In 2009, video-game developers Rocksteady Studios launched a revolutionary take on a legendary character with the AAA action/superhero game, Batman: Arkham Asylum.
The game was revolutionary because it showed that if you mix superheroes and video-games together, it really can produce something good. But this revolutionary Batman game wasn’t a one-hit-wonder video game, Rocksteady improved on their brand and took this character and his story and expanded it into something bigger and much more epic in 2011 when they released Batman: Arkham City.
They didn’t just settle for rehashing what they did before but really paid attention to the smallest details, whether it was in design or gameplay, and they made it better.
Last year was the last installment, when they released the final chapter to their Arkham Trilogy, Batman: Arkham Knight. All three games were received with an overwhelming amount of critical praise overall and really just helped solidify in the minds of gamers that just because a comic book character graces the cover, doesn’t mean it’s going to end up like this:
But in that time, we haven’t really received a great action/adventure superhero game, at least not in the scope and scale of the Arkham Trilogy. Neatherrealm Studios did release their popular Injustice: Gods Among Us fighting game, but it really wasn’t the same kind of adventure and didn’t hold the exact amount of excitement that the Arkham games did (now Injustice 2 seems to hold much more excitement among fans, but that’s a topic for another article).
After Arkham Knight concluded, a lot of us were left wondering what was next for Rocksteady (who many of us viewed as the only worthy developer of superhero games). I had wondered about Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern and then started thinking about Marvel’s characters, like Daredevil or Spider-Man.
Well, alas, Spider-Man was apparently at the forefront of someone’s attention but it wasn’t Rocksteady’s (even though that would have been cool).
Spider-Man PS4 Announced at E3
Now, I understand that I may be a little late in the game in doing any kind of report on this, but I just wanted to take some time to digest everything. Last week during E3's Sony Presentation, a PS4-exclusive Spider-Man game was announced by Insomniac Studios. The trailer was, in truth, pretty freaking awesome. Check it out:
Pretty awesome right? I mean this game really looks promising! I don’t know which footage was cinematic or gameplay, as they meshed it really well (similar to the Arkham Knight game).
As I began to feel the hype regarding the Spider-Man PS4 game, I began to think: “Could Spider-Man PS4 replace the Arkham-shaped hole in my life”?
Well, that’s what I want to look at, I want to focus on how similar Spider-Man PS4 could be similar and, in some cases, better than the Rocksteady Arkham Trilogy.
Despite the first installment of the Arkham Trilogy being a loosely adapted version of the "Batman: Arkham Asylum" graphic novel, the majority of the trilogy was an original story. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but to many it is a big deal.
In this newer era of video gaming, the story has become a focal point, it’s no longer just running to the right of the screen till reach the end of the level till your done, with little to no background as to why you are platforming (not bashing on platformers, they’re awesome for what they are and the right properties). We as gamers require a more cinematic touch. We want to feel invested into the story, we want to connect with the characters, and we want to see them again and again.
This is why Rocksteady’s Batman games were so good. The story was compelling, Batman was depicted true-to-comic with the added bonus of having original Batman: TAS voice actors, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill provide dialogue for the two biggest characters of the franchise.
The story of the Arkham games became so big that they expounded on some things by providing comic book adaptations in books such as "Batman: Arkham Unhinged" which has its own following.
Now, I know I’m talking too much about Batman in this article that is supposed to be about Spider-Man, so let’s start talking about Spider-Man.
Insomniac have informed us, upon the announcement of their PS4-exclusive Spider-Man game, that the story would be an original story and not exist in any other world - be it the MCU’s upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming or any comic book run - but its own.
This allows them as creative developers and writers to recreate characters and change their story around a bit. Similar to Batman, Spider-Man has a remarkably colorful, albeit dangerous, rogues gallery that would be incredibly fun to re-imagine for this video-game format.
I liken to playing with action figures. With action figures, you can take all of these pre-existing characters and tell a story completely your own with no rules or regulations. You’re free to make creative decisions on how the story will play out. Right now, that’s what Insomniac is doing with Spider-Man PS4 and the only thing I regret is that I don’t get to play with their action figures.
The gameplay pertaining to the Arkham games is incredibly fun and although there are some who tend to criticize the later installments of the franchise for not changing the feel of the gameplay to be distinctly different, I say don’t fix what ain’t broke. All I wanted was the same feel of the game, I wanted to pick up the controller and to feel familiarized with the controls and I always did, so that was a win.
However, regarding Spider-Man PS4, I think that the gameplay could/should be very similar to the Rocksteady Arkham franchise, there are some drastic changes that are going to need to take place simply for the fact that we will not be playing as a man dressed up as a bat who is extremely proficient in various forms of martial arts, we will now be playing as a super-powered man with the abilities of a spider. This means more flipping, more agility, faster hits, more combos, etc. I mean, we’re no longer playing with the solid, heavy brawler that is Batman; Spider-Man should feel lighter and quicker while simultaneously feeling just as strong if not stronger when connecting hits against enemy AI.
One thing you absolutely cannot deny when playing the Arkham games, is that with each game, the world gets a little bit bigger and lot prettier. The sheer scale of Batman: Arkham City baffled us who were fans of the first installment, and then for them to come out and release Batman: Arkham Knight that ended up being more than twice the size of Batman: Arkham City was just incredible. The fact that Rocksteady was able to create the last installment and make it as big as it was, with as much details as it had, and with the flawless transitions between entering buildings and/or cut scenes is a huge testament to the power of the now-current-gen console.
With Spider-Man PS4, the world needs to feel bigger and more real because we are no longer operating in the fictional realm of Gotham City but playing in the real-world environment of New York City. This means that we need to have life more present in the City, especially since a lot of Spider-Man’s adventures take place in the day as much as they do in the night. So adding a mass of pedestrians and civilians to populate the streets and side-walks is crucial to feeling like a legit New York City for our Spider-Man to play in.
The interacting with the environment needs to take it up several notches too. I’ve heard they are really putting in that parkour feel to the game, which is good for a character like Spider-Man. I want to be able to jump, climb, tumble, etc. through every obstacle in my way. I also want to be able to react more with the environment to take out the bad guys like webbing some obstacles to swing and hit the enemy or tie the enemy from a street light and other things of that nature. Just how Rocksteady made you feel like you were Batman – that was even their slogan: “Be the Batman” – I want Insomniac to make me feel like I am Spider-Man.
From what I’ve seen of the Spider-Man game, it looks as if they have identified this as we see Spider-Man on top of cars or as he swings by, people gaze up at him and point. I really want this new game to tap into the potential power of this current gen’s console.
Where I feel the most confident in this game though, is the name of the developers behind this inspired AAA game: Insomniac. Insomniac, if you are unaware, are known for games such as the recent Ratchet & Clank or the X-Box exclusive hit, Sunset Overdrive. These are real developers with a genuine interest who aren’t just going after the big check only, but going at this project with everything they’ve got because of passion for the character. Prior to Insomniac, all our Spider-Man games were being produced by Beenox who are more well-known for their movie-adapted video games although they have worked in the Skylanders franchise as well. But overall, Beenox felt like it was just using Spider-Man like every other IP for quick grab for cash. Insomniac has passion, when you hear the creative director talk about the game and how excited he was for this game and how he went to his boss to beg that he be put in charge of the game, you feel confident. This is the same kind of passion I’ve seen Rocksteady have for their Arkham games.
Well there you have it, this is probably the biggest surprise from E3 considering how much of a superhero nerd I am; and with that in mind, I have to say that this is now one of my most anticipated games for whenever it comes out, which will likely be 2017 and it will probably be conveniently timed to be released around the Spider-Man: Homecoming release – although the game isn’t an adaptation of that film.