Insomniac’s Wolverine Needs a Mature Rating to Succeed
Whatever they do, they definitely need a snikt button.
Wolverine is one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes, associated with some of the best stories written by the company either in his own solo comics or in his role as an X-Man. A grizzled badass in comics known for taking no gruff from anyone and yet capable of being the responsible person and doing the right thing. With Insomniac’s success in adapting Spider-Man to video games, there is understandably a lot of excitement around their upcoming adaptation of one of Comic’s favorite Canadian heroes.
However, one thing that bears mentioning is that a Wolverine solo game is going to have, necessarily, a much darker toner than Peter Parker’s adventures in New York. If you want a dark Wolverine game, then an M rating is going to be a necessary component of that, or at least the maturity and grittiness to warrant that rating.
Counterintuitively, it’s not just because of the blood and gore that’s going to come with a rampaging Logan cutting his way through enemies with adamantium claws. It’s also because in order to tell Wolverine’s story, from the beginning, Insomniac is going to have to go to some pretty dark places.
A Tale of Two Wolverines
There is an odd dichotomy with Wolverine as a character. In Wolverine stories, you have an edgy loner whose arc is to find a sort of peace and meaning in the senseless, almost animalistic violence that is his life. Frank Miller’s 1982 Wolverine is a great example of this, showing Wolverine forced to choose between the comfort of falling into his animal instincts and the harder path of trying to find and fight for meaning and serenity in his life.
In X-Men comics, however, his story is one of a grumpy loner who grows to find something larger than himself to believe in and people to care about. In the X-Men, he is a professor and eventual on-and-off headmaster or team leader when Xavier or Cyclopse is indisposed. He finds a sort of home and a cause for which to fight. This is the classic Wolverine story that plays out in any X-Men TV or Movie adaptation. In each, he has to fight against his instincts to go off on his own and actually work with the team and found family he grows to love in Xavier’s mansion.
There are exceptions and this is a bit of a broad brush to paint his character, especially because that character’s progress is less linear and more of a general equilibrium. However, in general, the Wolverine solo stories are about Wolverine coming to understand he needs to find inner peace, purpose, and family while X-Men represents him learning how best to adapt to those things once he’s in that community.
Wolverine Needs to Have Claws
You may be wondering how this ties into the question of Wolverine’s M Rating. The part of this dichotomy I haven’t mentioned is the fact that every time you tell a new Wolverine solo story, you have to explain how Wolverine has gotten into the position where he doesn’t or can’t have that peace, family or purpose.
If Wolverine is part of the X-Men, it’s hard but not impossible to force this arc to play out again. One notable moment was when Magneto used his powers to rip out Wolverine’s Adamantium Skeleton and this caused him immense pain. This pain led to him returning to his animal instincts, even getting to the point where it transformed his appearance, forcing the conflict between man and animal. Between X-Man Wolverine and Lone Wolf Wolverine.
If, however, this is a Wolverine who isn’t yet an X-Men or is out of the X-Men, as it appears Insomniac’s Wolverine will be, then it’s critical that you emphasize the inner turmoil at Wolverine’s heart as a result of his background.
Wolverine is a man often treated as a frenzied monster, with a sort of fear and standoffish one might treat a wolf or his namesake Wolverine. While his brother Sabertooth is comfortable as the beast men fear, Wolverine is not necessarily the same way. In game terms, fighting as Wolverine should then be a visceral and almost off-putting experience, combing the gruesomeness of Doom games with the gritty humanlike AI of the Last of Us. If you’re playing as Wolverine you should feel like you’re controlling a tiger made of chainsaws.
Another key component of Wolverine is guilt. He isn’t the sort of person who lives life with a free conscience and he has a lot of skeletons in the closet. In many ways, Wolverine without a balancing influence can do some pretty heinous things. Sometimes he commits violence out of his bestial rages, like when he murders the X-Men before Old Man Logan, but also sometimes when he is being manipulated by forces like Weapon X. In game terms, we should be made to question the morality of Wolverine and whether or not he’s genuinely a good person.
Wolverine is a haunted man, tormented by ghosts of those he’s loved and the things he’s done. If you want to convey this person and also do the arc that brings him to the light justice, then the best place to start is Wolverine’s rock bottom.
Wolverine Villains Can’t be Toothless
It is very easy to do Wolverine’s villains wrong because they’re very easy to misunderstand. People understand Victor Creed, AKA Sabertooth, is a dark mirror to Wolverine, but people don’t understand what makes him a dark mirror. As we mentioned before, the main way Sabertooth is different from Wolverine is that he is comfortable as the beast, and Wolverine strains against that identity. Creed has to be genuinely evil and threatening to emphasize this.
Weapon X is also not something you can really do with kid gloves. The inhuman terror and brutality of Weapon X, if anything, should be emphasized as they represent Wolverine’s worst fear of being out of control.
It’s important that Insomniac don’t rest on their laurels and use their rendition of Spider-Man as a model for Wolverine because those two gameplay styles are not compatible. It should feel good to be Spider-Man, with moments of anguish for Peter serving as contrast that textures the experience and tells Peter’s story of perseverance and beating the odds.
Wolverine’s story is one of redemption. A bloodless hack and slash in which we’re shown him merely bouncing enemies around are not going to cut it. By the same token, the opposite end of the spectrum –a gleefully violent blood and gore-filled slasher– would also miss the mark. The key is balance; gameplay should be enjoyable, but it shouldn’t make Wolverine’s life seem fun. Of course, there needs to be an element of power fantasy, but likewise, a certain pain or uneasiness too. Put simply, it would be a disservice to the character if you don’t feel somewhat guilty when fighting as Wolverine. All of this necessitates a maturity in its story and aesthetic that forms a core pillar of its thematic design that I’m certain Wolverine fans crave. Here’s hoping Insomniac is on the same page.
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