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Spider-Man’s healing system handles a tricky problem elegantly

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Superhero games are no fun if you can’t lose

Spider-Man - Spidey shoots a web line in midair Insomniac Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment

The design of superhero video games often feels like a balancing act between making you feel powerful while making sure the character can be stopped. There’s no excitement if you don’t feel as though there’s a chance of failure, and Spider-Man’s health system deals with all of these demands in an elegant way.

Here’s how it works: Getting hit by enemies decreases your health, and that health won’t return on its own during the battle. You build up your Focus meter by landing combos during combat, and you can convert the balance of that meter to health at any point by tapping down on the D-pad.

But using your Focus in this way means you won’t be able to build up the full meter and unlock the finishing moves, which are the most efficient way to take out enemies. You can read about the system in more detail in the our guide to the game’s combat.

This act of constantly being mindful of maintaining your health while also making sure you build up your finishers keeps you in the moment, especially in the beginning hours of the game when you’re still coming to terms with the fighting system. It also side-steps the challenge of defining Spider-Man’s ability to take a hit, which is something that’s usually canonically determined by whatever the writer needs the character to go through in that moment.

Generating health back automatically would have felt like a cop-out, but tying it to the combo system while also forcing you to continually make decisions about how to spend your focus is a good fit contextually; it feels like you’re keeping Spider-Man alive by being clever in how you approach groups of enemies. If you don’t learn how to move and string attacks together, you won’t have the focus necessary to soak attacks if you miss your dodges.

The whole thing feels natural, and works well for the character and game. Tying the mechanics of controlling superhero to the personality of that hero isn’t always easy, but this health system fits the game perfectly.