Ordinary Superheroes

August 15, 2022

Ordinary Superheroes

After years of hoping for a PC port, I'm excited to say that I finally had the chance to play Marvel’s Spider-Man this weekend. And, after having spent countless hours doing anything except the main storyline, I'm confident in saying that I think it's a masterpiece.


Now, since its initial launch on PS4, there have been plenty of reviews and video essays talking about the ways Spider-Man succeeds as a game. In-depth analyses of how Insomniac really understood Spider-Man as a character and built an amazing game to support that understanding. And while I think this is incredibly accurate, I think one of Spider-Man’s greatest successes is the way you feel like a hero even when you're not webbing up baddies.

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It feels safe to say that the average consumer has a fairly good grasp of what a superhero should be. They’re a powerful individual attempting to protect others while juggling the normal issues that come with being human (or, acting like one).

Yet, I don’t think their superpowers can only be seen in the ways these heroes fight or save the world. They are powerful in every aspect of what they do. When in his outfit, Superman doesn’t simply walk around the streets of Metropolis. No, he’s flying in the air, the wind blowing back his signature black curl while he twists and turns through buildings. It’s such an iconic feeling that you can almost hear the John Williams score in your mind as you imagine it.

And as players, we want to feel this. If we’re playing as Superman, we want the chance to learn the nuances that come with being weightless, and how exciting it must feel. We want to feel the ground shake beneath us as we launch into the sky.

Amazon Prime’s show Invincible does a great job in exploring these often-overlooked aspects of superpowers. In particular, I want to draw attention to a scene in the first episode of the show. After receiving his powers, Invincible’s father decides his son needs some guidance learning the ropes of flight. As such, he takes Invincible to a field where they practice together. Early in the lesson, Omni-Man mentions that punching works differently for people who can fly. Instead of needing ground to push off, they can create their own force and leverage, making their punches even stronger than other people. Therefore, Invincible must relearn how to punch while flying to fully utilize his powers.

That seems like a logical thought, right?

Yet, this thought of relearning how to fight in the air, and the logistics behind it, had never been explored in mainstream media till Invincible. Heroes typically get their powers through training montages and flashbacks, without too much consideration of how difficult those powers were to perfect (yet it does happen occasionally, ex: Clark dealing with his super-hearing in Man Of Steel).

Turning back to Spider-Man, I think what makes the game such a standout title is the way it considers all these lesser-known aspects of being a hero. Personally, I’ve spent most of my playtime traveling around NYC, trying to perfect my web-slinging so I can reach my destinations faster. I’d never thought about how difficult it must be for Spidey to turn around sharp 90-degree corners, till I failed my first car chase in downtown Manhattan. Or how easy it would be to stash items on random skyscraper walls, till I was hunting down backpacks for my next upgrade.

It's these smaller interactions that help make you actually feel like Spider-Man, rather than a knockoff interpretation of him. You feel powerful even as you’re moving from one destination to another, or while you’re helping civilians get out of a nasty car crash. You’re never done being Spider-Man till you quit the game. Spidey’s power, and the difficulties that come with it, permeate throughout the whole game.