With its high rent, heavy traffic and unreliable subway system, New York can be a tough place to live. For many, it's a nonstop grind of work and sleep to make rent and pay the bills each month. It's also an exciting city full of diverse people and enormous skyscrapers. It's both aspects of Manhattan -- the hectic lifestyle and stunning architecture -- that make it a perfect fit for Spider-Man, a witty web-slinger who struggles to balance his work and love life with the responsibilities of a powerful superhero.
The latest Spider-Man video game, developed by Ratchet & Clank studio Insomniac, treats New York as a character. A place that can pose real, relatable problems for Peter Parker and his alter-ego.
Unsurprisingly, the video game version of New York isn't a one-to-one recreation. The general layout is the same, with Harlem to the north, Queensboro Bridge to the east and the financial district down south. Take a closer look, though, and you'll realize that the streets don't line up with Google Maps.
When spontaneous crimes break out, you naturally want to help.
The city is condensed so that you can swing from the top to the bottom of the map in roughly 15 minutes. That's critical because it solidifies the fantasy of Spider-Man's web-swinging. Throughout the campaign, Parker will receive phone calls that alert him to petty crimes and supervillain sightings in other parts of the city. He needs to get there quickly; if the masked vigilante took an hour to zip between boroughs, it wouldn't make sense (what kind of criminal needs more than an hour to rob a jewelry store?) and lose all sense of urgency.
More importantly, the game is filled with everyday citizens. Swing low and you'll see New York's iconic yellow taxis driving people across town. Trucks ferrying goods from one warehouse to another and swarms of residents walking to work, college, or the nearest bagel store. If you stop pressing the R2 button, Spider-Man will immediately drop to street level. Then you're among the public -- the same New Yorkers that Parker has sworn to protect -- and watching their lives unfold first-hand.
If you have some time to kill, you can jump on a car roof and take a quick tour of the city. Or saunter down the street and grab a copy of the Daily Bugle from a red newspaper dispenser. As you wander around, residents will naturally gasp and point. Most are delighted to see Spider-Man and will ask if you can lift something heavy, or fire one of your homemade web-shooters. Others will ask for a photo, explain that they were nearby during one of your recent supervillain battles, or criticise you for defeating a crime lord that was providing their now-unemployed brother steady work.
Some New Yorkers will have a small, white prompt above their head, too. Hit the triangle button and they'll shake your hand, give you a high-five, or tell you about some suspicious-looking goons loitering nearby.
You can't help but root for them. So when spontaneous crimes break out, you naturally want to help. Spider-Man might be en-route to a crucial story mission, but it's hard to ignore a mugging or a car crash with trapped passengers inside. Participating in these micro-moments will net you Crime Tokens, too, that are required to unlock powerful suits and gadget upgrades in the game. It's a subtle reinforcement of a line that Aunt May delivers early in the story: saving someone means saving everyone. Translation? Even the smallest heroic moments are meaningful.
Many of the game's exhilarating set-pieces, too, take place in public view. When an out-of-control helicopter plummets toward the earth, or a driverless train hurtles into a commuter-filled platform, you understand the lives that are at risk. Spider-Man's task is not only to defeat menacing villains like Mr Negative -- it's to ensure nobody is harmed in the process.