So many of my favorite games of E3 2018 are games that don’t have release dates. One of the games that was playable and has a clear, imminent release, though, is Insomniac’s Spider-Man. I finally got to play it last week at E3. My time with the game started awkwardly.
“How do I get in line to play this,” I asked the guy in the red hoodie clearly overlooking the game.
“Y’know man, I have no idea,” he replies. I immediately recognize his voice from having sat in on sessions with him before and listened to interviews on YouTube. I’m talking to Bryan Intihar, the creative director on Insomniac’s Spider-Man.
“Oh man, I’m sorry, you’re the guy who makes the ga–”
“Let me check for you, don’t worry about it,” replies the nicest guy at E3.
But it was lucky. I’d expected to sit down and play Spider-Man. And I did! My impressions line up largely with those of our own Brandon Russell, who called the game his favorite title of E3. But I also got to chat one-on-one with Intihar for a few minutes about the unique challenge of making a game based around one of comic books’ most unabashedly fun, energetic, and acrobatic heroes. With Spidey, keeping things fresh is the name of the game. It’s why three of the six Spider-Man movies kinda suck – they lost sight of what made ol’ Webhead fun to hang out with.
Insomniac is working overtime to make sure that doesn’t happen, through the game’s characters, movement, and activities. That starts with the villains. I loved Rocksteady’s take on Batman, but some of those villains got so ultra grimdark that they went right past fun or funny and into silly. They stopped just short of Joel Shumacher territory at times.
“We didn’t want to do a one-to-one on everything. You know, I feel like – I was a really big fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man. I feel like that did a really good job of really blending familiar and fresh. Like, you know, it wasn’t just MJ being an actress, or even how the [Venom] symbiote comes to be, right?”
That means that a lot of what we’ll see in Spider-Man will be familiar, but not too familiar. It’ll be shifted just a bit.
“For example, there is no Green Goblin in our world. It’s got Wilson Fisk as the big bad he’s been fighting for years. Mary Jane works at the Daily Bugle. That extends into character designs, too.”
The character designs are something I immediately enjoyed about the most recent trailer. They feel like they’re part of the same world, and there’s an implication that the Sinister Six even got their armor from the same inventor, giving them a unified look that still lets them look like themselves.
“You look at Electro, right? So we’re not going to do the star mask,” Intihar says.
Probably a good decision.
Instead, Intihar says, “we want to have an electrical scar on his face. So why can’t we do it that way? Having some familiar but fresh take on things because, at the end of the day, we don’t want to go so far left-field that you can’t understand who the character is. But at the same time, it’s something a little different that you haven’t seen.”
Keeping the characters fun and fresh hasn’t been a problem for the team that also brought us the magical Xbox exclusive Sunset Overdrive.
“I would say that we’ve actually probably pushed ourselves to maybe dial some things back when it didn’t feel tonally correct,” Intihar said.
Fans of Sunset Overdrive will pick up on the same “sense of style, flow, fluidity,” too, Intihar said. When I played that game, I didn’t use fast travel until the very end of my time with it when I was just trying to rack up achievements.
“I can’t ever, like — going from Sunset Overdrive to this, I can’t imagine playing a game where you have to walk around or run. I want to swing around everywhere, it’s that same kind of feeling [as Sunset Overdrive].” Intihar says that he forgets the fast travel function is even in the game until he has to test it. That sounds kind of like game developer bull, but Sunset Overdrive gave me the same feeling.
The swinging in Spider-Man is meant to be accessible, but I wondered if there would be room for mastery.
“We want people to feel like Spider-Man right away,” Intihar said, “but feel like a greater Spider-Man over time. That applies to combat and traversal. I don’t want someone to pick up the game and not be able to swing… I’m playing this game so I can be someone I can’t be in real life. At the same time, there are people who want that level of mastery, and hopefully we can give that to them.”
Even if swinging around is a blast, though, you’ll want to hit the streets eventually to see what kind of heroics you can get up to. If you remember the Spider-Man games on the original PlayStation, that means we can look forward to rescuing kids balloons over and over, right?
“I think there’s definitely a level of expectation about how much game there is. I think like, every resource station is different, every station is differently themed and requires different mechanics,” Intihar said, referring to research stations setup by Peter’s friend Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin in other Spider-verses. “Some things like the challenges, are based on traversal, combat, it’s a mix. Everything can’t be a one-off, but at the same time, what makes the game fun?”
This is a task that every company ever to have made an open-world game has to wrestle with, and one we won’t know Insomniac’s answer to for sure until Spider-Man releases this fall. I enjoyed my 15 minutes with the game, though, and I can’t wait for the dog days of summer, when Spider-Man hits PlayStation 4 as an exclusive on September 7.
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