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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Spider-Man

The city is your playground. You swing from about freely, feeling every fall and rise, stunned office workers falling off their seats as you glide past windows 30 stories up and cling to the underbelly of a stone gargoyle, New York City forever stretching down below you, the tiny cars mechanical going about their business. You swing past an alley way and spot a mugging. It takes effortless moments to deal with the situation; ricocheting off of walls like a human bullet as you slam your feet into the attacker’s legs. You point string up him with your own webs and take off again; all in a day’s work for your Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man.

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The Spider-Man franchise is rarely done justice in the videogame medium. The title arguably hasn’t seen a truly brilliant realisation of the life of Peter Parker since 2005’s Ultimate Spider-Man, although the earlier Beenox videogames from the previous generation of consoles certainly had their charms. But it’s clear with the release of this week’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on every platform under the sun that the franchise is in need of an overhaul yet again. Sure, Beenox’s latest brings back the ever-popular swinging mechanic, but a no-doubt rushed schedule to get the title out in time for the blockbuster movie of the same name has led to a rather uninspired attempt for everyone’s favourite web-slinger.

Earlier this week VRFocus took a look at the superhero genre and the challenges that virtual reality (VR) faces. It’s clear that you wouldn’t be able to feel like you really were a superhero with the simple addition of an Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus headset. But imagine if someone did pull it off. Imagine if we could seamlessly experience what it would be like to do whatever a spider can. It’s something worth pursuing to say the least, and could prove to be one of the definitive VR experiences.

Of course it would be the web-swinging that would make or break a Spider-Man VR experience. It’s been the core mechanic of almost every release since 2004’s Spider-Man 2 cracked it. The ability to swing freely from web-to-web, perhaps with the aid of a Sixense STEM motion control, could prove to be one of VR’s defining offerings. Having the sense of height as you swoop from the top of a skyscraper down between cabs and cars would prove to be the ultimate rush.  Having the wind rushing past you as you duck and weave between buildings might well leave us feeling a little queasy, though it’s something we’d gladly trade to feel like we truly were stepping into the role of the iconic character.

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But it isn’t just the swinging that VR could breathe new life into. In fact, a first-person perspective alone could make a heap of improvements to the franchise, which often struggles with its third-person camera. Yes, you need to see Spider-Man to feel like Spider-Man on a standard display but this isn’t going to be an issue in VR. It would make navigation much easier as you scaled walls, and bringing the ‘Web-Rush’ mechanic from Beenox’ recent movie titles into the fold by simply looking at where you wanted to jump to next would create a natural flow, especially in combat where you could hop from enemy to enemy. Few Spider-Man games nail the combat aspect, but VR could open new doors into getting it right.

Other than that, it would be thrilling just to be able to pull on a headset and exist as a superhero in New York City. Not to mention feeling like you really as stepping inside the Marvel Universe. The chance to interact with the endless amount of heroes and villains with them addressing you directly has huge potential.

Becoming Spider-Man is a dream of countless children and even older audiences. VR offers the chance for players to finally step into that role in a big way. Let’s hope Marvel and its development partners look to capitalise on this opportunity in a big way going forward.

‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets.