WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Marvel's Spider Man and Marvel's Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover
Norman Osborn isn't the Green Goblin in Marvel's Spider-Man for PlayStation 4, but that doesn't mean he's well-liked or even on the up-and-up. Insomniac's game takes place in a world where Peter Parker has been Spider-Man for a few years. In other words, there's a lot of history for the wall-crawler, but none of it involves one of his most famous villains, the Green Goblin. Instead, Norman Osborn is just the father of Peter's best friend and the Mayor of New York, and he's despised by almost everyone.
When Norman is first introduced in Marvel's Spider-Man, it's not immediately clear why he's so distrusted. Anyone whose seen Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies should know Norman is bad news, but the PlayStation game takes place in a completely separate universe from the films. As the game develops, though, more is uncovered about Osborn and none of it's favorable. However, the events of the game are just the tip of the iceberg.
Norman Osborn makes his debut in Marvel's Spider-Man by taking away the government funding for Peter Parker's boss (and the game's eventual villain) Dr. Otto Octavius. From his very first scene, Norman comes across as slimy and far too "charming" for his own good. It's only when Peter's on-again-and-off-again girlfriend Mary Jane Watson steps in that the true depth of Norman's depravity is unveiled. MJ learns that Norman is much worse than the average politician. Norman isn't the Green Goblin, but he's still a bit of a mad scientist.
Before Osborn was the mayor of NYC, he was the head of Oscorp Industries. At Oscorp, Norman oversaw (and continues to supervise) terrible experiments on the city's populace. The main reveal of Marvel's Spider-Man is that Norman is directly responsible for turning the mild-mannered Martin Li into the villain Mr. Negative. Osborn experimented on Li using the mysterious chemical substance, the Devil's Breath. These experiments gave Li superpowers but also create a nearly uncontrollable dark side in Li. While Devil's Breath is incredibly useful, Li was a failed experiment for Norman and Oscorp. Yet, that didn't dissuade Norman from perusing this very dangerous and morally reprehensible path of human experiments.
It's also implied that these experiments resulted in Otto Octavius parting ways with Norman Osborn. In the backstory of Marvel's Spider-Man, Otto and Norman worked and even founded Oscorp together. Norman eventually muscled Otto out and this dispute is a huge reason why Otto becomes Doctor Octopus. Much like the version of the character from Spider-Man 2, the video game Otto isn't an inherently evil villain but rather a tragic character who goes way too far.
Norman isn't completely sociopathic either. The post-credits sequences of Marvel's Spider-Man reveal some of Osborn's motivations for his horrible human experiments. Norman's wife died from a mysterious disease and now it's effecting their son Harry. Throughout the game, the player and Peter are told that Harry Osborn is off in Europe. In reality, Harry is being kept in the depths of Norman's apartment and experimented on with Devil's Breath to save his life. Norman Osborn is still Norman Osborn though so while Devil's Breath might cure Harry's disease it likely will have some superpower side effect. The implication being that these experiments will turn Harry, Norman, or both into the Green Goblin.
This explains why certain main characters of Marvel's Spider-Man despise Norman, but there's more to the story. In the prequel novel for the PlayStation 4 exclusive, Marvel's Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover by David Liss, even more is revealed about Norman and his shady practices. The prequel mostly follows Spider-Man's mission with police officer Yuri Watanabe to take down the Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk. A darker subplot, though, uncovers that Norman's experiments go beyond Mr. Negative, Devil's Breath, and his own son, Harry.
The main antagonist of Hostile Takeover (besides Kingpin) is Blood Spider. An obscure villain from the comics, Blood Spider is essentially an evil Spider-Man who is not a clone. Oscorp took in a disturbed homeless man named Michael Bingham and experimented on him. The experiments gave Bingham the exact powers of Spider-Man and convinced the mentally broken man that he was the real superhero. Norman funds Bingham's mission to undermine Spider-Man's legacy by having him impersonate the real wall-crawler and commit horrendous crimes. Peter eventually unmasks Bingham and sends him to prison but doesn't get the whole Osborn picture.
The prequel and game leaves no doubt that, even though Osborn isn't the Green Goblin, he's still the main villain in this Spider-Man universe. Similar to his comic counterpart, the video game Norman has plans upon schemes with a healthy (mysterious) hatred of Spider-Man. As mayor, Norman is looking out for business interests over civilian ones, but as a man, he wants full control over the city. If Marvel's Spider-Man gets a sequel, Norman's treachery will probably be given even more spotlight. Insomniac Games' effort to build so much of a backstory for Norman has to be admired.
Marvel's Spider-Man is available now on PlayStation 4. Marvel's Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover is also available now from most booksellers. A copy was provided by Penguin Random House for Screen Rant.