Spider-Man: The City That Never Sleeps is off to a great start with its first of three episodes.
I haven’t had the inclination to play a game to 100 per cent completion in many, many years, but with Spider-Man, that is exactly what I did. I didn’t set out to do it, I didn’t go in with the mindset that I would try to Platinum it- it just happened. I’m sure many of you had the same experience, because the two fundamental pillars of Spider-Man – its dreamy traversal and its slick combat – coupled with a genuinely well written, well acted, and engaging story made for a game that I wanted to squeeze every last drop out of. Yes, the side missions often got repetitive, but for me, they were successful in more important ways- enabling the player to engage in the best aspects of the game on a constant basis.
I was so enamoured by the experience, in fact, that even after I had seen literally every single thing there was to see in the game, I just wanted more of it. Fatigue wasn’t even close to being a factor. As such, even though I’ve been jumping back into the game intermittently since I finished it to just stop some crimes and swing about Manhattan, what I’ve really been waiting for is for The City That Never Sleeps, Spider-Man’s three-episode DLC to kick off. The Heist, the first of those three episodes is out now. And after 100 per cent completion (again) in six hours across two sittings separated by an hour-long break, I can safely say that this first piece of DLC has given me exactly what I was looking for- more Spider-Man.
"After 100 per cent completion in six hours across two sittings separated by an hour-long break, I can safely say that this first piece of DLC has given me exactly what I was looking for- more Spider-Man."
The focus in The Heist is on Felicia Hardy, a.k.a. Black Cat, the enigmatic burglar with an unpredictable moral outlook and a complicated history with Peter Parker. Black Cat was briefly featured in the base game, and her involvement in future content is something that I’ve been looking forward to, and it’s safe to say she doesn’t disappoint. Just like all the main characters in the base game, Black Cat is very well written, and equally well acted, and she steals the spotlight in almost every scene she is in. Her interactions and complicated relationship with Spider-Man are written with Insomniac’s (and Spider-Man’s) trademark humour, and you never quite know when she’s being honest about something, and when it’s yet another one of her ruses to double cross Spidey.
As a result, she comes across as a capable, unpredictable, and interesting character, and I can’t wait to see more of her in episodes two and three of The City That Never Sleeps– if she makes an appearance, that is. Besides Felicia Hardy, MJ and, of course, Spider-Man himself are at the centre of everything again, and The Heist continues to portray them just as well as the base game did. Their conversations have heart and humour, and its easy to connect to the pair almost instantly. Writing is strong in other areas as well- some of JJ Jameson’s podcast clips, for example, are absolute gold. MJ also gets a stealth-focused mission all to herself once again, and I suspect whether or not you like it will depend on how much you enjoyed those sections in the base game. Personally? I enjoyed it.
The story told in The Heist is also one of its strong points, but I feel it’s hard to judge it as things stand right now- Insomniac are very much telling a single, larger story with the entirety of The City That Never Sleeps, and this is only the very first episode. Several things are set in motion here, and a couple of them have me quite excited about what comes in the future. Besides the main story, The Heist comes with some new optional side content as well. One side mission tasks Spidey with finding ten old stolen paintings scattered and hidden across Manhattan- it’s structure is very similar to the side mission in the base game that had you zipping around collecting pigeons, but puts a different twist on it. Rather than chasing after pigeons, you have to search your surroundings for possible places where paintings might be hidden. It’s not quite as fun as the pigeons quest – since that quest, in spite of being the very definition of generic, was really all about focusing on web swinging (inarguably the game’s biggest strength), which isn’t quite the case here. It’s still inherently fun to get from point A to point B as you look for paintings, but it can get a bit fetch-quest-y. Thankfully, it’s interspersed with interesting narrative tidbits which kept me interested consistently, not to mention the fact that it was over before it could wear on me.
"Insomniac are very much telling a single, larger story with the entirety of The City That Never Sleeps, and this is only the very first episode. Several things are set in motion here, and a couple of them have me quite excited about what comes in the future."
The other side activities are extensions of those in Spider-Man itself. There are a few more crimes to tackle- some, such as store robberies and car chases, are pretty much the same as what was there in the base game. There are two new kinds of crimes as well, one of which sees Spider-Man defusing bombs on top of skyscrapers (with the occasional group of snipers trying to stop him), while the other tasks you with controlling the Spider-Bot to look for a certain number of hidden bombs within a time limit. I enjoyed the Spider-Bot crimes the most, because these were relatively more fresh, and offered a different experience from anything else in the entire DLC. What was a little disappointing, however, was that DLC’s crimes can only be found in a select few of Manhattan’s districts, so wrapping them all up can be done pretty quickly.
There are also new challenges, now set up by the social media-loving Screwball, which are more or less similar to Taskmaster’s Challenges in Spider-Man. Of the new challenges, one tasks Spider-Man with destroying EMP targets within a set time limit in a specific order, another challenges you to defeat a group of enemies before time runs out using only two of your gadgets and nothing else, while others are simple combat challenges. In total, there are six of these, and just as it was with Taskmaster’s Challenges in the base game, attempting them and trying to get higher scores (or beating your own old scores) is an absolute blast. Each challenge also comes with a fun little Screwball-themed twist, called Photobombs, which are opportunities for you to get extra points by zipping through specific areas or by defeating enemies in specific spots of the challenge arena. They’re not a huge addition, but they lend the challenges an interesting new twist.
While the content on offer in The Heist is mostly all enjoyable, it’s what’s not in the DLC that’s a bit disappointing. The Heist comes with three new suits, and while they look cool (or at least one of them does), they don’t come with any new suit powers. As such, these are plainly cosmetic additions, and nothing more, which is a tad disappointing. I was also disappointed by the lack of boss fights, and though the final combat encounter of the DLC’s story is thrilling and fairly challenging, the absence of even a single set piece boss encounter is keenly felt.
"In total, there are six Screwball Challenges, and just as it was with Taskmaster’s Challenges in the base game, attempting them and trying to get higher scores (or beating your own old scores) is an absolute blast."
Spider-Man: The Heist has quenched my incessant thirst for more Spider-Man content, while at the same time also making me hungrier for more. This first episode of Insomniac’s expansion is not exactly essential, and doesn’t bring anything extraordinarily new to the table- but it gives you an excuse to play more Spider-Man, and does it quite well at that, so I’d say Insomniac have succeeded in what they set out to do. Now the wait begins for the remaining two episodes, which come in November and December and, if The Heist is any indication, should be quite good.
We’ll be reviewing the entirely of Spider-Man: The City That Never Sleeps as a single expansion in December as well, once all three episodes are out, so stay tuned.