Spider-Man does what many open world games tend to do, and what I consider a big mistake: despite having a humongous map, it doesn’t allow for any actual exploration. Instead, it forces the player to tick all the boxes from a neverending checklist. You know what I’m talking about – it’s what Ubisoft does in all their Watch Dogs, Far Cries and Assassins’ Creeds. Climb 20 towers, collect 200 flags, bring down 40 enemy outposts.
Web swinging feels light and liberating.
When I activated the first communication tower and revealed a chunk of the map, only to find a dozen other tower markers pop up in unexplored areas, my disappointment was immense. Spider-Man has always had this fantastic aura of freedom around him, and Insomniac Games has almost – ALMOST – managed to translate it to gameplay.
They did a lot of things right
Web swinging is possibly the most entertaining way of traversing in the history of the medium. It feels light and liberating. The context for it is appropriate: Spidey stories are rarely about saving the world or anything equally heavy. They’re about keeping your neighbourhood safe… as far as possible, since Spider-Man is not only the mask, but also the guy behind it.
Peter Parker is a grounded character who’s way easier to identify with than all the Batmen in the world. What he’s got on his mind are things you can relate to: school, work, money, family. However, when he puts on the suit, there’s this feeling of release. Mundane issues are put aside. There’s only Spider-Man and the city: his own private playground. And this is in the game: Peter struggles with his private life and flourishes as a superhero.
But they forgot that Spidey is not Batman
Peter Parker is way easier to identify with than all the Batmen in the world.
Spider-Man is not building his security network around the town. He’s not a control freak and doesn’t plan too much ahead. He dons the suit and does his best to stop crime, and I’d argue that context-wise, he shouldn’t be bound to any kind of chores. But in the end that’s what finding all the backpacks, towers and landmarks is. It’s a boring mechanic in itself. Even so, it could suit the game… if it was tied to Peter Parker.
Imagine that the game let you drop the costume at any time and become just Pete, desperately trying to make ends meet and reconcile his private life with being a superhero. You’d have these boring (and totally optional) objectives as Peter and unlimited freedom as Spider-Man, and focusing too much on one would affect the other.
But that’s just my wishful thinking and maybe not the wisest design choice, as the game probably wouldn’t be accessible enough to the general audience.
As is, Spider-Man is accessible. Overly so
You always know where to go and what to expect.
You get all the points of interest marked on your map. You have the large map, the minimap, main quest marker, side quest markers, custom markers, the list of every possible improvement to each of your gadgets and what you need to get them…
Unlocking new stuff isn’t exactly riveting. You always know where to go and what to expect there, so there are no surprises whatsoever. Excessive accessibility turns everything besides story missions into busywork. But there’s a fix for that.
Impair the open world
How about making the game not so much user-friendly?
What if I had to use my very own eyes to find the communication towers instead of having them all pinpointed from the get-go? What if there wasn’t a list of Kingpin hoods’ hideouts I have to clear out? What if I stumbled upon them organically? What if I didn’t know how many of such places are there?
Wouldn’t it be a more Spider-Man-ish thing to simply patrol the city and discover some shady operations on a skyscraper’s rooftop? This could even bloom into a fleshed out side story, with Spidey uncovering the plot himself instead of being spoonfed information by a voice in the earpiece.
Now, we live in the age of achievements and trophies. I understand that you need to have the number of missions left specified. Players have to know how much there is left to do (however, Dark Souls did away with it – and it was glorious). But in the least, couldn’t we be given a tiny degree of freedom?
You don’t have to go all the way
Marker-littered map is the exact same model Bioware adopted for Dragon Age: Inquisition, but that game was nice enough to not point you exactly to your mission objective. Instead, it showed you the way to its general vicinity. Sometimes you had to explore a fair chunk of the area before finding your target. Even though still restrictive and hand-holding, it made me feel like I achieved something myself, other than killing the baddies, of course.
It’s unfortunate that Marvel’s Spider-Man holds the player’s hand so tight. Sometimes it had a Watch Dogs vibe, and that game was infamous for its tedious mission design.
It’s a triple-A title – you don’t take chances with these.
Don’t get me wrong – Spidey’s still okay. It’s a beautifully made game that follows all the modern design trends and tropes, which I can hardly blame it for. It’s a triple-A title – you don’t take chances with these. But I’ve seen it already! I’ve played it so many times. These mechanics are so unoriginal that you could call Spider-Man a mix of Ubisoft game design, Batman combat and web swinging, and it would do it justice.
It may sound like a contradiction, but open worlds have gotten really restrictive. What I’d like to see is the return to the age of Morrowind, when finding things meant… you know, actually finding things. Because would you consider hide-and-seek fun if everyone told you where they’re going to hide?