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Please don’t let Insomniac turn into Marvel’s video game studio

Sony’s September PlayStation Showcase was one to remember … or at least the last 10 minutes of it were. While the first 30 minutes of the digital show revolved around new trailers for upcoming games, the final stretch was more about grand reveals. In particular, Insomniac Games stole the show by delivering its two biggest surprises: A Venom-filled trailer for Spider-Man 2 and a shocking teaser for a Wolverine game.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 - PlayStation Showcase 2021: Reveal Trailer | PS5

As a fan of Insomniac’s Spider-Man games, I can’t say I’m not ecstatic about both projects. The studio created two truly excellent superhero games, which has always been a surprisingly weak game genre. The fluid combat and satisfying webslinging bring the Marvel character to life in a way that many other developers have struggled to nail. It only made sense that Sony would want to keep that momentum going and give Insomniac a crack at another Marvel hero. Wolverine is an excellent choice, and I’m excited to see how the studio uses tight gameplay mechanics to make players really feel like a drunk man with big claws.

As thrilled as I am about both projects, I can’t help but spoil the moment for myself with a lingering anxiety. I don’t want Insomniac Games to get pigeonholed into being the Marvel developer.

Marvel’s studio

Insomniac Games has always been a superhuman studio. It made a name for itself early with Spyro the Dragon in 1998 and Ratchet & Clank in 2002. While the latter has been its most popular creation, the studio has plenty of other hits in its arsenal. The Resistance series was a brief staple of PlayStation’s roster and Sunset Overdrive remains one of Microsoft’s best exclusives. Over the course of two decades, Insomniac showed that it was a flexible studio, brimming with creative energy. Any big console game it touched turned to gold.

That became especially apparent with Marvel’s Spider-Man in 2018, which was instantly hailed as one of the best superhero games of all time upon release. Sony took note and spent $229 million to put a ring on it, locking down Insomniac as a first-party PlayStation studio. It’s clear that Insomniac has become a central part of Sony’s plans since then. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales was the PS5’s high-profile launch game and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart was the system’s first killer app. The fact that the developer is now working on two giant Sony exclusives at once speaks volumes about Sony’s confidence in it.

Venom gets up close and personal in Spider-Man 2.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Spider-Man 2 and Wolverine are going to keep Insomniac occupied for a long time. The former is being teased for 2023 and the latter is likely coming after that. It’s entirely possible that the studio is tied up in Marvel games for the next five years. If Wolverine is a success — and there’s no reason to think it won’t be — there’s a good chance the studio will get to work on a sequel shortly thereafter. It’s hard to imagine when it’ll have time to squeeze in a new Ratchet & Clank game or start mapping out its next big original property during that timeline.

Marvel superheroes are slowly becoming as important to PlayStation as Kratos or Nathan Drake. That makes sense considering that Sony has always been interested in Hollywood-sized action games. Games like Wolverine are a logical part to that philosophy, and Insomniac is the studio best equipped for the job currently. Even Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart structurally feels like a Marvel movie. There’s a good chance that we see gaming’s own equivalent of the MCU on PS5 by the end of this console cycle, with Insomniac playing the part of Kevin Feige.

Mixed feelings

That’s where I’m left with mixed feelings. There’s no doubt that Insomniac will knock it out of the park, but it’s capable of so much more. Games like Sunset Overdrive show that the studio is loaded with spectacular creative energy. Characters like Spyro the Dragon aren’t just iconic because of nostalgia; Insomniac knows how to create memorable worlds that stick with players.

A character shoots a giant explosive in Sunset Overdrive.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What’s so fun about video games is that so many of its biggest franchises are original creations. Just as Marvel has its own mythos built around superheroes, gaming has its own roster of mascots. The Super Smash Bros. are our Avengers. While I’ll be happy to play any good game based on a property I enjoy, there’s something special about diving into an entirely unfamiliar world for the first time and learning about it through interactivity. Insomniac has the potential to turn Sony into gaming’s own Marvel, not through licensed adaptations, but through the kind of original franchises that has other industries’ scrambling to gobble up rights.

This isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be Marvel games. On the contrary, we’re long overdue for some truly great superhero action in the age of the MCU. I just don’t want that to come at the expense of brilliant studios, in the same way that I wouldn’t want to see talented directors like Chloé Zhao tied up with Avengers flicks for the rest of her career. We’re not going to get the next Ratchet & Clank unless studios like Insomniac keep getting space to take creative risks.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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