Spider-Man's Best Part: The Generic Warehouse Thugs

Marvel's Spider-Man is a hugely enjoyable if slightly mixed bag: a gorgeous and colourful open world starring the perfect open world character. Part of what makes the whole thing work is the way Spider-Man moves, and much attention has been rightly focused on the great web-swinging and city traversal.

The most pleasant surprise for me, however, is that Insomniac has delivered an extremely well-engineered take on what combat as Spider-Man should feel like, and in the process made this probably the first 3D Spider-Man game where fighting muggers is the highlight.

The combat system, as in almost every big-budget action game these days, is heavily indebted to Rocksteady's Arkham series. But unlike a lot of the copies, this adapts the fundamental aspects (an attack button, a counter button, a gadget button, finishers) around how Spider-Man 'should' fight. So whereas in the Arkham games combat is ground-based and can be almost stationary at times (not a complaint, one of the most badass things is standing still and just cracking the incoming heads), in Spider-Man huge focus is put on manoeuvrability, webbing, and last-minute dodges.

You could even say that, thanks to his famous 'spidey sense', the character fits the evasion prompts better than Batman did.

The movelist for Spider-Man, even when fully unlocked, is not of a length that will have Bayonetta fans panting with excitement. This is something of a bum steer, however, because baked-in to the combat system's basic elements are positioning and context-sensitive moves.

Spider-Man may seem to have only one basic combo, for example, but the truth is you almost never see it through to completion, because the game uses spider-sense to encourage quickfire changes of position and target. This doesn't come easy in the first hours of just trying to get your head around how he moves, but eventually you realise that one goal in combat is perpetual motion.

A big part of the appeal here, of course, is that it again fits the character. Think of what's special about Spider-Man in combat and, for me, the key word would be 'untouchable.' Batman cracks bones and Superman deflects bullets, but Spider-Man drives enemies crazy because they can't put a finger on him. He zips around grunting thugs, dropping killer lines as they clumsily swing at thin air. Then just like Muhammad Ali, he drops them with one good shot. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see.

It's therefore a disappointment that, for most of the game's big set pieces, it relies overly on scripted cinematics and QTEs, or more closed and prompt-heavy battles. I've been playing Spider-Man on Spectacular — which is the 'hard' difficulty setting — and as I slowly started to get decent at the combat system I realised that the game only really lets it run wild in what may seem like the most boring missions in the world.

Spider-Man's map features 'bases' for various criminal organisations: as they turn up in the campaign, you can start visiting them. These can be a building site or a warehouse or atop a skyscraper, but all are fairly simple wave challenges: beat up many dozens of identikit goons, and get a few tokens. Honestly, no one really cares about tokens, but these base challenges are the best thing in the entire game.

These environments, in different ways, are like playgrounds for Spider-Man's quick-moving traversal capabilities, but are crucially enclosed enough that the enemies can (just about) keep tracking him. Each base attempt begins with Spider-Man unobserved nearby, from where you can choose to silently take out the first wave (after which the second will burst out, aware of your presence) or just dive straight in.

Everything starts to click. Other fights in the game are frequently brief, featuring half-a-dozen goons or a mix of baddies and objectives, but here it's just all thug all the time. Each wave after the first consists of dozens of bad guys, and each gang has its own mix of types. These sustained fights last five to ten minutes, during which time you need to be intensely focused and always moving. As your capabilities expand, so does the challenge, until you're zipping around on button presses that feel close to instinctual.

I had to do a video for this article because descriptions can't do it justice. Here's a Demon warehouse on Spectacular difficulty.

To briefly digress: I don't think video games will ever replace movies. But I do think certain genres of video game render certain cinematic genres, such as action movies, somewhat obsolete. This only applies if you like combat games, of course, but after playing Insomniac's Spider-Man I can't help but feel that Spider-Man movies are kinda redundant for me now. How could they ever match the intensity and thrill of feeling like you're the webslinger?

The great pity with Spider-Man is that it has this gorgeous combat system and, with few exceptions, doesn't rely on it in the big moments. But that's fine, because there's plenty of small fry. The biggest tribute you can pay Spider-Man is that, at its most intense, this game's common street thugs can make you feel incredible. Executing perfect dodges, and being rewarded with a web blast to the offender's face, never feels less than spectacular.

When you dance around an angry mob and leave them flattened, you feel that you're fighting like Spider-Man would fight. And as the minutes blaze by, and the quips keep coming, and the bad guys keep getting webbed to walls, you understand why this iteration of the character deserves to be called amazing.


This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.


Comments

    I played through the entire Arkham series over the last few weeks to scratch my superhero fix so I could buy Spiderman at a later date - one vacationing friend later (like the luckiest two weeks of my life free-game wise!) & I’m actually playing it right now, but the big difference from the article (& everybody else it seems) is that i’m actually avoiding combat like the plague because i’m (absolutely) terrible at it/straight up haaaate it. So far.

    All very tongue in cheek, I’m not very far in so obviously i’ll improve but I actually think playing the batman games has badly conditioned me for these (not least because the dodge/counter is a different button!) - i’m playing as Batman, holding my ground and trying to gadget/counter my way through & my stupid, stubborn brain is struggling to adapt to what the author suggests & get Spidey bouncing around - consequently I am dying over and over and over again so some serious frustration setting in, both at myself & the game! Never really suffered from needing to ‘git gud’ so much in my life! :D

      When I first started the game I was really bad at it as well but after doing it a few times and a few levels later it got easier.

        Thanks guys, made me feel slightly less useless! :D

        When so many people are loving it I hate being a contrarian, but i’ve got little in the way of love for the game at all just yet - just trying to gauge how much is overhype vs my seeming inability to grasp the fundamentals of the game. Have come to the conclusion that the combat will be fine eventually, the only blame I attach to the game is maybe they’re a bit quick to dole out big enemy mobs whilst you’re still learning the ropes? I’m all for making games harder too - really welcome that - but some of the mechanics seem to be deliberately obtuse & just frustrate (car chases)! If so many love it I’m sure it’ll click at some point, i’m normally good at these types of games/this type of combat so I can’t stay this bad forever! :D

          Don't worry too much, man.

          I'm quite good at the Batman: Arkham games when it comes to combat. When I heard that Spider-Man had a similar combat system, I thought to myself "Easy, I've got this." No, I do not got this, at all.

          Spider-Man's combat system is actually quite challenging to begin with. But over time, not only will you get better at it but also, it'll become easier as you unlock more of Spider-Man's abilities, as well as adding the additional bonuses to the suit, including the unique suit powers.

          The major difference between Batman and Spider-Man, is in Batman, you can honestly get away with building up your combo meter, then busting out a particular combo move like a take down, weapon break etc. and while gadgets are a fun option, you don't have to use them in combat. In Spider-Man, you need to better utilize Spider-Man's skills, such as pulling yourself towards enemies, grabbing objects (or other enemies) and hurling them into targets, busting out Spidey's web suit powers etc. If you can fully utilize Spidey's abilities, combat will be so much easier and more enjoyable.

          There will be times when, despite all your new abilities and better skills at the combat game play, you might still be over whelmed with certain groups of enemies (particularly near the end) but as the Bear Grylls meme states, "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome".

            Thanks man, definitely getting better at it, to the point it’s only really the fights with automatic weapons that are still really causing me issues - couple of skills i’ve spotted/mapped out that should help me with that - as you suggest, just had to adapt! :D

              There's two incredibly awesome things you'll unlock soon, if you haven't already. It's not really a spoiler, but...

              - You can unlock an equippable suit upgrade that lets you slow down time temporarily when you perform a perfect dodge. This upgrade is -amazing-.

              - You can also unlock a skill which, when you perform a perfect dodge against someone with a gun (pistol, rifle, even a rocket launcher), you'll be able to web zip toward them and instantly take them out in one hit, like a flying take down. Such an awesome skill.

      Game had a weird learning curve at the start, I stumbled a fair bit and got smacked around a lot, the missus asked me if everything was alright because I either barely scrapped through or got my arse handed to me for an embarrassing amount of time.

      Now I'm the bastard child of Neo and Yoda with couple of cans of silly string.

    I love that the combat is very much designed to be the kind of combat that Spidey would engage in but it sure does get repetitive quickly. Most of the time I'm mashing Square in an air combo followed by triangle to zoom to the next target. Dodges and gadgets break it up a bit but for the most part combat is generally 10 minutes of mashing square.

    Targeting is also a source of frustration too. I've lost or nearly lost a number of fights because I tried to keep momentum going in one direction and the game just suddenly decides I meant to target the guy to the side or behind me.

    Web Blossom is great though, especially for non-wave fights. Jump in, spray webbing everywhere and then pick off a couple of guys and go back to the best part, swinging and flying through the city.

      I feel like Web Blossom is too much of an advantage in a big group fight. I feel guilty using it. :/

    The combat was kind of a let down for me, It was fun enough, it just didn't have any bones to it.
    It's a shame, the combat seemed primed for a robust combo system that could've filled in some of the less exciting skills.
    I was honestly a little surprised you couldn't do the old lamp post combo finisher that's been in almost every Spider-Man game since 2, it was literally the greatest Spidey move ever.

    Still, I'm looking forward to more Spider-Man and can't wait for another.
    (Prob gonna grab the DLC too if it's not a massive rip)

    I honestly thought there could have been more combos and ways to vary your combat. It was fun for a while as is though.

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