Batman vs Spider-Man: The Clone Saga

If there’s one thing the gam­ing indus­try loves, it’s a trend. In fact, this applies to the enter­tain­ment media as a whole — observe the sud­den rush toward sex­u­al fan­fic­tion in the post-50 Shades world, or the recent inter­est in the Asian music scene inspired by the suc­cess of Gangnam Style. This is hard­ly sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing the bil­lions of dol­lars com­pa­nies invest in our enter­tain­ment, but the whims of fash­ion seem to me most notice­able in the world of video games. Perhaps this is because we tend to spend more time with our medi­um of choice – it’s doubt­ful many peo­ple have put hun­dreds of hours into a sin­gle book the way some have with a game like Skyrim – and so the rep­e­ti­tion of cer­tain aspects becomes eas­i­er to spot.

Whatever the rea­son, a game which wins the pop­u­lar­i­ty lot­tery will almost imme­di­ate­ly be can­ni­bal­ized for use­ful parts. There is a seem­ing­ly end­less cycle of devel­op­ers play­ing follow-the-leader when­ev­er a game becomes pop­u­lar enough to be worth rip­ping off, lead­ing to even­tu­al over-saturation as every­one and their moth­er races to cash in on the new hot topic; cover-based shoot­ing mechan­ics (Gears of War, the later Mass Effect games, Splinter Cell: Conviction), zom­bies (Dead Island, Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, the now oblig­a­tory zom­bie mode in every mod­ern Call of Duty), motion con­trol (rang­ing from the wild­ly suc­cess­ful to…well, the some­what less so) and a hun­dred other fea­tures so ubiq­ui­tous that today they are noticed more for their absence than their pres­ence.

Certain games have even become so wide­ly imi­tat­ed that they can sub­sti­tute for a genre. There doesn’t seem to be a spe­cif­ic label uni­ver­sal­ly applied to third-person games with an open world, heavy focus of dri­ving and gun­play, usu­al­ly with some mini-games dot­ted around the place. Perhaps the incred­i­bly inclu­sive “action-adventure” though it seems that almost any game can be placed beneath that umbrel­la term (with the pos­si­ble excep­tion of a sim game revolv­ing around set­ting local zon­ing laws). However, if we hear the words “like Grand Theft Auto” we know pre­cise­ly what is meant. Saint’s Row is GTA with over-the-top wack­i­ness. Red Dead Redemption is GTA with hors­es. The Godfather is GTA with tommy guns and seri­ous­ly snap­py fash­ion sense. No fur­ther clar­i­fi­er is need­ed, because play­ers under­stand that “GTA with [addi­tion­al fea­ture]” tells them a great deal of what they need to know about how the game is going to play. Similarly, it appears that all MMO games must inevitably be com­pared to Blizzard’s behe­moth World of Warcraft, as if WoW is the genre rather than just a par­tic­u­lar­ly suc­cess­ful exam­ple of it. No new MMO game can debut with­out the mechan­ics, art style etc being com­pared to WoW regard­less of any sim­i­lar­i­ty (or lack there­of) between the two titles. In our lit­tle world, the biggest fish can and do influ­ence the tides of the ocean.

Over time, play­ers get sick of the same thing over and over again with only min­i­mal changes. A per­fect exam­ple is pre­sent­ed by the FPS genre – after years of World War II shoot­ers the fans grew bored, which allowed Modern Warfare to explode onto the scene and take the world by storm. Suddenly mod­ern com­bat was the hot thing and every­one rushed to catch up. Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, every­body want­ed a piece of the pie. Fast for­ward to the mod­ern day and we see the same back­lash build­ing, thou­sands of “witty” com­ments about the new Call of Battle: Modern Warfighter game (as if a mil­lion sens­es of humour cried out and were sud­den­ly silenced) and a grow­ing dis­en­chant­ment amongst for­mer fans. Enter once again the Call of Duty fran­chise, tak­ing their side-project Black Ops and trans­form­ing it from a backwards-looking retro sto­ry­line to a futur­is­tic world and a set­ting resem­bling a blend of Crysis and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. They are hop­ing that the Modern Warfare light­ning will strike again and that Black Ops 2 will be the trend­set­ter (along with the resur­gence of the Halo fran­chise, which will sure­ly help to push the futur­is­tic shoot­er as the Next Big Thing) for the new gen­er­a­tion of con­soles. In a few years gamers will tire of sci-fi shoot­ers, of course, because devel­op­ers and pub­lish­ers will ride that trend into the ground and the whole cycle will begin again.

This is all very inter­est­ing, you are not doubt say­ing to your­self, but I’m read­ing this arti­cle for one rea­son and one rea­son only – some­body men­tioned Batman. So far he has­n’t fea­tured once, and it’s easy to imag­ine you’re all get­ting a lit­tle antsy, because this is the inter­net and with­draw­al sets in after rough­ly two min­utes with­out a ref­er­ence to Batman.

Addiction is a ter­ri­ble thing.

Never fear, chums, we’re get­ting to that. A few years ago some­thing fan­tas­tic hap­pened for Batman fans (every­body), some­thing that after years of sub-par super­hero games gamers had given up hop­ing for. Batman: Arkham Asylum was released, and it was bril­liant. Not per­fect, but clos­er to per­fec­tion than any Batman game before it. As our own esteemed edi­tor has noted, this was the first time a play­er had ever truly felt like the caped cru­sad­er rather than some­one wear­ing his cos­tume. A few years later there was even a sequel, and despite fail­ing to entire­ly recap­ture the magic it’s still a fan­tas­tic gam­ing expe­ri­ence. Even more recent­ly, gamers been gift­ed with anoth­er sequel, and that sequel is called Amazing Spider-Man.

Amazing Spider-Man makes no bones about pick­ing up the bat-ball and run­ning with it. Entire facets of the game appear to have been copy/pasted from Batman’s adven­tures, from the stealth take­downs all the way to a rough approx­i­ma­tion of the Riddler chal­lenges.

And that’s a real shame, because when you remove Batman from this equa­tion it sim­ply does­n’t work.

As Bill men­tioned in his piece, the true magic of the Arkham series is that rather than giv­ing the play­er a Batman-shaped avatar to play with, Rocksteady man­aged to put the play­er firm­ly in the Dark Knight’s boots. We move like he moves, think as he thinks, sneak around and kick peo­ple in the back of the head just the way he does. The games are a tri­umph of immer­sion. Sadly the same can­not be said for Spider-Man, whose game plays not to the char­ac­ter’s own strengths but attempts to repli­cate those of the Dark Knight. When the fea­tures which made the Arkham games so great are graft­ed onto ol’ Webhead, it just does­n’t feel right. In their haste to jump on Batman’s band­wag­on, the devel­op­ers respon­si­ble for Amazing Spider-Man seem to have given no con­sid­er­a­tion to the­mat­ic con­sis­ten­cy, instead grab­bing as much as they could carry and bolt­ing it on where it isn’t required. Let’s take a look at some of the worst offend­ers, and why they prove detri­men­tal to the over­all expe­ri­ence.


Let’s get the obvi­ous out of the way first: stealth is not real­ly Spider-Man’s thing. He wears a bright­ly coloured red-and-blue jump­suit, is seem­ing­ly unable to stop crack­ing corny jokes for even a sec­ond, and has a pen­chant for exu­ber­ant­ly whoop­ing or yelling “Yeah!” as he swings across the city. He’s not exact­ly one with the shad­ows.

That’s fine. It’s part of why the char­ac­ter is so beloved. However shit­ty his per­son­al life becomes, when Spidey’s on the job he’s a wise­crack­ing smar­tass who tells ter­ri­ble jokes and back­flips around like a cir­cus clown after half an ounce of coke. Unfortunately, while the hub of Amazing Spider-Man is an open and explorable Manhattan filled with sky­scrap­ers to dive off and cars to ride, all of the mis­sions and most of the boss bat­tles take place indoors. There’s a heavy reliance on the Arkham Asylum style of sneak­ing around unde­tect­ed and covert­ly knock­ing out thugs.

When gamers play as Batman, it’s because they want to be a liv­ing shad­ow, a dark appari­tion which strikes fear into the hearts of evil-doers before melt­ing back into the night. When they turn on a Spider-Man game it’s because they want to throw cars at a big man dressed as a rhino, cack­ling like lunatics all the while. The two char­ac­ters exist to cater to dif­fer­ent tastes. Where Amazing Spider-Man does suc­ceed is in its use of the open-world land­scape, where one can swing through the New York sky­line and run up sky­scrap­ers before div­ing into empty air and hook­ing a webline to a near­by blimp. That free­dom, that joy of uncon­strained move­ment, is the essence of Spider-Man. This makes it all the more dis­ap­point­ing when the play­er is forced back into a sewer or an office block, to crawl along the roof and drop down on the unwary, Batman-style; the game yanks them out of the expe­ri­ence to say, “No, sorry, you’re doing it wrong. Spider-Man isn’t about glo­ri­ous free form ath­let­ics and kick­ing animal-themed cra­zies in the teeth, it’s about sneak­ing around and sucker-punching face­less goons.”

What’s worse is that the way in which stealth has been shoe­horned in feels so bla­tant. The cam­era was obvi­ous­ly not designed for such shenani­gans, and is instead – quite sen­si­bly – adept at pan­ning to cover wide areas, keep­ing Spider-Man centre-screen while he freeruns around the city. In the indoor sec­tions the safest place to avoid detec­tion is often the ceil­ing, but the cam­era sim­ply can’t han­dle this. It’s incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to see where foes are stand­ing with a cam­era designed for 360 degree vision, as fre­quent­ly it bumps into the roof or wall Spidey is cling­ing to and is forced to stop. With depress­ing reg­u­lar­i­ty, an attempt­ed take­down of an unsus­pect­ing guard results in Spider-Man being turned into Swiss cheese by sev­er­al other mooks who had been hid­den by the poor cam­era angles. In attempt­ing to hijack Batman’s style, Amazing Spider-Man makes the play­er for­get why it’s such a joy to be Spider-Man in the first place, and the bizarre hybrid feels so much less enjoy­able than either of its com­po­nent parts.


Did you know that the com­bat engine of Batman: Arkham Asylum was orig­i­nal­ly planned as a rhythm game more akin to Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero than to Street Fighter and Tekken? At first this lit­tle truth nugget sounds ridicu­lous — a bat­tle sys­tem based around dance moves? A glo­ri­fied quick-time event? That’s not very Batman at all. But a quick look reveals that the com­bat in the fin­ished game is entire­ly about rhythm and tim­ing, and often appears para­dox­i­cal­ly serene amongst the crunch­ing bones and screams of pain. A skilled play­er can chain an entire bat­tle in a sin­gle unbro­ken combo, slip­ping from dodges to gad­gets to eye-wateringly painful coun­ters with fluid grace.

Once again, cen­tral to this con­cept is that the play­er must fight just like Batman – no Superman he, to laugh­ing­ly weath­er the blows before throw­ing a right hook strong enough to crack the earth. No, Batman has to fight like what he is. A nor­mal, pow­er­less human, a squishy bag of liq­uid and bones held togeth­er by thin lay­ers of skin. Timing is crit­i­cal, as blows must by neces­si­ty be dodged or coun­tered with pin­point pre­ci­sion lest our hero be beat­en down into a Halloween-themed pulp.

This does­n’t ring as true for Spider-Man. According to Marvel’s own web­site, Spidey can lift 10 tons and is “rough­ly 15 times as agile as a nor­mal human,” and yet he fights almost pre­cise­ly the same way as Batman. He has his own ver­sion of the glide kick with which to ini­ti­ate com­bat:

He shares Batman’s early-warning sys­tem, the lit­tle sym­bol that informs the play­er when to counter:

Spider-Man can use his webs to yank away a foe’s firearm the way Batman uses his rope, he stuns with his webs just as Batman does with his cape, and for both heroes chain­ing longer com­bos grants access to more pow­er­ful moves. Both have some sus­pi­cious­ly similar-looking upgrade screens where­by new tech and moves can be pur­chased and upgrad­ed despite the fact that this makes lit­tle sense for our friend­ly neigh­bour­hood Spider-Man, as, unlike his com­pa­tri­ot, his reliance on gad­getry is min­i­mal. Where Batman’s var­i­ous tech­no­log­i­cal mar­vels pro­vide gen­uine ben­e­fits, both in com­bat and in his inter­ac­tions with the world, Spider-Man’s upgrades most­ly feel like an unnec­es­sary after­thought.

Even the way the char­ac­ter is shown to have suf­fered dam­age is iden­ti­cal – the grad­ual degra­da­tion of the heroes’ suits, as rips or stains appear to show the heavy-duty wear and tear. This is a par­tic­u­lar­ly shame­less pil­fer­ing, a mechan­ic clear­ly lift­ed from Batman’s game sole­ly on the basis of “it looked cool.” It lacks, how­ev­er, what lends true weight to the orig­i­nal; in his games, Batman is trapped and suf­fer­ing through one ordeal after anoth­er, with the suit gain­ing dam­age to rep­re­sent his weari­ness and remind­ing the play­er that our hero is hav­ing a seri­ous­ly shit­ty evening. Spidey’s, on the other hand, will fall to pieces if he so much as farts in it, though this isn’t the prob­lem it may appear because he can go home and change when­ev­er he wants. The only rea­son for the addi­tion is because Arkham Asylum did it first, not to aid char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. Imagine if John McClane got a new vest in every scene – would we have the same under­stand­ing of his strug­gles with­out the visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion the icon­ic under­gar­ment pro­vides? The blood stains and bul­let holes he accu­mu­lates, just as with Batman’s bat­tered suit, are reminders of the character’s drive and deter­mi­na­tion to get the job done. All that is achieved by Amazing Spider-Man is to give the play­er cause to won­der why Spidey doesn’t cre­ate his cos­tumes from stur­dier mate­r­i­al.

So given what is known about the char­ac­ters, how can these sim­i­lar­i­ties be rec­on­ciled if not a bare-faced attempt to emu­late a supe­ri­or game? Batman is a frag­ile, break­able human; he can strap on half his body weight in padding and show­case a torso that would make pro wrestlers weep, but when all is said and done he’s sim­ply a man with com­pre­hen­sive com­bat train­ing and a better-than-average physique. Comparatively, a punch from Spider-Man would feel akin to being hit by a truck. When Batman is annoyed by his fel­low heroes, he cows them with a glare. When Wolverine makes smart-ass com­ments about Spider-Man’s wife, the web­slinger throws him through a sup­pos­ed­ly unbreak­able win­dow. Physically the two are worlds apart, and yet instead of mak­ing the most of Spidey’s incred­i­ble poten­tial, Amazing Spider-Man’s devel­op­ers adopt­ed the style of Arkham Asylum point-for-point. While the com­bat style felt per­fect for Batman’s stoic and method­i­cal approach to vio­lence, in Spider-Man’s case it feels more like he’s try­ing to get him­self killed by stub­born­ly refus­ing to per­form to his full capa­bil­i­ty.

What, this? Oh, this is just my morn­ing work­out. I do two hun­dred reps, then it’s time for break­fast”

Again there is a sense of wrong­ness. Some fights, par­tic­u­lar­ly the boss fights against Vermin or Scorpion, would be an edge-of-your-seat moment were they fought by Batman as our pow­er­less hero throws down with bands of mutants who crowd him and leave him nowhere to run. In com­par­i­son, Spider-Man has the speed and strength to make such fights a cake­walk were it not for his strange ded­i­ca­tion to crip­pling his own com­bat abil­i­ties by fight­ing as if he for­got which game he’s star­ring in. Once again, the parts are greater than the sum, and the expe­ri­ence only reminds play­ers of the fun they could be hav­ing if only the devel­op­ers would let Spider-Man play to his strengths.


This might seem an odd com­plaint, given that comic book titles are usu­al­ly drown­ing in cameo appear­ances, Easter Eggs and fan­dom nods. Marvel has even built an entire fran­chise of movies by expert­ly weav­ing these seem­ing­ly small appear­ances and ref­er­ences togeth­er into a coher­ent con­ti­nu­ity. If there’s one thing a nerd loves, it’s con­ti­nu­ity, the knowl­edge of who some­one is and why they’re rel­e­vant or how impor­tant the MacGuffin of this par­tic­u­lar adven­ture has been in the past.

In theArkham games, The Riddler has lib­er­al­ly sprin­kled the game worlds with lit­tle puz­zles for Batman to find and solve. These take sev­er­al forms, from straightforward-but-often-tricky phys­i­cal puz­zles which uti­lize Batman’s many gad­gets to clever inside jokes. Players are given a clue that relates to the Batman mythos or a char­ac­ter there­in and a vague loca­tion, and must search the area until they find an object that fits the clue: a flower shop run by Pamela Isley (civil­ian iden­ti­ty of one Poison Ivy) for exam­ple, or a Harvey Dent cam­paign poster. These are enjoy­able not only because they appeal to the afore­men­tioned nerdish need to under­stand con­ti­nu­ity, but because they reveal tiny parts of jig­saw which the play­er can piece togeth­er and under­stand a lit­tle more about the game uni­verse. Being a mish-mash of ele­ments from var­i­ous Batman con­ti­nu­ities (The Animated Series pro­vides copi­ous inspi­ra­tion, mixed amongst plot threads the play­er may rec­og­nize from clas­sic comic book sto­ries) this is use­ful in con­vey­ing that game-Batman’s his­to­ry is a long one, of which the play­er is only expe­ri­enc­ing a sin­gle night.

While not direct­ly aping the Riddler sys­tem, Amazing Spider-Man has its own ver­sion of these puz­zles. Peter Parker is a free­lance pho­tog­ra­ph­er for the Daily Bugle (while not a con­stant through all the var­i­ous inter­pre­ta­tions, it is the job at which he most often finds him­self) and at cer­tain points dur­ing the game is invit­ed to go and inves­ti­gate weird events around New York. Similar to his pointy-eared col­league, Spider-Man is given a loca­tion and a set of clues, all of which he must seek out and pho­to­graph upon arrival. Each indi­vid­ual loca­tion (there are a hand­ful through­out the game) is based around one of Spidey’s rogues gallery, such as a rooftop nest hint­ing at the Vulture or the shred­ded space­suit of Man-Wolf atop the Bugle build­ing. While the names are never explic­it­ly stat­ed, it’s a pret­ty firm nod of the head to estab­lished Spider-Man canon. There are three big prob­lems with this:

Firstly, the play­er never inter­acts with or even sees these char­ac­ters. They do not appear in the game, com­plet­ing the side-quests does not unlock a char­ac­ter bio or a vir­tu­al edi­tion of the character’s first comic book appear­ance. In fact, these char­ac­ters are never men­tioned again after their side mis­sion is com­plet­ed. It feels very much like a tease. While many of the vil­lains ref­er­enced in the Arkham games’ puz­zles don’t appear – or at least, not until the sequel – there are more than enough icon­ic bad­dies to keep the play­er enter­tained. Even those who aren’t star­ring in the game are shown to exist in a rec­og­niz­able form. Spider-Man, on the other hand, tus­sles with four or so ver­sions of his leg­endary foes in the entire game, often bat­tling the same one repeat­ed­ly, and the hints at the pres­ence of oth­ers makes that rep­e­ti­tion and lack of vari­ety all the more glar­ing.

Secondly, these mis­sions are total­ly lack­ing in chal­lenge. Arkham Asylum called upon knowl­edge of the char­ac­ter and his foes to under­stand many of the more dif­fi­cult clues – the aver­age per­son is unlike­ly to know to scan the Ratcatcher’s mask or catch an obscure ref­er­ence to the Calendar Man – but Amazing Spider-Man removes any need for such. The loca­tion is marked on the min­imap, the clues are very obvi­ous (there are three for each puz­zle, locat­ed with­in a small area where they are the only things that stand out from the back­ground) and in effect the whole sequence requires noth­ing more than swing­ing to a rooftop or the street, tak­ing three pho­tographs and leav­ing again. Certainly fans can work out who is being ref­er­enced from these clues, but it adds no depth to the world. The feel­ing is less of explo­ration and dis­cov­ery than it is of rou­tine; go here, take pho­tos, take your XP and go back about your busi­ness.

Thirdly, there is no con­ti­nu­ity to ref­er­ence!The fact is that Amazing Spider-Man – the movie – is a reboot of the series and as such has no estab­lished canon. In lift­ing the idea of a deeply ref­er­en­tial sys­tem from Arkham Asylum, Amazing Spider-Man’s devel­op­ers have had to invent ways to refer to char­ac­ters and events which have so far not appeared or have no rel­e­vance to the world in which the game is set. The effect, rather than pro­vid­ing that com­fort­ing “hey, I get that ref­er­ence!” feel­ing as intend­ed, is actu­al­ly pret­ty jar­ring. The game’s bios are stuffed to the gills with nods to Spider-Man canon, crow­barred in wher­ev­er pos­si­ble. Possibly the worst exam­ple of this is the char­ac­ter sheet (taken from the game’s wiki here) for the Scorpion, a recur­ring foe through­out the game:

Of all the cross-species fac­ing off against Spider-Man, none fea­tures a more cold, men­ac­ing appear­ance than Scorpion — and for good rea­son. Normally reserv­ing his genius toward his spe­cial­ty in nuclear sci­ence, Oscorp physi­cist Dr. Otto Octavius dug into Curt Connors’ research as quick­ly as it became avail­able to him. Not sat­is­fied with sim­ply infus­ing human DNA into a high­ly ven­omous black fat-tailed scor­pi­on, Octavius also threw in a touch of mys­te­ri­ous, organ­ic “black goo” of unknown ori­gin, which Oscorp had recent­ly retrieved from one of the com­pa­ny’s fall­en satel­lites in secret. The result was Scorpion, an exper­i­ment Octavius also would affec­tion­ate­ly refer to as “MAC” (amus­ing­ly stand­ing for “my aston­ish­ing cre­ation”).

Phew. Did you catch all that, True Believers? For those who aren’t well-versed in the web­slinger’s world, here’s a handy run-down:

  • Oscorp physi­cist Dr. Otto Octavius” is prob­a­bly the most well-known of the ref­er­ences here, being the civil­ian name of one of Spider-Man’s all-time great foes, Dr. Octopus.
  • The “mys­te­ri­ous, organ­ic ‘black goo’” recov­ered from a fall­en satel­lite refers to the alien Venom sym­biote, which merges with a human host to either become a ter­ri­fy­ing­ly destruc­tive vil­lain or cause Tobey Maguire to dance like a twat.
  • Finally, and like­ly the most obscure for non-fans, “MAC” or “my aston­ish­ing cre­ation.” Of the three this is the only one which relates to the char­ac­ter, being a ref­er­ence to Mac Gargan, the orig­i­nal Scorpion in comics con­ti­nu­ity.

That’s three ref­er­ences to sep­a­rate char­ac­ters in a sin­gle biog­ra­phy, none of which are rel­e­vant to the in-game enemy. Does the play­er ever encounter Doc Ock? Nope. Is the dark secret of the Scorpion that the crea­ture is real­ly a warped and twist­ed Mac Gargan? Absolutely not. Does the Venom sym­biote ever exert con­trol over the host, or does the remain­ing “black goo” escape its lab to ram­page about the city? I’ll give you three guess­es, and the first two don’t count. The point­less, dead-end nature of these ref­er­ences serves only to annoy the play­er, amount­ing to noth­ing more than use­less triv­ia.

Unlocking the Rhino’s char­ac­ter bio reveals that, con­trary to what Spider-Man (and by proxy, the play­er) believes, not all cross-species are mutat­ed ani­mals; the poor Rhino is actu­al­ly a low-level Russian mob­ster sur­ren­dered by his employ­ers for shady genet­ic exper­i­ments. The bio even goes so far as to men­tion that some wit­ness­es have claimed to see “traces of human­i­ty in his eyes.” Very touch­ing, yet total­ly worth­less infor­ma­tion. The play­er might think this would be a plot point or some kind of reveal, but out­side of the char­ac­ter biog­ra­phy it is never men­tioned again. Spider-Man never even dis­cov­ers that he’s fight­ing some­thing more than a mutat­ed rhi­noc­er­os. It’s noth­ing more than an info-dump on the play­er, a very trans­par­ent attempt to add depth to a char­ac­ter where depth was never required. By refer­ring to the character’s comic book ori­gin (early on, Rhino was just an Eastern-Bloc thug in a pow­ered suit) and attempt­ing to give the play­er an “Aha!” moment, the game adds unnec­es­sary char­ac­ter­i­za­tion to an enemy who is restrict­ed to mere­ly appear­ing once or twice, break­ing some stuff, and being swift­ly defeat­ed.

Yet again, the con­clu­sion is that what works for Batman does not work for Spider-Man. Where the rid­dles of the Arkham series serve to add a lit­tle pol­ish to the game world and nods to estab­lished con­ti­nu­ity, Amazing Spider-Man deliv­ers its Easter Eggs on a sil­ver plat­ter only for the play­er to find them under­whelm­ing. Pointless ref­er­ences to non-appearing char­ac­ters do not deep­en the sto­ry­line or grant any under­stand­ing of the world Peter Parker inhab­its, they come across as both anoth­er attempt to filch mechan­ics from Arkham and a trans­par­ent grab for the nos­tal­gia gland that so many geeks pos­sess.

One thing I did like was the addi­tion of retro, vin­tage comic books as col­lectible. I found myself going out of my way to col­lect pages, often putting off going to bed for anoth­er hour so I might find enough to unlock the next issue. But with a gen­uine­ly absorb­ing and enjoy­able nod to the franchise’s his­to­ry like that already present, why did the game need to throw in some bare-bones rid­dles and ref­er­ences to unused char­ac­ters? Because Arkham Asylum did it first.

Despite all this, in many ways, Amazing Spider-Man is not real­ly a bad game. It’s enjoy­able despite the nig­gles, and when the devel­op­ers allow it to work as a Spider-Man game it truly shines. However, it is not a game that per­fect­ly cap­tures the spir­it of the source mate­r­i­al the way the Arkham games do, although the poten­tial is clear­ly present in the open-world sec­tions. By tak­ing mechan­ics that worked for one char­ac­ter, the game cheap­ens what it could have been and ulti­mate­ly leads to a lack of immer­sion, the con­stant nag­ging sense that the play­er is not expe­ri­enc­ing the Marvel uni­verse as Spider-Man would; we expe­ri­ence it as a mish-mash of two char­ac­ters, char­ac­ters who do not and can not com­pli­ment each other.

By itself, this would just be a dis­ap­point­ment. But, as dis­cussed, this indus­try loves to fol­low a trend. Now that Batman has become the new stan­dard bear­er for super­hero games, the first one “done right”, it’s like­ly his suc­cess will be copied more and more. It’s pret­ty easy to think of plau­si­ble rea­sons for devel­op­ers to crow­bar in ele­ments they liked – a cap­tured Hulk reverts to puny Bruce Banner neces­si­tat­ing a Solid Snake-style stealth escape, neu­tral­iz­ing guards as he goes. Superman uses his x‑ray vision to ape detec­tive mode and dis­cov­er hid­den secrets or weak­ness­es. Green Lantern loses his ring, Iron Man is robbed of his suit, Hawkman must glide silent­ly from the sky to silent­ly take down crim­i­nals. While these might fit bet­ter with the power set of the char­ac­ter in ques­tion than any of the mechan­ics in Amazing Spider-Man, they would still clear­ly be attempts to repli­cate the Arkham games and should there­fore be dis­cour­aged. Let play­ers fly around joy­ful­ly whack­ing things with Thor’s ham­mer, don’t make them sneak around hit­ting ice giants from behind. Thor just don’t roll that way. And could you real­ly pic­ture Captain America, bas­tion of integri­ty, play-acting as stealthy dirt­bags like Sam Fisher?

The world of super­heroes con­tains legions of dis­tinct, round­ed char­ac­ters who’ve had decades to devel­op per­son­al­i­ties and method­olo­gies. If they all sud­den­ly begin to act like Batman, they’re just not fun any­more. Batman and his games are fun because his world and the way he inter­acts with it have a par­tic­u­lar feel which is famil­iar and entire­ly unique. Batman is Batman. So please, on the off-chance you’re read­ing this right before head­ing to a devel­op­ment meet­ing where you’ll pitch a game that’s “like Arkham Asylum, but you play as Power Girl,” think twice. Let these char­ac­ters be them­selves – don’t force them into a mold that was never made for them. Remember the back­lash against Call of Duty once pub­lic opin­ion began to turn – the fran­chise began to accu­mu­late “haters” deter­mined to tell any­one who’d lis­ten how the games had always sucked, to pick as many holes in the series as they could. The same will hap­pen to Batman. If, in a few years, every­thing gamers find annoy­ing and repet­i­tive about super­hero games can be traced back to the Caped Crusader, then as unimag­in­able as it seems the Internet will turn on him.

Nobody wants that. It’s not such a big thing to ask, devel­op­ers – please just don’t make us hate Batman. We may never for­give you.

Tom Dawson

About Tom Dawson

Tom Dawson is, in no particular order; a two-time Olympic bronze medallist (synchronised swimming), ancestrally Atlantean, a compulsive liar, the Green Lantern of space sector 2814 and the inventor of the cordless drill. His fondest wish is that someday he’ll get paid for writing stuff like this.