What Made Spider-Man's Story So Spectacular
Before moving forward, this will be full of spoilers. In the case for whatever reason you have not completed the story, please go ahead and do so. Thanks!
Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man is the talk of the town the past few weeks. It has quickly become universally praised around the world. With an incredible Photo Mode, stunning graphics, and ability to put you into the shoes of a superhero, it is not surprising.
There are hundreds of review out there on the web (hah!), and for me to offer the same breakdown of the game would feel a little silly at this point. Instead, I wanted to air my thoughts on what I believe was one of the strongest aspects of the game.
The strongest part of Spider-Man, in my opinion, was the relationship built between Peter Parker and Dr. Otto Octavius. As a lifelong Spider-Man fan, it was a beyond satisfying to see this story thread evolve and conclude the way it did.
For years, and years, Peter has often found solace being mentored by what would become a father figure to him. The most common relationship of this kind is between Peter and Dr. Curt Conners. Peter has always had a soft spot for Conners when he turns into The Lizard. In a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sort of circumstance, Peter strives to find a way to bring Conners back to his humanity.
In a few iterations of Spider-Man, we have seen a similar thread in Peter and Octavius’ relationship. Where an early-twenties Peter works under Octavius in his lab. Many will jump to Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. In Insomniac’s Spider-Man, not much is different. Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus go head to head. While Peter does his best to bring his old friend back from the darkness, the outcome is usually unsuccessful.
We’ve all seen this story, for good reason too. It is a powerful story thread to follow in any Spider-Man story. Peter has lost his real father and Uncle Ben. He grasps to find that father figure to fill the void. What makes this particular story stand above the great majority was the way Insomniac Games crafted the narrative.
From the very moment early on in the game, Peter receives an undisclosed phone call from his boss. I quickly went to narrow it down to either Conners or Octavius. As soon as I walked through the door and heard the voice and saw Otto stand there, I said to myself “Oh, he’s going to become Dr. Octopus during the game!”
Again, still nothing too surprising. The expectations were set. As the game progresses, you return to Octavius’ lab to conduct tests. It’s during these moments you gain an appreciation for their relationship. Otto looks up to Peter just as much as Peter does to Otto.
During your trips to the lab, you quite frequently conduct small tests on what will eventually become the Octopus arms. While the tasks themselves may not be the most enjoyable, for the first time ever, YOU are in control of creating Dr. Octopus.
Every visit, every test, brings you closer to the inevitable. As the audience, we all knew what we were doing. But for Peter, he thought he was helping his friend and mentor create a revolutionary piece of tech. Through the latter half of the game, we see Peter struggle with this revelation.
What packs the most punch is the moment Otto reveals to know Spider-Man’s true identity. After finding Peter working on a Spider-Man suit, Otto offers some assistance as he seems convinced to think Peter is working with Spider-Man. In reality, Otto knew that Peter and Spider-Man were one in the same. At the time, he was of a sane mind. Otto understood what Spider-Man was doing and believed in him. As his mind began to deteriorate, that all changed.
Peter’s response to Otto of “You knew? You knew?!” was completely heartbreaking. Aside from Yuri Lowenthal’s incredible delivery of the lines, this was a powerful moment as their relationship ceased to exist.
There was no coming back from this. There is no scenario where Spider-Man can talk Otto down in order to return to the lab as Peter the next day. Peter’s identity and the safety of his loved ones all relied on him taking down his colleague and friend.
Once again we were in Peter’s shoes as he hears Otto’s declaration. This time, we were not on the outside, reading through panels or watching a scene unfold on film. This time, we had been playing through a slice of their relationship. We had been with these characters for hours upon hours.
When Peter screams “I looked up to you!” to Otto, we felt it. We believed that. As the last stage of the final fight began, the punches we threw as Peter hit harder than ever. And as Peter walks away from a beaten Otto, he walks away from an enemy, not a friend.
Many of Spider-Man’s best stories stem from the relationship he has with the villain as Peter Parker. Which is why villains like Venom, Green Goblin, Lizard etc. work so well. They all come from Peter’s broken relationship with these characters and go on to affect him as Spider-Man.
Insomniac Games understood this. Being the first time the studio handled the Spider-Man property, I was glad to see them tackle a story like this one. Insomniac followed a similar thread with Mr. Negative. However, the relationship built between Peter and Otto had more weight to it in my opinion.
I am excited to see how Insomniac handles the inevitable sequel. They have established a lot of groundwork this year. The studio has a firm understanding of how to tell a Spider-Man story and can take it in many different ways.