Just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, I found myself with a lot of extra time in the evenings. My wife was quarantined with COVID-19, hoping it wouldn’t spread to the rest of us. (It didn’t.) When the kids are in bed, we usually watch a movie or TV show with one another, before she knocks off and I play some video games. But all of that time was now mine, and I could have spent it doing anything. Instead, I chose to spend it playing Spider-Man 2.
I tend to finish the things I start, whether it’s a movie, TV show, or video game. I like endings, and I like closure. And by closure, I mean credits rolling. It’s a clean and simple signal to move on. When the credits hit, it’s onto the next one. It helps explain why I struggle with games like Minecraft, because the loop never closes. But when I hit credits on Insomniac’s Spider-Man games, I keep going. I’m willing to break my rules, and do the most inane crap to stick around.
Oh, you want me to clear out another arena of bad guys? Happy to. Did I hear there’s a 10th overly simple puzzle with an underwhelming reward to be solved? Don’t worry, I’m your guy!
This was true of the original 2018 game, and the excellent 2020 Miles Morales spin-off, too. But…it’s not true of virtually any other game I play, where I’m wondering what to install next.
It’s worth nothing that what I consider 100%’ing Spider-Man 2 might not be what other people consider 100%’ing Spider-Man 2. If you load up my save of Spider-Man 2, the game says 100%. But 100% is not 100% from a completionist’s perspective. What I don’t have is the game’s Platinum trophy, and there’s a good chance I’ll say goodbye to Spider-Man 2 without nabbing it. There is another article to be written about a game considering itself finished, but the meta achievement system wrapped around it declaring that to be untrue, but that’s for another day.
For me, a number going up is not enough. A digital trophy doesn’t move the needle. But there’s a certain combination of factors that compel me to stick around in Insomniac’s Spider-Man(s).
On a very base level, what keeps me around these Spider-Man games is the terrific sense of motion. I’m a platforming person at heart, and there’s strong platformer energy in these games. I endlessly delight in tossing my character into the air, and trying to land them on, say, a table. It is remarkable how often I’m able to pull this off, and it makes the sheer act of moving through the game’s spaces an act of joy. You do a lot of running around in games, but how often does that bring you joy? You’re usually running from point A to point B in order to discover the joy.
But it’s more than that. In reality, it’s the map. The Spider-Man games have a kick ass map. It slowly fills with enough icons to invoke anxiety, but smartly, they don’t appear all at once. As you complete missions in different boroughs, the map fills in with new things to do. You’ll come across many of these optional objectives by simply exploring, but what if you want to do every single one of them? The game is happy to point out where, exactly, to spend all that energy.
When it comes to collectibles in games, I’m a “oh, that’s good enough” kind of person. I will spend what feels like a reasonable amount of time looking for a shiny object off the beaten path, irrationally hoping I’m lucky enough to find all of them on my first time through the game. It’s never true, but I’m usually astute enough to find two-thirds of what a game is hiding. The question, then, is whether I’m willing to go find the last third. And the answer is usually no, because most games make completing that task require watching videos and reading guides.
I’m also a person who likes a clean inbox, and you won’t find lingering badge icons on my phone screen, either. All of my text messages have been read. My brain delights in checking boxes like this, and Spider-Man offers a respectful, efficient way of clearing off its entire map.
Which cuts to the heart of the matter, right? I don’t like wasting time. I have two kids, an active social life, and video games are seemingly longer than ever. If a game is going to command my attention beyond its core story, it had better respect my goddamn time. And these games do!*
*With one unfortunate exception, which I’ll get to in a moment.
Respect begets respect, and because I’m looking for an excuse to stick around, I do.
But yes, the unfortunate exception. The game’s pesky spider bots. There are a lot of them in Spider-Man 2, and fortunately, they do not hide their presence all that well, because an enormous visual pulses over their location. Unfortunately, the map in Spider-Man 2 is enormous, and for whatever reason, this is the one collectible/mission/objective that’s not on the map. It makes no sense, is completely irritating, and at this point I can only chalk it up to an oversight, because malice doesn’t align with how Insomniac has structured literally everything else here.
Sorry, I should backtrack before the haters show up. It’s not on the game’s central map, but with the right upgrade, it’s on the game’s mini-map. It’s ludicrous, and only becomes more so when I describe how I finally ended up tracking down all these fuckers. I loaded up a guide with an annotated map featuring the spider bot locations. Then, I’d go one-by-one and figure out which ones I’d already picked up while playing the game. Is this what the rest of you are spending your time doing while unlocking Platinum trophies? Sometimes, the guide’s suggested location was generally right but not exactly right, which then meant I was then staring at a map on my phone, then staring at a mini-map in the game, and trying to swing Spider-Man at the same time.
I got ‘em all eventually. But it was, admittedly, a sour way to end things. But most important of all, the tracker hit 100%. My time with the game was done. The world saved, impulses satiated.
Until the next one, anyway.