Peter Parker has never played a major role in Spider-Man games — until now.
No superhero has seen video game success like Spider-Man. The popular Marvel hero has enjoyed a leading role in games dating back to the medium’s infancy. The first game based on the web-slinging crime fighter, simply called Spider-Man, launched on the Atari 2600 in 1982. Since then, our hero has led more than 30 Spider-Man games across a multitude of platforms and has been featured in many others.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, seeing as Spider-Man is one of the most popular superheroes of all time, perhaps outmatched by only Batman — a hero who’s also had his fair share of great games in recent years.
What is surprising, however, is how consistently good Spider-Man games have been from generation to generation. Video game adaptations and those that use popular licenses from other entertainment mediums are typically lackluster, to put it nicely.
They’re mostly deemed cash grabs that capitalize on well-known or timely intellectual properties. There’s built-in name recognition for brands as ubiquitous as Spider-Man, so at least to a certain extent, the games don’t actually need to be good.
Luckily Spider-Man games have, by and large, exceeded expectations. Even so, they’ve historically felt like secondary Spidey tales when compared to the movies and comic books. The reason? Peter Parker.
Sure, we’ve always known the young man behind the red-and-blue suit exists in Spider-Man games, but few of the games have ever shown him in street clothes, and none have given Peter’s life any meaningful playtime, let alone passing acknowledgement on-screen.
This contradicts the comic books and, even more so, the films — including Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, the pair of The Amazing Spider-Man films, and most recently Spider-Man: Homecoming. The duality of Peter Parker and Spider-Man, the push and pull between the regular trials and tribulations of adolescence, and the crime-thwarting undercover life remain a critical aspect of what makes Spider-Man stories so compelling. Peter’s life as an average, nerdy young person makes him relatable to many of his fans.
Of course, there’s a relatively obvious reason that the happenings of Peter are routinely ignored in an interactive medium like a video game. Players want action, breath-defying stunts, and big baddies to take down. What better way to deliver than letting players swing across Manhattan skyscrapers on loop? Basically, Peter would break up the excitement. And generally in games, that’s a no-no. And since a great number of Spider-Man games have offered consistent, unrelenting Spidey-suit fun, why break the mold?
Indeed, numerous Spider-Man games have successfully made players feel like they’re playing as the cool crime fighter. Both Spider-Man 2 and The Amazing Spider-Man were admirable movie tie-in games, while Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, and Ultimate Spider-Man nodded back to the comics in unique ways.
There’s absolutely no denying Spider-Man games have come a long way since their debut on the Atari 2600. They’ve long since undergone the transition from 2D to 3D, giving players a large open world to use as a playground. Even with all the gameplay refinements and other changes, the games haven’t evolved much narratively over the years. Yes, each has technically told a story, but those stories were largely delivered with the question “What will Spider-Man do now?” And the answer to that always comes in the form some sort of elaborate Spidey action.
Video games shouldn’t rely solely on action, even ones with a playable hero as fun as Spider-Man. It would seem that slinging from building to building, corralling bad guys in webs, and ultimately saving the city could be more impactful if we gained a better understanding of the motivations of the man behind the mask, no?
Insomniac Games’ PlayStation 4 game Spider-Man will attempt to do just that. In Spider-Man, 23-year-old Parker is on the verge of graduating from college when he takes an internship at a NYC laboratory. At this point, Peter has already donned the Spider-Man suit for eight years — a big change from most stories in the franchise that depict him as a fledgling teenage hero struggling to navigate his newly acquired powers.
At the start of the game, Spider-Man puts Wilson Fisk (Kingpin) behind bars, and by the looks of it, the city isn’t currently in need of a hero like Spider-Man. This reprieve allows Peter some time to wrestle with his identity sans the suit. Behind on his bills, Peter takes a job at F.E.A.S.T., an organization founded by well-known philanthropist Martin Li to help the homeless. Aunt May also works at the shelters.
Of course, the fate of the city soon hangs in the balance when a new group called The Inner Demons come to power. Peter soon learns the group’s villainous leader, Mister Negative, is Li’s alter ego and is hell bent on inflicting his twisted vision on the city.
In addition to Mister Negative and Kingpin, Peter will encounter the villain Shocker and, perhaps, will have to look over his shoulder at a certain mayoral candidate — Norman Osborn, better known as the Green Goblin.
These threats alone will give players much to deal with as a seasoned Spidey. But from trailers and info released by Insomniac and Marvel, it’s clear the focal point of the original story centers on the intersection of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. How will he protect Aunt May as Spider-Man while being there for her as a nephew?
Interestingly, the game will also bring Miles Morales into the fold. Morales, like Peter, goes by the identity of Spider-Man. Confusing, right? He was introduced in the comic books in 2011 and has since partnered with Peter on missions. Based on trailers, Morales may serve an important role in the game’s story.
Perhaps most crucial to Peter’s dual lives, though, is Mary Jane, the hero’s longtime love interest. In the game, Mary Jane works as a Daily Bugle reporter who uncovers at least some of the evildoing throughout the city. Players will even get to play as Mary Jane in consequential moments. While other Spider-Man games have featured Mary Jane, because of the constant emphasis on action, an encompassing relationship between the two has never been fully realized. It looks like that will change with Spider-Man.
In many respects, this new Spider-Man story will take a decidedly cinematic approach. It will weave Peter’s everyday life with his noble duty to protect the city when it needs his help. While the game will still be action-oriented, by taking a more global view of Spider-Man as a character, it has the potential to become an important tale within the Spider-Man universe — something that hasn’t truly been possible in the long history of Spider-Man games.
We’ll have to wait and see how well Insomniac incorporates Peter Parker into its upcoming action game, but for fans of the iconic hero, this game should definitely be on your radar.