You can feel it as soon as that familiar Marvel logo flips on screen and the sun peeks into Peter Parker’s cluttered apartment: Marvel’s Spider-Man is more cinematic event than video game.
A cellphone alarm in the opening scene alerts our hero that something nefarious is afoot in his city. Peter scrambles out of bed to get web-slinger-ready, while the camera pans across news clippings of his heroic exploits and a shelf stacked with Amazing Spider-Man comics. (Yes, Spider-Man and Spider-Man comics both exist in this world.) Peter is soon hurtling down the streets of Manhattan to what sounds an awful lot like the soundtrack to the latest Avengers movie. Game director Ryan Smith promises it’s an original score from film composer John Paesano, who wrote the music for Daredevil, The Defenders, and the Maze Runner movies. But the similarities to that big-screen sound offer the same effect.
“Definitely one of our mantras was to design an experience that felt like you were playing a Marvel movie,” John Paquette, the game’s lead writer, tells EW. If the two-hour press demo of the PlayStation 4 title is any indication, mission accomplished.
Insomniac (Ratchet & Clank, Spyro the Dragon) crafted an entirely new story for Spider-Man in this open-world, narrative-driven game. Players will be able to spot Avengers Tower in the Manhattan skyline, Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum on Bleeker Street, and even a Wakandan embassy in a nod to Black Panther, but this game isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Paquette wanted to “keep the story and the experience focused” on Peter’s world — which is already expansive on its own.
As with most Avengers movies, the game begins with an action set piece to get the adrenaline flowing. Spider-Man rushes to the aid of Yuri, his contact on the police force, when the cops try to arrest Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. the Kingpin). He’s not going quietly, so now Spidey has to web-sling through Fisk’s building to save bystanders and take down the brute — a story that works as an introduction to the arsenal of tricks players will utilize.
From there, the narrative follows a familiar Marvel movie trajectory: The action dies down a bit to focus on the character of 23-year-old Peter, who has officially been New York’s neighborhood hero for eight years. He’s out of college with a job (which we can’t talk about right now because spoilers!) and he’s no longer dating Mary Jane Watson. The pacing then picks up again as M.J., now a news-hungry reporter for The Daily Bugle, quickly comes back into the fold as she and Spider-Man separately investigate the same mysterious plot involving the void left by Kingpin and fellow villain Mr. Negative. You play as both Peter and M.J. (that we know of) to unravel this puzzle.
Other characters — including Electro, Scorpion, Rhino, Vulture, Shocker, Aunt May, Silver Sable, and a not-yet-super Miles Morales — will pop in. But, Smith notes, “They’re all there for a reason that makes sense” to the story of Peter balancing his personal life with that great responsibility that comes with great power.
Is this professional-grade fan fiction? “Completely,” Paquette says.
Before attending film school, Paquette consumed a diet of comic subscriptions for The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, and Thor from his home in the “boonies” of Vermont and Massachusetts. Smith remembers seeing photos of himself in a Spider-Man tee as a kid and riding a red Spider-Man bike. As an added bonus, they’re both fans of Sam Raimi’s film trilogy. “I remember sitting at my computer and writing the first scene [of the game], and I was like, ‘This is not fan fiction. This could actually get made,’” Paquette recalls. “So, yeah, that’s pretty much what it is because I’m still a fan, right? So I guess a lot of stuff is professional-grade fan fiction.”
When Marvel Games and Sony Interactive Entertainment left Insomniac to its own devices on this totally original Spider-Man concept, the first step was “freaking out.” The second was figuring out what was the core of the story.
Paquette recalls Marvel Games creative director Bill Rosemann’s advice: “The best Spider-Man stories are always the ones where Peter’s world and Spider-Man’s world collide.” Paquette also “loves stories that have really juicy drama” and “put characters in situations where there’s no easy out.” He adds, “There’s a lot of that opportunity with Peter Parker living this double life.”
That’s already a lot to juggle. If you didn’t know Smith and Paquette were designing a game, you’d think they were just named the creative team for the Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel.
Should they do an origin story? God no! “We were avoiding that,” Paquette stresses. They know Spidey’s origin has been tackled countless times. What’s the suit gonna look like? “The goal was to take an already iconic costume and find something that could be unique for us, but you still know instantly, ‘That’s Spider-Man!’” Smith says. How is Spidey’s swinging going to work? “We knew we needed to have a physics-based swing,” Smith explains. “The lines needed to attach to the building so it was a legitimate swing. It wasn’t flying, it wasn’t fake at all.” What kind of special abilities will Peter have? “There’s different materials for how he might be protecting himself a little bit, where he might need more flexibility. So looking at those things from a functional angle, as well.”
And what from the collective consciousness of Spider-Man will they pull from? Everything from “key poses” in the movies to specific comic book panels were fair game. Smith references the famous Steve Ditko image of a trapped Spider-Man lifting rubble — which was also inspiration for a certain Homecoming scene — while Paquette mentions a nod to the upside-down kiss in Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002: “At the end of the Fisk fight, Fisk is hanging upside down and Spider-Man says, ‘So, should we kiss now?’”
In another fun nod, this time to Venom, Yuri asks Spidey in a rooftop scene if he has “a black-and-white suit” for some midnight recon.
What they came up with is a Spider-Man with multiple suits (including one modeled on the character’s Avengers: Infinity War getup and one designed by comic book artist Adi Granov) and several different attacks (such as Web Shooter and Web Bomb) that can be accrued through points from completing missions.
This already feels like something new for Marvel Games, which hasn’t released a console game on this scale until now. It’s not just that you’re playing a Spider-Man game while executing aerial acrobatics as you chase down Mr. Negative’s runaway helicopter, it’s that you’re participating in the kind of high-tier action typically reserved for a Tom Holland or a Tobey Maguire. It’s times like this when that early-morning Black Friday purchase of an ultra-high-def big-screen TV pays off.
As with any Marvel project, we had to ask… sequels? “We love working with Marvel, but we’re focused on getting this one [done],” Smith says. Post-credits scenes? Well, do DLCs count? “We have a plan called It’s the City That Never Sleeps, and it’s gonna be a series of downloadable stories that you’re gonna be able to play.”
Of course, everyone’s super-conscious of getting metaphorically taken out by Marvel for spilling spoilers. “There’s an NDA that says, ‘We will kill you if you say anything,’” Paquette jokes.
Marvel’s Spider-Man will be available for PlayStation on Sep. 7.