Ever wanted to be a superhero?
Escaping from the stresses and strains of the real world is increasingly difficult in today’s ever-connected society, but video games have offered a perfect distraction for over four decades now. Games gives us the chance to pretend we’re a treasure hunter, a bounty hunter, a mythical wizard, or even a villain, but more often than not, games allow us to be the hero, and that’s what Marvel’s Spider-Man absolutely nails. Insomniac have crafted a deep and enthralling Spidey title that surpasses the heights of the PS2 great Spider-Man 2, and reinvents the series in the way Rocksteady’s Arkham series took the Batman franchise to the next level.
Set eight years into Peter Parker’s superhero career, the story puts you in the shoes of Spidey as he sets out to protect his loved ones, and the city of New York from an ever-expanding group of “costume nutjobs” hellbent on causing tyranny as part of their mission to take down Oscorp and its lead, Norman. The ten to twelve hour story takes place over three acts, with each one becoming increasingly more engrossing, fast-paced and addictive than the last; Spider-Man feels like more than just a game, it feels like a fully-fledged entry into the mainline film series, thanks to the writing and acting, both of which are perhaps some of the best in gaming today – both Spider-Man and Peter Parker are portrayed perfectly and felt much more accurate to the comics than some of the films which have preceded the game. As I progressed, the more I felt like both Spider-Man and Peter Parker, and on a personal level, I experienced all the joy, surprise, dismay and turmoil in Pete’s life as if it was my own. By the end of the final act, the story had left me emotionally-drained, but excited about what the future holds for Pete and his alter-ego.
There was very little to complain about within the story, it’s well paced, and provides a mixture of missions styles, from sneaking around in air vents to tackling some famous villains in spectacular setpieces, that effortlessly blend narrative and gameplay in a similar way to the Uncharted series. That being said, there were a few times where you take control of other characters such as Mary Kate and Miles as part of their efforts to aid Spidey on his missions. While these missions where a nice change of pace during the first two acts, by the end of act three, they became a little monotonous as they never really offered anything different. Each mission as MJ or Miles offered nothing more than a sneak from point a to b job, by the end of which I was aching for my return as Spidey. There were also a number of activities inside Otto Octavius’ lab that required me to decode the chemical formula of an element, or improve the performance of Otto’s equipment by optimising voltage levels. These relatively small puzzles were great, but again felt a little overused by the end, and took away from what is perhaps the best aspect of Marvel’s Spider-Man, traversing New York.
Swinging around New York in Spider-Man is an absolute joy and surpasses the heights achieved in Spider-Man 2. I could easily spend a few extra hundred hours swinging effortlessly from skyscraper to skyscraper, thanks to the amazing physics-based traversal system the team at Insomniac have implemented; Spidey reacts as you’d expect to buildings and people, and even through web-swinging can get extremely fast, I never felt out of control. I was always one swing away from a perching point, ready to take a quick break and move on. As far as open world environment’s go, New York isn’t the largest, but I was never inclined to use the in-built fast travel subway system, preferring to swing my way from one side of the city to the other. This was also thanks to an amazing backing track that plays as you leap from building to building, truly epitomising that hero persona.
Insomniac have obviously taken inspiration from Rocksteady’s Arkham series in the development of Spider-Man, with this being most prominent in the combat. Like Batman, Spider-Man is faced with overcoming an overwhelming number of adversaries in battle, but there’s also a huge number of combos and gadgets available at your disposal to help take them down in spectacular style. It took me a good few hours to get to grips with the combat system, which means Spidey got his ass kicked a little more that he’d like! However, once it ‘clicks’, I found myself pulling off spectacular combos with ease – I was surprised at just how deep, rewarding and enjoyable the combat became the longer I played. Spidey is much faster than Batman, which means fights are quicker, and on reflection I enjoyed fighting as Spidey far more than the Dark Knight. As you progress, you unlock different skills and Spidey gadgets which make pulling off huge combos much easier and faster, and the gadgets really help turn the tide of battle. There are gadgets to help tie numerous enemies up in webs at once, while others electrify and incapacitate villains. Combat also works perfectly when fighting some of the tremendous boss battles, all of which include a number of quick-time-events, which are always easy to pull off, meaning you’re constantly absorbed in the striking set pieces.
Stealth combat is also glorious. Unlike Batman, who often felt cumbersome and slow in stealth, Spidey can swings from point to point quickly, taking enemies out in an instant. I thoroughly enjoyed stealth in Spider-Man, especially the perch takedowns which sees Spidey suspend his victims from a pole or roof panel in a web.
While the combat and story help elevate Spider-Man to the heights of the Arkham series, the game suffers a little from the relatively safe and unimaginable side activities. Across New York, you’re able to pick up a range of collectables, take landmark pictures, clear out enemy bases, help civilians through side missions, undertake research for Harry Osborn, or complete stealth, combat, drone or bomb challenges. All of these are well implemented and reward you with tokens that can be spent on a range of new gadget and combo upgrades, and more importantly, a exciting range of cool new suits, each with their own unique ability which can be transferred between any of your previously owned suits. However, once the adrenaline from the story wears off, these side missions start to feel a little boring quite quickly; like many other open-world giants, Spider-Man’s extra activities aren’t anywhere as interesting as they could have been. The additional activities feel a little too similar and safe sadly, and most players will only complete them for the platinum trophy.
Upon release, Spider-Man came in for some criticism from certain gamers for not being as visually stunning in-game compared to some of the pre-release footage. Namely, the lack of puddles! However, they’re talking nonsense, Spider-Man looks absolutely stunning; character models are crisp and clean, and as close to movie-like as we’ve seen in gaming to-date. New York looks beautiful, and the draw-distance is truly a sight to behold. I came across a few blurry pixels occasionally, and a few frame-rate issues surfaced in large fights, but, it didn’t dampen the game’s visual awe. On PS4 Pro with HDR enabled, Spider-Man is easily up there with God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Uncharted 4 as the best looking title on the platform.
Marvel’s Spider-Man may play it a little safe with the additional activities and collectables, but the title’s story, visuals and tight combat gameplay make it an essential purchase for all PS4 owners, even if you’re more of a DC fan! Spider-Man elevates the series to new heights, similar to what the Arkham series did for Batman. While it may not be groundbreaking, Marvel’s Spider-Man effortlessly captures what it must feel like to be Spider-Man swinging across New York saving the city, and I can’t wait to see where Insomniac takes the series next.
Evercade announce their first Bitmap Brothers collection
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum