It's not easy being Spider-Man. The webhead may be endowed with powers befitting the responsibilities of being New York's number-one hero (or menace, depending on which paper you read), but being in the spotlight comes with its burdens.
First, there's the sense of always having to be on duty. Second, there's the lack of respect from the populace who isn't sure which side of the coin Spidey falls on. Then there are all the villains — Spider-Man's rogues are among the most sinister in all of comicdom, and as the dynamic new gameplay trailer from E3 showed, that holds true even in Insomniac's new game. As a matter of fact, so do all of those elements. We wouldn't have it any other way.
SYFY WIRE was given a chance to go hands-on with the webslinger himself at E3 this week, and got a glimpse of the massive island of Manhattan that Insomniac created for its PlayStation 4 adventure. Though only a small pocket of Midtown was available for exploration, the detail from the street level all the way to the top of the Empire State Building was amazing. From up on high, Spider-Man can gaze out into the city, and with a click of the right stick, he can find all sorts of missions that need his attention. There'll be no shortage of things to do, from aiding citizens in trouble on the street to completing research for Harry Osborn. New York is filled with random encounters too, including shootouts between the police and Mr. Negative's Inner Demons gang, runaway garbage trucks to stop, and thugs hidden among the everyday citizens walking New York's sidewalks. (Note: the actual city isn't this dangerous.)
Even walking on the street isn't safe for Spider-Man. Sure, there are plenty of people who will gawk and stare, and even stop to take snapshots of Spidey with cell phones when he's hoofing it. However, for every person Spidey gives the ol' finger guns to (a real thing you can do with the press of a button), there's some jerk with a real gun to shoot back at you.
Insomniac's attention to detail for minutiae is impressive, and that extends from the people on the street to the realized New York neighborhoods on display. You live in the city and have a basketball court near your apartment? It's probably in the game, and Spider-Man can definitely shoot hoops there on the way to stopping some of the Kingpin's goons over at a new construction site.
Above the street, Insomniac's Spider-Man is a glorious rush of speed and excitement that we haven't felt in a Spider-Man game for quite some time. Swinging around is as easy as jumping into the air and hitting R2. As long as there's a building or structure close enough to web, Spidey can toss out a line and start swinging. Flying through the air between skyscrapers is exhilarating, and diving down into the streets from up on high to get the movement started reminds us all how Spider-Man is such a fearless hero. The animations Insomniac's put to use here show a Peter who's well in control of his faculties. He's been at this hero game for more than a few years by the time this game takes place, and it shows with every balanced and freewheeling movement he makes.
Perhaps there's no better example of how masterful Peter has become at being Spider-Man than when he's in combat. Just about everything in the world can be used in some manner or another during a fight, whether it's by using your webs to pull down scaffolding or by using a nearby wall for a kick-off to inflict more damage on an extremely punchable thug. Though there's a bit of the Batman: Arkham series at the root of Spider-Man's combat, Insomniac keeps things interesting by making fights more about the acrobatics than about the technical combo count.
As great as Rocksteady's action could be, there were times when it definitely felt like a chore. There's a nimble freshness to Spider-Man's combat, as the wall-crawler can leap and pounce from foe to foe in the same sequence that he just slipped under another's legs to give him the business. And all of that is without making use of the ample web fluid and web-based gadgets Spider-Man has at his disposal.
All of those elements come together when facing off against big villains from Spidey's deep rogues gallery, like Shocker. The demo we played culminated in a face-off with the classic compressed-air-powered enemy inside a nondescript bank in Midtown. We won't spoil how it all goes down so you can enjoy it yourself when the game arrives this September, but you'll need to make use of all your skills and abilities to ensure the Shocker doesn't get the best of Spider-Man.
Like many action games over the years, the boss fight has three stages, with Shocker getting increasingly annoying as the battle rages on. Insomniac knows what it's doing, though, and the fight is designed well enough that you don't even mind how similar it is to so many other fights over the years.
The suit may still be controversial among fans, but there's no denying the expertise in Spider-Man's world design, combat execution, and exploration mechanics. Insomniac has a clear vision for what a Spider-Man video game can be, and after spending time with the game this week, we have faith they'll be able to realize that promise to spectacular fanfare.