So Spider-Man on PS4 really took me by surprise. During my first few hours of playing, I wasn’t a fan of Spidey’s new game. I felt very frustrated that I was terrible at web slinging, I couldn’t get a handle on the combat and gadgets and I felt lucky whenever I took down a boss. But then I realized that sometimes, you have to practice to become okay at a game. Spider-Man on PS4 requires player’s to not power through the campaign. You have to explore the map, level p your hero, take on side quests and be acrobatic in you handling on the controls. Spider-Man demands you attention, time and dedication. And this got me thinking about my past experiences with the Batman: Arkham series of games, and Arkham Knight in particular. The similarities are there, but not as glaring as some would lead you to believe. True, you star as a massively popular comic book hero with every intention of being that hero. You inhabit an open world and are tasked with taking down some of the most popular villains in comic book history. But both games ask their players to play the game differently even if the rewards are similar.
The unfair question is; which one is better? Which game better represents their hero, and which game is more fun? While “fun” is subjective, I believe I can offer some answers and tell you which game is the better product overall. So, without further ado…
Seriously, I think open worlds are a bit overrated. I don’t play many open world games like GTA or…well, whatever other open world games there are. This has nothing to do with the games or developers behind them, I just always feel overwhelmed by the amount of content within open world games and end up not finishing them. However, Batman Arkham Knight’s open world, while massive, seemingly aimed to give us the most detailed looking world we have seen so far this generation. And this design scheme is based on the attention to detail found within the previous games in the Arkham series (including Arkham Origins).
Spider-Man’s open world however, looks flat by comparison. Yes, the New York found in Spider-Man is bigger than Gotham City, but it’s at the expense of detail. Gotham City is old, dirty, gothic while housing modern technology and it does not seem like a safe place. On the flip side, New York is bright and full of massive skyscrapers, small bodegas and actual landmarks that look a little…simple. Sure, there are more large rectangles in New York, but Gotham looks like a wild animal that needs to be tamed.
With that being said though, New York is teaming with life, in a way that Gotham won’t allow itself to. In Arkham Knight, Gotham, a city of six million people, is completely evacuated in a single day, leaving you alone with the various criminals and their massive gangs. That’s impossible. Spider-Man’s version of New York is filled with hundreds, possibly thousands, of npc’s just living their lives; going to work, having parties, buying food and basically just existing. Spider-Man’s open world may look flat to my untrained eyes, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. This looks like a city that you or I could find ourselves living in, superheroes aside. New York is a city where Gotham looks like a picture of one.
But what good is a superhero game without the ability to impose your ridiculous power fantasy of strength over a cowardly and superstitious lot of idiots. There have been a lot of comparisons between Batman and Spider-Man’s combat. While the similarities are there, the way you’re expected to win a fight are almost (k)night and (brand new)day . While playing as Batman, you are an undisputed master of several, if not every, forms of unarmed combat.
You can easily topple multiple opponents with your bare hands and that’s before the inclusion of the various gadgets Batman has at his disposal thanks to his nigh mythical utility belt. Batman’s combat is ground based and full of elbow grease, while Spider-Man’s is all about air support. As Spidey, you’re tasked with taking down wave after wave of opponents that might not be as powerful as you, but by comparison they are friggin damage sponges that don’t know when to quit, so the best way for you to defend yourself is to divide and conquer. Take an enemy into the air are set them up on a gravity-defying combo that will knock them into next week. Use gadgets to turn the enemy into a weapon and turn a crowd of enemies into set of bowling pins.
While both games offer fun and impressive looking combat, Batman is much more satisfying to play as. Something about his dominance on the battlefield is hard to replicate and almost impossible to surpass. It’s easy to use, yet difficult to master, allowing anyone to blindly pick up a controller and feel accomplished taking out a room full of criminals. Spider-Man’s combat is about using your environment and gadgets to your advantage, while asking you to resort to fisticuffs only as a last resort. Batman on the other hand, is all about mauling your opponents. Getting up close and dealing some hilariously horrendous-looking attacks upon a hapless ne’er do well. Batman is all about strength, while Spider-Man is about grace, but only one lets you feel accomplished in your super powered beat downs .
Winner: Batman: Arkham Knight
Look, enjoyment of a story is completely subjective, so I can only give you my opinion on the stories of both of these games. Also, no spoilers here, I’m not about that with every article. Batman: Arkham Knight tells us the story of what could possibly be the last night of Batman’s life. The introduction of a new villain named the Arkham Knight who seeks to push Batman beyond his limits while forcing him to deal with his deadliest and oldest foes while facing his own legacy. Spider-Man tells the tale of a slightly older, well established Peter Parker who finds himself more and more overwhelmed by his various colorful villain found within New York while trying to pay rent, patch things up with his girlfriend and keep his job. While Batman is a man, he’s more of an ideal to strive towards. While I could be Batman with enough time and resources, Spider-Man goes through the same types of trials and tribulations that I have gone through in my own life, and many I still do.
While Arkham Knight’s story of Batman facing his own mortality and legacy is a great story when told well, it’s one that we’ve seen before. This story is basically Knightfall: The Video Game. We’ve seen this story in films like the Dark Knight Rises and comics like the Dark Knight Returns. We know that Batman is going to still be Batman at the end of it. While the same can be said of Spider-Man, his video game’s story gives us a look at the life of a Peter Parker that’s been Spider-Man for nearly a decade now, something his cinematic counterparts seem to be too scared to do; as if a twenty three year old is less relatable (marketable) than a fifteen year old. You feel for Spider-Man more in his adventures because he doesn’t have billions of dollars and an army of Robins at his disposal.
Despite being the more powerful hero, Spider-Man is in much more danger than Batman because he simply lacks the resources that are at the Gotham Guardians disposal. Plus, Spider-Man’s story takes chances by taking well established characters and flipping them on their heads, giving us real stakes and establishing this game as its own lived-in universe. Where Batman: Arkham Knight seems to keep giving Batman several backdoors with which to keep the established status quo of what fans expect. Spider-Man’s story takes more chances that Arkham Knight’s and as a result, is the more ambitious and fulfilling of the two games campaigns.
I’m sorry; Batman has the best rogue’s gallery in all of comics. From the Joker to Bane, there is no shortage of heinous villainy for the Dark Knight to contend with. While Spider-Man certainly has some of the more popular villains in comics, like Venom or the Green Goblin, but outside of the classic villains that are constantly seen in various Spider-Man films, what villains are so prominent in pop culture that you don’t even need to read Spider-Man comics to know about them? The Spot? Morlun? The Stunner?
While Spider-Man offers one of the most enjoyable fights I have ever found in a video game with Spider-Man having to fight both the Rhino and Scorpion in a tag match, Batman must contend with heavy hitters like the Penguin, Harley Quinn and Scarecrow, while having to be pestered by folks like Man-Bat, Firefly and yes, you do have to deal with the Joker because of course you do. While it was refreshing to see Spider-Man has to deal with newcomers like Mr. Negative and underrated characters like Tombstone, it is sullied by the inclusion of Screwball.
Holy crap did I hate Screwball. I won’t ruin anything here, but her storyline and side quests were the only real negatives about Spider-Man’s PS4 debut. While Batman: Arkham Knight completely dropped the ball with the inclusion of Deathstroke, it more than makes up for it by giving us a new take on Joker; and when you find out who is under the Arkham Knights mask, you really feel the impact of it.
Winner: Batman: Arkham Knight
I don’t get the love/hate relationship people have with dlc nowadays. I understand that it sucks that games are both shipped and sold as unfinished products. But the unfortunate reality is that that is our reality today. Games are too big, our expectations are too high, budgets are overblown and deadlines too strict to not continue providing content for a price after the initial release of any game. But, at the same time, you don’t have to buy any of the dlc add-ons to enjoy a game. With that being said, both Arkham Knight and Spider-Man offer up a bevy of add-ons to enjoy outside of the cosmetic stuff that I won’t bore you with here. Batman: Arkham Knight offers plenty of insights into Batman’s various sidekicks like Batgirl and Nightwing, and even villains like Harley Quinn, examining where they are at different points of the games main campaign.
While Batgirl and Robin have a run in with the Joker years before the events of the main game, Nightwing takes on the Penguins gang days after the “devastating” events of the game itself. Where is falls short however is in its brevity. While it’s difficult to judge how long games should last, you can blow through some of this content in mere minutes. Harley Quinn’s dlc, which was a pre-order bonus, will only take a player around ten minutes to complete, even if you suck at the game.
Spider-Man offers a three-part dlc titled The City That Never Sleeps. The three “episodes” finds Spider-Man teaming up with his on-again-off-again romantic interest, Black Cat, as they race to stop big-time mafia boss Hammerhead from destroying the city with a series of massive and deadly gang wars. While none of the three dlc episodes do much to change up the flow of the main game or how you play the game, the story told within is actually pretty harrowing and brutal.
Spider-Man is truly pushed to his limits as he has to deal with enemies stronger and more dangerous than anyone he has faced before. On top of this, Spider-Man and his friends actually have to deal with some people not making it out of this fight alive and how they deal with it, is very surprising and sets up something for the inevitable Spider-Man 2 that is genuinely exciting while filling you with a sense of dread, knowing that it won’t end well (in a good way). Batman may have the more well-known characters inhabiting his world, the people behind developing the game didn’t do anything exciting with them. Developer Rocksteady played it safe, where Spider-Man developer Insomniac took characters we all know and love, and twisted them just enough to make us wonder what going to happen next. And that takes balls.
While Batman: Arkham Knight is a good game, Spider-Man on PS4 is truly a great game that is more deserving of your time and is a spectacle that walks a tightrope between flights of fancy and the ridiculous, and it sticks the landing beautifully.
Except for Screwball. She’s just the worst.