I finally got around to The City That Never Sleeps set of DLC packs for Spider-Man (PS4). I’ve written about Spider-Man before, as have a few of my friends here at Out of Lives in the year or so since it was first released. However, now I’ve completed the DLC – following a significant break from the game – I feel I’m in a much better place to cast some final thoughts on it and what I’d like to see in the inevitable sequel(s). The DLC sharply focused my mind on where Insomniac have excelled and where there is room for improvement.
Insomniac Games have done an incredible job. Their love for this character shines through in the world they’ve built, as it shone in the interviews the senior members of the dev team did prior to release. Their characterisation is absolutely perfect across the board. They’ve coupled that with excellent visual design and casting which brings it all to life in an incredible manner. Spider-Man – much like Batman – is blessed (or cursed, depending on how you spin it) with a Rogues Gallery packed with interesting and downright dangerous villains. I’ve no doubt that whoever Insomniac pick, to appear in the sequel, they’ll make a captivating story with them.
The combat system they’ve built works brilliantly and only minor iteration and additions are needed to take it to the next level. The first change I’d look for is to separate the regular web-shooters from the rest of the gadgets. I’d keep the regular web-shooters mapped to R1 and add 3 gadget slots to up, left & right on the D-Pad – in addition to down being the heal button. This would allow for much more fluid use of the gadgets, making it quicker and easier to bring them into the combat. Allow the player to map the gadgets they want to each button and have secondary options available so, if you hold the button down they’d switch (Like the item pockets in The Witcher 3).
The second change I’d want is for there to be a way to ensure that when I disarm an enemy that weapon is taken out of the equation. Whether it’s an unlockable item in the skill tree or a skill in the gameplay that has to be learned, I feel it is a priority that they add it. During the late game, and in the DLC in particular, you’re often juggling a lot of enemies; Many of which are particularly well suited to combating certain skills you have. I feel that the way they tried to make it more challenging was simply to throw more and more enemies at you, with ever increasing health and damage output.
So, when the whip guys are pulling you down from the air; the shield guys are blocking your webs; the jetpack wankers are leaving that annoying red trail that disables your gadgets and some doofus thug makes a decision. He decides to pick up that rocket launcher. The one you took from a guy a mere 30 seconds ago and fires it at you from 2 feet away – giving you no chance to dodge it – meaning you die as a result. Well.
I fucking hate those dickheads – of which there are many. The changes I’ve outlined would really help to reduce that frustration I felt when I was getting shot at point blank range with a rocket. Opening up the gadgets to supplement the use of the regular webs would help enormously. Not to mention the fact that I’m sure Insomniac will likely find the inspiration for some more interesting gadgets to throw into the mix. The combat system as a whole is excellent and I’ve enjoyed thumping those henchmen enormously despite the occasionally frustrating experience.
I wouldn’t change the traversal across the map at all. Swinging through the city, running along walls and slingshotting over rooftops feels incredible. It isn’t entirely physics based like the PS2’s Spider-Man 2 which was a concern initially but it’s so finely tuned I don’t actually care that it’s “faked” ever so slightly. If the PS5 really does utilise a Solid State Drive instead of the Hard Disk Drive of the PS4, that will bring a large increase in the capacity of the game to render the world around the player quickly. This would allow Insomniac to allow you to traverse even faster than before. I want the only limit to my web swinging to be my ability to see where I’m going and to push the correct buttons; PS5 could make that a reality. It’s really quite rare that anything interrupts my progress, unless I’ve messed up by crashing into the front of a truck. You have to land in really specific and awkward places to be brought to a halt once you get going, like the corner of a building at the exact point a sign juts out from it.
Conversely, while traversing the open world is primarily about speed and the thrill, I’d like there to be more “wall-crawling” sections. It’s the one part of the Spidey arsenal that I feel is under utilised. I’d like more sections where slowing down, sneaking around on walls and ceilings, stealthily taking out enemies and generally keeping things quiet is actively encouraged and rewarded in some way. The bases don’t fit the bill because, while you can stealthily take out the first wave of enemies there are 5 more that you are forced to fight the non-stealthy way. The Stealth challenges don’t count either because you’re on the clock. You don’t really get to take your time.
Perhaps they could make the bases more elaborate. Put enemies across multiple floors that you need to work through “Dread style” but with the option to do it stealthily or by yelling “I am the law!” at the first opportunity. There is also the possibility of adding more side missions that include being sneaky, doing a bit of detective work and puzzling stuff out a bit more than what we’ve had so far. Peter is supposed to be an intelligent guy, let’s make him (and by extension, the player) use his noggin rather than just his fists.
The open world design in terms of space is excellent but in terms of gameplay it is a little lacking. They’ve gone for a tried & true design that is very reminiscent of a lot of Ubisoft games of the past decade. There’s a lot of collectables & challenges, while the side missions there are are great, there’s just too few of them. The game really banks on you enjoying the traversal enough to swing around and collect everything. I did this time but they can’t rely on that in the future. If they can dial the collectables back a little, expand the bases – as previously discussed, provide a plethora of random incidents for the player to encounter by really expanding the sort of crimes and other “Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man” type activities you can get involved in… Manhattan would become a much more engaging place to swing through.
Finally, where do I see the story going? Well, I expect it’ll be interesting wherever it goes. There’s plenty set up for the future and I’m sure Insomniac Games will create something amazing when the time comes. I expect we’ll see more of Miles, I don’t want to be switching freely between him & Peter like you could switch between characters in GTA V. I’d prefer that as the narrative progresses for them to change character.. Splitting my time between them before making Miles the lead character in a third installment. I’d also like to see MJ return as a playable character… Just not with instant-fail stealth missions. I’ve had enough of those; they’re another source of frustration that everyone could do without. A number of the better known villains have already appeared but there’s plenty more where they came from. So it’ll be interesting to see who Insomniac will choose to pit against our Web Headed friend.
Do you agree? Have I missed something you’d like to see improved? Do you think I’ve gone crackers? Let me know by commenting here, on social media or on the Out of Lives Discord!