Super hero video games have come a long way in recent years. In 2009 developer Rocksteady Studios changed the landscape of licensed games with Batman: Arkham Asylum, a game that redefined what a super hero game could and should be. Marvel has been a little slow to catch up, but now in 2018 everyone’s favorite wall-crawler is getting his first fully AAA game, and who better to take on the challenge than veteran studio Insomniac Games. The result is not only one of the best super hero games to date, but quite possibly one of 2018’s best games, period. With stunning visuals, a compelling story, and addictive traversal, Marvel’s Spider-Man gives fans a top-notch experience that is sure to delight.
Marvel’s Spider-Man takes players into an original Spider-Man universe set in 2018. With an entirely clean slate at their disposal, Insomniac has managed to craft a distinct version of a very familiar story that both encapsulates the aspects fans expect from Spider-Man, while also reimagining the narrative. The result is phenomenal, and I have a hard time thinking players will be disappointed with the unique twists and takes on the familiar story. The game packs a ton of characters into a tight 12 hour campaign, and makes good use of almost all of them. Seriously, by the time the credits rolled, I was shocked by just how deep into Spider-Man lore the game actually delves. While there are some characters I would have liked to see more from, the game does a good job of laying out which characters are focal and which are tertiary, leaving tons of room for returning characters in future DLC or sequels.
The events of the game take place eight years after Peter Parker gets his super powers. With all tired and rehashed exposition out of the way, the game leaves plenty of room for new and exciting stories we haven’t experienced yet in the Spider-Man universe. In this modern interpretation of Spidey, Peter is a 23 year-old working as a scientist, scraping by to make rent, and living a double life as New York’s finest super hero. The premise might sound familiar but the story beats are anything but. One of the strongest aspects of the game is its story, because, like most modern PlayStation exclusives, the game puts a huge emphasis on cinematic storytelling. The combination of the varied gameplay scenarios, stunning web-slinging and combat, an A plus voice cast, and high production cutscenes culminates in a story that is not only up to snuff with the rest of Sony’s renowned games, but also wouldn’t seem too out of place on the silver screen. Suffice it to say, I think fans will be pleased with the high quality story telling in Spider-Man. The game explores the standard Spider-Man themes of making sacrifices, and loss, but adds depth to them in ways that are specific to the game. Not only that, but the prominent inclusion of the newly reimagined Mary Jane Watson and the video game debut of Miles Morales give narrative room to explore the character of Peter Parker in new ways. These characters story arch’s expose new weaknesses in Peter Parker and challenge him to rise up and become a more intricate protagonist.
Accompanying the emotional highs of the game’s story is a beautiful score that sounds almost like something from a Sam Rami Spider-Man film of yesterday. The orchestral sounds accentuate the vast open-world and the sense of adventure that the game carries throughout. Paired with the gorgeous aesthetic, Spider-Man is a game that looks and sounds masterful.
As if the trailers leading up to the game’s release weren’t telling enough, Spider-Man looks fantastic. The open-world of Manhattan looks and feels alive, as the team at Insomniac clearly took every measure in making the world as life-like and functional as possible, while also making it a blast to swing around and traverse, but more on that in a minute. Lighting is what really pulls this stunning world together, adding realistic effects to every setting and object, truly making the city of New York feel vibrant. Character models are also impressive looking, with outstanding animations for Spider-Man himself, while most other characters look pretty great as well. I will note the most NPCs and some bad guys look just okay, with animations being a little limited and stiff. However, the core cast of characters look outstanding for the most part. Overall the game’s art direction and graphics are consistent and beautiful, which is not an easy feat for an open-world game.
Speaking of open-world, Spider-Man’s Manhattan isn’t the most vast sandbox by comparison of contemporary open-world games, but it’s still quite large. The map is big enough to provide players with a pretty close recreation of Manhattan that is tightly packed with side content and unlockables, so while it might not be the biggest game I’ve ever explored, it certainly ensures that every inch of the map is inhabited with things to do and see.
The best thing to do being, of course, web-swinging. Traversal in Spider-Man is easily the biggest draw. This should come as no surprise, as Insomniac is the team behind 2014’s Sunset Overdrive, a game that is all about making movement fun and satisfying. Apply those fundamentals to Spider-Man and you’re left with the best traversal mechanics of any Spider-Man game. The basics of web-slinging are easy and intuitive. After five minutes or so with the game even the most novice of players should find swinging around in style to be an absolute breeze. Not only is it easy to do, but web-slinging looks good too. Spidey’s array of animations make every second of traveling around the map look like a carefully choreographed action movie.
Spider-Man can level up and gain skill points that allow players to upgrade and customize his abilities. This means you can make web-swinging even more fluid and dynamic, or you can unlock new abilities that’ll help you take down foes in combat. Not only that, but Insomniac even included their signature suite of wacky gadgets that make combat scenarios more and more interesting as players progress and unlock new equipment throughout the adventure. By the time I made it to the end of the game, I felt like I not only had a handful of ways I could approach each combat scenario, but I also had a comprehensive knowledge of what tools and abilities were at my disposal. With the decent amount in enemy variety, and a ton of ways to fight, combat in Spider-Man remains fresh from start to finish.
The game is paced well, with level variety spanning from stealth missions, to car chases, boss fights, and much more. You also get to play as a handful of characters, which not only make gameplay feel varied, but offers a more compelling look at the characters in the game that aren’t named Spider-Man. While the main story throws a lot of characters and plot details into the mix, the pacing is done in such a way that the events of the story are easily to follow. The game also seems aware of its fast-paced nature, and supplements the story by adding extra information in the slower parts of the game. For instance, even when you’re traveling from one mission to the next, Spider-Man will receive phone calls or be listening to a podcast that will clue the player in on some details that help to flesh out the story a little more. These touches not only aid the coherency of the story, but keep the world alive and breathing as there is always something sensory to be taking in at any given moment.
In between big story beats the game will leave players to explore the city for a bit, gathering collectables, partaking in side quests, and uncovering parts of the map. The game knows just the right amount of time to allow for these lulls before getting back to the action, but I wish there was more variety in terms of side content. Most of the side content in the game is pretty standard. Defeat packs of goons, discover unlockables, complete negligible tasks, and so on. While these are fine, and I enjoyed most of these activities, I couldn’t help but wish there was something a little more unique to do. During the main storyline this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this problem becomes more apparent after the credits role. The city is still fun to swing around, there are still more things to do and see, but none of it is half as interesting as what the main story missions have to offer. There’s still a ton of content here for $60, but the post game content overall is rather by the book.
What is great about the post game is the amount of suits and upgrades players have at their disposal. Spider-Man can change through a dozen or so costumes, each with a distinct look. The amount of combinations you can make with different suits, suit upgrades, gadgets, and combat abilities keeps some of the repetitive side content interesting. There’s nothing quite like fighting a bunch of baddies in the Avengers: Infinity War Iron Spider suit. Another aspect of Spider-Man that will surely keep conversation surrounding the game going is photo mode. In photo mode, players can freeze frame Spider-Man in mid-action to snap the perfect picture. The fun twist is that you can change the camera position, add filters and frames, and yes, there’s even a selfie mode. This is a great way to capture and save the game’s stunning moments, and an even better way to create an absurd photo that will circulate social media.
Perhaps more breathtaking than the pictures in photo mode are the cinematic action sequences and boss fights. Like the best kind of action movie, Spider-Man is full of interactive cinematic moments that are pure spectacles to watch. Seeing Spider-Man stop a speeding train or prevent a falling helicopter from hitting the ground makes for some visually captivating moments that bring players along for the ride with quick-time sequences. I quite like the implementation of quick-time events as they are used sparingly and are more forgiving than in most games. These moments helped to keep my suspense at its peak, making the action set pieces feel even more grandiose.
Boss fights are not as frequent as I would have liked, with there being plenty in the first and third acts of the game, while the second act virtually has no big battle moments. In the grand scheme of the story this works out and didn’t bother me, but I couldn’t help but notice the middle portion of the game was so lacking in the way of boss fights, while the third act had so many big battles. Either way, boss fights are an absolute joy. While they aren’t the most inventive fights, they are certainly fun and I found them to offer just the right amount of challenge playing on normal mode. Boss battles take place in a multitude of locals and offer more cinematic moments that top off an already visually compelling adventure.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is the most impressive outing the web head has ever had, as far as video games are concerned. It not only transcends the negative connotations surrounding licensed video games, but stands tall with what the best of gaming has to offer in 2018. The game looks stunning, plays stunningly, and offers very little to fuss over. Simply put, if you’re a Spider-Man fan, or just a fan of good open-world action games, Spider-Man is a must play. It’s safe to say Spider-Man is in good hands with Insomniac Games, and I can’t wait to see where the DLC and potential sequels take the series, but for now that’s all, True Believers.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is available now for PS4.