Weekend Whammy

Weekend Whammy: Insomniac Recast Spider-Man, But Why?

Today, my fellow squishy beings, is my birthday. Therefore I will be requiring you all to worship my divine brilliance for at least five minutes before you read the rest of this week’s Weekend Whammy. Start worshipping. Done? Alright, we can get on with this, then. Joking aside, as always I hope you’re all keeping well, staying safe and getting to play loads of games. On this Weekend Whammy I’m going to tackling Insomniac’s announcement that they’ve recast Spider-Man. I’ll also be talking about what I’m playing and planning on review. So let’s do this!

(Oh, and the cake you see above was made for me by an awesome friend. Tastes damn good, too!)

At the moment, I’m mostly playing Marvel’s The Avengers. I have to say, it’s better than my initial impressions from the lousy beta. However, it’s still not very good. Avengers? More like Mehvengers, amiright? Ah. Ah ha. Ha. Jeez, that was bad. And now it’s totally going to be the title of my review.

But yeah, it’s kind…it’s okay. and that’s more awkward than it being really good or bloody terrible because things that are just okay are difficult to talk about with any passion. It has some decent moments in the main campaign, and there are flashes where the little kid in me grins at spectacle. I’m still a comic-loving geek, so it’s hard not to occasionally fan-boy over the Hulk smashing stuff while Iron Man flies overhead.

I have to say, though, there is potential in Marvel’s The Avengers. It has had a rough start, but if Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix keep supporting it and listening to the community, it could become a much improved game a year down the line. If that happens I might consider actually buying a skin or two.

Apart from that, I’ve been playing bugger all. But I am intending on starting Hades, which has been getting glowing reviews from just about everyone. I’m not sure why I haven’t played it yet, to be honest.

But I do have an upcoming review of something a little different: the Corsair ST100, a headphone stand with a build in DAC and RGB lighting. Because why not?

I’ll also be checking out Star Wars: Squadrons. I’m really hyped about getting to fly an X-wing in VR, but I’m also not looking forward to doing a barrel roll in VR and immediately spewing across the room. I don’t tend to get sick in VR, but the one time I came close was when I was playing DCS and tried a barrel roll in a jet. My brain instantly freaked out, and I nearly redecorated my bedroom.

Sadly I don’t have a HOTAS on hand, so I’ll probably be piloting my ship using an Xbox controller, although I do have an ancient joystick lying around, so I might try that.

As for reviewing stuff, I checked out a game by the name of The Girl of Glass: A Summer Bird’s tale. It tried to mix point and click gameplay with turn-based JRPG style combat, an idea I like in principle. But the execution was a little lacking, and the combat drags too much.

And there was the art of rally, a fantastic little indie game about rallying that packs a good handling model and beautiful artwork. It’s well worth a play, I reckon.

I wanted to briefly touch upon the whole Microsoft/Zenimax thing again, too. I’ve sat down and read through almost everything that Microsoft have said, and by doing so have become more convinced that Microsoft won’t be going down the exclusivity route. They reiterate time and time again how they want to bring you games no matter how you choose to play or where you choose to play. Keep in mind, official statements from big companies like this always have very carefully chosen language that has been vetted by the legal department, the PR team and probably an army of other folk. Every word is chosen carefully, so the consistently repeated mentions of not limiting where people play leads me to believe that Microsoft intend on letting Zenimax publish on Playstation. If nothing else, $7.5-billion is a lot to recoup, and limited the games to two platforms would make that sum much harder to get back. At most, I think Microsoft might opt for timed exclusivity.

Another thing I wanted to mention was how much of a powerful reminder Microsoft’s acquisition was of just how huge Microsoft are. Sure, Sony and Microsoft are competing in a console war, but the truth is Microsoft utterly dominates Sony in terms of how much money it has to throw around. That $7.5-billion deal was pure cash. No stock options or anything like that. Just cash. Microsoft is estimated to have around $136-billion in cash on hand, meaning they could afford deals like this multiple times over. Meanwhile, it’s estimated that Sony has roughly $5.2-billion on hand, meaning they literally couldn’t have bought out Zenimax without having to offer other options or liquidate some assets. Now, of course none of this means that Microsoft will obviously win or anything like that. I just think it’s interesting to be reminded of how big a difference there actually is between the two companies. Sony is big, but Microsoft is freaking Godzilla, man.

And the the last thing I wanted to mention was that with DOOM, Quake, Halo and Wolfenstein, Microsoft now holds the IPs to some of the most venerated shooters in gaming history. That’s pretty crazy.

The upcoming Marvel’s Spider-Man remaster continues to make headlines, first due to Sony and Insomniac finally delivering a little clarification about how the whole process works. What we’ve learned is that no, there’s absolutely no free upgrade path for people who already own Marvel’s Spider-Man and its DLC. Nor will the remaster be getting sold separately, so if you want it, you need to buy Spider-Man: Miles Morales Ultimate Edition for £70. I have no idea why you can’t just pay £20 and get the remaster, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ll be able to do just that at a later date. And we also sadly learned that save games from Marvel’s Spider-Man can’t carry over to the remaster, but you do get an entirely new trophy list, so at least there’s that.

As for Spider-Man: Miles Morales, if you buy the PS4 version you will get an upgrade to the PS5 version for free whenever you get the new console. Sweet.

All in all, the messaging is weird and overly complex. Miles Morales gets a free next-gen upgrade, but Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t because it’s a remaster, but you can’t just buy the remaster without also buying Miles Morales. And if you get Miles Morales on PS4, then get the PS5 version later on you won’t get the Spider-Man remaster and you can’t buy it, either. It’s needlessly confusing.

But we did get more information on what the new remaster will include. Visually, Insomniac are touting ray-tracing, true reflections in windows, ambient shadows, updated weather effects and new skies. Character models are also said to be drastically improved with things like individual strands of hair. You can also see a notable increase in pedestrians and cars, and less detail drop on distant objects.

There’s also going to be a new performance mode that runs at 60FPS for some ultra-smooth web-slinging. Personally, I think they the 2018 game should get an update to unlock the 30FPS limit so that it can at least take advantage of the Playstation 5’s raw power for a smoother, better experience. Sadly, no word of anything that like that yet.

Overall, the upgrade looks decent. It’s not massive, based on what we’ve seen. I’m not sure it’s compelling enough to justify the cash except for the biggest fans. That might include me, too. I mean, I gushed over the 2018 game and I’ve been waiting to replay it, so I might be willing to shell out a little extra to snag the remaster.

But by far the biggest surprise that Insomniac revealed was that Peter Parker has been replaced by Tom Holland’s stunt double. Okay, that was a joke, but the face of Peter has indeed be recast.

First, let’s quickly discuss how the casting for Marvel’s Spider-Man actually worked, because you might not be aware that it’s two very different people. The face of Peter Parker was that of John Bubniak, while the voice work and mocap acting was provided by Yuri Lowenthal, who did an excellent job. The reason for this is that Yuri was born in 1971, so visually he looks quite a bit older than the mid-twenties Peter Parker. Er, sorry, Yuri. And so the likeness of John Bubniak was used. The combination, I think, was superb. The Peter Parker/Spider-Man that Insomniac, Yuri and John gave us in 2018 was a stellar iteration of a character that I personally deeply cherish.

So, now that we’re all caught up, we can get talk about Insomniac’s odd decision to recast Peter Parker for the Playstation 5 remaster of 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man. Yuri will still on as the voice of Peter, which is terrific news, but a new face model has been brought on board by the name of Ben Jordan. It’s a major change to the game that nobody asked for, altering the face of the main character, one that people have already spent dozens of hours with. It’s sort of like sticking on Avengers: Endgame and finding out that Tony Start looks completely different.

The question becomes, then, why have Insomniac done this? According to them, Ben Jordan has been cast to provide a closer facial match to the performance of Yuri Lowenthal. Here’s their exact quote from Bryan Intihar, “As we discussed the franchise’s future and moving to the PS5, it quickly became apparent that delivering even more believable-looking characters made finding a better facial match for actor Yuri Lowenthal – who we all love as Peter – a necessity,”

That’s the official explanation. And I want to be clear that it may very well be the complete truth. Everything from this point is speculation on my behalf, because quite honestly I don’t buy the official word.

First, I don’t see any reason why the remaster would require a whole different facial model. They will already have extremely high quality scans of John Bubniak to work from that would provide more than enough data to build a new, more detailed model. Even if they didn’t, I doubt Bubniak would have any issues coming back in to do more work. Unless, of course, the actual reason for the change is a contractual one. If Bubniak only signed on for the first game there might be a few issues, the first being that he and Insomniac couldn’t reach an agreement for him to reprise the role. As a remaster, I’m not sure what the legal stance would be on Insomniac using Bubniak’s likeness in the remaster if he only originally signed on for the 2018 game. The reason I say he probably only signed on for a single game is that Insomniac have obviously recast the role going forward, which would have meant breaking or buying out Bubniak’s contract unless they had a specific clause within it that would allow them to bail out.

My second issue is that Insomniac claim they wanted an facial model who would better match Yuri Lowenthal. A quick look at Yuri and Ben Jordan clearly shows that they look absolutely nothing alike, not even in terms of basic facial structure. Perhaps in person their facial movements are similar, but I’m not seeing it. In fact, between John Bubniak and Ben Jordan, I’d say Yuri more closely resembles Bubniak.

The third point we must consider is that the new Peter Park has a very similar appearence to Tom Holland, the actor who plays Spider-Man in the MCU and is thus arguably the most recognizable Spider-Man to the average person. Companies have to be careful about such things – back when The Last of Us was being developed, Ellie looked a hell of a lot like actor Ellen Paige until said actor took note and the design was hastily changed to more closely resemble Ellie’s actual actor, Ashley Johnson.

For the fourth point, it might be worth looking at Marvel’s The Avengers, the live-service game that…er, exists. Prior to the game’s launch it was revealed that Spider-Man would be coming as a Playstation exclusive character in 2021. The Avenger’s game technically features its own version of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but there’s no denying the heavy MCU influence. Insomniac’s new Peter Parker would fit in much better with the line-up of of Marvel’s The Avengers who all look weirdly like the stunt doubles for the MCU actors. With that said, it has been made clearly that Marvel’s The Avengers and Marvel’s Spider-Man exist in different universes, so I guess I’m talking rubbish.

At the end of the day, it’s Insomniac’s game and they are free to do whatever they like with it. This decision just baffles me, personally. Hell, why not just recast Spider-Man moving forward? Why bother changing him in the remaster as well?

For me, the biggest issue is that Peter Parker’s plastic surgery goes against the storyline of the game. In Marvel’s Spider-Man, Peter Parker is in his mid-twenties and has been web-slinging for nearly a decade already. He’s been around the block, racked up the injuries and paid his dues. And the combination of Yuri Barenthal’s voice acting and Bubniak’s face really show that. He looks a little weary, a little tired, yet still youthful and energetic. And it makes sense when he takes the much younger Miles Morales under his wing, taking on the role of a big brother/mentor.

But Ben Jordan doesn’t have that experienced look. Now, in fairness to the man, Ben Jordan is actually the right age, having been born in 1994. He has been blessed with an incredibly youthful look, to the point where I imagine he still has to flash his ID every time he wants to buy a beer. However, when you see him in game, Peter Parker looks more like he’s in the range of 16-18. He looks like he’s been fighting crime for maybe a year, and certainly doesn’t look like he should be mentoring Miles Morales. In fact, comparing the two characters side by side, Morales actually looks a lot older than Peter.

Ultimately, I don’t have a problem with the new face as such. If it had been in the original game, I would have been fine with it. But having loved Marvel’s Spider-Man so much and having a deep attachment to its version of Peter Parker, it feels fundamentally wrong to play through the whole game again with a character that looks completely different.

This is just one more weird moment in the already strange tale of Sony and Insomniac’s inability to be clear about things. When Spider-Man: Miles Morales was announced there was confusion about what it actually was. A sequel? DLC? Expansion? Nope, it’s a standalone, Sony and Insomniac eventually clarified. Then came the debacle surrounding the remaster, and whether you can or can not upgrade to it. And now we’ve got this weird decision to recast Peter Parker in the remaster, rather than the inevitable sequel. Weird stuff, friends. Weird stuff.

Right, that’ll do it for this week, I reckon. I’ve rambled a fair bit, so I’ll end with the usual hub-bub: if you fancy helping me keep writing about games then consider tossing any spare pennies you might have my way, using the thingy below!

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