Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 23rd September 2018.
Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4, £49.99)
THE world record for a gathering of people dressed as Spider-Man has just been smashed at Comic Con Stockholm. There were 547 eager beavers all dressed in their Spidey gear. Why is this relevant? Because it proves just how popular the web-slinging crime fighter is. Any mention is big news. The pressure was on Insomniac Games and Sony with their eagerly awaited Marvel’s Spider-Man. It had to be better than good. They obviously like pressure. The graphics are stunning. The level of detail on your suits and the streets brings everything to life. The voice acting is top-class, from the lead characters to the extras, and the soundtrack is an epic Marvel masterpiece.
We were delighted that Insomniac did not feel the need to relive how Peter Parker gets to be Spider-Man. We know that. This all starts with a wiser, slightly older Peter who is already a hero feared by New York’s bad guys. The main tale clocks in at around 15 hours and never loses that Sony cinematic feel. It is a compelling story that makes you care about the characters. But you can add to the fun by dipping off into side missions like stopping crime to collecting old backpacks to err . . . chasing pigeons. The success of this game is all down to how Spider-Man moves and fights. The team at Insomniac have really nailed it. Swinging from building to building is a fast, fluid motion. You really feel like you are Spider-Man. The next box to tick is the villains. You can’t have a Spidey game without having rogues — and Insomniac have compiled a gallery to be proud of.
There are some well-known foes and some newer names to battle. Each one adds a different challenge. Each one has to be brought down in a different way so you can send them back to the Raft — a special super-villain prison in the bay. The combat adds another layer to the fun. You will need a few battles to master the arts because you might think it is the same “time and dodging” system as the Batman Arkham games. Oh no, this is all built around using your webs, so you’ll have to learn that — and fast. You can disarm enemies or just swing in and kick them in the face, but there is more than just smash, bang and wallop. There is also a solid stealth system where you can sneak up unseen and web enemies.
You will have to work hard to find a moan — the nearest we got was that the main tale is a bit of a slow-burner, and the title character never shuts up. But the bottom line is that the 547 Spideys at Comic Con in Stockholm, and the millions of wannabe Spider-Men across the globe, can relax. Marvel’s Spider-Man is everything we hoped it would be. It really does feel like the first step in a Marvel cinematic universe over the next 10 years. This has Game Of The Year written all over it.
THE Insomniac Games team have been eating and breathing Spider-Man so much that you almost expect marketing director Ryan Schneider to be wearing a Spidey suit at his desk. He has revealed the pressure they felt to get the story and the gaming experience right. He told me about the hours spent perfecting each part of the game. He said:
“Working with Spider-Man was every bit as thrilling as you’d expect. What was unexpected though was feeling like we became friends with Spidey throughout development. That’s because of our close collaboration with Marvel and Sony. We learned so much more about the character and what makes him so beloved — his profound sense of relatability and likeability. If Spidey can handle the pressure of several million New Yorkers counting on him to protect their city, the least we can do is focus on doing him justice in a video game!”
That partnership with Marvel opened up the full Spider-Man kitbag, so the team wanted to cherry-pick the best bits. Ryan said:
“It’s true that the Marvel Spider-Man universe is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the seemingly endless array of characters. That was honestly our biggest challenge, to pick which characters who best fit the story we were trying to tell. So we looked at enemies who had compelling emotional backstories where their sinister worlds and their more human reasons for breaking bad were in potential conflict.”
They also wanted a real feeling to New York. Ryan added:
“The in-game New York City is exponentially larger than any other city we’ve created in a game before, which was a challenge we were eager to embrace.”
But there were still plenty of challenges. Ryan admitted:
“It all starts with web- swinging, because that’s what Spider-Man is known most for. We wanted players to experience the rush of what it must feel like to fly through a densely populated Manhattan, while also empowering players to feel like they are a superhero. We even made ground traversal satisfying by adding a parkour system. Hurtling through fire escapes, over cars and debris and around barriers is such fun! As for the combat, next to traversal, it was the most important part to nail in creating the game. We were laser-focused on creating an experience that made Spider-Man feel like an acrobatic improviser — meaning, he was eight years into being Spider-Man and the equivalent of an athlete in his prime. He could make any number of gameplay choices spontaneously, such as how to use throwable objects, call upon gadgets, chain combo enemies, or use the environment around him. That’s why our favourite compliment is when someone says, ‘I felt like I was Spider-Man’.”
You can read all Ryan had to say about Marvel’s Spider-Man in the unedited version here.
Shenmue I & II (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £29.99)
THERE have been loads of massive hits for Sega down the years — from Sonic to Outrun. But nothing gets fans drooling like the epic Shenmue series. The original landed on the Dreamcast back in 1999. The sequel followed two years later, then nothing. The demand for a third game was loud, especially as the second instalment ended on a real cliff-hanger. But, no, nothing. Finally, the word was heard and episode three is in the pipeline, so Sega reckoned it was time to stoke the fires with a slight HD nip and tuck for the first two games.
The Shenmue series blends lots of different styles of games. Originally, this was ground- breaking stuff — an action role-player with a heavy splash of life sim thrown in along with fighting and light driving. The living is the hook. There is very little hand- holding. You need to work out where locations are from signposts or ask people. Gradually, you learn the landmarks and understand the layout. In the first game you are Ryo in 1986 Yokosuka. You are out for revenge as he tracks down Lan Di, who killed his father. But that mission soon gets side-tracked as he has to help other people and get more information on where Lan Di is and why he committed the murder.
So that’s the story, but you can track down gangsters for info, play darts or master a classic arcade game like Afterburner. Or you could train to become a better fighter or work a part-time job to raise some cash. It’s really open-ended and that is where the game shines. Stick strictly to the story and the credits will roll in about 10 hours. But you will be missing out. Play this to the full and live the journey. As you would expect game two keeps the solid foundations of Shenmue 1 but moves the action to Hong Kong and ramps everything up a notch. The world is bigger and you can do more. There are also fight arenas to test your skills. This is a 20-year-old game so the graphics are always going to look a bit retro, but the games actually hold up well.
The music is a decent standard, but the voice acting is a real mix of good and bad characters. If there was a gripe, it is that the lack of hand-holding is fine . . . if there is an obvious route. But, if the route is clouded, then you spend ages floundering around in trial-and-error mode. It also changes aspect ratios without warning, which is a bit of a pain. The series is rightly considered to be a jewel in the Sega crown, especially when you think this was out 20 years ago. It was way ahead of its time. However, you have to wonder whether newcomers would be drawn in. We would like to think they will, but they will need to be open-minded because some of the best bits are actually when nothing is really happening.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…