The big bad in Spidey steals the show.
Here at GamingBolt, we’ve been gushing over Spider-Man and just how ridiculously good it is ever since the day of its launch. We’re far, far from the only ones to be doing so- and that’s because it really is that good. It captures the charm and instant allure of the Spider-Man property expertly, by – here comes the meme – really making you feel like the famous wallcrawler. And the best part is, it does that not just in terms of its combat and traversal- it captures the essence of Spider-Man in its story and its characters as well. But you know what they say about superhero stories- they’re only as good as their villains. And Spider-Man has one of the best villains I’ve seen in a video game in years.
Spoilers ahead for the entirety of Spider-Man. If you haven’t finished the game- stop reading now.
Of course, that’s not to say that every single antagonist we come across in Spider-Man is expertly handled. The Sinister Six’s presence is exciting for any fan of the property, but four of the six are devoted fairly less time than what many would have expected (or wanted), while criticisms towards lack of development for each of these four wouldn’t necessarily be entirely unfounded. But Spider-Man builds its story around two main antagonists, and while Mister Negative, a relatively lesser known quantity in Spidey’s veritable gallery of villains, has a surprisingly strong presence, it’s Doctor Octopus who really steals the show.
Doctor Octopus is, of course, one of Spider-Man’s most recognizable and well-known villains, considered to be among the likes of Venom and Green Goblin (neither of whom really make an appearance in the game, in spite of clear hints of their involvement in the future) at the very top of Spidey’s rogues gallery, but with Spider-Man on the PS4, Insomniac have really gone above and beyond to deliver a rendition of the character that might even stand as one the very best versions of the villain across all media. Otto Octavius gets a proper character arc, a true motivation that feels authentic and understandable, is written excellent well as a character that is not hard to relate to, and to top it all off, is brought to life wonderfully by the excellent voice and motion capture work done by William Salyers. (Side note: Salyers also did excellent work when he portrayed Mordin Solus in Mass Effect 3.)
He feels like a great villain because you get to see him as a good guy as well. Spider-Man establishes fairly early on that Otto is a man with a brilliant yet troubled mind, but one who, at least at his core, has a good conscience, and wants to accomplish great things through his brilliant mind. His relationship with Peter and his role as his mentor is easy to buy into because of the excellent dynamic the two characters share, an area where the game draws inspiration from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 more than anything else. In his past as one of the founders of Oscorp who got pushed out of his own company by the slimy and corrupt Norman Osborn, he finds a well-realized backstory, with shades of Breaking Bad’s Walter White.
Which is why when he turns into the eight limbed villain we all know him as, his transformation feels earned. The moment you see Otto Octavius in the game, you more or less where the story and his arc is headed, something that is cemented more and more as the game progresses and you, as Peter Parker, actually help him build the very arms he uses to wreak havoc later on in the game. But Spider-Man smartly throws in small twists and turns for his character, which might even make you doubt whether or not he really will become a bad guy, simply because it sells Otto Octavius as a good guy stuck in a bad situation so very well.
Throughout the game, Otto is shown as a man who has grand ambitions for doing great good with his work, but just doesn’t have the means to do so, with his vision constantly getting hampered by the very man he holds so much resentment for. But he’s not just financially constrained either. His debilitating sickness, which is seeing him slowly waste away, as his body stops functioning entirely, only for his brilliant mind to remain helplessly trapped in a prison of his own flesh, is perhaps one of the things that drives Otto Octavius the most. Fear is a great motivator, after all, and when we see his single-minded determination to stave off that horrifying impotence, and his subsequent vicious refusal to give up his arms, it feels completely believable.
Even though the game tells us several times that the Otto’s mind and his actions are being corrupted by his neural interface, it’s always abundantly clear that it’s only magnifying those dark facets of his personality rather than creating them. It’s a delicate balance that the game strikes very well, and equal credit for this goes to both, the writers at Insomniac, and Salyers, the actor who plays the character. And when he does turn, Dr. Octopus works as an excellent villain as well, simply because of how much of a formidable for he is for Spider-Man. Of course, being Dr. Octopus, you would expect no less from him, but here too Insomniac work to show his work behind the scenes to help his plans come to fruition.
True to the character’s legacy, Dr. Octopus created the Sinister Six. For Rhino, he develops the technology that can finally get the man out of his suit’s imprisonment, and bribes him with the prospect of that freedom to enlist his aid. For Electro, he builds a cool new suit. He even aligns with Mister Negative – a terrorizing menace he helped create years ago, by the way – in his attempts to tear down Norman Osborn- which, as it turns out, he succeeds in doing. But the most important thing to consider here is the lasting damage he does to Peter Parker himself. As if the realization that he had helped create the monstrosities that a man he looked up to and worshipped for years would go on to use to terrorize the city he protects and lives in weren’t enough, that very same man also goes on to cause the death of Aunt May. The damage that Dr. Octopus does is massive on both, a personal level, as well as a larger scope, which is why he has as much of an impact as a villain as he does.
Of course, what also helps is that the final confrontation between Peter Parker and Otto Octavius proves to be excellent payoff for all the build up it does both both the characters and their relationship with each other. Sure, it can be argued that from a mechanic perspective, as a boss fight the final fight against Dr. Octopus may have been a bit simplistic and, as a result, a little disappointing- to be fair, that can be said for most boss fights in this game. But also like most other boss fights in Spider-Man, the final fight against Dr. Octopus succeeds in being a thrilling, cinematic set piece sequence, that feels like a conclusion to an enthralling and emotional Spider-Man story in all the right ways. Pete’s revelation that Dr. Octopus knew about his identity all along, the latter’s veiled threats about revealing said identity should things go wrong for him, how emotionally crushed Pete is when he sees that his friend and mentor is truly beyond saving- all these elements and more add up to deliver a finale that has incredible emotional weight, and feels like a worthy conclusion, on a personal level, as well as from a more “zoomed out” perspective, so to speak.
That finale also feels incredibly exciting, because how it sets up Otto to return in potential (read: inevitable) sequels to Spider-Man. His final contemptuous look in his cell in the Raft speaks volume about his headspace at the end of the game, while the threat of his what he may or may not do with the knowledge of Peter’s secret identity looms large on the horizon as well. There’s also the fact that Otto got into bed with Advanced Idea Mechanics, or A.I.M., a super-powerful organization of supervillains that, as Marvel fans would testify, is surely going to be more than just a little troublesome going forward. All of these elements, in addition to Otto just being as interesting and well-written of a character as he is, really make me very excited to see him in future instalments of Insomniac’s Spider-verse.
As is the case with all things to do with Spider-Man, the most direct comparison many people will make here is with the Arkham games, which, without the shadow of a doubt, had some truly fantastic villains, headlined by The Joker, voiced by the legendary Mark Hamill. But where the Clown Prince of Gotham works as well as he does because of his inherently magnetic charisma and the pure and simple fact that we know absolutely nothing about him, Dr. Octopus is the opposite. He’s human, he has a past, a history. We know what makes him tick, what gets under his skin, and we have seen him transform from a desperate, idealistic man to one that would stop at nothing to get his resentment-fuelled vengeance. That doesn’t mean Dr. Octopus is better than The Joker by any stretch of the imagination. But for the kind of character Spider-Man is, and for the kind of stories one usually associates with the webslinger, Insomniac’s Otto Octavius proves to be perfect villain.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.