Insomniac’s Marvel games succeed where Marvel’s Avengers failed
Insomniac Games announced not one but two Marvel projects on Thursday at Sony’s PlayStation Showcase: by marvel Spider Man 2 and by marvel Wolverine. This comes after the original Spider Man in 2018 and the first spin-off, by marvel Spider-Man: Miles Morales, at the end of last year.
With Spider-Man, Wolverine, Miles Morales, and potentially Peter Parker’s Venom in the mix of playable Insomniac heroes, the studio has begun to carve out its own little part of the Marvel Universe. But unlike Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix Marvel’s Avengers, Insomniac keeps things private.
To truly know and appreciate a hero, aside from the teams they might eventually join, players, viewers, and readers need focused time. Lesser-known characters like Miles need an extra story to help fans understand what they’re working with. And even well-known heroes like Spider-Man and Wolverine have to establish how this version of Peter Parker or Logan work.
This is how the MCU handled it, and it set the stage for the incredible Phase 3 conclusions. Did Doctor Strange just appear? Infinity war for the first time, his central role in the film would not have had the same weight. Likewise, the Disney Plus shows help us focus on smaller characters who failed to make their own movie shine. We learned more about Vision in WandaVisionof nine episodes than the many Avengers movies he has appeared in.
But more important than Insomniac learning the lessons of the MCU’s heroic focus is avoiding a trap. Marvel’s Avengers went straight into it. Each of the game’s core Avengers is like a half-step between a new character and a tribute to the MCU version of the hero. Nolan North’s Tony Stark might have his own story by Marvel’s Avengers, but the game doesn’t spend a lot of time revealing it, which means there isn’t enough time to differentiate it from Robert Downey Jr.’s version of the character. Aside from newcomer Kamala Khan, Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t take the time to focus on a specific hero. The range is too wide and almost all characters suffer from it.
Contrast Marvel’s Avengers with what Insomniac is doing. There have been four great cinematic Peter Parkers in the past 20 years – five, if you count the Chris Pine and Jake Johnson versions separately in Into the Spider-Verse. Yet the Marvel’s Spider-Man version of the character stands on her own. Much like Miles Morales in the game, he makes headlines, though Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales includes many tributes to Into the Spider-Verse. Why? Because Insomniac has given his heroes a long runway – hours of soloing with players and lots of unique stories to separate them from the pattern viewers already have of characters.
Marvel’s Spider-Man focuses on Peter Parker. And while players can also control both Mary-Jane and Miles and get intimate glimpses of Otto Octavius, all of the characters play in Peter’s world. In Miles MoralesPeter shows up to mentor Miles, but it’s Miles’ game. He’s the center of attention and Peter is just another character.
The team between Peter and Miles in Spider-man 2 should feel more cohesive than the characters teaming up in Marvel’s Avengers. The basics are already laid. I’ve spent hours getting to know these unique Spider-Men from each other, so I can enjoy them separately even when working as a team, just like teams in the MCU.
It’s far too early to speculate on whether Insomniac will ever put all of its Marvel characters in one game. We don’t even know yet if they exist in the same universe (although we asked). But until now, Insomniac’s approach has been to let each of his versions of Marvel superheroes function first as individual characters, and then potential teammates. If Peter, Miles, or Venom appear for a mission in Marvel’s Wolverine, this isn’t going to sound weird or out of place to you. Corn Marvel’s Wolverine Almost certainly will be a game entirely focused on Logan, where the other heroes are just characters.
A good universe filled with unique heroes takes time to build, but it also takes focus. Marvel’s Avengers it looks like he tried to capitalize on something massive and successful by sprawling out too thin – like a low-poly card losing all of its texture at street level. But Insomniac’s version of the Marvel world is so focused that even when you start to zoom out, you can still see the details.