As I wrote at the start of the month, my first introduction to the character of Spider-man came from a video game (Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro to be exact). It’s almost fitting then, really, that the last review for this month and the main reason I wanted to write Spider-man related content was in celebration of the release of the new Spider-Man game for the PS4.
Initially teased at E3 2016, Spider-Man was pitched by Sony as a new project fully endorsed by Marvel. After conquered the big screen and slowly seeding TV shows around on television and Netflix, Marvel were clearly setting their sights on the media of video games, hoping to work with strong first party developers with a love for their super-heroes to craft enjoyable interactive experiences. Now, from the moment Marvel’s Spider-man first trailer aired, I was hyped. The little bit of gameplay and cutscenes shown looked incredible but the thing that really got me excited was the company working on the game: Insomniac.
For those not in the know, Insomniac are a towering titan of video game publishing, having created Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet and Clank and the Resistance series. Previously, I’d had very little experience with the publisher personally but in 2016, before the announcement of Spider-man, I played a gem of a game which was a remake of the first Ratchet and Clank game. It was an incredible, well-polished experience which was so enjoyable and beyond reasonably priced. From that, I couldn’t help but feel excited and confident that Spider-man was in safe hands.
Now, two years later, Spider-man has finally crawled his way onto the shelves, but will this long awaited arrival swing to new high-heights or free fall into disappointment? Let’s find out as we take an in-depth look into Insomniac’s latest attempt to bring the web-slinger back to consoles. Like the Clone Conspiracy, I’m going to give a brief spoiler-free overview before diving into the specifics.
Without further ado, this is Marvel’s Spider-man for the PS4.
Marvel’s Spider-man Review: Spoiler Free Segment
From the moment I first booted up, a single thought rushed through my mind: this is the best Spider-man game I have ever played. There have been lots of Spider-man games over the years, some good like the PS1 Spider-man titles, some beloved like the Spider-man 2 game for the PS2 and some that ultimately were sub-par, Spider-man Web of Shadows is one that comes to mind. Marvel’s Spider-man is honestly better than all of them and just an exceptional game in general. It’s probably my game of the year, even if the year isn’t even done yet.
The long and short of it is get this game.
If you love Spider-man, you’ll love this game.
If you love polished open-world games, you’ll love this game.
Good graphics? Love. This. Game.
Get it when you can at some point. The strengths of it outweigh the minor niggling flaws it has. If you don’t have the money or you’re uncertain, wait for it to drop a bit in price but don’t let it be forgotten. It’s a fantastic experience from start to finish, on par with the Batman Arkham series for best superhero game.
With that heaping praise all said, let’s talk specifics.
Warning: Spoilers abound past this point.
From the beginning of the game, it is clear that Insomniac are firing on all cylinders and doing everything they can to make this game as incredible as it possibly can be. The opening cutscene is a glorious two minute and eight second sequence that immediately thrusts you into the story, whilst giving fresh eyes and old fans alike a glance into the life of Peter Paker. The little snapshots here are perfect: an apartment full of photos of family and friends, dead unattended plants beside sketch pads for web-shooters and out of date laptops across from sticky notes reminding Peter to pay his rest and energy bars.
Then, in a quick montage sequence Peter gets into his suit, glances between his final rent warning and his phone, buzzing, and catapults out of the window, dashing along for a short span before immediately throwing the player into the action.
The introduction to the game showcases all of its strengths in one quick swoop: excellent presentation of the Spider-man canon in a compelling way, a new story with fresh sights and sounds layered with excellent character-work and stunning gameplay. That’s a lot of praise to take in straight off the bat, and I do have some criticisms here and there, so let’s take things from the top and break it down.
Considering how eager Marvel’s Spider-man is to throw the player straight into gameplay, it makes sense that gameplay is the first thing we should really focus on. Insomniac starts their game with a focus on the one thing that makes or breaks a Spider-man game: the web-swinging. Playing a Spider-man game is only as good at how it allows us to move around as the Web-slinger.
As you might guess, it’s utterly astounding, building on the strengths of Spider-man 2’s design and bringing us something inspired but original, coupled with refining and polishing the movement for ease of access. The R2 button is your best friend when travelling. As the button used for web-swinging and parkour, it’s an all in one tool-kit to getting around and it makes moving around free and easy. The one button control system is surprisingly intuitive and free, creating a stable mix between ground, wall and air movement. It actually took a moment to get used to how smooth the controls were, due to the fiddly wall-running mechanics in Spider-man 2. I was also initially put off by the lack of a super powered jump meter, however, the truth of the matter is that the controls don’t require it, though it is an unlockable feature.
I am overjoyed to say that the web-zip mechanic of this game is phenomenal too. In past instalments, the web zip was a move that let Spider-man move between walls or from the floor to ceiling. It was, by far, the most fun way to move around but also really a little difficult to use effectively. Marvel’s Spider-man presents two forms of the web-zip: a one-button pull through the air and a two button point-launch technique, which will soon become most player’s preferred method of travel.
This movement style is ultimately simple but its when you consider the details of it, it really starts to get complex. You can only web-swing where you have a perch (shown by a white targeting system) and timing your point-launch becomes the difference between an empty hop and a powerful leap, coupled with the mechanics of vaulting over buildings, around buildings and even diving through obstacles. Swinging around feels fun and easy but it’s an involving enough mechanic that it never feels stale.
The combat in Spider-man is brilliant too. Admittedly, it is brilliant because of the same reason all modern combat in games like this is: everyone watched the Arkham games and learned good combat from them. Personally, I find the Spider-man system a little more enjoyable and complex than the standard format though. The familar ‘wait for counter to win’ method from the Arkham games doesn’t work as effectively for Spider-man as it did for the Bat. Combat in Marvel’s Spider-man encourages active involvement on behalf of the player at all times and utilises the various assets of Spidey’s skill set well. Each button has its own standard purpose, as expected: mixing punching, with dodging, a webbing, gadgets and a throwing option. Like swinging, all of these factors individually are simple but its how each dynamic plays off the other that gives it depth. Holding the punch button will launch your opponents into the air for easy combos, dodging to a wall and attacking launches you at your enemy like a missile and spamming your webbing restrains your opponents to the wall for easy KO’s.
In addition, no button automatically retaliates for a punch like Batman’s do in the Arkham series, encouraging the player into a complicated combo of dodging, timing your strikes and landing solid blows when openings present themselves. If you’re not paying attention or get overwhelmed by numbers, it is very easy for Spider-man to die in only a few hits. Luckily, healing Spider-man is easy and a really interesting mechanic. Fighting enemies and chaining combos together gives you focus for your focus bar and at any time, Spider-man can use either a solid bar of focus for an instant finisher with a triangle/square combo or he can use the focus to heal himself. The system’s risk/reward approach to combat forces the player to choose between the long endurance game with healing or taking out enemies faster and risking death due to Spider-man’s fragility, making each battle slightly more strategic than a standard button masher.
Then, to make things interesting even more, there’s the gadgets. I didn’t get a chance to say this in The Clone Conspiracy so I suppose I’ll say it here: I always get annoyed when Spider-man has gadgets. A major sticking point with The Clone Conspiracy and the web-head’s latest movie, Spider-man Homecoming, was the idea of Spidey having a super-powered suit with access to industrial company technology. An A.I makes Spider-man a tiny Iron Man and all the random gadgets feel a lot more Batman than our friendly neighbourhood hero. It lessens Spider-man’s appeal for me to know he has to rely on these new types of web upgrades, when usually he can get through fine using his limited skill set and brain power. However, in this game, the gadgets are used well. Peter is a genius, after all, and has made gadgets in the past off his own back, but it’s still nice to see him grounded in his natural element. All of his gadgets also have a plot reason to be invented without overshadowing Peter’s own achievements: his job at the lab means this Peter Parker has access to a space where he can make such advancements.
The gadget wheel is easily accessed, easily used and has a lot of variable functions: web-bombs, trip wires, micro Spider-bots. The main strength of these gadgets is that they’re also limited in supply, meaning you can’t spam them but need to use them creatively with Spidey’s other combat functions to use them effectively in combat.
Now, these two elements: combat and traversal, are the main focus of the game and most of the time playing as Spider-man is spectacular.
However, we’ve got to be fair and talk about all the gameplay mechanics and there is sadly one area which drags the game down.
For small segments of the story, you get to play as Mary Jane (yay, best girl) and Miles Morales. These gameplay bits are basically stealth sections and they really are small in number. They’re also distinctly okay. I didn’t love these sections but they are too short and infrequent to garner too much negativity. They mainly serve to point out that the stealth in this game isn’t the best. It is fun to run around and do stealth missions and the stealth mechanics are not terrible, but unlike the Arkham games, which is built on the idea of Batman skulking around because he can’t fight a lot of gunmen head on, Spider-man has no problem with dodging gun-fire and taking out enemies with superior arms.
In regular combat, the same varied types of enemies work well, but in stealth segments, there’s usually very little from deterring Spider-man from actually getting caught, whilst in the M.J and Miles segments, the stealth is decent but hardly masterful. It slows the gameplay down a lot and though it’s nice to see things from the perspective of other characters, it’s a relief when the scenes end and we’re given control of Spider-man again. These stealth segments aren’t bad, they just need retooling and a few twists to improve upon them.
Similarly, there’s also a series of puzzle games included for when Peter is doing ‘science things’. Like the stealth gameplay, these pieces fall a little flat. I still enjoyed them, but they’re very limited in scope, rarely difficult and they’re even skippable from the menu, showing a lack of Insomniac’s faith in them. In addition, the quick time event sequences of the game leave a lot to be desired. I never failed them and found the timed delay extremely annoying.
Gameplay wise, overall, Marvel’s Spider-man is a treat. The combat and travel mechanics are solid and make this game an enjoyable experience. Nothing’s bad, but the stealth segments and puzzle solving elements are slightly underwhelming, slight blemishes only noticed because the rest of the game is so stunning.
You know what was the best Spider-man game for story before this game?
The PS1 games.
Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time have decent plots for what they are and the movie tie-in games are shackled to the story of those films, but the original PS1 Spider-man games were brilliant because they fully feel like an extension of the comic-books, the plot built like an actual comic-book storyline.
To that extent, Marvel’s Spider-man’s story feels like watching a really good Spider-man TV show. The story is exceptional and overtakes every game plot before it in leaps and bounds. It helps that the story really takes inspiration from other Spider-man’s lore and past Spidey games, crafting an act system of story development similar to Web of Shadows.
The game starts with an Act 1 setting: the standard state of Peter Parker’s world. The elements of the plot here are seeded in carefully to help build an idea of the world in which Peter lives, steadily establishing his position and explaining the state of the new continuity of this instalment. Peter has long since quit the Bugle and is now working as a lab intern for one Otto Octavius. Peter’s Aunt May is running a homeless shelter, F.E.A.S.T, with lovable, clearly main villain until Doc Ock showed up Martin Li. M.J is now a reporter for the Bugle and has broken up with Peter a few months prior. This act does a great job of catching us up on Peter’s life and dipping us into his world, quickly and clearly establishing the important facts of his life in an easy and natural way. We learn J.Jonah Jameson has his own talk-show, Norman Osborn is the current mayor of New York and Harry Osborn has vanished off to Europe some time ago.
As well as working to set up the situation of the world, Act 1 of the game also starts changing the status quo with some great story developments. The inciting incident for the game is contained in an epic opening sequence that sees Spider-man finally putting Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, behind bars with the help of his Commissioner Gordon-esque friend, Captain Yuri Watanabe. In the vacuum left by Fisk, a new gang moves in, The Demons, their efforts and enterprise growing as they pursue all of Fisk’s investments and hunt down a secret known as ‘Devil’s Breath’. Whilst Peter and M.J partner up again to investigate The Demon’s attacks, the threats rise in prominence, eventually culminating in a terrorist bombing at city hall during an award ceremony for Miles’ cop father, Jefferson Davies.
The second act of the game focuses on the fallout of the bombing and the Demons coming into their own. Picking up a week after the attack, the plot here sees Peter working to balancing his normal life and dealing with a city that has suddenly taken on a very different state of being. The shift in atmosphere is immediate and the drama palpable as the city becomes a boiling pot for tension between Sable international, an independent mercenary company hired by Osborn, and The Demons, obviously run by the lovable clearly main villain until Doc Ock showed up, Mr Negative.
Capping off on this boiling tension, the third act starts with a prison break on Riker’s, an attack on the Raft prison and finally caps off with the city under-siege, Sable and villain factions going to open war in the streets and Spidey having to face a new Sinister Six led by, you guessed it, Doctor Octopus
*false gasp of only mild surprise*.
Joking aside, the story for this game is incredible, dramatic and powerful in all the right ways. It features fantastic dialogue with great uses of Spider-man’s themes, aided by an expert voice cast and a devoted writing staff. The new universe of Spider-man’s Rogues gallery is great, especially because these villains have their own goals, their own beliefs and are built up by the game to have a fairly fleshed out history. It’s brilliant to see a villain like Mister Negative getting so much focus and despite Doctor Octopus supplanting him as the main villain, the Otto Octavius we get in the game is fantastic, probably my favourite version of the character due to the sheer extra levels of tragedy and how much the game plays on the inevitable tragedy of his fall.
The version of Peter Parker we get is brilliant and Yuri Lowenthal does a stellar job (which of course he does, he’s Yuri Lowenthal). Laura Bailey is also brilliant in the role of M.J, one of my favourites. In fact, just about everyone gets a good portrayal in this game. Aunt May is your standard affair with a few heavy hitting scenes towards the end, Martin Li is sympathetic but chilling as the melancholic Mister Negative and even the lesser villains like Shocker, Electro or Scorpion all feel like ideal classic versions of the characters.
As stories go, Marvel’s Spider-man has one of the best, providing heart to its leads and developing them forward. The final few cutscenes are a testament to how good this game’s writing is and the dedication the writing staff have towards the notion of ‘writing forwards’ we’ve talked about on this blog before. Simply put, it’s an amazing ride.
Marvel’s Spider-man is a huge game. On my first play-through the story, I decided to take my time completing the game to 100% and I honestly didn’t expect it to take too long (20 hours, possibly, 30 maximum). Perhaps, in my ignorance, I forgot the beauty of triple A open-world titles. If I had just rushed through the main story, that 20 hours might have been more accurate. The story missions are creative, fun and engaging but that’s only the surface of what Marvel’s Spider-man has to offer.
Side-quests are a plenty in this game and Insomniac has wisely taken to a different structure of side-quest than other games, variety rather than solely quantity. Regarding side-missions, there’s a decent enough variety scattered around, developing with the main plot. These missions range from aiding civilians and the police, dealing with Demon related terror attacks and, the highlight, facing off against super-powered gangster, Tombstone. The main flaw with the side missions here is that for the number of side-missions there are, the game refuses to take advantage of Spider-man lore. Whilst all the side-quests are down to earth street crimes, a lot of them come off as repetitious (the corrupted ESU students) or just really lacking in anything that makes me consider them exclusive to a Spider-man based game. Tombstone is the only Spider-man villain to appear in the side-missions, which is a shame considering Arkham City’s plethora of Batman villains appearing in side content. It would have been nice to see a little more of Spider-man’s street level rogues gallery, though it looks like we might be getting some more featured in the DLC coming out later this year.
Another problem, this time with the story content of the game, are the boss fights with members of Spider-man’s aforementioned rogue’s gallery. The boss battles themselves are decent but pretty easy. The main problem with them is that they all come near the end of the game, and when you take on members of the Sinister Six, it’s usually two at a time, which really downplays the effectiveness of the individual villain when you can solidly thrash Scorpion and Rhino in about two minutes. It feels ultimately underwhelming, especially when the Six have such a brilliant first scene atop of the Raft.
The shining star of the side-missions are the research station missions, which involve Peter doing science to help a side project of Harry Osborn and his deceased mother. They’re incredibly varied and really interesting to play, especially since most of them revolve around problems that can’t be solved by punching out gang members.
Other than that, there are four types of villainous factions who each have their own strongholds and random encounter missions for Spider-man to take down, challenge missions from Taskmaster (easily the hardest part of the game, but intensely relieving to finish) and a whole host of collectables.
The collectables in this game are just as varied as the side missions, featuring backpacks containing Peter’s old gear, Black Cat stakeouts, Pigeon catching (I’ll talk more about that later) and photos of landmarks. All these collectables reward the player with special tokens that the player can use to access the various upgrades for their gadgets and to craft new Spidey suits in the game. There are twenty three current suits in the full game and all of them look pretty damn awesome, harking back to recent Spider-man comics, movies or just looking really damn cool. The suits also come with special ‘super powers’, like the original PS1 games, which mean they’re not just there for flavour. In a ingenious move, Insomniac also made it possible to switch the super powers your suit has access to, making the powers transferable to your preferred Spider-man look.
All of these details mean that Marvel’s Spider-man has an amazing amount of content to explore. However, near the end of the game, players will soon learn that all this varied content has a major downside: busywork. Whilst most of the side-content is utilised really well, some of it ends up being very repetitious and boring. The secret ‘photo’ spots are unlocked near the end of the game and require you to search the city inch by inch to get photos of special places, whilst the benchmark goals record the amount of times you’ve done certain movements, including ridiculous goals like ‘point launch 5000 times’ and ‘get a combo of x50 150 times’. This all comes off as tedious and it’s a shame that the final length of the completion process isn’t as engaging or incredible as the whole experience up to this point.
That said, Marvel’s Spider-man is stuffed to the brim full of content and full of plenty of things to do that will keep the most avid web-slingers busy for days and weeks to come. Insomniac are even looking to add more to the game, with a New Game Plus and three new DLC packs planned to appear later this year. It’s just a shame that some of the content ends up as mindless repetitive action, rather than being a fun time all the way round.
To be honest, the main reason why Marvel’s Spider-man is such a brilliant game and why I’m throwing so much praise at it is because Marvel’s Spider-man is a game that has been prepared to perfection and presented to the player by a video game company that understands the key to good presentation. The graphics, from the character models to the background of New York, look stunning, and the musical score by John Paesano is wonderful, perfectly blending previous musical motifs from other sources to create an epic score for this epic game.
Polish is the name of the game. From the voice acting to the character work, everything shines through for the better and all of the games elements collaborate in harmony to craft a truly enjoyable experience for the player. Part of this reason is Insomniac’s attention to detail, such as in the city of New York itself, but also in their clear love of the source material. Even in the side-missions, Insomniac are certain to always leave a little bit of heart in the preceding. The back-pack collectables are all filled with small items from Peter’s past, from souvenirs from villain fights, to a recipe for Aunt May’s wheat-cakes, and it gives the world a feeling of tangibility and charm. Black Cat’s monologues to Spider-man are as alluring as ever and, weirdly enough, the freaking pigeon side-quest is actually really fun to do and has a great heart: telling a quick story of a homeless man having lost his wife to cancer and caring for the birds as a favour to her. It broke my little spider-heart playing this and I love when a game can make me feel like that about something so small.
The best part of this is in the little details of side content that flesh out the world: newspaper collectables, recorded diaries and, of course, JUST THE FACTS WITH JJJ.
J. Jonah Jameson is one of the best flipping parts of this game. Re-invented in the game as a crazed talk-show host, J.J is constantly popping after or during story missions to rant about the state of New York, developments in the story or, most likely, Spider-man. It is hilarious and so enjoyable. Probably the best part of all of it is that J.J can be pretty reasonable about some points, before suddenly suggesting that Spider-man is eating pigeons and organising attacks on civilians. There’s an option to mute Just the Facts but, honestly, I’m not sure why this feature was included. I mean, yes, J.J could annoy some players with his ranting but he’s over the top hilarious here and almost always proved wrong.
I say almost always because one of the best experiences I had playing Mavel’s Spider-man was when I ignored a random crime to get some collectables, only for J.J to bring up my absence in a podcast and accuse me of being lazy. Without even meaning to, I found myself slipping into Spider-man’s mentality, wanting to save everyone from every little crime, never turning my back on another…like Uncle Ben.
If a game can make me empathise with its main character without me even realising it, then it’s got to be doing something right.
All in all, the level of detail and care put into this game are what make it stand out among the greats: presentation is key to an interactive experience and Marvel’s Spider-man smashes it out of the park in every aspect, from how it sounds to how it looks to how the game is so unashamedly, quintessentially Spider-man.
Value for money
This is not a section I would normally include in a game review but for Marvel’s Spider-man I think it deserves being talked about. The game is packed full of content, a brilliantly crafted experience and an overall wonderful time that I would usually say is worth the price of admission.
However, I do have one problem with Marvel’s Spider-man, and it is, to be fair, a problem I have with the video game industry as a whole at the moment: the way the property treats money.
I downloaded the special edition of Marvel’s Spider-man to my PS4. I wanted to have access to the exclusive pre-order bonuses before launch, and I really wanted to support a game I was interested in. Later on, however, when I looked into things, I found out that a lot of the content from the pre-order version was still unlockable in the main game anyway, I’d just paid for early access. Yes, this is how the video game industry works nowadays, as it’s a way publishers can make more money, but it still feels like a huge web-sling kick in the face. Even worse is the fact that the Spider-man DLC was announced literally two days before the game’s actual release, offering three bonus chapters that would be available in the coming weeks. Now, whilst the game was officially finished development in July, this move does look and feel like Insomniac has stripped pieces from the game’s development on purpose and held them back in order to get more money for the DLC segments.
Now, it’s a tricky tightrope to walk here. On the one hand, I like Insomniac and I want them to do well. Video games from great studios, after all, are only possible through commercial success and pre-orders and DLC are a good way of getting money straight to the developers. On the other hand, simply put, this concept feels greedy and like an absolute kick in the teeth.
This debate is a confusing one to wade into, but personally, I feel a little let down. The lack of real bonus from a pre-order and the new DLC is something I want to overlook because I enjoy the game, but the approach still feels like a harsh one to gamers and fans, paying for play and the like.
This problem means that I feel conflicted recommending this game to anyone. It’s a fantastic experience and Insomniac are talented developers but if you aren’t a massive Spider-man fan, I recommend buying the normal version of the game or saving up for a ‘complete’ edition, that will probably be brought at some point in later years.
Value for Money: 4.5/5 Normal version, 2.5/5 when considering the special edition and the new tease of DLC.
That last section may have left some readers a little deflated, but let me reassure you that Marvel’s Spider-man is still a fantastic game. It’s a game that I’d recommend to anyone: from hardcore gamers, to comic book fans, to even people new to the Spider-man formula and wanting to learn more. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. If you can stomach the price of entry, underwhelming M.J and Miles stealth with some mediocre boss fights and the benchmark busyness, you’ll find a spectacular experience with great controls, a brilliant story and hours of enjoyable content all wrapped up in a shiny platinum ranked package.
Spider-man is easily the best of the Spider-man games and though I’d struggle to recommend the special edition to people, I can’t wait to see more from Insomniac on this property and I can’t wait until the DLC drops in the next few months (I’ll probably be reviewing those to). In the meantime, I’ll be grinding out those benchmarks and trying to enjoy the little details of this Spider-man experience for as long as I can and I urge you all to do the same, even if you have to wait a few months to get a more complete, cheaper experience.
Marvel’s Spider-man: 4.5/5
And with that, we must bid adieu to Spidember, this exploration of Spider-man, from the good and the bad to the exceptional game that has seen our friendly neighbourhood web-head soar to new heights. I’m not sure if I’ll do another Spidember again at some point, but I know there’s a lot about Spider-man I still have to read, but similarly, a lot about Spider-man I want to talk about. Subjects I couldn’t find the time to write about include:
-Ultimate Spider-man: My Favourite Spider-man series
-My Personal Top 10 Spider-man villains
-A look-back at animated Spider-man shows (or watch Spectacular Spider-man because it’s the best)
-Why Spider-man 3 isn’t as bad as everyone thinks.
-A look-back at the old PS1 Spider-man games
-Reviewing a whole load more Spider-man comics
These ideas might come back in the future, but for now, I’m happy to let them sit to one side whilst I put my central focus back on From the DM’s Chair and a few other reviews and discussions I have waiting in the wings.
Until then, I’ve been Shadowonthewall and thank you very much for reading, I hope you’re enjoyed. Please leave a comment, constructive criticism is welcome.