Like many of you, I’ve been having a blast with MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN. The game is incredible. The combat is solid, the activities are varied, and the narrative is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen in a comic book game.

But every masterpiece has some divisive moments. Turns out there’s more to this game than swinging around the city beating up criminals. Sometimes, you play as Peter Parker without the suit, solving science-based puzzles. Other times you switch characters entirely, controlling Mary Jane, and even Miles Morales.

Spider-Man PS4
You know an open world game is phenomenal when the simple act of movement is exhilarating. Image courtesy of Insomniac Games.

These missions polarized both critics and players, with some praising them for varying up the gameplay, while others criticized them for taking the focus away from the web-head himself.

Personally, I didn’t just enjoy these missions. I want to see them expanded upon in future games. There’s a lot of potential here, and I don’t want Insomniac to squander it all because of a mixed reception.

So, why did Insomniac put these missions in the game? Are they really so bad? How can we improve them for future games? Well, let’s take a look!

The Importance of Peter Parker in MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN

MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN is about more than Spider-Man. It’s about Peter Parker.

Throughout the story, we see how his two lives conflict and how they intertwine. Now, this isn’t anything new. Most Spider-Man media does this to some extent. But the game takes this a step further. It argues that both of Peter’s lives are equally important. With or without the mask, he has a profound effect on the world for good and for ill.

Because of this, the lines between Peter the scientist and Peter the super-hero become blurred. The narrative revolves around this identity crisis, as Spider-Man’s actions effect Peter’s and vice-versa.

Even without the mask, Peter is still a hero. Image from MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN courtesy of Insomniac Games.

As the story goes on, we see his growth as both Spider-Man and as Peter Parker. In the end, it takes both sides of his identity to save the city.

Invoking Empathy

It’s important to reflect this in the gameplay as well as the story. Peter’s actions indirectly cause the game’s conflict, but they also help resolve it. These moments would be less effective if we just watched them.

We need to share Peter’s challenges and accomplishments. We need to succeed where he succeeds, and fail where he fails. The player needs to be just as invested in his personal life for the narrative to work. It’s also important for the player to understand the people in Peter’s life, to see their worth as well.

Not only does this strengthen the plot, but it gives us a deeper connection to the character.  In other words, these “extra” missions are essential to the game’s vision.

But none of this matters if the gameplay sucks, right? If you really despised Peter’s science missions or sneaking around as Mary Jane, I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong. But there’s another reason why people enjoy them.

Diversifying Content

The most common complaint against open-world games is that they’re repetitive. In general, they tend to follow a single gameplay loop stretched out over hundreds of hours with only minor variation.

Now, this isn’t inherently a bad thing so long as the gameplay loop is fun, but it’s still good to break up the monotony with different modes of play.

At the end of the day, the stealth missions and puzzle solving are there to diversify the gameplay. It’s a way to keep things fresh and to challenge the player in different ways.

Surprisingly Fun

But putting that aside, these missions were surprisingly enjoyable, at least for me. Peter’s puzzle missions were relatively easy, but I still had a good time with them. They felt like simple little brain teasers and I love any game that makes me feel like a scientist.

I especially liked how each puzzle had an explicit reason for existing and a tangible effect on either something in the lab or the plot itself. Video game puzzles can feel abstract, arbitrary, or random. They’re always more satisfying when you can see the logic behind them.

By the end of the Mary Jane missions, you’re basically playing a stealth-action game. I had a blast sneaking into ritzy apartment buildings, outsmarting guards, and unraveling mysteries. It was especially refreshing to see MJ and Peter work as a team.

Don’t be fooled. This woman is a stone-cold badass. Image from MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN courtesy of Insomniac Games.

Even the Miles sections, which I found the weakest, had some great set pieces and conflicts. Seeing MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN’s New York from a teenager’s perspective was daunting and at times terrifying. His hacking skills almost gave off a WATCH DOGS vibe, but they should definitely expand upon these skills in the future.

Sure, these missions may feel out of place for some, but that’s what I like about them. I love exploring Peter’s life from different angles, as different characters. Sometimes it’s okay to break from a game’s formula. It improves the pace of the game and keeps the gameplay from getting repetitive. Think of them as little palate cleansers between crime-fighting.

Room For Improvement In MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN

But just because I enjoyed these missions doesn’t mean I think they were perfect. As with anything, there’s always room to grow. So how do we improve upon these missions in the future?

Well first off, they need more depth. As I said, the Mary Jane missions are fun, but she doesn’t get all her abilities until the end of the game. In other words, by the time her missions came into their own they were already over. In the next game, MJ needs all of her gadgets from the beginning. We need more ways to engage with guards, more methods of distraction. The levels should never feel too big, but there should be multiple ways to complete each objective.

One of my favorite moments with MJ involved using an angry crowd as a distraction. I want to see her use more creative, non-violent solutions to solve achieve her goals. We also need more missions with her and Peter working as a team.

Most importantly, we need to improve the enemy AI. Now, this isn’t a problem that’s unique to MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN. I’d argue that most video games have lackluster AI, but if you’re going to have stealth elements in your game then the AI needs to feel intelligent and reactive.

To be fair, this problem is present even when you’re playing as Spider-Man. It’s just much more noticeable when you’re forced to use stealth.

Spider-Man for PS4
Seriously, why does no one ever look up? Image from MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN courtesy of Insomniac Games.

Warning: Spoilers for MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN below.

Since Miles has his powers now, his missions should play somewhere between MJ’s and Peter’s. The focus will still be on stealth, but he’ll be able to use his spider powers as well as his hacking abilities.

In the comics, Miles also has the ability to shock enemies, damage electronics, and become near-invisible. These powers naturally lend themselves to stealth missions, while still feeling distinct from MJ’s.

Spoilers for MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN end here.

Peter’s science puzzles need more variety. Fiddling with circuits and color bars can only get you so far. The puzzles should feel more connected to what Peter is actually doing, and the visuals should match. If Peter is supposed to be disarming a bomb or repairing a robotic arm, let us actually see it.

The main puzzles should remain relatively simple, but there should be some optional puzzles that are much more difficult. Higher difficulty puzzles should come with rewards like suits or upgraded gear. Give us an incentive to engage with these puzzles, instead of a button to skip them.

So even if you don’t like these missions as they are, there are ways to improve upon them in the future. We need varied content in open world games. The last thing I want is for the sequel to be streamlined and stripped down.

The Point

My biggest fear is that Insomniac will cut these activities altogether due to the polarizing reception. But I see a lot of potential here. I’ve always said that if a feature has problems, you should try to improve it before you remove it. With a few tweaks, I think more people will come around to these missions.

At the end of the day, these missions add value to the game. They tie into the story, they keep the game from getting repetitive, and I think it would be a lesser game without them. Hopefully, Insomniac improves and expands on these missions, creating an experience we can all enjoy.

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