To say that I completely fell in love with Insomniac’s Spider-Man would be a wild understatement. Even with other “review” games to play, I still made time to play through the wallcrawler’s adventure a second time even after claiming a Platinum trophy and 100% completion. I often miss out on DLC even for games I like, but I’ve made time for Spider-Man because I’m so taken with everything about the game. Unfortunately, as we move into “Turf Wars,” the second part of the “City That Never Sleeps” DLC trilogy, this isn’t more of what made Spider-Man so good – it feels more like stuff that didn’t make the cut in the final game. And for good reason.
Expect spoilers for “Turf Wars” and “The Heist.”
The first DLC pack introduced us formally to Black Cat, one of Spidey’s frequent allies, adversaries, and lovers. No matter where the pair crops up, they always have chemistry. Peter wants to see the best in the cat burglar, and she wants to turn over a new leaf for him. But she gives in to her compulsion and he lives up to his duty. The first chapter of this story, “The Heist,” brought all that to the forefront, as well as giving us more Screwball challenges and a collectible that had some compelling story content alongside.
That chapter ended dramatically, with Black Cat caught in an explosion, her status unknown. The explosion was set off by one of Spider-Man’s sillier foes, Hammerhead. Hammerhead is a guy who, beaten and bruised, was operated on by a disgraced doctor, who replaced much of his skull with steel plating, giving him super-hard, unbreakable skull. In the comics, this operation leaves Hammerhead without any memories aside from the image of a mob movie poster that he fixed on in his dying moments. That leads him to, after recovery, to start up his own crime family, complete with 1920s & 30s-style dress. This second chapter focuses firmly on Hammerhead.
But Hammerhead isn’t a very interesting character. The game doesn’t take any time to tell us about how he became Hammerhead or give us any humanity to chew on. When I look back at the main campaign, the part that made Spider-Man feel so significant was how much time the game spent letting us into Spidey, Mr. Negative, and Doc Ock’s inner lives. The other members of the Sinister Six – Vulture, Rhino, Electro, and Scorpion – didn’t get that same time, and are comparatively forgettable. Hammerhead sits more comfortably with those goofy goons than he does alongside Mr. Negative, but we spend more time chasing him and fighting him.
One part that works a little better is the greater integration of Yuri Watanabe, a police captain, and friend of Spider-Man. Like in the comics, Yuri has a beef with the Marvel equivalent of the mob, the Maggia. In this story, Yuri goes rogue and starts chasing down Maggia goons without prejudice.
But while we get a lot of time with Yuri audibly frustrated over the phone, we again don’t get much payoff for it. In the comics, Yuri eventually becomes the Wraith, a vigilante who poses as a ghost using gear from Spidey foe Mysterio, who doesn’t appear in the first game, though the game makes it clear Mysterio already exists in the world. Yuri Lowenthal’s turn as Spider-Man has been universally excellent, but Tara Platt shines as Watanabe in this chapter (Fun fact: Yuri Watanabe actress Platt is married to Spider-Man actor Yuri Lowenthal in real life. That must’ve made sessions in the voice booth interesting.).
With all this in mind, this stuff seems like it would’ve fit better in the inevitable Spider-Man 2, where it seems all but guaranteed we’ll meet Mysterio and see the Spider-family expand. This stuff feels too early for it to pay off in a satisfying way.
On the gameplay side, it’s just more Spider-Man. That’s not bad, but it doesn’t add anything on top of the base game or The Heist. The story missions are over quickly, and are very linear. A lot of time is spent indoors, which is not a place where this Spider-Man game excels. None of the major players in this DLC are “super,” and that slows Spidey himself down a lot.
Additional activities include more Maggia crimes to stop, Hammerhead bases to take down, and more Screwball challenges. Again, none of this feels at all fresh. It’s just more. The mix of activities and areas in the original game was so perfectly spaced out that this feels like too much. It doesn’t help that Screwball is an incredibly annoying character, and that hearing her chirp about likes and subscribes over and over as I retry her missions makes doing them an absolute chore.
The whole package feels like a well-intentioned mistake. Whether this story was made specifically for DLC or was intended to be in the main game, it doesn’t have the satisfying depth of character or gameplay that the main game does. It pokes at ideas but doesn’t do anything interesting with them. They could pay off in the third part, “The Silver Lining,” but as a standalone story, “Turf Wars” is unsatsifying. It doesn’t have a strong hook like Black Cat to make it feel good as a standalone story.
Insomniac has proven to me beyond a doubt that it can turn the bright, exciting world of Spider-Man into a relentlessly charming and fun game. Even after twice through the story, swinging in this game is still immensely entertaining. Getting into combat is an absolute blast. But with forgettable characters like Hammerhead and Screwball, “Turf Wars” leaves me wanting to go back to the main game and just play the original story all over again.
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