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Spider-Man 2's Most Inspirational Moment Is A Tiny Side Mission

In amongst Spider-Man 2's epic main quest, betwixt the huge twists and turns, star appearances, and major plot beats, are dozens of minor side-quests. These range from trivial fetch-em-ups, all the way to entire plot-lines across multiple missions. But every now and then, you find something that feels less like a quest, and more like a moment in time. The most special of these features a character returning from the first game, Howard.

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I guess you could consider this a spoiler, given I’ll say what happens in this vignette, but it’s unrelated to the rest of the game’s plot. Still, consider yourselves warned.

Howard, a homeless man whom Peter Parker befriends in 2018's original Marvel’s Spider-Man, is presented in that first game as somewhat of a comic character. He’s an eccentric, a man who spends his time hanging out with a pigeon he’s called Pidgy, and fearing the bird’s loneliness, he recruits Spidey to help him gather some winged friends. This results in your chasing pigeons in a series of silly missions, and meh, it’s fine. But come Spider-Man 2, Insomniac has done something very different, and very special.

The Spider-Men’s app presents you with a task to visit Howard in the Financial District, where he’s looking for some help. When you arrive, Howard’s sitting on some steps by the shore, watching the ferry come in. He gestures for Spidey to sit down next to him, and by walking to the steps and clicking a button, you do. And this, that exact moment, is far and away my most favorite moment of this fabulous game.

There’s a mission attached to all this: Howard says he’s going on a trip, and wants his pigeons to be more free, to have more space, and asks you to encourage them to fly somewhere more bucolic. But that all feels rather superfluous, as if Insomniac still felt obligated to have you do something Spider-Manny (in this case, traversing the city through the air). The real quest is about sitting still and listening.

When I was in my very early 20s, on summer vacation from university, I spent my time working retail in Electronics Boutique (RIP). We got an hour for lunch, so as you might expect, I’d venture out to buy a sandwich, then sit out back in the stock room with a book, my DS, or whatever. However, one lunch break I noticed my assistant manager, Liz, was sat on the sidewalk in front of the Burger King next door to EB. She was sitting next to an older man in almost cartoonishly distraught clothes, and a faded green woolen beanie on his head in the middle of summer, an animal puppet on each foot.

I stopped and said hi, and she introduced me to Tom, and patted for me to sit down with them. Tom was from Scotland, had the eternal plan to return, but feared his daughter’s rejection and could never bring himself to go. I’d seen Tom plenty of times before—he was known in town for always having these filthy glove puppets on his socked feet, and would wiggle them as kids went by. I’d never said hi.

I joined Liz and Tom for lunch a bunch of times, and then soon, when Liz was on a day off, would sit with Tom on my own. He was a real dick when he was drunk, but the sweetest guy sober. We’d chat about anything and nothing, and I’d keep quiet when he chatted with people who stopped to throw coins in his hat.

One morning when I wasn’t working but was in town, I walked by Tom, and god, it was horrible. He was covered in bruises. His entire face was purple, both eyes swollen, and dried blood was all over him. The night before, he explained, a group of young men had come by and brutally beat the shit out of him. No reason, just because he was there. He’d since been to the hospital, checked over, and was back in his spot. Tom was understandably miserable, but not about the hideous physical harm. The utter bastards had taken his bag of glove puppets, and thrown them in the river.

I sat with him, listened to him, and felt rage with him. But as I sat there, the strangest thing happened. Person after person came up to Tom and handed him a glove puppet. People had heard, or been past, seen his battered face, and asked in shock what had happened. Some people didn’t even say anything as they handed one over. Others stopped and consoled. But as time went by, his bag was refilled with brand new, shiny-clean puppets, with two of them back on his feet. I know this sounds contrived, but I mean, I was sitting there as it happened.

Which is all to say, sometimes some people aren’t all shit. And also, when it’s safe, when it’s appropriate, when it’s desired, be inspired by Liz too, and just sit down and chat.

Spider-Man just sits and chats. He listens to Howard, and looks out onto the horizon at the things the man describes. And because he listens, he learns about how Howard lost his job, then his wife, and the role the pigeons played for him in the aftermath of his grief.

Best of all, the “mission” doesn’t hurry you. If you don’t look at the marked point Howard mentions, the two just sit in silence staring out to the sea. There’s no nag text, but just contented quiet. It’s damned special.

When you get back from the incongruous (but still rather lovely, with “Seabird” by the Alessi Brothers providing musical accompaniment) pigeon mission, all-too predictably (in the good way), Howard has gone. Instead of seeing him on the steps, you see an ambulance, a couple of EMTs standing outside the back, one of them telling you to “take all the time you need.”

What was so amazing about this tiny moment in the game is, I already had.

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