At this year’s DICE Summit, Marvel Games creative director Bill Rosmann had some stuff to say about Insomniac’s upcoming Spider-Man game. Not much is known about it so far, other than its PlayStation 4-exclusiveness and Spidey’s unique costume. Rosmann said, “It feels like our lives [as fans of Spider-Man] have driven us to this moment. This is our purpose: to show the world why this character is so awesome. To bring this fictional world into the real world. It’s very personal for us. We’re going to focus our life’s journey into this game, to celebrate him with the world.” Sounds nice, right? But what does it mean?
To me, it means that this Spider-Man game is more than a tie-in with Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s more than what the Activision games used to be. There’s no tie to anything external. It’s just a Spider-Man game, and that could mean anything. This game exists in our post-Batman: Arkham Asylum world; a world in which an IP-based game can still exist in its own world with its own rules and identity.
This means the door is wide open for whatever the team at Insomniac could want this new Spider-Man project to be, with one major caveat: the watchful eye of Marvel. Anyone paying attention should know how protective of its IP Marvel is lately, and all you need to do is look at how much money is floating around these brands to understand why. This has led to a pretty common complaint in the Hollywood realm, which is that a sense of sameness, with risk-averse tones and content, is arguably found in most Marvel movies. Countering that could be the various Netflix series or other fringe projects, but they’re fringe projects. AAA videogames are a different story, as its an industry just as large as Hollywood with more to prove.
I’m a Spider-Man fan too. A more recent one, as I’m young and don’t care to seek out multiple decades of history when it comes to comic books. That stuff is just impenetrable, and one of the reasons the movies do so well is how fast and loose Marvel Studios has played with canon. That’s also the reason Batman: Arkham Asylum started out so strong. Abandon the adaptation angle. Nod to the past, but don’t try to stick to or reproduce it. Tell an original story; even if it sucks (Batman: Arkham City), people will still like it if it’s accessible.
That’s what this new Spider-Man needs. Don’t tie it into a movie; don’t make it a slideshow of established continuity. That’s why the Beenox Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and Spider-Man: Edge of Time games struggled to captivate, despite their mechanical polish. The former whipped you around to a bunch of stuff only nerds were familiar with, and the latter was weird fanfiction based on one of Marvel’s most obscure brands.
Insomniac’s Spider-Man needs to be just that: Insomniac’s Spider-Man. Take the familiar: powers, Uncle Ben, etc., and do something you can’t find on a shelf or on a screen. Earn those Underoo creds not with your ability to regurgitate someone else’s work, but by proving your team understands the appeal of the characters and world of Spider-Man, as well as the creative chops to take those themes into unfamiliar territory. Leave all the nods and references for unlockables and Easter eggs. Make the web-slinging dope too. You’ll have a winning package.