Pantheon of the superhero games is sparse. Contrary to the source material consisting of tight-latex-wearing, world-saving and evil-slaying dream-teams of super-humans, videogames (especially with Marvel’s brand on them) were looking for a long time for a good way to execute this sort of entertainment. Recently Spiderman joined that pantheon, all the thanks to the studio that mastered platformer genre during their Ratchet and Clank period – Insomniac Games. And thanks to them, I’d say their version of the Spiderman adventure competes with DC-level games, selling well as an exclusive and being yet another Playstation gem that is realized technologically, narratively and musically.
It is an uncomplicated and well-designed entertainment that doesn’t suffer from completely skipping unnecessarily big ambitions, bringing us the same joy we know from cinemas.
It would seem that it was the tech that was stalling the realization of a perfect Spiderman game, which – as a carefully directed experience – will express the magnitude and the imagination of the comic book authors, making the players and reviewers exclaim the now-famous words: „It makes me feel like Spiderman”. Bringing an iconic hero to life on-screen is tough, however. Adapting and using the source material is a major task that Insomniac nailed, in my opinion, making the comic book a great video game with healthy balance of open world action and scripted goodness. It was all the more interesting because of the music, as we’ve heard many scores for Spiderman from many composers, and knowing Insomniac’s wit and humour, I was anticipating how John Paesano would do in a convention-heavy game.
He is close to Marvel fans’ hearts as he scored a few TV-shows set in the Marvel New York micro-universe (Defenders and Daredevil). I didn’t like his music there, but it was mainly the fault of implementation of his score into the shows. However, hearing the main theme for Insomniac’s Spider-man, I immediately knew Paesano’s simply needed more freedom and screen-time. His Maze Runner experience shines as, generally speaking, his score for the game is Avengers-worthy, making his idea of Spiderman a fun one, albeit stuck in the hero action-movie cliché.
It is, after all, another symphonic, Wagner-ish score that we have grown accustomed to with MCU films coming out yearly with similar ones. For Spiderman it was James Horner, Alan Silvestri, Michael Giacchino, all of them going for the superhero feel. The same feel John Paesano had to go for, but he fortunately left a sign of his style and Insomniac’s approach that is heard throughout the music, making it one of my favourites in the Marvel Cinematic/Gaming Universe. The main theme (Spider-Man) is fun, heroic and playful in a way, although it resembles Spiderman; Homecoming’s theme. It is heard throughout the score multiple times, works great as a leitmotiv as it is distinctive, simple and expressive. After stings intro, brass comes in to (thankfully) modest percussion section, realizing the theme with full orchestra. Shortly after the piece slows down, the piano picks the theme, signalling a more emotional touch and subsequently that it’s a theme of Peter Parker, our beloved hero. Eight Years In The Making is a marching piece reminding me of Don Davis’ work for Matrix, and The Golden Age mix things up with a choir. Anything For a Story quotes Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien theme, while Chasing Down the Devil is a note-worthy example of a video-game serving piece that is simple melodically, almost minimal, with a steady, fast rhythm, blending perfectly with the game’s quick sequences. All of it played by the orchestra, racing to match the game’s tempo.
That doesn’t mean the score has no calm moments. There is some film music here, at the first glance fit for cutscenes (The Mastermind, The Man He Was, Behind The Mask), slower sequences (Examine, Inside the Numbers) and stealth elements (Webbed from the Shadows). That said, the score does not contain that many electronic pieces, which are reserved for the game’s antagonist. Shocking Turn of Events introduces a fast beat and some sounddesign magic which is close to dubstep. Negative View goes further, significantly modifying choir parts to the point of sounding synthetic, which goes along the game’s antagonist’s powers.
Despite being schoolbook conventional, the score makes use of the broader MCU context that had to have this type of music, no matter the originality or lack thereof.
With all this in mind, despite my positive attitude toward this score, I can’t say John Paesano made something new here. His score sounds like a properly produced Hollywood action score that Brian Tyler or Michael Giacchino do each year. The convention is noticeable in the orchestrations, which is not experimenting in any way. It’s a good score that is a bit fusty, but then again, its place and function in the game are not that foremost to begin an entire critique against quotes and falling into the convention. Spiderman is a great game and amazingly produced superhero simulator that causes excitement with the sole swinging mechanic, not to mention scripted sequences and acrobatic combat. Association with years of Marvel-styled scores makes the gameplay with (sometimes melodically modest) Paesano music a genuinely fun ride. It is an excellent example of a score that — regardless of originality — fills in the source material, putting the finishing touches on the entire game and experience it brings.
I know, I know — but is it an achievement worthy of commendation? Most likely not, but hearing previous music for Spiderman (notably The Amazing Spiderman 2 theme sounding like a TV-news fanfare), I think that using blown-out orchestra for simple (yet expressive) and fun music that works great in video games ultimately paid off. Both for the game and this version of Spiderman are noticeably distinctive, light and fun — just how a Spiderman game should be. It is an uncomplicated and well-designed entertainment that doesn’t suffer from completely skipping unnecessarily big ambitions, bringing us the same joy we know from cinemas. And John Paesano’s score, despite being schoolbook conventional, makes use of the broader MCU context that had to have this type of music, no matter originality or lack thereof. I am all for criticising mindlessly copied scores and styles, but doing so here with the game being an interpretation of the same text we’ve seen and heard a thousand times and being a part of a transmedia universe, would be neither productive nor justified. As a score fit in the broader universe, John Paesano’s music works well and brings all we need for a Spidey game.