Does Spidey’s Web-Swinging ‘Make You Feel Like Spider-Man’? | Game Maker’s Toolkit

It seems like the biggest compliment you can
pay the new Spider-Man game on PlayStation 4, is that it makes you feel like Spider-Man. Seriously, there are loads of reviews that
contain that exact same line. And what they mean is, if you’ve seen a
Spider-Man film in the cinema, then you’ll have an idea of how Peter Parker moves, fights,
and swings about – and playing the game will capture that exact sensation. But actually, a lot of games work like this. Especially big console releases. Because games promise us a fantasy, and say,
pop this in your Xbox and you’ll get to feel like an assassin. Or a World War 2 soldier. Or a cowboy. Only, the fantasy isn’t promised through
a Hollywood movie, but instead the marketing for the game. Like the picture on the front of the box. Or those flashy CGI trailers they play at
E3. For example, this Titanfall 2 video shows us
the fantasy of being a nippy, trickster soldier who jumps over enemies, uses gadgets to fool
his foes, and can jump into a big mech to wreck shop. The gameplay then delivers on that fantasy,
and effectively uses its mechanics to make you feel like the bloke on the box. But the question I want to ask is: how easily
should that fantasy come true? Look at Hitman, for example. The CGI trailer shows Agent 47 as a perfect
assassin. He kills his targets without ever being spotted
and then escapes into the shadows. But boot up the game itself and most first
attempts will see you screwing everything up like a big bald idiot. It’s only when you learn the level, master
the stealth system, and put in a bit of effort that you’ll be able to live out the fantasy
promised by the game’s snazzy marketing campaign. And maybe that’s the right way to go, because
if you give away that fantasy too easily it can ring a bit hollow. That’s what happened with the combat in
the Batman: Arkham games. This is a really simple fighting system where
you just need to tap the punch button over and over again, and Batman will magnetically
snap to enemies, pirouetting all over the place like a goth ballerina. And if you hit the counter button at any point
during the generous timing window, the Dark Knight will deck his enemies with ease. Sure, fights look appropriately cinematic
and the game makes you feel like Batman – but when you don’t have to exert all that much
effort to get there, doesn’t it feel a bit patronising? This is not the case in the combat for Spider-Man,
which has a lot in common with the Arkham fighting system but is a fair amount more
demanding, and a lot less forgiving. Spider-Man has lots more moves and unlockable
skills, and can juggle enemies in the air like you’re playing Devil May Cry. Plus, Spidey doesn’t snap so magnetically
to enemies when you punch. Enemies gang up on you, making dodges and
counters harder to pull off. They use guns and rocket launchers to attack
you from afar, or while juggling enemies. And they’ll even attack you when you’re
in the middle of cool animations, like swinging bits of the scenery around. All of this means that, for a while, you probably
won’t feel all that much like Spider-Man. You’ll look like a bumbling fool, getting
bonked on the head by street punks, fumbling finishing moves, and just sort of punching
thin air. It’s only when you get better at the combat
that you’ll actually be able to dance around goons like Spidey does in the movies. So the combat in this game doesn’t make
you feel like Spider-Man – but it lets you feel like Spider-Man, if you’re skilled
enough. Getting to live out the fantasy is actually
a reward for being good at the game. Web-swinging, however, is quite different. It is, to be fair, a pitch perfect recreation
of the swinging you see in Spidey movies. Right down to the animations, to the sound
effects, to sense of speed, to the fact that the webs actually connect to buildings instead
of, like, the sky. It absolutely makes you feel like Spider-Man. And it’s just really satisfying to swing
around the city. But it also comes very easily. Starting a swing in Spider-Man is as simple
as holding down R2 when you’re somewhat close to a building. Which, in the densely packed metropolis of
New York City, is just about anywhere. You will then enter a swing, and and can choose
when to let go: either when you’re just coming off the down swing if you want speed,
or when you’re barreling up towards the sky if you want height. You can also jump out of the swing, with X,
for more speed and height. But it doesn’t matter too much when you
exit the swing because you have so much control over Spider-Man in the air, that you can easily
set-up the next swing to go anywhere. For example, if you whip the camera left,
you can make a sharp turn and start swinging down a street to your left. There are also some other moves you can use
while traversing. The web zip gives you a quick blast of forward
momentum, and is a cheeky safety net if you end up in one of the few places without buildings. Zip to point lets you snap onto any spot indicated
by a circular symbol, and you can then leap off again with a well timed hit of the X button. And you can also do air tricks, to build focus
and experience points. This whole system makes it almost effortless
to put Spider-Man where you want him, either by abusing that ample air control to move
Spidey around like a drone, or by forgoing web swinging altogether and just using the
zip to point system. And you can certainly read that as a positive. Or as the game making life just a bit too
easy. It’s very different to, say, Super Mario
Odyssey where getting Mario to the right spot means reading the level layout, chaining together
the right actions, and moving with absolute precision. And because it’s quite tough, it’s immensely
rewarding when you get it right. Spider-Man requires far less of the player,
giving you a lot less satisfaction. And even if you do screw up, the game is extremely
forgiving. There’s no fall damage whatsoever, and no
reward for staying in the air – unlike Insomniac’s last open world title, the spicy Sunset Overdrive,
where you’re given style points and safety from zombies if you manage to stay above ground. There’s also no reward for getting close
to buildings like in the addictive Superflight, where your score ticks up as long as you’re
in spitting distance of a wall. And if you hit into a skyscraper in Spider-Man,
it’s no big deal. You don’t bonk off like in Mario Odyssey:
you just instantly transition into a wall run. Which might slow you down, but not massively. And who really cares when the game so rarely
asks you to swing with speed or with precision? You’re either just bumming around in the
open world, or doing main missions that are so rarely about swinging: they’re much more
often about beating up goons, or doing rubbish stealth bits. Okay, okay, there are some good missions about
swinging, like this stage where you’re infected by Scorpion and have to stay above ground
at all times because Peter thinks the floor is poisonous. That’s an awesome mission. And in this fight against Electro, you’ll
need to carefully swing around buildings while shooting at power transformers. I like that one too. But more often than not, missions will be
like this one: where there’s no need to be fast and catch up to this helicopter quickly
because the game won’t let you latch on until it’s made sure that you’ve seen
these cool explosions first. Now, it’s not impossible to make a game
where web swinging is a bit more technical, requires a tad more thought, and isn’t quite
so forgiving. Web swinging, after all, is basically just
a grappling hook: a mechanic we’ve seen in lots of games, from Uncharted 4 to Titanfall
2, and so there are plenty of examples of games that have played with this mechanic. Take Bionic Commando, for example. This po-faced shooter is generally pretty
dire but the grapple hook gameplay is surprisingly fun. Like Spider-Man, you can hook onto buildings,
and then swing off at the right time – but what makes this game more interesting, is
that in this post apocalyptic wasteland, grapple points are much more limited. Meaning that finding a route across a level
is a tiny puzzle you must solve, and reconnecting to grapple points in mid-air is an actual
challenge. You’ve got to position yourself near to
a viable point – as indicated by this cursor – and at the right angle to keep your momentum
going. Plus, toxic goo and bottomless swamps stop
you from touching the ground, and certain hazards like enemy snipers force you to move
quickly from point to point. Then, there’s Overwatch, where the recently
added character Wrecking Ball – actually a hyper intelligent hamster in a robot orb – can
use a grapple hook to latch onto bits of the environment and swing around. This one’s really interesting. You don’t have very much control over the
ball when it’s swinging or in mid-air, because it actually acts like a heavy physics object attached
by a rope. So you’ve got to be much more precise about
your speed, position and angle of the initial hook, to get where you need to go. Also, there’s zero automation on the grapple
hook point. You’ve literally got to aim and shoot with
a cursor, which makes latching on at speed, or in mid-air, a real challenge. And finally, as the character’s name implies,
this hero becomes a literal wrecking ball when in motion and you can cause great damage
to foes if you swing into them. This is very different to Spider-Man, which
often has a distinct divide between swinging and combat. Though, the boss battle with Scorpion and
Electro finally lets you use both at once. I also enjoyed the first-person game A Story
About My Uncle. In this one, a goofy magnetic glove pulls
you towards objects, but can let go at any time to keep that momentum, and continue flying
forward. This is especially fun with moving objects,
that can really propel you like a graviational slingshot. You also have a limited number of grapples
in mid-air so you have to plan each landing carefully, and puzzle out your route before
you take off. A subtly different take on this idea crops
up in The Free Ones. I’m this game you can latch onto wooden
panels, and drag yourself in, like a hookshot from the Zelda series. But at any time you can hit jump to detach
your rope and spring yourself forward. Chaining together these moves in mid-air makes
for some exhilarating gameplay. Though, a little slowdown might be nice, when
trying to click on those panels at top speed. Now these ideas might not work for Spider-Man. Spidey doesn’t have a finite number of webs
that get replenished when he lands, like in A Story About My Uncle. The New York City we’ve seen in every Spidey
movie is a tightly packed metropolis, not a ruined wasteland like in Bionic Commando. And Peter Parker is a lithe, athletic figure
– not a 500 kilogram lump of metal like Wrecking Ball in Overwatch. And so to go against those facts would, actually,
break the fantasy that Spider-Man is promising. But I reckon there’s lots Spider-Man could
have done to make web swinging more challenging, while still delivering the fantasy promised
by all those movies. And other Spider-Man games have toyed with
more technical web slinging. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had a cool idea,
to have webs come out of Spidey’s left and right hands, when you hit the left and right
shoulder buttons. It doesn’t really affect much – you have
so much air-control that you can turn left even after swinging from the right – but that
could be interesting to explore. And in Ultimate Spider-Man, webs draw Spidey
closer to the building he latches onto, so you have to swing from side to side with a
bit more rhythm to stay in the middle of the street. Again, it’s very subtle, but it’s something. Plus, Spider-Man could definitely integrate
swinging and combat more closely, like Sunset Overdrive, which has a whole combo system
that encourages you to fight zombies while bouncing off car bonnets and grinding on power
cables. At the end of the day though, it comes down
to how much gamers want to work to fulfil their fantasy. Spider-Man’s web swinging could absolutely
be as mechanically complex as keeping a combo going in Tony Hawk’s, or chaining jumps
and hat throws in Mario Odyssey, or speed-running in Mirror’s Edge. But it’s clear that Insomniac wanted the
system to be effortless to pick up, and the developer specifically chose to avoid things
that would break your flow, saying… BRYAN INTIHAR: “One thing we talked about
is we didn’t want to stop players. We didn’t want to, like, face-plant. We wanted to just keep your momentum and flow
going. He’s eight years being Spider-Man, he’s
fine-tuned his traversal, so you slam into a building and you just keep running up it”. So perhaps Insomniac was right to keep the
more technical side of web swinging to optional content, like these bomb diffuser challenges,
where you’re graded on the time it takes you to get between different points. Or these missions, where you chase a drone
and have to swing through big blue targets. Your first go will be abysmal, just like a
first stab at a Hitman mission. But learn the route, steer around buildings,
and chain in different moves, and eventually you’ll score a gold medal and, yes, feel
like Spider-Man. It’s similar to how Super Mario Odyssey works:
you only need simple jumps to finish the game, but advanced manoeuvres will score you secret
coin stashes, let you skip bits of the level, and help you win later missions like golden
Koopa races. Unfortunately, these Spidey sidequests will
uncover how finicky the physics can be, and reveal how leapfrogging from building to building
with the point launch is often much faster than normal swinging, and it will also show that the skill
ceiling of the web swinging is still pretty low compared to other traversal based games. But it’s better than nowt. And, while I would have loved to see a more
in-depth web-swinging system, similar to the stuff in Overwatch and The Free Ones, I guess
if you buy a game called Spider-Man, most players just want to feel like Spider-Man
the second they press start. What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Game Maker’s Toolkit is funded by viewers
like you who pitch in on Patreon and receive cool goodies like bonus content, early videos,
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