Although comic book video games are historically poorly received, there are a few superheroes that have had their fair share of successes. Most might consider Batman to be the most successful when it comes to video game adaptations, but Spider-Man gives the Dark Knight a run for his money. And now, with the release of Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PS4, the debate is bound to heat up even more.
With Ratchet and Clank and Resistance developer Insomniac Games at the helm, it was hard to know what Spider-Man would deliver. There was little doubt that Insomniac could capture the humor and spirit of the web-slinger, one of the studio’s greatest strengths, but Insomniac is mostly known for its own creations and gameplay built around third person shooters. Here, the developer is trying to take the look and feel of a comic book and movie character and bring that into the interactive world.
Luckily, Insomniac Games has nailed every crucial element of Spider-Man, from the look to the gameplay to the writing. This is the Spider-Man game that fans have dreamed of in every sense of the word. Past games have been well received but most have had some shortcomings in terms of story or gameplay, but Insomniac’s adaptation embraces the character from top to bottom.
What’s most impressive is that Insomniac tries to tell its own Spider-Man story while still incorporating existing fiction or character arcs. The plot involving Mr. Negative makes up a bulk of the game and feels like Insomniac’s attempt at creating a storyline that is uniquely its own. Mr. Negative, like most good Spider-Man villains, is a character with roots in Peter Parker’s life and some of his close friends and family, notably Aunt May and Mary Jane Watson. And his ultimate goal is somewhat justified, as players will discover as they go along.
But then Spider-Man’s narrative branches out into the bigger lore and tackles some characters and concepts that fans will be very excited to see. We don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say that the more familiar players are with Spider-Man, the more rewarded they will be. The only criticism that comes with that is the fact Spider-Man rushes through its later story beats a little too quickly. It’s a fun bit of misdirection, but it also makes the whole arc feel uneven in parts. Despite that, the story is well written, well acted, and has a lot of fun moments for players to enjoy.
Gameplay in Spider-Man is a sublime mixture of open world exploration, tight reaction-based combat, and some brief stealth sections. For the open world, Insomniac has tried to recreate New York City’s Manhattan Island in stunning detail. It’s by no means a one-to-one recreation, but there are enough notable landmarks and the layout is such that it feels like Spider-Man’s New York. Even beyond that, the visuals in Spider-Man are exceptional, from the vibrant colors on Spidey’s suit to the gloomy alleys on a rainy night, but it is the open world of New York that deserves the most praise.
That open world is only so special because of how fluid and responsive the movement mechanics are in the game. After seeing it in countless movies and TV shows, players know how Spider-Man should move through the city and Insomniac Games has expertly recreated that feel. The swinging and traversal are simple enough that anyone can get from point A to point B, and there are enough clever wrinkles to add some variety to the mix. Spider-Man can launch himself forward, leap from different points, and, of course, run/crawl around buildings. Within the first few minutes of playing Spider-Man it was easy to swing around Manhattan, but after a few hours we were doing so much more than that. New York became our playground, with Spider-Man zipping from Midtown to Harlem in no time.
In the more scripted sequences, swinging still has its freedom but it also helps deliver the excitement of Spider-Man in the midst of a chase, escape, or battle. Spider-Man may be an open world game, but it has plenty of really exciting set pieces that exist outside of that structure. Its boss battles are all unique and that fit they well represent some iconic Spidey villains. The game does very well to make Spider-Man feel like the hero he is, from battling some epic foes to saving the citizens of New York in incredible fashion.
By now most have seen the combat in Spider-Man and drawn comparisons to the Batman: Arkham series. And while those comparisons are not necessarily wrong, the combat in Spider-Man still feels unique to the character. Spider-Man as a character is innately agile and the game allows the character to quickly flow between combatants, all while dodging incoming attacks of various degrees of danger (punches, rockets, etc.). He can also take things to the air and add more flourishes to his combos, before ultimately finishing a bad guy off. It’s mostly a series of single button presses or a few button holds, but in terms of its foundation, Spider-Man’s combat supports a ton of variety and fast movement and it is far less built around the reactionary counter. Instead, Spider-Man is proactive in his attacks, which makes every encounter a lot more engaging.
Alongside the basic punch, kick, swing combo, Spider-Man also has a lot of web and spider-based gadgets to work with. These further flesh out the variety on offer, giving players more ways to approach groups of enemies beyond the basic button mashing. They can stick bad guys to walls. Send out little spider drones to keep certain enemies at bay. Or even shock a group to keep them locked in place while addressing more menacing foes.
Spider-Man’s suit further fleshes out the combat through modifications and the suit power. Mods are unlocked as part of the level progression and will buff Spider-Man’s abilities or his overall strength or defense. Players can equip 3 mods in total and there are a lot of different combinations that suit unique encounters. For example, a player that wants to use gadgets a lot will spec towards recharge rates, while a stealthier player would pick mods that favor decreased enemy detection. And then there’s the suit power, which serves as a type of ultimate, giving Spider-Man a buff or a unique attack that can eliminate groups of foes quickly. One of our favorites, was the Web Blossom, which sends out a flurry of webs that can tie up or even fully incapacitate a wide radius of enemies.
Put all together, there is an endless combination of ways to approach combat and all feel viable. Yes, the basic fundamentals will get you by, but digging deep into the menus and the upgrades will turn Spider-Man into an unstoppable weapon. Even 20+ hours in, there were ways to make combat feel fresh and engaging.
The only disappointment with the combat is that there isn’t a lot of variety to the basic enemies. There are a handful of archetypes (basic thug, shield thug, large thug, thug with melee weapon, etc.) and those repeat throughout the various factions (gang members, Silver Sable agents, Mr. Negative’s Demons) that players come across. All players need to do is learn how each thug works and then it becomes really easy to take each out. The challenge comes more so from a desire to string all of the abilities and attacks together rather than the enemies themselves.
Alongside the 1 v 10 matchups that make up the bulk of Spider-Man’s combat (both in the story and open world), there are some stealth sections scattered throughout. For the most part, it is still possible to skip right to the face punching but the few forced stealth sections are decent but hardly memorable. Thankfully Spider-Man is fast enough to move through these sections and the game doesn’t punish the player with impossible scenarios. The stealth breaks up the pace if nothing else, but is arguably the least memorable element of the combat and gameplay.
Outside of following the structure of the story and the combat encounters, Spider-Man offers so much for players to do it’s staggering but never overwhelming. More importantly, the game incentivizes players to complete side missions or find collectibles by way of its upgrade and unlock system. Most gadgets are unlocked at certain levels along with mods and upgrades, with a full skill tree to support different play styles and approaches.
But the coolest element to Spider-Man is the unlockable suits. Each suit gives Spider-Man a different look as expected but they also unlock a new suit power for players to use with any suit. It’s rare that an open world game has such a direct pull towards 100% completion but Spider-Man packs the perfect amount of motivation around New York. It truly is hard not to stop and complete a challenge or collect a backpack (every collectible or side mission offers tokens as a reward) since it can help you unlock that next suit or upgrade.
That compulsion to do the next thing and continue to experience this world ultimately sums up Spider-Man’s experience as a whole. From the story to the exploration to the combat to seemingly endless upgrades, Spider-Man is packed full of things worth doing and that are fun to do. Insomniac Games has made it seem effortless with the way they can bring this character to life in all the ways a video game can. Spider-Man is a great superhero game, a great PS4 exclusive, but most importantly a great game all its own.
Spider-Man releases September 7, 2018 exclusively for PS4. Game Rant was provided a code for this review.