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Spider-Man and narrative restriction in open world games

Look anywhere on your Twitter feed or on your regularly frequented Reddit forums, and chances are, you won’t get very far into you hit of tirade of imagery from Insomniac’s Spider-Man. People are absolutely loving it, largely due to how great it feels to traverse New York as Marvel’s famed web head, but also because of its strong emphasis on narrative, character, and relationships. Spider-Man on PS4 tells a genuinely engaging story, and it’s because of this that it’s time to address a problem most open world games suffer from.

You see, the stories weaved throughout most open world games are great when experiencing them in the moment. I’m thinking of games like last year’s Horizon: Zero Dawn, which relayed the tale of a future world in which an outsider battles robot dinos to find acceptance; the interconnected campaigns of Grand Theft Auto V’s Trevor, Michael, and Franklin; and of course, Red Dead Redemption’s lonely ranger shtick with John Marston.

 

Cowboys don’t live forever (Red Dead Redemption)

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these open world stories – if anything it’s impressive they enrapture us so well considering that we, the player, stay in charge of the pace. No, the issue is that these open world games have always done a pretty bad job at letting us reexperience story missions outside of the main campaign. Spider-Man does this, and it’s a darn shame. Even by comic book standards, the game isn’t left wanting for putting you through a rollercoaster of emotions. Without spoiling anything, it all ramps up at the end for a satisfying final confrontation. It’s sad that any of the game’s missions aren’t accessible individually upon completion.

This wouldn’t happen in a linear game. Take the Uncharted series for example; even before finishing the campaign you’re able to select and dive into a specific chapter without having to wade through any other sections you’d really rather not. Uncharted 2’s train sequence is so epic, why wouldn’t I want to jump in whenever I feel the need? But no, in most games story chapters remain locked off, forcing you to either restart all over to get to the part you love, or jump into new game +.

cat and mouse

It might be a nit-pick in the wider scope of issues, but for someone who tends to enjoy certain breakout sections, why can’t open world games operate like a DVD or Blu-Ray disc? Obviously, you’d need to complete the game first. The Assassin’s Creed series addressed this nearly 10 years back. In the second instalment centred on Ezio, it did the exact same thing Spider-Man and so many others do. However, with follow-up Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood the following year, Ubisoft resolved the issue, letting you jump into specific sections of Ezio’s timeline by way of in-universe device the animus.

This doesn’t detract from the brilliance of Spider-Man and what it achieves in letting players step into the shoes of down-on-his-luck Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter ego. It’d just be nice if in future developers would put up less of a barrier for those who want to experience specific moments of a game after completion, rather than wall of content. That, would make me a true believer!

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