Spider-Man - Hammerhead

I loved The Heist DLC in Marvel’s Spider-Man so much that I’m tempted to say it’s one of my favorite parts of the entire game. In The Heist, Insomniac managed to distill everything that was great about the base game into a five-hour chunk of content. I wrote about that elsewhere, so I won’t go too deeply into that here. I only bring it up because the second piece of the City Never Sleeps DLC pack is Turf Wars, which is the exact opposite of The Heist and is much worse because of it.

Turf Wars actually starts off with some promise. Spider-Man is backing up the NYPD, which has been tasked with stopping a mob war that’s breaking out in the streets of Manhattan. The epicenter of this operation is an abandoned asylum, which has been serving as a secret base for Hammerhead and his henchmen.

This is a fantastic way to start this storyline. There’s high-octane action from the moment this thing gets off the ground, and the interior of the asylum is really well-done. Unfortunately, the rest of the DLC focuses on challenge more than story. That’s not to say that story is completely absent here — no, there are still some character reveals that are definitely intriguing (though if I’m being honest, the storyline involving Felicia’s father in The Heist was more interesting to me than Yuri’s character arc in Turf Wars).

But Turf Wars is just difficult in ways that make it frustrating instead of fun. The Heist dialed back the difficulty to be on par with Act 1 of the main game. It was kind of a breeze if you jumped into it with a fully loaded Spidey. Turf Wars escalates that difficulty even beyond that of Act 3 (the hardest part of the base game).

And this challenge touches every part of this content. The story missions are tough. The optional hideouts are filled with jetpack-wearing, electric-shield-wielding enemies, which can be brutal when there are four or five of them bearing down on you at once. Even the Screwball challenges, which I thought were the most challenging part of The Heist (though I rarely had to restart any of those in The Heist) have been beefed up to ridiculous levels. The Screwball stealth missions are a real pain in the spider-butt, and the Screwball combat missions throw waves of the hardest enemies in the game at you, which you have to take down in a really skimpy timeframe.

Marvel's Spider-Man

And the Photobomb challenges are even more annoying than they were in the previous chapter. Seriously, I want to jab a pencil in my ear every time I hear Screwball shout “Photobomb!” And she does a lot, because I ended up replaying these missions over and over and over to get the Spectacular rating (and pop the Turning the Screw Trophy).

The main baddie in Turf Wars is Hammerhead (which wasn’t a surprise if you’ve played The Heist), who just doesn’t have the kind of charm that Black Cat did. After such a great story with shocking moments and well-written character arcs, Hammerhead feels like a pretty lame follow-up. He does make a decent final boss, but that fight is kind of tedious (just like so many of the combat sequences in this DLC).

Turf Wars does seem aware of how little emotional depth there is to mine in regards to Hammerhead. Instead of weaving the central villain’s story into the emotional arcs of the main characters, the game focuses on Yuri’s issues, keeping Hammerhead mostly in the background. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually really like Yuri’s character in the game; I just think the story flows a lot better when the emotional highs and lows are wrapped around the main villain instead of foisted onto a support character. Turf Wars just adheres to a sloppier narrative structure, which is especially obvious coming out of The Heist.

Now, there’s one area where Turf Wars excels, and that’s in its interior designs. There are seedy gang hideouts, complete with leaky toilets and all the grime and ooze you could ask for. On the other side of the spectrum, there are champagne-fancy lounges, where everything feels too expensive to be real. There’s one auto repair shop that’s sort of narrow, and it has a crumbling wall that you can web bricks out of to hurl at your enemies. It’s good fun.

Marvel's Spider-Man

The thing is, Marvel’s Spider-Man is always at its best when you’re flinging Spider-Man’s lithe body around, swinging past skyscrapers and zipping above traffic. The indoor areas limit Spidey’s movement, which makes those parts of the game less enjoyable overall.

Now, the core gameplay here is still really, really good. Marvel’s Spider-Man will always be stupid amounts of fun because combat is so enjoyable and there’s so much momentum to every movement. Just roaming around the city is good fun, and the way Manhattan is divided up into districts makes cleaning up the side missions feel manageable.

But Turf Wars focuses on all the wrong things: overly difficult combat, indoor locales, and a looser narrative. And sure, the post-credits scene is pretty compelling, but there’s so much tedium and overly difficult battles before you finally get there that you sort of wonder if it was all worth it.

But the answer doesn’t lie in Turf Wars. If Silver Lining, the final DLC, can bring both of the narratives of the previous chapters into a compelling finale, then maybe it was worth pushing through Turf Wars. If not, The Heist would have been a really high point to have ended on.

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