Can the new Spider-Man game be a little more “spider” and a little less “man”?
When the newest Spider-Man game came out September 7th, it garnered generally positive reviews. Fans were excited to web sling around (a very gay-friendly!) New York City in a new adventure-style game that featured tons of early 2000s Spider-Man nostalgia. Fans are about to get even more content when three downloadable content expansions will make their way to gamers’ hands on October 23rd, the first of which will focus on Black Cat, a villain who is only liminally involved in the base game.
In the comics, Black Cat is a classic character who, throughout her existence, has played both enemy and ally to Parker and other Marvel superheroes. In the base game, Black Cat makes a half-cameo in a form of small Where’s Waldo? style puzzles that force Spidey to decipher her schemes. Given that this series of missions ends pretty abruptly with Peter (Spider-Man) picking up a new outfit and Black Cat never makes an appearance herself, it makes sense that this thread will probably be tied back up in the DLC.
The Black Cat’s addition and appearance in the DLC could be pretty significant given that the female characters in the game so far are not super important.
Spoiler warning, by the way.
Throughout the story, we meet Yuki, Spider-Man’s police contact, Silver Sable, a mercenary that’s not the biggest fan of Spider-Man, Aunt May and Mary Jane, who is Spider-Man’s love interest and was probably best known when she was played by Kirsten Dunst in the original 2000s Spider-Man movies. Out of those characters, only MJ is playable — the other female characters only exist in dialogue or cut scenes, no gameplay. This isn’t an enormous problem: the game only makes three characters playable and it’s definitely a step up from being relegated to damsel-in-distress.
That being said, MJ’s actual gameplay leaves the player little to do. It’s one thing to make her playable, but would it be too much to ask to make that gameplay interesting or unique? In her first mission, MJ sneaks around an art gallery for her job as an investigative reporter. It’s basically a Marvel-sponsored episode of Dora the Explorer. Throughout the game she gets little additions to her sneaking — Spider-Man gives her lures to throw so she can distract enemy guards — but nothing too exciting or unique to her character. Near the end of the game she picks up a taser and can knock out enemies with sneak attacks, but that skill lasts for exactly one level.
The third playable character is Miles Morales, who you might know if you follow the comics because Miles becomes Spider-Man in the future. Miles has similar sneaking missions to MJ except with the addition of a hacking mechanic that he uses to distract his enemies. Although these scenes aren’t perfect and are perhaps a little monotonous, at least Miles is given something unique to his character.
In an interview with SYFY, one of the writers of the game, Ben Arfmann, noted that they made an intentional decision to give MJ a more active role in the story.
“We were working with the theme of partnership between her and Peter,” Arfmann said. “What’s a way that she can be really contributing to Pete’s work on an equal footing? Making her into an investigative reporter, somebody who is trying to air out dirty laundry and show the truth to the world made a lot of sense to us.”
The fiction and gameplay feel dissonant with each other because although the story portrays MJ in a positive light, the gameplay feels lazy and thus brings down the whole experience of her character.
If the game was entirely combat focused, it would be understandable why MJ didn’t have a bigger role — it might feel a little unrealistic to have her fighting the same bad guys that Spider-Man is except without the super strength. However Peter’s segments of the game include a couple different puzzle mini-games, why not create something like that for MJ’s missions too?
With the Black Cat joining officially, it would be nice to make her a fun and dynamic playable character. Although she’ll be initially joining as a villain, with her character history in the comics, it’s possible that she’ll shift to a hero in the end. Her gameplay could be stealth or robbery missions and because she’s in a comparable superhuman level to Spider-Man, the levels could be more intricate that Miles or MJ’s missions. Regardless, it’ll at least be exciting to see a badass female antagonist — anything’s better than what we’ve got now.