Obligatory SPOILERS WARNING. This blog will contain major spoilers for Spider-Man (PS4), so if you haven’t finished the game, you should probably stop reading now.
Spider-Man is a good game. Web slinging is fun as hell, and the combat, while a bit all over the place, is satisfactory. It’s got a plethora of great costumes to choose from, with plenty of great powers to help keep combat fresh. And damn it is gorgeous. Really there’s just one flaw that holds it back from me being able to call it great.
It botched the Sinister Six.
Now let me be clear, it didn’t mess them all up. Martin Li, aka Mr. Negative is handled extremely well. He’s, in my opinion, the villain that gets the best treatment in the game. You get to interact with him both as Martin Li and as Mr. Negative. You get to see both sides of his life, which makes his depth as a character shine through. His influence is shown well, and his actions make him a bad guy you want to take down.
Otto Octavius is also a great example of a villain well done. We get to see him as Peter’s mentor and friend first, which makes his fall to the dark side all the more horrific. His motivations are relatable, as we’ve all had our moments of feeling helpless and afraid. His transformation to villainy is a little…rushed, in my opinion. Pacing is not Spider-Man (PS4)’s friend, as the developers definitely hadn’t considered how in the game’s universe Doc Ock would have had to plan two simultaneous prison breaks, contact and organize five other villains in one of said prison breaks, and gather up supplies for his plot all in the span of a few hours. Now, I could easily chalk this up to video game/comic book logic, which would be fair. But it is still there, and I personally found it a bit distracting. A minor nitpick nonetheless though.
The less nitpick-y thing though is the remainder of the Sinister Six though. Based on the E3 footage this year, I had assumed the game was going to mostly be about the Sinister Six as a group. Unfortunately, this is not so. None of them even get so much as half of the development as Martin Li did. Martin Li gets roughly half the game to be developed and explored as a villain. He gets more attention than Scorpion, Vulture, Rhino, and Electro combined. And the reason why, at least as far as I can tell, is that Mr. Negative is a fairly newer villain. He’s not quite as iconic as the others, so Insomniac gave him plenty of time to shine. The other villains are all very well known Spider-Man baddies, and Insomniac knew that they could plop them in with no real backstory and most people wouldn’t even notice.
I’m sorry, but that’s just lazy. If you had no experience with Spider-Man, as a franchise, prior to the PS4 game, you would have no idea why these characters are supposed to be so intimidating. You run into them a couple of times, and then immediately take them out. Two at a time for Electro/Vulture and Scorpion/Rhino. I don’t know, maybe I’m being nitpick-y here, but for me the Sinister Six are supposed to a collection of Spidey’s greatest foes. The people who pose the most real and sincere threat to him. So to just be able to smack four of them around, with very little effort, is kind of a real injustice to them as characters. They all come off as similar idiots, lacking any real distinct personalities. They’re all just kind of bumbling oafs that tell you how much they hate and want to kill you, before losing almost immediately. And Vulture gets the worst of it. Electro gets a part electrocuting the police department, Rhino smashes down some barricades, and Scorpion actually gets to poison Spidey. Vulture? He’s at the breakout, and he shows up in a boss fight. And that’s it. All he gets is a participation trophy before getting removed.
This is my real problem with the game. It’s a great game featuring Mr. Negative and Dr. Octopus, that happens to have a brief interruption by four other villains, but don’t worry they won’t take too much of the spotlight from the real villains. I don’t begrudge giving Mr. Negative time to shine, as I wasn’t really all that familiar with him myself, and I appreciated the work put in to make him a memorable and imposing villain. Nor do I mind Otto getting the care put into his characterization, as it helps really bring the finale home and gives one of Spidey’s best enemies some well deserved attention. But I can’t help but wish Insomniac had given the other villains more attention. They’re iconic characters for a reason, but you wouldn’t know it by how they are treated in this game.
To give a comparison, let’s look at Batman: Arkham Asylum. Loaded with iconic villains, all of whom get real attention put into them. We get to interact with killer Croc more than once. We get a feel for him, as a villain. He’s not actually in the game very much, but he genuinely feels like a living, breathing person locked in that asylum with you. Conversely, Scorpion feels like a video game boss. He makes an appearance, he ahas a “stage” (traveling around while hallucinating, which still has more character development for Doc Ock than him ironically), and then you fight him and he’s never seen or heard from again. He doesn’t feel like a character. He’s an obstacle. No more imposing or interesting than the numerous thugs you fight throughout the game. And that’s a shame. Because Mac Gargan has plenty to explore. His hatred for J. Jonah Jameson, his checkered past, and of course, his anger with Spder-Man. None of these are actually explored in the game, aside from him hating Spidey. He just yells out some dumb threats, gets his ass beat, and that’s all she wrote.
I want to be clear, I still really liked Spider-Man as a game. And I am very interested in seeing what Insomniac plans to do next. Especially since the game seems to be teasing Norman’s turn to the Green Goblin. And I really do like how the developed Otto and Martin Li. I just wish the other members of the Sinister Six got anywhere near as much love and attention. All Insomniac needed to do was give them each another boss fight, one in which they explored their past with Spidey and I would have called the game nearly perfect. As it stands, it’s good, and very entertaining, but drops the ball on over half the villains it marketed to us. And that’s okay. There will likely be another game, which gives them another chance to really give all their villains a chance to have their time in the spotlight. And I hope they will, as I hate to see good villains go to waste.