It adds some much-needed tension to the proceedings. As much as I loved Rocksteady's Batman games, their depictions of Gotham always left me wanting. They were beautifully realized, with dark, stylized versions of Arkham Asylum, the Iceberg Lounge, and the Ace Chemical Processing Plant. But the lack of innocent bystanders, whisked away by convenient plot devices, made the city feel more like a giant arena in Arkham City and Knight. It was fun to explore, swooping and grappling over rooftops, but I yearned to see some everyday Gothamites milling about underneath me.
Insomniac's new Spider-Man game doesn't have this problem. As the story slowly unfolds, and the villain's master plan pulls into focus, more and more people are put at risk. By the end of the campaign, you're fighting for literally everyone inside the city. Spider-Man isn't saving the world, admittedly, but millions of lives are on the line. The stakes are high, and you can't help but think about the consequences should Parker fail.
It helps that you can play as Mary Jane Watson, an investigative reporter, and Miles Morales, a character that has become an alternate and equally beloved Spider-Man in Marvel comics (and soon, an animated movie). I won't spoil their sections, but they highlight what it must be like to live in a city filled with terrifying, super-powered beings. They also emphasize how, with quick thinking and a can-do attitude, normal people can accomplish extraordinary feats. That sentiment can be applied to Aunt May, too, and her exemplary efforts running a homeless shelter called F.E.A.S.T.
Together, they underscore the idea that while New York isn't perfect, it's full of people who want to make it a better place.
The pressures of New York life can be seen in Peter's personal struggles. At the beginning of the game, he's broken up with Mary Jane Watson and left his life at the Daily Bugle to pursue a career as a scientist. He's constantly taking calls from his genius boss, Aunt May and Yuri Watanabe, Spider-Man's confidant and contact inside the NYPD. The web-slinger tries his best to help them all, swinging by the laboratory for government demonstrations, the F.E.A.S.T center for May's surprise birthday party, and various police buildings that have malfunctioning satellite towers.
There's no actual time limit, but you can feel these competing demands weighing on Parker. Partway through the game, for instance, he goes home and discovers that his landlord has finally evicted him. The twenty-something spends the rest of the night tracking down a duffel bag that has been scooped up by waste collectors, and finding a safe place to crash for the night. There's also a moment where May rings Peter to check if they're still on for dinner the following night. He says yes, and a few missions later -- after the city has shifted from day to night and back again -- she calls to ask if he's running late. Of course, Parker immediately apologizes.
Peter is a superhero, but he can't control time. Like everyone else in New York, he doesn't seem to have enough of it, either.
My favorite side activity is photographing landmarks. They give you an excuse to tour the city as a digital tourist.
Spider-Man is an open world game, so of course there are moments where you can freely explore the city. The map is littered with collectible backpacks and optional side-missions to break up the campaign's relentlessly high pressure moments. My favorite side activity, though, is photographing landmarks. They give you an excuse to tour the city as a digital tourist, running, swinging and finally framing famous landmarks such as Times Square and the United Nations Headquarters. They're all packed with detail and you can view them from any conceivable vantage point thanks to Spider-Man's unique abilities and maneuverability.