Marvel's Spider-Man is, by all accounts, an excellent Spider-Man game. It's polished, feels great, and delivers just about everything fans have been clamoring for in a Spidey adventure for some time. It even features Mary Jane Watson opposite Spidey as she works alongside him to tackle the game's Big Bad and unsavory opposition. Yes, you can also play as her.
The only problem? Her potential was totally and utterly squandered in the game.
Spoilers for Marvel's Spider-Man below.
The most ambitious Spidey game yet finds Peter and MJ as adult acquaintances who have been friends since grade school. In-game MJ has a much different career path than you might remember from some of the comics; depending on which thread you pick up, she's a supermodel. In Marvel's Spider-Man, she's a reporter who works for the Daily Bugle, because of course she is.
You go, girl — get you that money. While this allows MJ to insinuate herself further into Spidey's crime-fighting activities, however, it doesn't make her very interesting. She's been working to become a journalist in the past, such as in Ultimate Spider-Man, but in this story, she's out working her beat and getting into trouble while chasing stories.
Personally, I would have preferred avoiding Mary Jane entirely. She doesn't lend herself well to a video game character in any form. What would have made the game tremendously more fun would have been Gwen Stacy, who could somehow have been worked into the narrative as Spider-Gwen, offering a dual narrative between Peter and Gwen, or even a team-up at some point. Gwen could have zipped around Manhattan on her own, with thrilling adventures just like her male alternative.
Instead, we get Mary Jane's "missions." We first see her skulking around an auction where Wilson Fisk's pricey belongings are being prepared to be auctioned off to wealthy bidders. MJ is there as a supposed reporter for a puff piece on the collection of rare artifacts, but she’s really digging for dirt she can use in her story at the Bugle about Fisk and his cohorts. Most of the time you spend with her is meant for MJ to comment on the pieces of art, her ambitions as a writer, and make some pretty awful decisions regarding her personal safety.
It’s all very altruistic and courageous of MJ to go out on her own like this and snoop around for a story. Sure, I’ll give her the fact that she’s got guts. But she’s also a little stupid, going up against armed guards and being held at gunpoint, then getting mad at Peter for saving her. Most importantly, treating her character like this makes for boring gameplay.
I don’t want to sneak around an art gallery while she muses about the various pieces (and, bizarrely, the need for Peter to remain masked as Spider-Man as if his life doesn’t depend on it). I want to be in the middle of the action, and wasting MJ as a powerless civilian journalist isn’t just a tired trope for female characters, it’s tiresome. It takes away from the otherwise excellent game and slows things down in a way that doesn't make me hopeful for the fate of other female characters' inclusion in the future.
All this, because I suppose Insomniac Games felt the need to include a playable female character in some way, because some portion of the fanbase would have been upset otherwise. I would have been perfectly satisfied with MJ relegated to the role of occasional contact and sidekick, because the "will-they-or-won't-they" back and forth in the game was more than a little frustrating for me, and a plot element I just didn't care to explore.
There was a lot of potential here for MJ to serve a fulfilling purpose as an intriguing side character. Instead, she’s given the same old tired “intrepid journalist” treatment so many other women in comics and media are, with no real redeeming qualities in-game. I understand why she’s here. I understand her allure for some players. But what I don’t understand is why Insomniac would take a beloved character and turn her into such a frustrating shell of what she could have been.
Here’s hoping any future appearances for Mary Jane are more fulfilling, especially since she plays such a major role in Peter Parker's life. I would love to see her better evaluate situations where maybe "sneaking in and hoping I don't get caught" isn't the only valid plan for infiltrating an enemy base. Or at the very least utilized in a better, more interesting manner going forward. She's got a lot more to give.