet & Clank, Resistance), there is also a studio behind the development that understands how to gain new facets from classic concepts. In the test, we clarify if Peter Parker can reach top form under fresh direction.

 

A seasoned hero

 

Insomniac refrains from telling the original story of Spider-Man or his civil alter ego Peter Parker for the umpteenth time. Instead, one is thrown directly into the action with a seamless transition from interim sequence to game, in which Spidey has been providing order for a good eight years. More precisely: You swing through Manhattan very intuitively on your way to becoming the first crook you want to catch in the form of Wilson “Willy” Fisk, better known as Kingpin. The trick of renouncing the origins has a positive effect here.

Not only because in the meantime every halfway interested fan should know that Peter was bitten by a genetically modified spider and that he has become a crime fighter due to the violent death of his uncle. But above all, because one can give full throttle to the dramaturgy at the same time. And the pace is maintained over three acts and a good 28 to 35 hours (depending on the side tasks) until the exciting final. Here it pays off that Insomniac worked closely with Marvel to create the characters and the main story. Staged ready for the cinema and supported by a really good script and convincing virtual protagonists, this core story torches a tour de force, which wouldn’t have any problems sorting itself into the current “Cinematic Universe”.

Quiet moments alternate with dramatic ones, whereby of course the action also doesn’t get a raw deal and is sometimes captured pompously. The fact that the main story elements or consequences are more or less related to the first actions of Spider-Man’s hunt for Kingpin is a very good narrative trick.

Also well done: Insomniac gives Spider-Man and many of his connected characters like Mary Jane Watson (MJ), Harry Osborne or Aunt May, roles and new facets that have been rarely or not at all used so far, so that even fans who can pray down almost every adventure from Peter Parker will be surprised. However, out of consideration for the spoiler, we don’t want to go into details at this point. The fact that Insomniac had the full support of Marvel in designing his “own” Spider-Man is also apparent in the very special suit he wears, which is only available in the game (so far). Nevertheless, there are slight points of contact to the film universe: The eyes of the Spider mask can change in size similar to the suit Tom Holland wears as Peter in Spider-Man Homecoming or Avengers: Infinity War. And if you listen carefully, you might discover themes reminiscent of Homecoming in the dynamic background music, which is successful in every respect. In addition, Insomniac seems to have watched the films of Sam Raimi with Tobey Maguire, as there are also some quotes and bowings to be found.

 

Postcard greetings from Arkham City

 

The mechanics, which accompany you from beginning to end, show the experience Insomniac has acquired with the Xbox One excursion Sunset Overdrive: When one swings with Spidey through the urban jungle of the amazingly large and partly very accurately reproduced New York City from Central Park to the Statue of Liberty, a pleasant dynamic arises.

The fact that you can only swing higher when the corresponding buildings are nearby increases the “realism” of this type of locomotion, which occupies you over 97% of the time. Later, there are also special movements that can be used to increase the swing speed and cross the high-rise course of the Big Apple faster. At the same time, however, memories of Rocksteady’s Batman adventure are also evoked, in which the last excursion Arkham Knight could by no means come close to its gold award-winning predecessor Arkham City. The dynamics and transitions between exploring the city on the one hand and fighting or side tasks on the other are also reminiscent of the Dark Knight. But it was not only in this area that Insomniac took a close look at the means that led to Batman’s success.

 

The combat system shows the power of the Dark Knight as well as the dynamics with its successful counter system. With just a few keys, impressive combos can be burned off, while the opponents can also be carried into the air and with his spider threads all kinds of modifiers for his attacks can be created. In addition, Spider-Man focuses on an increased focus of environmental interaction. You can get rid of your opponents e.g. by pinting them on the wall. And you can use the shoulder keys to let scaffolding collapse on the enemies or to misuse car doors, manhole covers etc. and hurl them at the enemies.

Together with the upgrade options that you can get for your gagdets or expansions, there are numerous options to effectively and visually eliminate the enemies – up to finishers that you can activate via the charged focus bar to get rid of particularly dangerous enemies as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, there is no way to prevent a certain routine from taking hold in the long run. Although there is nominally a lot of variety with various factions sending their henchmen, while optional tasks reward a certain approach in every fight.

But with a few exceptions, the armies are made up of the same prototypes, i.e. the normal clubs, those with batons, shields, the muscle-bound “broods”, etc. Thus the fights run sometime very similarly, since one has arranged oneself for each type a certain strategy. You usually try to loosen this up successfully by a correspondingly varied composition of the attacking enemies, whereby of course the few faction-specific opponents like e.g. the Sable agents with their rake backpack or the swordsmen of the “demons” are always a welcome exception. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t have hurt to have to react more frequently to different combat tactics within the factions.

 

Not like Sam Fisher.

But similar to Batman’s Rocksteady adventures, sometimes acting from the hidden is the best solution. However, most of the time only Stealth-Light variants are offered. For example, there is no active “stealth posture” that one could adopt to make oneself even smaller behind objects. Either one is in the field of vision of the enemies or not. In order to avoid the mostly attentive looks of the AI henchmen, one should use the movement possibilities, with whose help Spidey can move e.g. at walls or at routes over the heads of the enemies.

So you can reach positions by net swings, from where you can eliminate the unsuspecting enemies with only one attack. However, one should calculate possibly following patrols. If they stumble over a spun-in comrade, they usually trigger an alarm, which makes advancing massively more difficult and in some cases even leads to the failure of the mission, as the hostages are killed in this case. Similar to Batman you can also use gadgets to take your opponents out of circulation – first of all the net mine, which you can place in the path and which activates once, immediately spins the opponent in and thus makes him harmless.

 

Although you can’t keep up with “full-grown” stealth adventures in this area, these sections always provide a pleasant change of pace and usually require a deliberate approach. At least you often have several methods to choose from in order to eliminate the enemies. In the story missions, where you are not on the road with Spider-Man, but with other characters like MJ, the situation is different. Also conceived as a basic sneak level, you try to pay tribute to the vulnerability of these characters by not allowing them to be discovered over most of the time, as they don’t have any defense option – in this case you have to make a new attempt at the last of the fair set control points. The level design has been tuned to this, but with far too few exceptions it provides a trial & error system, as there is only one “right” way, where you have to hit the right timing, while you can also trigger distraction manoeuvres at the designated positions.

As a tempo deviation and above all as a dramaturgical means to show the story from a different perspective, these insertions have succeeded. Despite the resulting tension, they have a lot of room to move upwards.

 

No Selfie flood

This also applies to the open world. Visually, there’s not much to complain about: With its busy streets and its civilians, the city seems very lively – and this also applies to the vertical. If you take a break, for example, when walking along the wall, you will notice that the windows not only reflect the surroundings beautifully, but also allow you to look through the windows into chic, modelled rooms. In addition, one can also find people on some high-rise roofs who are celebrating or having a lively conversation.

In Central Park, families stroll and seem to switch off from everyday stress in New York City, and Times Square with its mighty neon signs is busier than a beehive. The Avengers Tower is also worth a climbing trip. And with the different (given) light and weather moods (only after finishing the story does one have the option to change the time of day) the Big Apple gets a new paint job worth seeing again and again, which makes me forget the detail textures that occasionally pop up during fast swings near the ground. But as soon as you take a closer look at the civilians, the actually very good impression gets first cracks. Not only that they seem to come from a different world with regard to the clearly reduced level of detail in comparison to the protagonists. Clones are also increasingly used here, which don’t erase the image of the living city, but provide it with slight disturbing stripes.

 

And in case you don’t swing along 5th Avenue, but stay longer on the streets after a side mission or after fighting a “spontaneous” crime, for example, you notice that the interaction of the civilian population with Spider-Man is limited. Yes: From time to time encouraging shouts or requests come down the mask to reveal oneself. But for the most part nothing happens at all. The passers-by stare at you, through you or past you and don’t even pull out a mobile phone to take a picture of the superhero – even if you just might have prevented a massive accident or robbery. That’s weak and can’t be explained by the fact that Spidery has been swinging through New York for years and many have got used to the sight of him.

The fact that Spider-Man shares this fate with some other Open World titles and in this area is roughly on the level of Assassin’s Creed Origins with its likewise rather restrained civilian reaction to the hero is only a small consolation. Because here Insomniac has missed a great opportunity to show Batman how it can work. Rocksteady didn’t even open this barrel at Arkham City because of the almost complete lack of civilians. But here it is a missed chance to emphasize the liveliness of the city. And Sony, together with Sucker Punch in Infamous at PS3, showed how a better interaction with passers-by can look like – I don’t even want to start with Open World heavyweights from Rockstar.

 

Curse of the open world

 

But Insomniac also hangs mechanically between many chairs that an open world brings with it. On the one hand you have to offer enough missions. Then again there should be incentives for exploration. And last but not least, it should look as if you weren’t chased over the map with an airplane and randomly dropped packages of missions and goodies – just as it was the case with Ubisoft’s open worlds a few years ago.

At least the latter is not the case. All side missions and activities as well as the fortunately few collecting tasks were well placed. But there are strong differences in quality. The side missions that can be discovered are not connected with the main story, but they tell entertaining anecdotes – even if they quote to a large extent only the mechanical core of wings and fights. Here Arkham City is more varied, offering more variety with the Riddler puzzles or story sheets detached from the main story.

 

In activities such as hacking police radio masts, hunting escaped pigeons, the Oscorp surveillance stations, which point to environmental grievances in New York, “taking” enemy bases, or even general crime fighting, one usually loses oneself in routine after initial curiosity and motivation. You don’t get tired of the mostly small tasks – also because they are plausibly linked to the Spider-Man universe, e.g. the logic puzzles in which you optimize circuits or superimpose patterns in the spectograph. But they don’t play a big part in tying you to the pad. For this they are too averagely designed or recognizable as a variation of elements of other games with an open world. In addition to the massive story staging as the main focus, however, more sophisticated side activities would also have problems establishing themselves.

Only the presentation of the story was responsible for the fact that I swung through New York with Spidey for more than 30 hours and also listened to the hate tirades of JJ Jameson, which can be heard again and again on the radio, and which were recorded whenever key moments occurred beforehand. A small side note: The fact that I finally switched to the English original version is due to personal preferences and not to the quality. Like the last big Sony productions à la Uncharted, Horizon or God of War, this one is top class by the bank – at least for all essential speaking roles. However, there is also a lot of English among the passers-by, civilians and other life on the streets of New York. So you shouldn’t be surprised if the policemen at the next barrier want to keep the population away from the scene of the accident with “There is nothing to see here” or if you are celebrated with a “You did it!”

 

flood of suits

 

After all, the side tasks and activities also serve an additional purpose: Only through them can you acquire various symbols, which in turn you need to unlock the more than 25 Spidey suits (including e.g. one from the Noir or 2099 timeline), develop or upgrade the gadgets. However, you can argue about the sense of the suit tide – even if they offer different special functions to be charged, which can be used in other suits after the first time they are put on and thus have an effect on the game.

can have. As elaborate and varied as they are modelled or designed, they were just another completion hook for me, which can be set and can at least be interpreted benevolently as a fan service.

 

After all, this way you can easily adapt the challenge beyond the three levels of difficulty, where the middle player demands reasonably experienced players (a fourth should be added to the launch with an update). If you don’t get involved with the collecting tasks, you won’t only miss one or two interesting mini stories, but you’ll also be challenged more in the fights in later sections, because you might lack important tools. And in the case of the backpacks that Peter has left behind in the city over the last eight years, you even get a few memorabilia, which he comments on and presents little reviews of his past.

 

CONCLUSION

 

You can have a lot of fun with Spider-Man. Especially when you concentrate on the great narrated and cinematic main story, which offers drama, action and intensity, interesting surprises and a playing time beyond 20 hours. The fighting dynamics, reminiscent of Rocksteady’s Batman, are enhanced by Spidey’s net skills and environmental interaction, while the swinging through New York City is as intuitive as it is believable. The creepy elements are a successful tempo change, but either superficially and occasionally even characterized by pure trial&error. The city seems very lively with its crowded streets and accurately recreated tourist attractions, especially as fans can also find Avenger’s Tower or the Sanctum Sanctorum.

But this vitality only works as long as one swings through the city jungle. As soon as you get in close contact with the civilian population, not only the visual discrepancies in the level of detail between the main characters and the frequently cloned New Yorkers become clear, but also the not to the last translated exclamations of the passers-by are noticeable, resulting in a constant German-English mix – which is regrettable in view of the actually excellent localization. But the interaction with the population also leaves a lot to be desired. Too often it doesn’t react at all and ignores you even after the greatest heroic deeds, so that the few successful reactions evaporate like drops on the hot stone of the open world.

And for the rest, Insomniac rarely offers more than a high standard with routine activities such as unlocking towers, collecting objects or storming enemy fortresses. After all, all exploration stimuli, mini or side missions were well linked with the Spidey universe, so that a homogeneous impression is created. Despite all the shortcomings in the often superficial open world, the combination of a great story, sometimes fantastic staging, and the successful mechanics in the end ensures that Spider-Man offers really good superhero entertainment from start to finish.

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