Marvel Spider-Man - title

I'm a pretty big Spider-Man fan in general. I watched the cartoons and the movies, and I play the video games as they come along, but I've only actually read a few dozen individual comics. I did, however, play the shit out of all my Spider-Man action figures as a kid! I do, however consider myself to be a Spider-Man game aficionado.

When I'm out in public, I often imagine myself web-swinging to get around. What would I swing from? Are those lampposts close enough that I could swing from one without face-planting on the pavement? I also often wish that I could hang upside down from the ceiling when I'm bored or waiting for something. As such, I pay very close attention to the way that Spider-Man moves in video games, and the quality of a given game is usually predominantly determined by how elegantly it handles movement.

Like a streak of light, he arrives just in time

The traversal mechanics and physics of Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man are fluid and work solidly. They just aren't particularly interesting or challenging, and they aren't really as expressive as I would like. It basically boils down to "hold R2 to go somewhere". It's pulled straight from Assassin's Creed's parkour system, except that holding the same button allows you to transition from rooftop parkour to web-swinging without any effort or thought. There's a few modifiers and variations that you can perform, which add a little bit of freedom and expressiveness, but it's not much. You can web-zip to perch points, hold circle to move around the corners of buildings while wall-running, and you can jump and dive to gain speed. These things help you get where you're going faster, but you could just rubber-band the R2 button and left stick, set the controller down, and you'd get to where you were going eventually anyway.

Insomniac was inspired by Assassin's Creed's "hold R2 to parkour" traversal system.

To Insomniac's credit, however, the web-swinging physics seems much more accurate than any Spidey game since the landmark Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in on the PS2 / XBox. Webs do seem to genuinely connect to objects in the environment (whether they be buildings, lampposts, trees, or so on). The only exception that I'm aware of is when you double-tap X to zip forward. I never use this move, however, because of how it cheats the physics so blatantly.

The environment is also much more detailed and populated. Buildings have more varied geometry with lots of ledges and poles and towers for you to zip to, you can parkour over cars when running in the densely-packed streets, and the map is dotted with construction sites and road work that gives you additional locomotion options and helps make the world look and feel lived-in. Spider-Man also has a lot of contextual movements in the environment that helps keep movement fluid. He'll web-zip from fire-escape platform to fire-escape platform when ascending buildings, he'll pirouette through narrow gaps, he'll swing around poles, and so forth. In general, the animations are all exceptional, and the traversal mechanics feel really good.

Spidey transitions seamlessly from web-swinging to wall-running to contextual "spider-parkour".

Spinning webs, any size

Despite the physics being generally solid, I do feel like the game occasionally cheats to make it work. Webs sometimes seem to grow in length when attached to certain objects, and the player (and therefore Spidey) can overcome the force of gravity through sheer force of will. This allows Spider-Man to swing greater distances than he should when swinging from buildings or trees that aren't considerably higher than Spider-Man is, and for him to avoid falling into the side of a building when he continuously swings from the same side of the street. All Spider-Man games have struggled with finding ways to allow him to move around in Central Park and along the coastline. These little cheats are common ones for developers to implement, and Insomniac is no exception.

Webs seem to reliably connect to something in the environment.

To that end, I'm going to say something that might get me flamed by the internet: I think I maybe actually prefer the web-swinging concept of Beenox's Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in game.

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During my recent playthrough of the new PS4 exclusive God of War, I noticed that I actually missed the quicktime events that were made famous (and marketable) by the original PS2 God of War. I liked the first two PS2 God of Wars' brutal treks through Greek mythology, but I wasn't a die-hard fan. I was always more of a Devil May Cry kind of guy. So I was surprised to feel nostalgic over a feature that had been removed from those games. I was double-surprised by the fact that I was nostalgic over a feature that most of the gaming community (including myself) has come to despise.

The series that popularized quicktime events has seemingly abandoned them.

Quicktime events (or "QTE", or "Quick Timer Event" as it was called in the manual for Shenmue) were a fairly innovative and well-received feature when the first God of War released in 2005, and that game received perfect scores from many critics. At the time, QTEs were considered an excellent way of providing a flashy, cinematic moment, while still maintaining the interactivity of the player experience. In the case of God of War, this was mostly accurate.

Then the imitators started rolling in (and have been continuing to roll in ever since), and many (if not most) implementations of QTEs have fallen flat on their faces and infuriated players and critics. Trash like Spider-Man 3 was just embarrassing. Even otherwise "good" games, like Resident Evil 4 have been tarnished by poor executions of QTEs. Many games have ditched traditional QTEs in favor of similar button-mashing or prompted actions. The new PS4 God of War is a prime example. But these are basically the same thing.

Spider-Man 3 has some of the most egregiously-bad QTEs that I can remember.

In the years since the original God of War, QTEs have become a bane on gaming, and many players would like to see them completely gone. In fact, many developers have begun phasing them out. Sony's PS4 God of War is, again, a prime example. But I'm not so sure that QTEs deserve the automatic and unconditional hate that they receive. So I want to spend some time to take a look at what usually makes QTEs work, what usually makes them not work, and whether there may actually be merit to including them in future video games...

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Movie audiences were all pleasantly surprised when the ensemble cast of Avengers all came together to make a pretty damned good movie. There was genuine anxiety regarding whether that movie could possibly successfully bring four movies' worth of superheroes together into a single movie, and manage to give everybody enough valuable screen time to make the whole thing work. Similarly, there was considerably anxiety regarding whether or not Marvel could double-down and pull off an ensemble of ensembles for the mega-crossover Infinity War. But at this point, I think we've all moved past any expectation that Marvel will screw up, and we all just assume that they're going to find a way to magically make it all work.

I had to wait a couple weeks to find out. I had planned to see the movie the Monday after release and have this review out two weeks ago, but fate conspired against that. Towards the end of the trailers, somebody pulled the fire alarm in the building, forcing the theater to evacuate. It was a false alarm, but by the time they let everyone back in, it was too late and the movie wouldn't be over in time to pick up the kids from KidsQuest before they closed for the night. Ah well. My girlfriend finally got sick of having to hush her students whenever they started talking about the movie, so she dragged me out to the theater earlier this week.

The sheer volume of characters, content, and punches here does make Infinity War one of the more unbalanced of Marvel's movies. It is after all, weaving a complex tapestry of superhero action, science fiction, and magical fantasy, and there's virtually no set-up or development for the characters. This movie is all climax all the time. It's probably the first Marvel movie that really requires that you have seen most of the lead-up material. There simply isn't enough time here to introduce who everyone is and what their deal is. If you haven't seen at least one film featuring each character, you'll likely be lost with regard to who they are. Guardians of the Galaxy, Civil War, and Ragnarok are pretty much essential prerequisite viewing. You can skip Ant Man though, as he's conspicuously absent from this particular compilation piece.

Infinity War is an ensemble of ensembles.

This movie would probably fail miserably if it were a typical super-hero movie focused around the heroes and their struggle (and failure) to beat the bad guy. Marvel knows well enough to not try to replicate The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, Infinity War is much more about the bad guy. Thanos is pretty much the main character here, and a great deal of time and effort is paid to trying to make him as relatable and understandable of a villain as possible. He is characterized with nuance, he's clever, he's ruthless, and he's consistent in his goals and ambition. Whether or not you sympathize with his point of view will, of course, depend on where you stand on the topic of universal genocide. Josh Brolin's Thanos does, however, have some pretty definitive swagger and charisma. His CG monstrosity has a lot of screen presence. It's too bad that the CG isn't always completely convincing though.

Because the bad guy is basically the main character (and protagonist), the entire narrative arc of the movie is almost the inverse of what you'd usually expect. The bad guys show up to create the dramatic stakes and sense of threat with aplomb, as expected. But instead of the rising action being a series of setbacks for the heroes with a climactic victory at the end, the heroes seem to come together and get everything mostly under control for the middle act of the movie, only to have it all go to shit when the climax arrives. Instead of the good guys losing in the end, the movie is framed as the bad guy wins in the end -- a subtle, but significant difference!

Thanos is the main character of this movie, and the dramatic and emotional arcs revolve around him.
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Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

Spider-Man was a fairly revolutionary comic book character when he was first revealed back in the '60's. Being a nerdy, socially-awkward young teenager, a large portion of the comic-book-reading audience could relate to him in ways that they simply couldn't with characters like Batman, Superman, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four. Peter Parker was one of them.

Finally casting an actual teenager to fill the role of Peter Parker / Spider-Man is an obviously brilliant (and overdue) move that does for this generation of young superhero movie audiences, what the original Spider-Man did for comic-reading kids in the '60's. For the first time, I can actually buy into this film version of Peter Parker as a high school student. There's a lot more focus on teenage drama and on Peter's conflicting responsibilities as Spider-Man and as a student. He flakes out on his friends, misses quizzes and extra-curricular activities. He worries about who he could invite to the homecoming dance, and worries that if Aunt May finds out about his superheroing, she might ground him.

Peter's age and his relatability to young audiences isn't the only parallel that this movie makes with the early issues of the comics. The first issue of Amazing Spider-Man included a storyline in which Spider-Man attempted to join the Fantastic Four. Homecoming is about Spider-Man seeking to join the Avengers (since Marvel doesn't have the film rights to the Fantastic Four yet). Homecoming skips over the first Spidey villain (who was the Chameleon) and focuses on the Vulture, who first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #2. This movie also throws in the Tinkerer, who was also featured in a storyline of Amazing Spider-Man #2. The love interest is even fellow high-schooler Liz Allan, who even preceded Gwen Stacy as one of Peter's first romantic interests in the comics.

Trying to step out of Sam Raimi's spider-shadow

Much like the Sam Raimi movies, the supporting cast here is excellent -- and unlike the Sam Raimi movies, the main cast is spot-on too! Sure, it doesn't have J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, and I have a hard time believing that anybody can beat Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but everyone here puts in a great effort. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark appearance is much more substantive than a simple phoned-in cameo, and Michael Keaton is absolutely fantastic as an increasingly-unhinged working-class bad guy who's simply trying to run his modest weapon-smuggling ring under the radar of the Avengers.

Instead of trying to join the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man is trying to join the Avengers.

I'm also grateful that this movie is a bit more upbeat and less mopey and brooding than the Sam Raimi films...

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My past two blog posts have been focused on open world gaming. These posts have been continuations of an earlier post about the narrative "limbo" that many open world games create via their quest structures. In the first post in this second series, I pointed out what I perceive to be a problem with open world games that insist on turning their sandbox worlds into little more than convoluted mission-select screens and collectible checklists. In the following post, I described some games that I think managed to make successful open worlds by including features or mechanics that made traveling through the space (or knowledge of the space) into a meaningful mechanic. This time, I want to go back to some of the games that I singled-out in the first post in this series, and brainstorm some ways that they could have made better use of the large spaces that their maps offered so that traveling around the world wouldn't become so boring later in the game.

But before I do that, I want to re-emphasize that I don't hate these games. They're just not very good at using their space, and that's what I'm criticizing. Well, the newer Assassin's Creed games have been pretty terrible. Anyway, I pick on games like Skyrim and The Witcher III a lot, but I like them just fine - I bought the DLC for both. I pick on them, not because I hate them, but because I do like them and I want them to get better (or for their sequels to get better). Rather, my objective here is to find ways for these games to make better use of the large, open spaces that they provide the player, so that exploring the map feels more mechanically relevant, more interesting, or more rewarding; and to feel less like a time-sink.

Games like Skyrim and The Witcher III have massive worlds, but do a poor job of utilizing the space.

Bethesda's Skyrim and Fallout titles, as well as CD Projeckt Red's Witcher III and Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto V, already have open worlds that transcend being simple, convoluted mission-select screens like games like Assassin's Creed and Metal Gear Solid V. They populate their worlds with little narrative world-building details that make their worlds feel alive and lived-in (even though they may feel stagnant). So what could a game like Skyrim or The Witcher III have done to improve its open world?

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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