It goes without saying that this summer isn't exactly the one we were anticipating. In the face of a global pandemic, almost everywhere we would usually spend the warm and languorous months has closed down. Spots that would usually be home to bustling crowds are eerily empty, and perhaps nowhere is this absence more obvious than in the closure of cinemas. There is, currently, a severe lack of enthralling blockbusters that would usually keep us all entertained throughout the winding summer days.
From Black Widow to web-slinger
For the first time in a very long time, there is no new entry in the Marvel cinematic canon that has dominated the box office for the past decade. Black Widow was originally supposed to kick off Phase Four of the MCU with a May release but is now scheduled to hit screens on November 6th. In the meantime, Marvel fans are left with a considerable appetite for a blockbuster of epic proportions. So, where do they turn?
Gaming has served as a haven for many of us in lockdown as we've spent the recent months at home, and some titles are capable of providing an experience akin to the cinema - with sharp scripts, rich in detail, scores crafted by respected cinematic composers, and narratives that wouldn't go amiss in feature films. In the search to fill a Marvel shaped hole that threatens the summer, there is one game that stands out as the finest contender: Insomniac Games' Spider-Man, which launched on the PS4 in 2018 and was met with rapturous acclaim. Insomniac has been back in the news again recently after the announcement of standalone PS5 adventure Spider-Man PS5: Miles Morales, following on from the wildly popular introduction of the beloved character to Insomniac's Spider-Man series in the original game.
To fully understand the appeal of Insomniac's take on Spider-Man, and to posit it as a formidable blockbuster that can stand shoulder to shoulder with any Marvel movie, we need to explore its measured and refreshing presentation of iconic characters. There is no doubt that Peter is one of the most cherished figures in all of Marvel and arguably all of comic-book history, and there have been failures made by games in the past to truly tap into the heart of the web-slinger that hails from Queens.
Right from our first brush with Insomniac's iteration of Peter, though, it was clear that they'd managed to capture the essence of this iconic figure. In Spider-Man's opening moments, Peter deliberates over whether or not he should pay his overdue rent or pull his suit on and intervene while sirens wail on the streets outside. It is a scene that firmly establishes this version of Peter Parker as a familiar one - here is the perpetually broke, scruffy New Yorker that seems to have leaped straight out of the pages of one of his classic comics. Insomniac here presents Peter in his early twenties, fresh out of college, and looking as hopeless and helpless as the rest of us. Whereas the MCU's recent take on Peter has largely revolved around his experiences as a high-schooler - and has seen him inherit a considerable amount of wealth in the form of Iron Man's arsenal - Insomniac makes the refreshing decision to allow Peter to exist as a struggling adult, who remains true to his working-class roots and strives to remind gamers of the humble origins of the Queens native.
Throughout Insomniac's Spider-Man, Peter grapples constantly with the desire to live quietly, pay his bills on time, spend his days with his loved ones, and the necessity to meet his city's expectations of its savior. It makes for emotional and nuanced storytelling, which is nestled neatly within fluid gameplay, as Peter muses on his identity while players swing through an infinite New York skyline. When it comes to discussions of Insomniac's approach to the superhero genre - which in itself served as quite the shift for the developer, considering Insomniac had not previously taken on a licensed game - much has been made of Spider-Man's fresh and innovative combat dynamics. As inventive as the game's mechanics are, particularly in providing players with an experience that comes very close to what we can only imagine it would feel like to dangle from a web attached to a skyscraper, it is the wealth in narrative and characterization that really make Insomniac's Spider-Man a blockbuster of cinematic scale and scope.
With no Marvel movies to fill up movie theatres anytime soon, Insomniac's towering achievement of a game offers a satisfying alternative - where Peter Parker's character is paid more attention to detail than perhaps ever before and where spectacle can still be found by trawling the vast cityscape on display. With the launch of the PS5 now creeping closer and closer, and with uncertainty still surrounding cinema releases, it is entirely possible that the upcoming Miles Morales title could occupy the same kind of space as Spider-Man on the PS4. Miles's story could easily provide MCU fans with a new, unexpected chapter in Marvel's world that ventures outside of the silver screen and could present a narrative that acts as a welcome blockbuster, more than worthy of standing in for any anticipated MCU feature.
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