It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, an adage that hasn’t held up well in court for me after I was rumbled for selling counterfeit Jackson Pollock paintings that were the result of violent diarrhoea near a canvas and my habit of drinking ink every morning. Likewise with most action video games that arrived after the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2008, as these interactive experiences all suddenly featured a “press Y to dodge” mechanic in the wake of the blockbuster success of that dark knight simulator.
Activision’s previous two Spider-Man games are perhaps the prime example here of lifting a few ideas from its rival and running wild with them. More Peter Parkham than Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man movie tie-in games were rubbish attempts to emulate the success of developer Rocksteady’s ground-breaking work at giving a beat to action. Seriously, I hope those games rot in the same bin that you find old paperbacks of Spider-Man: Chapter One in.
Insomniac’s Spider-Man game looks like something that is many many steps removed from the Arkham mould. There’s still a few influences present as Spidey-senses tingle during combat, but the entire package so far looks more faithful and more importantly far more original in its approach to doing whatever a Spider can. In that way, Spider-Man is taking the right kind of inspiration from the Arkham franchise: Having a day one PC launch buggered beyond belief Creating the ultimate Spider-Man experience.
“I’m personally a huge fan of the Arkham series; I’ve Platinumed every single one of those games, with the exception of Origins–because I think that one had an online component that I didn’t get all the Trophies for–but I’m a huge fan of what DC and Rocksteady have done with Batman, creating a very unique take on the franchise that stands apart from the films and comics.,” Marvel Games vice president and executive producer Mike Jones said to GameSpot.
what Arkham tells all of us is that you can do a unique take on characters in a game
When I look at Arkham’s mechanics and story and think about where it sits in the pantheon of DC and gaming, it’s massively successful and innovative not just as an action game, but as an experience. Even if you took Batman out of it, those games would still be compelling to play. Rocksteady and DC didn’t rehash stories that you had seen or heard; of course, they took inspiration from the animated series and the films, but at the end of the day, it felt authentic. The recipe that those games created resonated with everyone, myself included.
But what Arkham tells all of us is that you can do a unique take on characters in a game and tell a story that people care about. You can do a take on a character that people remember and connect with that isn’t derivative of anything else. That really challenges and inspires us to really lean into what makes a character unique and then bring that into the experience. We look at Spider-Man, we dissect it, and we ask: “What’s essential to a great Spider-Man story and the superhero power fantasy of controlling him? And what’s essential to telling Peter Parker’s side of it?”
The same thing goes with Avengers: “What makes an Avengers story unique and different from a Spider-Man story or even a Defenders story? In a sense, we’ve learned from all kinds of great storytelling in gaming. And the Arkham games–while we’re not necessarily trying to copy any particular thing that Rocksteady has done with them–inspired us to lean into our characters and trust that nailing the uniqueness of each character experience is really what’s going to make the gameplay compelling.
It’s not a checkbox of mechanics. That’s what’s paramount to us. We love the Arkham games and the healthy competition they inspire in us, but we also want to evolve and do better.
And that’s a fantastic lesson to learn from the distinguished competition. Part of what makes DC’s interactive presence so effective is that these games aren’t beholden entirely to their source material, but merely the core values that define these characters. Rocksteady and NetherRealm created not just fantastic games with stories that wholly original, but also created new worlds to explore beyond their games.
Something I’m hoping that Insomniac can emulate next year with their Spider-Man game that examines the hero behind and outside of the familiar arachnid-themed mask.
Last Updated: June 26, 2017