SDCC 2018: Spider-Man Hands-On Demo
Hands-On demos in crowded, noisy convention halls seldom match-up to expectation, nor do they usually provide ample time to dig deeper into a game; fortunately, the demo of Insomniac’s Spider-Man at San Diego Comic Con proved me wrong on both accounts. Often times I’ve demoed a game, had no idea what was going on and was done shortly thereafter, but Marvel and Sony allotted for a solid 10-15 minutes to swing through Manhattan and tackle some missions.
Licensed games, especially comic book games, are dicey propositions. The breadth of comic book lore to pull from is nearly endless, and each of us, without a doubt, have favorite plot points, villains and allies that MUST be in the game. While I can’t speak to what will or won’t be in the game, outside of what has already been revealed, I can say that the web-swinging and combat are sublime.
When you think of a Spider-Man game, the very first question that comes to mind is, “how is the web-swinging?” So, how does it feel to swing from building to building and glide throughout the streets of Manhattan? I’m happy to say it simply feels amazing. Insomniac has mastered the ease of movement, while still allowing the user to feel velocity of the physical motion taking place. While I have no experience with Sunset Overdrive outside of a short play through at E3, Insomniac games, without a doubt, drew from that game and their previous roster of titles to nearly-perfect Spidey’s web-slinging. Not only do the animations look great, they feel that much better. Swinging across the city was quite easy; although, there was loads of untouched depth that I just began to scratch at while playing. It’s pretty difficult to “fail,” but taking different routes between buildings and utilizing different techniques (like hitting [x] for a quick web swing) allowed for these boyhood dreams to come true.
The demo allowed me to fully complete two sets of fights and two side-missions. The two fights gave just a taste of what appears to be a pretty deep combat system. Everyone will mention Arkham here, which is an apt comparison, but it is imperative to note that Spider-Man’s combat system greatly surpasses that of the tried and true Arkham titles. Insomniac took Arkham’s combat as a base and greatly expanded upon it. The Arkham games, while pretty much revolutionizing combat for character action games moving forward, often felt stilted and would sort of lock you into combos with little actual freedom of movement.
Spider-Man allows for greater flexibility of movement, while adding in just enough variety to the combat without including the complex control schemes which usually tag along. Face buttons take care of things such as attacking [square], dodging [circle] and web-striking [triangle], and contextual areas pop-up in the environment such as swinging around a trash can to attack multiple enemies [L1 + R1], gadget selection [L1] and throwing said gadget [R1]. Finishers happen once your focus meter is full [triangle + circle]. There is nothing here that is too wieldy or unheard of, but the nature in which the combat flows is what makes everything here so special. That, and the animations that make it feel like Spidey is having a blast while taking down enemies.
The two missions that were completed during the demo were one for Osborn and one to save the city from imminent flooding. You know, your typical neighborhood kind of Spidey things. For Osborn, I had to fling bomb-filled briefcases off the top of buildings to save the people of Manhattan. A pretty straightforward timed mission (with various rewards based on three tiers), but the Spidey flare is definitely here. Once finding the briefcases, simply holding L1 + R1 has you spin around and fling the briefcase into the air and then you have to shoot it multiple times with your web shooters to dampen the blast. The water mission was a bit less “exciting,” but it hammered down the idea that you are a hero of the people and not every situation calls for the ol’ fashioned fisticuffs. The mission was also timed and introduced a new mechanic. Spidey was able to slow down time [L2] and shoot his web [R2] while floating in the air to seal the water towers that burst after Spidey attempted to fix the issue and, comically, only made it worse.
I was absolutely jazzed after playing the Spider-Man demo. The concern of the web-slinging not having the emotional rush of vaulting through the streets of Manhattan immediately subsided. The possibility of this being another game with copycat Arkham combat with little new added to the recipe was also quelled completely. The extra layer of complexity was delivered in a simplistic way allowing the short demo time to be enough to understand that Spider-Man has loads more to offer. The demo was confirmation that the title will do absolute gangbusters and that Spider-Man fans can rest easy. Spider-Man is in great hands with the people over at Sony and Insomniac Games, and this will be the game to put Spider-Man games back on the map.
Spider-Man is being developed by Insomniac Games and will be released exclusively on PS4 on September 7, 2018.