Insomniac Games. You’ve heard of them. The studio responsible for Hyper-Caffeinated Millenial Hipster Simulator – otherwise known as Sunset Overdrive – as well as a little-known icon of the 90s’ (purple dragon, name rhymes with byro, indispensable part of your childhood?).
Now a lot older, wiser and more experienced, Insomniac Games are swinging their skills to the pages of Marvel’s most iconic – some would say even amazing – character, in order to show the world just how friendly a neighbourhood the ‘wall-crawler from Queens’ can be, with their next project: Spider-Man.
Revealed during a show-stealing trailer at E3 last year, the pulse-pounding pitch sent the world’s spidey senses into overdrive with a blockbuster montage promising high-action, heroism and heart. As Insomniac look set to weave a fresh new take on the web-slinger, all eyes are on Arkham, as the legacy of Rocksteady Studio’s iconic Batman series looks set to face its first challenger in the superhero genre.
Although the Batman: Arkham series achieved much during its tenure as the greatest superhero series of games ever made, the final entry in the trilogy, Batman: Arkham Knight did, well, it did stuff. It went about certain things in a way that wasn’t exactly good. It… it… it killed my love for Rocksteady faster than a thug can kill billionaires in a back-alley. If Spider-Man wants to smite the Knight, here are the six things that Insomniac Games must do in order to overcome the Batman: Arkham series’ legacy.
Tell their own story
Perhaps the biggest failure of Batman: Arkham Knight can be found in it’s biggest success. The previous two games in the trilogy established a brand new universe for Rocksteady to situate Batman in.
Without shoehorning established stories into the ‘Arkhamverse’, Rocksteady gave themselves the freedom to develop the Dark Knight and his relationships in any way they wanted. Batman: Arkham Knight betrayed this ethos, opting to ruin the biggest mystery of 2015 with the single laziest reveal we’d ever seen in a game that year: the ‘shocking’ identity of the Arkham Knight.
This shameless trip into some of the most tired-and-tested lore in the Batman universe destroyed Rocksteady’s standalone ‘Arkhamverse’, making it just another extension of the post-Frank Miller Batman fiction. If Insomniac really want to show us an older, wiser, smarter Spidey, they need to stick to their guns and make the property their own in order to keep fans engaged, rather than anticipating age-old enemies and plotlines they have had decades to digest.
Why so serious?
What do you call Peter Parker when he throws his modem out the window?
A web slinger? Get it?… … …
Hopefully, Insomniac Games are just as funny as I am, and translate Spider-Man’s iconic sense of humour faithfully into the upcoming game. Before the Merc-with-the-mouth had learned his first words, Spider-Man was vexing the Vulture, riding the Rhino and trolling every troublemaker in New York, with his witty barbs and classic comebacks.
Unfortunately, Batman isn’t one for busting one liners: he much prefers busting heads. The overall morbid tone of Batman’s universe isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but given DC’s recent propensity for macabre plots and characters, a superhero aiming for my funny bone would make for a welcome change of pace, as opposed to Batman aiming for my entire rib cage.
Spider-Man is perfectly poised to do just that with his charm, wit, and relatability: Batman can crack skulls, so long as Spidey cracks a few smiles, and it’s up to Insomniac’s writers to make sure they nail this aspect of their upcoming game
Avoid unintentionally parodying Michael Bay’s Transformers series
The Batmobile was a tank… I don’t know what Rocksteady where thinking, but if Insomniac had any ideas about making Spider-Man’s web-shooters transform into a pair of ‘non-lethal’ chainsaw-firing P90s’, I hope they refrain from doing so.
It works just the way it is: do not fuck it up.
And by the way, cars that go as fast as the Batmobile are plenty lethal already, but giving it a canon and then slapping ‘non-lethal’ or ‘rubber’ in front of every ammunition type is just absurd. I mean, Spider-Man’s fist is surrounded by non-lethal latex, so what do the criminals have to worry about, right? Shame on you Rocksteady… non-lethal shame on you.
Do it like they do it on Discovery Channel
I don’t want to get too scientific on you, but simply put: people bang. When people get together, they bang, and then those people form communities and they bang some more, leading to more people. More people means more banging, which means more population growth. Soon, small communities become hamlets, then villages, then towns, until eventually you get cities.
Cities… full of people.
Unfortunately, Rocksteady must have spent too much time attending their local church group, because they didn’t get the Darwinian memo. In Batman: Arkham Knight, Gotham City is left entirely to the very people Batman has spent his career keeping off the streets, and the citizens are conveniently whisked away, resulting in Batman actually saving the criminals from Scarecrow’s evil plan.
Hardly a compelling motivation for a pathological hater of criminals who spends his evenings abusing the ethical and physical limits of the human anatomy, based solely on the notion that every single person who has ever committed a crime shares a collective guilt for the death of his parents.
Hopefully, Insomniac learn from this, and let Spider-Man actually interact with the good people of New York, as he sets about saving them. If Insomniac can populate their open world with characters and citizens, then players will feel that much more like the web-slinger himself. A living, breathing New York is integral to the Spider-Man experience, and neglecting this crucial element could result in disaster for the upcoming Spider-Man title. What good is it announcing yourself as a ‘friendly neighbourhood’ if the neighbours aren’t home?
Put the ‘Man’ in Spider-Man
Perhaps the biggest mistake that Rocksteady made regarding their brilliant Arkham trilogy was not letting you play as the man behind the mask. The potential to experience Gotham as Bruce Wayne was so tantalising, it seems such a waste to see the developer overlook the plethora of unique gameplay experiences such a duality of gameplay could have afforded Arkham Knight. ‘Thankfully’, Telltales Games knows a bandwagon when they see one, so they snapped up the opportunity to cash-in on this the first chance they got, hence such dualistic gameplay in Batman: The Telltales Series.
With Insomniac coming late to the party, they know to avoid such a faux pas. Rather than letting some pond-scum developer suckle from the teat of another missed opportunity, Insomniac have the chance to let players live the life of the Spider and the man that come together to make Spider-Man what he is.
Without the banal bumbling of Peter Parker, the high-octane heroism of Spider-Man is just showing off, but with silly string. Spider-Man shows us what we can be, but in order to fully realise this potential, we have to be shown what we are. Enter plane-old Pete Parker, and his girl-next door romantic mishaps, crappy pizza delivery job and overall average-joe jostling through life.
We’re relating to the insecure nerd behind the mask because we ourselves are stuck behind our own masks. We understand the quintessentially Shakespearian dichotomy of tragedy and comedy that plays such a vital role in our everyday lives, and Spider-Man represents this.
Embracing the all-powerful alter-ego of Spider-Man is catharsis for Peter as much as it is for the players, and it is this aspect of Spider-Man that has kept him so popular for so many years. The sophistication of the yin-yang relationship between Peter and Spider-Man must be preserved if Insomniac wants to successfully immerse people into their upcoming title.
Plus, covering this base now means we won’t have to pay for it later on when Telltale games decide they need to pay their rent…
And there you have it. If Insomniac Games can stick to this carefully thought-out development mantra, we’ll have an absolute belter of a game on our hands. Now, if we are talking a VR release, might I suggest re-casting both Emma Stone and Kirsten Dunst for the Gwen Stacey/ Mary-Jane motion capture? And if you guys need help getting all the kissing scenes just right, I would gladly volunteer to play the part of Spider-Man. After all, I am such a huge fan of Spider-Man: the red suit, dual swords and the last movie with Ryan Reynolds? Brilliant! Can’t wait for this game!