Spider-Man (2018) Review

Your friendly problematic Spider-Man.

This review will contain spoilers for the game Spider-Man (2018) and its DLC

Swinging across skyscrapers in New York City and cracking bad jokes while fighting a man dressed as a vulture is an empowering fantasy. Insomniac Games nails that fantasy in Spider-Man (2018). The movement and combat system are a joy to use and there is so much to do and find. It is a well of nostalgia, as the game pulls older suits and references from across Spider-Man’s more than 50-year history. Fans get to see a new Sinister Six and a smattering of other fan favorite villians. It is not a surprise that the creators of Sunset Overdrive can make a competent open-world game. What surprised me is how little the game’s story has to say behind its veneer of political awareness.

A Working Class Hero

In this universe’s version of the Spider-Man lore, Peter Parker is a down-on-his-luck twenty-something who has given up his role as a photographer for a career as a struggling scientist. Mary Jane has broken up with him, and he cannot make his rent payments. He is evicted, loses his job, and debates if being a chef is a better career path. But, he still finds time to volunteer at a shelter, research prostheses, and mentor a new Spider-Man.

This version of Peter Parker has space to do so much good work to define the character beyond the expected tale of just fighting supervillains. The breakneck pace of the game’s story throws away this potential. The story makes Spider-Man fight a fascist private military company, an army of palette-swapped henchmen, and the Sinister Six with little time  to reflect. Peter does not have much of an opinion on how he would change the status quo and just trusts the current system to reach the right conclusions. The ending is emotional and starts to have Peter question his own ethics, but that is quickly dismissed in the DLC.

Spider-Man Is A Cop

An element of the game that did not age well, especially in the wake of the George Floyd anti-racism and police brutality protests of 2020, is Peter’s close relationship with the police. Peter works closely with the hard-boiled police detective Yuri Wantanabe throughout the game and she often acts as his main mission giver. He idolizes the cops, and there are recurring segments that involve him talking to Yuri as “Spider-Cop.” The game also paints the New York Police Department (NYPD) as a well-intentioned but ultimately harmless institution. The cops in this game never kill, and in one story mission a police officer uses only a stun gun and stun grenades when faced with deadly force.

In the DLC Yuri crosses the line into police brutality and murder. She is unabashed in saying that she did the right thing by taking the law into her own hands and extrajudicial dealing “justice.”  Peter’s proposed solution is to tell her to turn herself into the NYPD because he doesn’t want to fight her. I am far from the first person to call out this game for having a pro-police message, but it’s still shocking how this vigilante never interrogates that the police aren’t always the best solution. 

Beyond worshipping cops, Spider-Man takes some actions that enable police abuse. Peter takes a stand against fascists locking up protestors in cages, but he does not mind fixing a Manhattan-wide surveillance network run by the police. He declares that drugs are the crime that he hates worst of all, even though he is also fighting an organized crime syndicate that regularly kills people. 

Every moral option in this game is a regression of the superhero genre that feels out of place even in 2018. Peter is a white savior that goes into New York City communities based on a police surveillance network with the sole intention of fighting. His only other outlet of community service is through the non-profit, which is shown to be run by an organized crime boss. The story had all of the plot points in place to talk about how violence is a catalyst and that nonprofits have their limits in actually aiding communities. But, the game never reflects on it.

The game tepidly calls out these deeper themes through a satirical podcast run by noted Spider-Man hater, J. Jonah Jameson. Jameson is an Alex Jones-type who theorizes that everything wrong about New York City is secretly Spider-Man’s fault. Unfortunately, he is also the only character questioning why the police have a surveillance network, and if Spider-Man’s actions help the city long-term. Jameson is also pro-cop, so he’s also canceled.

Courtesy of Insomniac Games

Plenty Of Villains, But Few Interesting Ones

This refusal to engage with Spider-Man’s beliefs is such a bummer because the story does attempt to set up some villains as a foil. Sadly, the motivation of these villains are not given time to breathe. Martin Li is a non-profit director with an art degree who also runs an organized crime syndicate. The game builds him up as the “big bad” but then quickly drops him in favor of centering another villain in the final act.

The two Asian characters in this game are ultimately revealed to be villains driven by their own internal demons. But, in Martin’s case, we don’t get to see what his motivations were beyond revenge, and that leaves him as an Asian caricature who obsesses over Chinese theater masks and yin-yang symbols. It is telling that, in addition to guns, the Asian gangsters use jians (Chinese swords commonly used in martial arts) and kamas (short sickle-like weapons) while every other faction exclusively uses science fiction weapons, guns or fists. The gang is painted with a myriad of superficial Hollywood tropes related to Asian culture without explaining their history or providing a rich characterization of their leader.

The characters in this game are well established in the Spider-Man comics and have a rich history that gets into their motivations and backstories. But, I am a casual Spider-Man fan who has only read a few of his most notable stories. The way that these villains are portrayed in this story makes it hard to feel interested. It is fun to see Spider-Man’s extensive rogues’ gallery, but we barely get a payoff for the time spent building up these characters.

Spider-Man 2018 waypoints
The waypoints are just a little excessive.

A Lot Of Webbing But Little Substance

It is also a shame that the game gives you so many side-activities to pad out the completion time. You can hunt down collectible backpacks, fight street crimes, take on enemy bases, snap photos, and do a myriad of other activities. The reward for completing the side-mission is often a new suit pulled from Spider-Man’s long comic-book history. These suits unlock new powers, which can dramatically change the flow of combat. But, the required activities feel like a repetitive grind without relevant story content.

At the end of the day this is a AAA game that fulfills all of the expectations of a first-party Sony product. It’s got overwhelmingly detailed set pieces and top-notch voice acting. Peter has some quips that walk the line between barely funny and groan-inducing. The tried and true Batman: Arkham Asylum combat works well with the game and the developers have added some slight flourishes involving aerial combat and gadgets. The game performed well on my non-pro PlayStation 4. The photo mode is very cool and has a lot of stickers in it. It is a technical slam dunk.

With Spider-Man: Miles Morales on the horizon for the end of 2020, I hope that a more focused experience will give this game the pruning that it needs. It is a competent Insomniac open-world game that works well and looks beautiful. I wish it cared more about telling its own stories rather than relying on comic book tropes.

Header image courtesy of Insomniac Games

I Reviewed Every Game From E3 In Five Words Or Less

E3 2019 was a wild time. We got some amazing announcements and new games on the horizon. But, have you ever felt overwhelmed by newly announced games? Maybe you just want to know what is good, before it’s even out. Don’t worry, I got you.

I have done you a kindness. I’ve reviewed nearly every game from E3 in five words or less. This means that you are ready when your friends ask you about the games they should play.

EA Play

Apex Legends: Season 2

Don’t make developers crunch

Battlefield V (Update)

War, war never changes (not)

Fifa 2020

More Balls

Madden NFL 20

Bring back the truck stick

Lost in Random

Hey kids, EA is cool

RustHeart

This robot is my friend

Unannounced Game by Hazelight Studios

Fares-ier

Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order

Leave Kashykk Alone

The Sims 4: Island Living

Eco-friendly colonization

Xbox Briefing

12 Minutes

Live, Die, Get Sad, Repeat

Afterparty

Hells-en-free

Age of Empires II Definitive Edition

RE-RE-REMASTER

Battletoads

I guess

Blair Witch

1990s PT

Bleeding Edge

Edge-y overwatch

Borderlands 2: Commander Lilith and The Fight for Sanctuary

Borderlands 2 had a story?

Borderlands 3

Possibly set at Medieval Times

Crossfire X

War is COOL! Explosions!

Cyberpunk 2077

*Keanu Reeves voice* Cy-ber-punk

Dead Static Drive

That art style though

Dragon Ball: Kakarot

*Goku voice* Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Dying Light 2

AZAB (All Zombies Are Bastards)

Elden Ring

Another Soulsborne is coming

Flight Simulator

Bing Map Simulator

Forza Horizon 4: LEGO Speed Champions

I genuinely love LEGOs

Gears of War 5

The Terminator DLC is lame

Gears POP!

GOTY 2019

Halo Infinite

What if AI, but bad

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

This dead horse makes money

Minecraft Dungeons

Diablo, now with less hell

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Will probably make me cry

Phantasy Star Online 2

…..why?….. How

Project Scarlett

Imagine an Xbone, but better

Psychonauts 2

Double Fine is still good

RPG Time: The Legend of Wright

Good Drawn to Death

Spiritfarer

An owlman plays the violin

State of Decay 2: Heartland

More zombies and heartache

Tales of Arise

Anime chest swords are…. Cool?

The Outer Worlds

Fallout: New Space-gas

Wasteland 3

Old Fallout, but new

Way to the Woods

Must protect deer

Xbox Elite Controller – Series 2

Pro-er controller

Bethesda Showcase

Commander Keen

More like, commander small screen

Deathloop

More like death-poop (I’m sorry)

DOOM Eternal

They gave Doomguy a hookshot

Elder Scrolls Legends: Moons of Elsweyr

Everybody has a CCG

Fallout 76: Nuclear Winter

ToddHoward’s Battleground

Fallout 76: Wastelanders

Never means maybe

Ghostwire: Tokyo

Get ghost raptured

Orion

Everybody has a streaming service!

Rage 2: Rise of the Ghosts

Oh yeah, Rage exists

Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr

Dragons make games good

The Elder Scrolls Online: Dragonhold

*Guy in crowd voice* YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

The Elder Scrolls Online: Scalebreaker

*Lady in crowd voice* WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

The Elder Scrolls: Blades

Nobody wanted this

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot

Mecha are a deterrent!

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Young women taking direct action

Devolver Digital Big Fancy Press Conference

Carrion

I feel kinda sick now

Devolver Bootleg

Make more Hotline Milwaukee levels

Enter the Gungeon: House of the Gundead

Wait, is this real?

Fall Guys

The ultimate battle royale experience

My Friend Pedro

What a trustworthy Banana

The Messenger: Picnic Panic

Everybody loves the beach!

UploadVR Presents: The E3 VR Showcase

ABE

Don’t trust that bot

Acorn: Attack of the Squirrels

These squirrels don’t look right

Angry Birds Movie 2 VR

How the mighty have fallen

Arizona Sunshine: The Damned

The Hoover Dam suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks

Asgard’s Wrath

God of Boar

Audica

Beat Saber: Gun

Battlewake

See (In VR) of Thieves

Boneworks: Stress Level Zero

Those arms look really nice

Budget Cuts

Late capitalism, with robots

Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency

Automation didn’t solve our problems

Disciples of Dawn

It’s so dark, when’s dawn?

Doctor Who: The Edge of Time

Let me pet the Dalek

Drunken Bar Fight Special Edition (DLC)

Please, VR responsibly

Echo Arena

Ender’s Game ain’t shit

Espire 1

Stealth Tactical Espionage VR Action

Garden of the Sea

I love that Penguin thing

Golem

This golem better not die

Hotel RnR

FAILED DEMON ROCK STAR SMASH

Lone Echo 2

It’s even echo-ier

Lowfi

Unlicensed Blade Runner car game

Mini Mech Mayhem

Better than Catan, probably

Pistol Whip

Serious Hotline Miami vibes

Pixel Ripped 1989

The best fake Game Boy

Pixel Ripped: 1995

90s graphics were bad, okay

Rogan: The Thief in the Castle

Trailers please, show, not tell

Sairento

Motion sickness ninja simulator

Solaris: Offworld Combat

Literally zero details about this

Spaceteam VR

EVERYBODY SHAKE (YOUR VR HEADSET)

The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets

Cute as fuck

The Soulkeeper

Medieval brood game on point

The Walking Dead: Onslaught

The franchise that won’t die

Undead Citadel

Please stop with zombies

Until You Fall

New Infinity Blade looks tight

PC Gaming Show

Age of Wonders: Planetfall

Civilization, but with laser dinosaurs.

Ancestors

Spore: Monkey Edition

Atomicrops

Stardew Valley, but more mutants

Auto Chess

In 2019, games play themselves

Chivalry II

MORDHAU BETTER WATCH ITS BACK

Conan Chop Chop

This conan is kawaii

CrisTales

Magical Girl the RPG

El Hijo

Metal Gear Son

Evil Genius 2: World Domination

This is just plain….. evil

Genesis Noir

The Ultimate Space-Time Whodunit

Griftlands

Apocalypse: The Gathering

Last Oasis

It’s like K’Nex but deadly

Maneater

Grand Theft Auto: Shark

Midnight Ghost Hunt

I see ghost chair people

Moons of Madness

Ghosts of Mars: The Game

Mosaic

What if phones, but bad

Mutant Year Zero: Seed of Evil

Trees are fucking dangerous

Phantom Brigade

Fire Emblem: Mechas

Planet Zoo

Please don’t free the lions

Per Aspera

They are even automating planets

Remnant: From the Ashes

Left 4 Stargate

Rune II

Beowulf simulator

Shenmue III

How many forklifts are there?

Solar Ash Kingdom

Hyper Light Skater

Songs of Conquest

Pixelated skeletal armies are neat

Starmancer

Stardew Space Station

Telling Lies

Their Story

Terraria: Journey’s End

They still make Terraria expansions?

The Pathless

Princess Monono— Hawk Lady

The Sojourn

The Witness, but about birthing

Unexplored 2: The Wayfarer’s Legacy

A hella pretty ARPG

Untitled Goose Game

Set loose the goose

Valfaris

*headbangs furiously*

Vampire The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2

These vampires fuck

Warframe: Empyrean

These space ninjas fuck

Warhammer Vermintide II – Versus

Did that rat have a gun?

What the Golf?

Way better than Outlaw Golf

Zombie Army: Dead War 4

I thought Zombies were over?

Kinda Funny Games Showcase

Bloodroots

Cheerful puzzlebox murder

Hamsterdam

This nut muncher can punch

Wave Break

Wave Race with grinding bears

Super Space Club

Enormous flashy Asteroids

An/Round

Really fucked up Pong

A Duel Hand Disaster: Trackher

Particle effects out the wazoo

Looking For Healz

Always tip your healer

One Night Stand

A fun walk of shame

The Inner Friend

“Id” will be really funny

Aground

Survival mechanics galore

Refactor

No one can stop tetrinomino

Pig Eat Ball (Console)

Vomiting pigs are a tool?

Standby (Switch Release)

Hat guy’s gotta go fast

Demagnete

Magnets, how do they work?

Falcon Age (PC)

Dabbing bird fights colonizers

RAWMEN

These boys can cook for me

Solace State

Always hack your ex-lover

Freedom Finger

This finger has Kirby powers

Ribbiting Saga

Adorable pirate frog is good

Wooden Nickel

How the West was fun

Etherborn

Gravity, and skin, get weird

SkateBIRD

These magpies sure can fly

The Gardens Between (Switch Release)

Time is just a suggestion

Renaine

Tonight this byte night fights

Starstruck

Unjammer handy

Sneaky Ninja

Assassinations have never been cuter

Undermine

A mine full of slimes

Monster Prom 2: Holiday Season

Mothman is like super hot

Summer Catchers

My summer wasn’t this cool

Fling To The Finish

Get mad at friends simulator

Gunsport

Windjammers with cyberpunk styyyyyyyle

Lonely Mountains: Downhill

Falling off a bike is brutal

StarCrossed

Magical girl bullet hell

Police Stories

Can we not?

Brave Earth: Prologue

Most likely, really hard Castlevania

Astalon: Tears of the Earth

What a cute beholder

Treachery In Beatdown City

Ron Dümp is a real dick

Tamarin

Cuter than a real Tamarin

Stoneshard

Dungeon crawler meets caravan simulator

Stronghold: Warlords

Great Walls cannot stop flamethrowers

Lucifer Within Us

All hail sci-fi Satan

#Funtime

Geometry Wars: more particle effects

Half Past Fate

500 Days of 8-bit lovers

Superliminal

*Smokes blunt* perspective is weirddddddd

Undying

Last of Us with mom

Castle Storm 2

Castle tower defense autochess

Trials Of Fire

You’ve activated my trap card!

Mare

I want a mechanical bird

Deliver Us The Moon (Console)

Space is fucking scary y’all

Recompile

Hack the digital planet

Foregone

Stab robots, skeletons, and more

Relic Hunters Legend

Some Ducks need a punching

Warborn

Giant robots are cool, okay!?

Lost Ember

I will die for doggo-bird

Adams Ascending

No Man’s Bigass Skeleton

Trigger Witch

THAT WITCH HAS A GUN

Ubisoft Press Conference

Brawlhalla (Adventure Time DLC)

Jake vs. Jake me coward

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint

Let Jon Bernthal pet dogs

Gods and Monsters

Breath of the Greek Canon

Just Dance 2020

FUCK, I SOLD MY WII

Rainbow Six Quarantine

Please, vaccinate your Operators

Rainbow Six Siege (Operation Phantom Sight DLC)

Commissioner Gordon finally ditched Batman

Roller Champions

Wear helmets while skating

The Division 2 (Roadmap)

HEY, DON’T GO PLAY DESTINY

Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad

Generic ass soldier gatcha

Watch Dogs Legion

Elderly lady energy is powerful

Square Enix

Avengers

This is so fucking Bootleg

Battalion 1944: Eastern Front

FACEIT, WW2 is played out

Circuit Superstars

Little tiny baby pit crew

DRAGON QUEST XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age

The one with bad music

Final Fantasy VII Remake

The prettiest midgar EVER

Final Fantasy VIII Remastered

A lot of hot dogs

Final Fantasy XIV Online: Shadowbringers

Is this Kingdom Hearts now?

Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius Collection

Come “Gacha” some Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles

An exciting bucket management sim

Kingdom Hearts III: Re – Mind

This will not resolve anything

Octopath Traveler (PC/Console Release)

You will never finish this

Oninaki

Chibi ghost hunters, the game!

Outriders

Was that a Destiny warlock?

Romancing Saga 3 & SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions

Y’all like JRGS, right?

The Last Remnant Remastered

My brain erased this game

Dragon Quest Builders 2

Anime minecraft returns!

Nintendo

Alien Isolation (Switch)

Shit your space pants, again

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Finally, the fruit auto-stacks

Astral Chain

Mecha persona, by Platinum

Cadence of Hyrule

Make Zelda playable more often!

Collection of Mana

The mad lads did it

Contra Collection

Always choose Browny

Contra: Rogue Corps

Hopefully better than Neo Contra

Daemon X Machina

Too mecha anime 4 u

Dauntless (Switch)

Hunt monsters on the go

Dead by Daylight (Switch)

Those textures are scary

Empire of Sin

A TRPG you can’t refuse

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Harry Potter with more murder

Hollow Knight: Silksong

I already broke my controller

Link’s Awakening

The only Zelda with Goombas

Luigi’s Mansion 3

Bow down to Gooigi

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games

Let us see Sonic’s feet

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

Squirrel girl or bust

New Super Lucky Tale (Switch)

Character platformers are back, bay-bee

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered

Where is this boy’s mom?

No More Heroes 3

Travis touchdown jerks it again

Panzer Dragoon (Switch)

That dragon looks fucked

Pokemon Sword & Shield

Everybody horny for gym leaders

Resident Evil 5 (Switch)

A kinda competent Resident Evil

Resident Evil 6 (Switch)

No one asked for this

Settlers of Catan (Switch)

SOMEONE TAKE MY FUCKING SHEEP

Spyro Trilogy (Switch)

Spyro really uh… kills folks

Stranger Things 3: The Game

Your favorite 80s game design

Super Mario Maker 2

Play my kaizo death trap

Super Smash Brothers Ultimate (The Hero DLC)

Yay…. another anime sword fighter………

Super Smash Brothers Ultimate (Banjo-Kazooie DLC)

A toxic, co-dependent relationship.

The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance Tactics

Relive your childhood nightmares!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Untitled Sequel)

Fans can make anything horny

The Sinking City

Please go to the dermatologist

The Witcher 3: Complete Edition (Switch)

The Witcher 3…. at 540p

Trials of Mana

JRPGs are en vogue again

Other

Creature in the Well

Badass pinball

Persona 5 Royal

Still can’t play a girl

Scavengers

Improvise, Adapt, Kill Mutants

Postcards #1 – A Quick Look at Discolored (2019)

There is something hauntingly familiar to this scene. You, standing in the middle of a road, a desert expanse stretching into a fuzzy grey abyss both in front of you and behind you. To your right: a phone booth, bright on the inside, whose door won’t open. To your left: a diner–its neon signage reaching up into the night sky. From the side of the building you can see a large picture window on the diner’s second floor. Inside, a ceiling fan rotates aimlessly. In the light of a bright, full moon, everything appears in shades of grey…until it quickly becomes apparent that whatever color there had been before has mysteriously disappeared.

Discolored is a first-person puzzle adventure game from Jason Godbey, creator of 2017’s The Search. I was excited to try out his new game after having reviewed The Search when it originally released, and was lucky enough to spend some time with Discolored’s demo in advance of its closed beta. The demo comprises the earliest part of this initial scene with the diner, solving a few monochrome puzzles, finding the first shade of color, and eventually using that color to find the second color, after which the demo concludes.

Jason–an immensely talented 3D environmental artist in his own right–is also a master of atmosphere. There is something deeply unsettling to Discolored’s world without color; its desert road that ends in a grey void; its still and abandoned diner, a television flickering on static upstairs. The dread is Twilight Zone-like in the way it creeps around the edges. Returning color to the world one hue at a time curiously turned the game from ominous to whimsical, aided in no small part by a few reality bending puzzles, including a moon-related one that was extremely satisfying to watch play out. It’s clear there is a lot under the surface here; even the diner itself, which seems small at the outset, has a surprising number of extra rooms, nooks, and crannies that make me excited to get my hands on the full game so I can explore them.

How much time you squeeze out of the demo depends on your attention to detail; I found myself stumped for a while due to not attempting the most basic solution to a puzzle, though astute puzzlers might find themselves able to cruise through in a half hour or so. Despite wanting to see and learn more, I found the demo ended right where it needed to, right when I was finally realizing all the places I could access by unlocking the second color. It’s a taste to be sure, but just enough of one to feel intrigued about the mystery at large and comfortable with Discolored’s main mechanics.

Jason is launching a special closed demo period at the end of January which is ONLY available to those that sign up! He’s looking for feedback from players, so it’s a great chance to be part of the development process and get an early sneak peek at something cool. You can find out more information and register for the demo here. You can also wishlist the game on Steam.