Marvel’s Spider-Man is out today on the PlayStation 4, and in addition to the high-flying, web-slinging action, developer Insomniac Games is putting some big emphasis on the story. The game offers a slightly new spin on the classic hero, one that takes a lot of established comic lore and mixes it up in fresh and interesting ways.
Warning: mild spoilers below for Spider-Man for the PS4
Much like the most recent Spider-Man films, the PS4 game makes the smart move to skip over Peter’s origin story entirely. It’s a safe bet that if you’re picking up a Spider-Man game in 2018, you probably already know the basics: Uncle Ben, radioactive spider, “With great power comes great responsibility,” etc. The game doesn’t just excel by breaking out of the usual Spider-Man timeline. It also remixes existing Spider-lore to create something fresh that shakes up some of the character relationships that fans have come to know and love over the decades.
Most of these changes don’t affect Peter. After all, it’s still a Spider-Man game, which means that Peter still has to be, well, Spider-Man, as he quips and flips his way through the city. But nearly everyone surrounding Peter has changed. How Peter relates to those changes is what makes the game so interesting.
One of the biggest changes is Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane Watson, who’s historically been relegated to the role of a damsel in distress for Peter to save. That’s not the case in Spider-Man for PS4, though; in this game, she’s a playable character in her own right, breaking stories as a reporter for the Daily Bugle and often clashing with Peter’s overprotectiveness as she tries to do her job.
Another major change is the shift of Professor Otto Octavius, who shows up not as the iconic villain but as Peter’s mentor at the poorly funded Octavius Industries lab. (It wouldn’t be a Spider-Man story if Peter didn’t have money problems of some sort.) It helps tie Peter together with a rather unlikely ally as they work on creating prosthetic limbs for soldiers. Of course, anyone who’s seen a Spider-Man property will likely guess where that relationship leads down the road.
Popular Spider-Man villains like Electro, Scorpion, and Rhino all make token appearances, and the game makes it clear that Spidey has already dealt with them before. For example, when Spidey fights Shocker, he teases the villain by using his real name. Avoiding the tedious backstories gives the game more time to focus on less familiar characters like Mr. Negative or Tombstone, providing players with new enemies to face that they haven’t already seen in countless video games, comics, and films over the years.
And like the current crop of comics or the upcoming Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie, Spider-Man’s world also features Miles Morales (who fans will recognize as the popular bearer of the Spider-Man name in Marvel’s alternate universe Ultimate comics). Miles isn’t Spider-Man here, but he is a playable character, and his life eventually intersects with Peter’s in decidedly non-superheroic ways that offer some of the more grounded, human moments of the game.
There are smaller things, too: J. Jonah Jameson has moved on to a podcast, and he’s essentially morphed into Alex Jones, if Alex Jones only really hated Spider-Man (who is a menace, Jameson will have you know). It seems like a fairly reasonable place for the brash editor to end up, eight years on. Aunt May also has a bigger role, working at the FEAST shelter that ties her together with the villainous Mister Negative.
Plus, Spider-Man doesn’t ignore the past. The backstory of this Peter Parker’s adventures is a backdrop for the current plot, with collective items and lines of dialogue giving the backstory for players who are interested in hunting it all down. Things like mementos from battles with classic villains like Sandman, important moments in MJ and Peter’s relationship, or relics from Peter’s earlier Spider-Man days all show up, giving a sense of a larger world outside of the game.
Spider-Man almost certainly won’t be the last we’ll see of this universe’s webslinger, either. Marvel has already said that the Insomniac-designed Spidey will be joining the comics in the upcoming Spidergeddon crossover event. And given the positive reception of the PS4 title and the MCU-style post-credit scenes that practically promise a part two, Sony will likely be eying a sequel down the line soon.