This review is part of OnlySP’s Spider-Man Week, celebrating the release of Insomniac Games’s Spider-Man.
Spider-Man games exist in a weird space in gaming history. Some fans remember Spider-Man 2 on PlayStation 2 with a fondness thanks to near-seamless swinging, while others can only remember hours of delivering pizza. For better or for worse, the famed wall-crawler has a place in the memories of most gamers for one reason or another. Spider-Man on PlayStation 4, however, is more than an evolution for superhero video games. Insomniac has managed to capture the essence of adventure, pure joy, and character with its iteration on Spider-Man, even if a few missteps are present along the way.
Everyone knows the story: Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, wakes up with incredible super powers, loses his uncle, et cetera. Peter’s story is worn out, and Insomniac knows that, which is why Spider-Man on PS4 completely skips the origin by throwing even newbies right into the action. The web-head has been putting sinister criminals behind bars for years by the time the game kicks off and has even already been in and out of a relationship with Mary Jane Watson. Spider-Man spins a narrative more adult and, as a result, is better for it. The fact that this story is just as much one of Peter Parker as of Spider-Man is what sells Insomniac’s tale so well. Peter is a witty role model both on and off the streets, and, thanks to high stakes, his well-being always feels as if it is hanging by a thread. The narrative does not exactly communicate any profound messages, but it still manages to be one of the better examples of superhero narrative in gaming history. That said, explaining the story without giving away too much is quite the task, and spoilers will not be discussed in this review.
Web swinging—the reason most gamers will pick up the title to begin with—is more beautifully complicated than anyone could have imagined. Long story short, Insomniac may have crafted the most engaging traversal system ever put into the hands of the average player. Swinging is bound to R2 but remains interesting because of the accurate depiction of the playground that is New York City. Going even further, Insomniac has created a world that is beautiful both day and night, making sure that every player gives the photo mode a try. Players can do tricks, zip, play with momentum-based swing physics, run on walls, and so much more. Insomniac made sure to create a flawless web swinging system specifically because 65 percent of the game is spent perfecting and enjoying the freedom of movement. Funnily enough, webbing across town is almost too much fun. Even with late game upgrades, traveling along the ground yields little to do. Spider-Man is slow and downright clunky on foot, so there is almost never a reason to enjoy interacting with the crowd. Some citizens will point Spidey in the direction of an item to collect or bad guy to stop, while others only want a quick high five. The traversal system is flawless, despite the fact that some of these fine detail moments are lost to the streets.
Unfortunately, although New York’s design makes for interesting chase scenes, the island does not hold up as well as an open-world environment meant to entertain. Side activities range from picking up backpacks with occasionally interesting contents to stopping criminals from robbing a bank. Sometimes the latter of these occupations will evolve into a car chase, but rarely do the encounters feel like heroic triumphs considering the amount of time players spend in the “friendly neighborhood” category. Archaic, PlayStation 2-era side quests and missions are a relic of the past and would have been better left to memory. A new coat of paint does not quite excuse how stale the side mission design feels at times. Thankfully, Spider-Man’s dialogue is well-written enough and swinging is exciting enough to make even the mundane feel exciting, though ignoring the possibilities is hard.
What stings a bit more than occasionally boring collectibles, though, is the idea of a bit of unoriginality. Those who have watched gameplay of the hand-to-hand combat will be able to draw the apparent similarities between Spider-Man and Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham trilogy. Punch, punch, dodge when the indicator pops up above the protagonist’s head, rinse, and repeat. Shockingly enough, though entirely unoriginal, Spider-Man may have the upper hand in terms of moment-to-moment combat. Every ability and gadget—with the exception of suit abilities—are unique and useful different own ways. Something new is always thrown at the player, and if Spider-Man does not think on his feet and use every web combination in his arsenal, then failure is all the more likely. Although combat is fun, the combo system could have benefitted from a more concrete scoring system (such as Spectacular, Amazing, and Brave for different levels of success) to spice things up, but overall the package does more than deliver.
Where Spider-Man on PS4 falters is in its occasional glitches. Glitches can cause Spidey to fall through the floor, glide across the streets in a t-pose, or even lead to a mission failure. Technical issues that manage to pop up as often as they do in Spider-Man are especially disappointing considering the level of polish the game has in so many other areas. Adding to the short list of issues are sections of the main campaign that occasionally see players taking on the role of a side character for some hindered stealth sections. The change from breakneck pace is needed, sure, but these missions are nothing short of unbearable and suffer from leaving little room for players to be creative. Egregious examples will see players auto-failing a mission simply because they took a route that the game did not expect. These sections only crop up a few times, but are a major annoyance nonetheless. Though the game’s soundtrack is soaring and filled with goosebump-triggering violins, relatively little variety is present. The theme that plays as Spidey travels throughout the city gets the blood pumping the first 10 times it happens, but after 20-plus hours of play, one starts to wonder if Spider-Man should invest in an iPod.
At the end of the day, most of the problems one will find with Spider-Man are nitpicks only a super villain would deem detrimental. No other game exists that offers the same experience that Insomniac’s Spider-Man does. Even the Batman: Arkham series from which Spider-Man garnered many of its ideas from does not implement a system that constantly injects a sense of wonder like web swinging. Peter is learning to stand as an idol for New Yorkers, and Insomniac manages to put players right in the driver’s seat. The LA-based studio knew it had great power when it was given the reigns to one of Marvel’s biggest faces, and every ounce of effort poured into this project shows that. Spider-Man on PS4 is not just a love letter to everyone who has ever loved the wall-crawler as a superhero; the game is a love letter to everyone who has loved his games too.
The Great Perhaps Review — Perhaps Not
Warning: The article contains discussion on the subject of suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling, The International Association for Suicide Prevention provides contact information for help across the world.
One common piece of advice for budding comedians is to never ‘punch down’. The target of a joke should be someone of a higher status or privilege than the joke teller, rather than a person within a marginalised group, such as the poor, the disabled, or the mentally ill. While this is not a hard and fast rule to comedy success, with shows like South Park using shocking moments to illuminate larger problems within society, without a deft hand, punching down comes across as cruel or offensive. The Great Perhaps, the first title by developer Caligari Games, makes an off-colour joke about suicide in the first five minutes of the game, setting a confused tone for the rest of its three-hour playtime. While this puzzle platformer shows some potential with solid puzzle design and great art direction, its terrible writing taints the entire experience.
The initial foot-in-the-mouth moment happens in the game’s animated prologue. Kosmos is an astronaut in a space station orbiting the earth. During a typical day, his communications with Earth are suddenly cut off, and he sees black smoke spreading across the globe. The station automatically puts him into cryogenic sleep, with instructions to wake him when returning to the surface is safe. Upon awakening, he discovers that over 100 years have passed. Kosmos is in despair, realising that everyone he ever knew or loved is dead, including his wife and children. He asks the ship’s A.I., L9, to vent all the oxygen in the ship, ending his life. She refuses, saying that the task is illogical. He asks again. She tells him to ‘nut up’ and to go explore the Earth. Kosmos reacts in astonishment, not at her cruel words, but at the fact she has developed a sense of humour. Magically cured of his suicidal ideation by her sassy insults, the pair decide to go explore the Earth and see if anyone survived the apocalypse.
Those whose lives have not been touched by suicide may find difficulty understanding why this moment is so offensive. This ‘nut up’ attitude stems from this belief that those suffering are not trying hard enough to get better—that one can just think themselves happy. Men especially suffer due to social pressure on them to not express their feelings, resulting in a suicide rate three times higher than women. Telling a suicidal person to ‘nut up’ would make them more likely to go through with their plans, not laugh. Real treatment takes a lot of hard work with support from both loved ones and mental health professionals.
This monumental lack of understanding permeates the game, although thankfully not as egregiously as the initial example. The flat intonation of Kosmos’s narration initially seems inspired, a man who has stepped back from the precipice of self harm but is still deeply troubled. However, the content of the writing actually shows that he is really cured, despite the monotony of his voice. About half an hour into the journey, he and L9 encounter a man about to jump off a roof, upset that no one likes his writing. He invites Kosmos to jump with him, but Kosmos proclaims he has ‘better things to do’. A callous attitude for a man who, within the last day or so, was in the same position. He manages to help the man by showing that his book will be successful in the future, handily sidestepping any real understanding of how to defuse such a situation. One does not need to be an expert on mental illness to write about the subject, but a modicum of research, understanding, or respect would have gone a long way. The Great Perhaps seems uncertain if it wants to be mysterious or funny. One moment, Kosmos will be lamenting the downfall of humanity; the next, he is riding an ostrich. L9 switches between making jokes and acting like a cold machine. The game is disjointed and lacks the emotional weight to support the story it is trying to tell.
The gameplay of The Great Perhaps fares better than the writing. A two-dimensional sidescroller with light puzzling, akin to Inside or Limbo, the game’s unique hook is the lantern Kosmos finds that lets him briefly travel back in time. The lantern button can be pressed for a glimpse of the past world, then held down to travel into the past for 20 seconds. For the most part, this mechanic works well, using the lantern to get around locked doors, bring objects between the past and the present, travel down a metro tunnel without getting hit by a train, or eaten by mutant rats. However, in some instances, the mechanic can be fiddly. The transition between worlds is fairly slow, so for sections where one has to swap to avoid a danger, the sluggish transition is frustrating. L9 will warn the player of a danger, but she usually warns too late for the player to perform the switch and save themselves. If this shifting function was on a toggle, rather than button press to turn the lantern on then press and hold down the button again to switch worlds, a lot of frustration could be mitigated. The time in the past would also benefit from being a bit longer. Throughout the campaign, several pipe dream-type puzzles appear in the past world, with the player needing to rotate tiles to form a continuous line from point A to point B. Getting kicked out of the puzzle every 20 seconds because of the time change was annoying.
Kosmos has some finicky movement, which is not a problem during the standard object puzzles, but is an issue in the handful of chase sequences dotted through the game. One section is set in a tight apartment building that requires him to push a cart, climb on it, jump to a ladder, jump across the gap, throw rocks to knock down the next ladder, scramble up, and run up two sets of stairs before reaching freedom. An already tricky sequence is made worse by Kosmos constantly getting stuck on objects. The enemy is close behind him for the whole sequence, so the sequence has little room for error. A bit more space between Kosmos and the monster would allow for collision-based delays.
Along with an autosave, The Great Perhaps has a chapter-based system as well. This system can be helpful if the player finds themselves in a soft-lock situation, which happened once during the review playthrough. In one section of the game, Kosmos needs to prevent a bank robbery in the past. A vital object—a large stick of dynamite—managed to phase through the floor and out of existence, making progress impossible. The autosave occurred after the dynamite escaped the confines of the world, so the only option was to load from a chapter. Thankfully, this chapter system was in place, otherwise the whole game would have needed to be started over. Perhaps a ‘reset screen’ option in the pause menu could be a helpful addition to prevent this problem in the future.
The world of The Great Perhaps has a pretty, cartoon aesthetic, with the transition between the past and the present showing a stark difference in how the place has aged. Lots of menacing creatures have emerged since the fall of mankind, with two-headed rats, giant mole-like beasts, an enormous octopus, and a creepy shadowy humanoid all doing their best to bring Kosmos down. Music is similarly well crafted, with a particular highlight being the escape sequence in a collapsing underground city. Kosmos has to assemble a giant robot to escape, and with each piece he completes, the music increases in tempo and adds more instruments to the mix. On the planet’s surface, the music invokes a sad, lonely atmosphere, trying to insert the emotion this game sorely needs.
So much potential is wasted in The Great Perhaps. Puzzle design is solid throughout, but hampered with finicky controls. Art direction is outstanding, but the story that the game is trying to support flounders between ‘funny’ and serious, and is full of clichés. Offensive content notwithstanding, The Great Perhaps is a very run-of-the-mill time travel story delivered in a monotonous tone. Many adjectives could be used to describe this game, but ‘Great’ is certainly not among them.
Reviewed on PC. Also available on Linux and macOS.
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